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Social Contract - Who Owes Whom?
by Sahila Changebringer

It's election time again, and each of the candidates would say there is a vast difference between them. They each have plans and promises about what they can do for this country. But where, really, is the change?

Modern society has reduced everything down to a question of accountancy and economics - life is a profit and loss statement, a balance sheet.

A human being is born into this society and the system looks at that being as a unit of production. Society invests so much money (in health, housing, education, welfare) in growing that being to maturity, to 'harvest' and then expects a return on that investment. Those who can’t, don’t, won’t produce an economically-measurable return on that investment - for whatever reason, sickness, handicap, lack of interest etc, - are deemed to be misfits, failures, unproductive malingerers who fail to fulfill their obligations under some sort of social contract. Those who are not yet capable of returning a profit – children, and those who are past returning a profit on that investment – the elderly, are seen as burdens, liabilities.

Society attributes an economic value to human beings, and it asks them to contribute something 'worthwhile' to the communal structure in order for them to 'earn' the resources which allow them to live – food, shelter, clothing in the first instance...moving up the scale to 'luxuries'. The more 'value' one has as an individual, based on one's training, skills, natural talents, opportunities, 'luck' even...the more 'right' one has, the more ability one has, to access basic needs and then the outward trappings of success.

And naturally, with the way our economic system and therefore, our society, is structured, with profit being the raison d’etre and driving motive, a few clever people have been able to take advantage of circumstances, in the process becoming masters of the destinies of all the rest. Who can truly deny that most of us are slaves to the system, reduced to being a number on a production line?

It seems we know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. What would happen to the world picture, if economic perspectives were based on a sense of natural justice? What would happen if every soul born on this planet were valued just for 'being', for its uniqueness, its individuality and its perfection?

In a generalised, stereotypical situation, a new baby is usually welcomed into the world and loved just for being. It is loved for being itself. It is not loved for the potential it contains within itself to be a lawyer, a doctor, a train driver, a hairdresser, a UN ambassador, a general, a librarian. Its value is not measured by what it might become; it is valued just for being.

So what changes between the time of birth and a few years later, when we (as parents, adults, passing that on to our offspring) begin to feel competitive about school results, sporting prowess, musical and artistic talent? Why do we start valuing human beings (or forests, oceans and animals, for that matter) for what they do, rather than for what they are? I am not defined as a being by what I choose to do - or am I? And if I am, why is that?

Perhaps we are all insecure because our society does not tell us we are valuable just for being and our fears drive us to compare, to compete, to seek external validation. We have a society that is structured in such a way that we fear for our everyday physical and economic survival. And to keep the whole economic and hierarchical system working, we have been inculcated to believe we are only worthwhile if we shape up to some arbitrary standard, imposed on us by vested interests that need to keep us locked into the consumer cycle.

What a unique idea - to think that every human being on this planet has a right to be here, has a birthright to have its physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs met, is honoured for just existing, not for what he or she has to contribute.

It could be argued that we, as a species, owe a good living to every being that is born. Children do not ask to be born; we as adults make a choice, a decision and bring them into this world. Morally, ethically, individually and as a community, we owe them a good life.

Following that logic, all health, education to the highest levels, housing and sustenance should be freely available. Every human being has a right to these basic needs and there is no philosophic merit or justification in requiring people to pay for access to these facilities. It’s not as though we don’t have the physical resources to provide well for everyone in our society. Even with the threat of global warming, we do already have the resources – it's the ownership, control and distribution issue that's the problem.

Continuing that line of reasoning, the concept of ‘User Pays’ is anathema in any area to do with physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual development and well-being. Take, for example, tertiary education. Where is the natural justice and common sense in a policy that says only those who can afford to pay will have the access and the opportunity to make the most of their talents and abilities?

Young people are society’s future. Educating them is investing in our future and the return they provide to the community during their working life is far greater, in both calculable and non-calculable terms, than their education will ever cost. What if businesses were required to pay for all tertiary education, while not having the right to dictate what courses should be taught? As employers are the group who benefit most from that education - in the form of new technology being developed, ownership of intellectual property and increased profits in their businesses – wouldn’t natural justice dictate that they should pay for having access to those benefits and that expertise?

The education system would serve us as human beings better if it was modeled more on the classical Greek, which sought to educate the whole being, spiritually, physically, intellectually and emotionally while retaining a connection with the culture.

Current education systems only teach human beings to be cogs in the machine. Powerful lobby groups, through the Government, dictate what will be taught and these subjects do not allow us to reach our full potential as people. They teach us the basic mechanics necessary to keep the system running. They do not teach us to think for ourselves, to express ourselves as individuals, to expand our beings. Business, governments and universities, the market economy, all these dictate how many law students, doctors, musicians, artists, accountants, vets, architects will be allowed to graduate. But what are the parameters for setting those limits? Not our society allowing each being to fulfill its potential, to express and utilise its talents, but the artificially created and supported law of supply and demand.

The system requires people to make it work. It needs the cooperation of human beings for its self-perpetuation. But the system does not honour and value the people on whom it depends.

It ‘grows’ the young to maturity, then it ‘ harvests’ them of their labour, their intelligence, their genius, their physical well being, their enthusiasm and their hopes and dreams. Then, when it’s milked them dry or found them wanting for some reason, the system consigns these same unique beings to the cold, uncomfortable sidelines of the playing field, to the scrap heap, usually without a backward glance, certainly without a word of thanks. Social contract? Who owes what to whom? As clear a case of the tail wagging the dog as ever there was.

But, we are the system, we acquiesce and we allow this to continue. So who bears the responsibility and where does the power to change all this lie? With a presidential candidate, with a political party, or with each of us as individuals, making choices and taking action? It's often quoted that the definition of insanity is repeatedly taking the same action, expecting different results. What actions will we take now and what results will we get in November?

Published: Sep 1,2008 13:21
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