The Social Contract

The relationship between society, the state and the individual has been the subject of countless essays for centuries. Rousseau tried to set some rules to the subject of the relationship between State and Man over 250 years ago. His book caused great upheaval in Europe and first brought the concept of rights and responsibilities of a citizen. It was written however in the backdrop of an oppressive monarchy a few decades before the French Revolution, as well as the fact that women enjoyed no political and social rights.

Although the world has seen a sea change since Rousseau’s book created a furore in France, much of what he says is still true now. His iconic lines hold true even today:

“Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.”

Ever since the concept of the nation state came into being, the oppression of man has continued and taken on a legitimacy that is hard to refute. In today’s political context, never have Rousseau’s words rung more true. The individual is no longer the smallest unit of measure in society. It is now the nation state that is re-writing the social contract in a manner that is hard for both the old and the young to fathom. The truth is no longer a measure of honesty, nor is it any longer of any relevance in the post truth world.

The post-truth world. Now there is an expression that most of us would not even comprehend five years ago. But it is the reality of today. If you are in a position of power, or in a position where people will listen, and you repeat a lie often enough, it WILL become the truth. Whether it is in America, in France, in Germany, Russia, China or in India, post truth is what drives things. If a Trump or a Putin or a Li Xinping, or a Narendra Modi says something, it becomes the truth sooner or later. Whether it bears any resemblance to the truth is secondary.

Why is this? Well the simple truth is that basically governance in every shape or form has failed the people of the world. A parliamentary democracy invented in a tiny kindom more than 700 years ago, could never have conceived of the changes and the speed of change in today’s world. But in a country like India thousands of miles away, it is surviving mainly because the guardians of the people’s interests have long guarded their own. It has lost its relevance even in England, leave alone in India. Similarly the founding fathers of the American Union lived in a simple world, and could never have conceived of today’s world and how irrelevant their system of governance is today. George Bush’s disastrous attempt to democratize countries which did not even understand what democracy meant is another example of failure.

But in England, in India or even in America, the agents of change have no interest in changing. It undermines their importance in society. The voting public have tired of the same lies, the same cheating, the same elections and speeches. So anyone who looks like he or she is breaking the mold, and looks like he or she will set the people free, no matter how much he or she lies in the process will appeal to the public. Because he or she is an agent of change. And people want change.

This is the trap that the whole world has fallen into. The believers have louder voices than the non-believers. And technology and social media have given the believers the opportunity to create fake electronic news, fake videos, fake printed news, and the people, who are hungry for change, will believe anything that is fed to them,

It should distress the older generation, as well as the younger one. But for some reason, no one has the guts, the interest or the passion to fight the post-truth world. I do not have it certainly. And I am not ashamed to admit it. I am in the sunset of my life, and I have had it with charging at windmills with a lance. I want to enjoy the rest of my life. Am I selfish? Perhaps. But then, newer generations will find newer challenges, changes to the system. Perhaps there will be something better or worse after the post truth world.

But the basic truth is that there is serious need for a new social contract. Perhaps the nation state needs to go and become more distributed, with power given back to the community. They, better than anyone else know what they want, and what they need. Not nuclear weapons, not armies, not guns and rockets, but means to make their lives better. The concept of the corporation still may have relevance in the new social contract, or maybe it will not. But the need for change has never been greater than now. The post truth world must be the darkest hour before the dawn.

That makes me an optimist, I guess.

3 thoughts on “The Social Contract

  1. This is so well-written an encapsulates many things that are going through my head at the moment as well. There are a few things at play here, and especially within the Indian context:

    Firstly, individualistic values overtook the collective in our society. When things do not go the right way for politicians, regardless of the national benefit, they change course. The second thing is that we want to believe in something – as a people. We want to define things and concepts – for example what it is to be Indian within a pluralist society – and is that pluralist society valid.

    As Yuval Noah Harari says in “Sapiens” – nations and these concepts we covet exist only in our collective imaginations – and these products of this collective imagination have given rise to this concepts of nation and statehood and of governance that may no longer be valid.

    As for the lies, the age of the internet has taken care of that – but also we have entered a time of politics where things are more and more divided – we need to belong to a group and reject everything outside that. You are left wing or right, BJP or Congress, Republican or Democrat. We don’t seek the qualitative concepts behind these we just go blindly towards this groupism like it’s the only thing that will save us. The narrowing of definitions of what it means to be Indian and what it means to be Hindu are testament to that. People are willing to lap up whatever lies validate their sense of belonging and identity. We are basically lonely and confused! Thanks for writing this – looking forward to more!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mira, this is a subject I feel passionately about. Umm, not that I feel tepid about any of today’s issues. In the post truth world, I think the nation-state is rapidly losing its relevance. The de-massification of society, whether bloodless or bloody has to be the natural out come.

      Thank you for your well thought out and comprehensive response. It is beautifully written!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with you regarding the nation state particularly our own. I think the recent wave of “nationalism” and extremist patriotism is testament to that. The nation should not come before humanity because it is something we as a species invented. It’s funny because a lot of my current reading (India’s Broken Tryst and India: From Midnight to Millennium) is reflecting this as well. We can cling onto this concept all we want but ultimately it only has as much staying power as we invest in it – and we are too varied and diverse to fit into such a narrow box 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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