Sunday, July 15, 2007

What If There Never Was A Social Compact?

An impressive body of social and political thought assumes that humans are fundamentally rugged individualists who once lived alone, each man or woman to himself or herself. At some point, they discovered they could accomplish more by working together than by working alone and, consequently, they created a social compact. Communities were then born.

What if none of that is true?

What if, as the scientists tell us, humans have always been social animals? What if there never was a social compact?

If humans have always been social animals our cherished belief that we live in groups for purely rational reasons can be questioned. Are our reasons for living in groups really that rational? Do we have "reasons" at all? Wouldn't it be more precise to speak of our instincts for living in groups? Or, of our nature for living in groups?

Social and political theory can no longer escape the fact we are a social animal by positing an imaginary age when we lived isolated and alone. Today it must be reconciled to what we know of our biology, among many other sciences. But that is by no means an easy thing to do. The question of what is human nature has many answers. At the very least, each relevant science has it's own models of human nature. Moreover, those models have moved well beyond simply stating that we are a social animal. Nowadays, scientists are modeling how, in what ways, and to what extent we are a social animal. And not just a social animal.

I recall coming across an article sometime ago in which the Vice-President was described as having a "Hobbesian" political philosophy. In an age of jets, the Vice-President flies a biplane. Perhaps that explains some of his many failings.


CorgiGuy said...

I think it depended on how you view yourself. If you see yourself as part of collective, the pack, the group you are totally a sociala animal, your survival depends on the group. If you see your see yourself as individual then the group is more of an alliance that benefits you.

Brendan said...

It's a not a point in time in which an agreement is reached, but an ongoing process of surrendering autonomy in exchange for the benefits shared and specialized labor in an organized society, from which individuals dissent all the time (go back on the deal). The criminal, the revolutionary, the insane, and those who come to recognize they are the fuel for society rather than among its beneficiaries. There's no point at which we reach a deal. We are bred for and sold to social reality, and function with a level of cognitive dissonance that maintains its reality. Until it doesn't . . .