Thursday, August 11, 2011

The social contract

This is a recurring question for me...

What is in the social contract at a local, state and national level?

Its the same problem over and over again. Manage your clients expectations and everyone has a good experience.  The example in front of me at the moment is the rioting thats popping up all over England.  While there are lots of issues to pick at, the underlying cause is violation of the assumptions of some of the parties to the social contract in England.  (Simple isnt it... nice neat answer to everything....)

The problems are:

What is actually in the social contract?
Do all parties share the same understanding of the contract?
Are any of the parties holding unrealistic assumptions about the contract?
Are all parties playing fairly?

Generally the answer is fairly unplesant to all of the questions above.

What is in the social contract

The social contract is the implied agreement between an individual and the "Society" in which they live. It defines what the individual is expected to do and what they will get in return. 

The individuals responsibilities

The first part would usually be the law, morals and ethical standards, "normal" behaviour etc all define what an individual should do to be a "normal" member of the society.  This could include things like, "Sleeps at night and goes to work at 9am".  "Does not steal stuff" etc.  Basically the contract promises that "If you do all these things (and avoid doing any of the wrong things) society will give you....".

What the individual gets
The social contract defines all the stuff that society will provide for a "normal" member of society.  This might be things like "clean streets", "Safe to walk after dark", "basic health care", "education" etc.  There are lots of things on this side of the contact.

What happens when the contract is violated....

Essentially when one side or the other feels like the contract has been violated ( i.e they are not getting what they think they are entitled to after having fullfilled their side of the deal) bad things start happening.  Usually the social party of the contract deals with this regularly so they have a whole range of rules, structures and men with sticks to deal with these cases. 
On the other side, individuals generally act out or try to satisfy their needs as they can.  This often involves feelings of betrayal, anger and general "I got shafted" kind of retoric.

All this is fairly normal stuff.. the problem comes when large numbers of people feel like the social contact has been violated at the same time and for an extended period of time.  Basically most of the western world in one way or another is in that situation at the moment.  There are riots from England to Syria, across north africa, through the mediteranian and certainly feelings of dissatisfaction in the US. All of these are symptomatic of the violation of social contracts between individuals ( in a group they are called "The citizens") and "Society" (usually personified by public servants and politicians) 

The major problem with acting out is that in reality, public servants and politicans are not actually "Society".  They are just some conveiniet faces and voices... society incldes the individuals who are feeling screwed... so their acting out always comes back to hurt themselves.... in large or small measure.

Like that logic will help someone who feels like they have nothing to loose.....

Watching the English politicians practice "divide and persecute" politics to try to chase the problem back under the carpet where its been simmering for the last decade is both scary and sad.  The first step is to admit there is a problem.  But to do that publicly is going to be fairly traumatic for the whole country... so its easier to blame the protesters.  Make it about choices... pretend they are just criminals who have taken a day off from being productive, contented members of society to have a bit of a looting spree and see if they can get their heads bashed in.... talk about wanting to beleive.  But then I guess thats easier than admitting that for the majority of the population, the social contract has been violated repeatedly and constantly by one side ( again personified by the government ... however generally through no bad intention of anyone. 

I feel that this really indicates just how little power most of the democratic governments have to take drastic corrective action.  Democracy is a very slow ship to turn.  Even when there is a will to turn it... often there is no consensus on which way to go... which means a fairly random approch to problem solving. 

Compare that to a centrally managed system like China.  They still retain the ability to make quick direction changes when a problem arises and then revert to a more inclusive model when things are going well. 

The common problem for both systems is still choosing a solution to the problem... the difference is how quickly they can impelment it.  (And the problem of getting a dictator into the power chair in a centrally managed system who will not listen to good advice.... )

An interesting model is the one shown in the godfather movies.  Where the mafia family has one system of governance during "good times" and changes to a "war leader" when there is a time of crisis.  Once the crisis is over, the war leader steps down and they revert to the "good times" model.

While this strategu is hardly unique to marfia movies... its essentially the same strategy as that employed in various software systems.  Use one algorithm for general cases and employ specialist algorithms when an edge case is detected for which the general algorithm would be either inefficient or, for some other reason, poor.  The problems are always picking the right time to swap between the algorithms and when to swap back.  Much harder with people....

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