Individuals and the “Social Contract”

Man is a combination of two intertwining tendencies. He is on the one hand an island of consciousness, to paraphrase Nathaniel Branden. Our thoughts are locked away in our separate brains and ne’er the twain shall meet. On the other hand, we have evolved to use language, a medium sufficient to overcome our mental isolation to great effect. It allows us to work together, play together, and live together in mutually beneficial ways. We are what we are as individuals partly because of our relationship with others.

No matter how well individuals communicate with each other, they are still individuals. Each of us stands fundamentally alone–none of us is merely a subunit of the collective whole of humanity. As individuals, we are profoundly affected by our rearing at the hands of others, the social norms that guide our particular culture, and the laws that derive from those norms. Yet within the mind of each individual lies an independence that forever stands ready to snip the ties that bind him/her to the ideas shared by the group.

When the mind of one is at odds with the minds of many others, tremendous courage is required to state so openly. I have heard of many executions for violating norms, not one for complying. The dominant force in a group is conformity, no matter what the charter may say, and conformity is often enforced viciously.

The dominant drive of an authentic individual is to find his/her own unique identity and calling. One who revels in becoming independent may share a group’s values, but to dilute his heart and soul into the group like a drop of water in the ocean is unthinkable. Ours was the first country on Earth to explicitly recognize that the principle undergirding all morality is the sanctity of the individual. A few good men and women live by this principle–the rest are indifferent or outright hostile to it.

Copyright Dimension Films

It is the courage of this kind of individual to think differently that moves mankind forward. It is the bothersome creator, not the one who always makes nice who brings the world a bounty. It is the deviant, the rule-breaker, the iconoclast who stretches and often tears down completely the stultifying boundaries that define life in the well-ordered collective.

Creators are rarely treated kindly as they disrupt everyone’s routines. After the new invention, cure, or idea is integrated into a sufficient number of lives, it is treated as if it had always existed and the group sets about squelching the next new idea. Progress is a constant battle with routine–the former is always a disruption of the latter. The disruption itself is enough of an insult to the group. The fact that these benefactors often get rich pushes some over the edge. Something must be done.

Social norms suggest, but do not bind. Creators who care little for what others think will not be deterred by them, and so eventually more force is brought to bear on them. Laws that are spawned by legislative agents of the collective rarely favor the individual’s quest for a unique identity or clear the way for him to create. By its very nature, politics binds one to another, forces one to act as another, and considers each as generally like all. There is little incentive for the politically-inclined to work for individual independence. Why bother? There is little to be gained by promoting the idea that one’s main job–creating and enforcing laws–is largely unnecessary. There is much to be gained by stirring discontent among the drones–there are more of them–and they love laws that blame the rich.

So the creator is hopelessly out-gunned. Those who insist openly that individual rights trump any bogus claim for the “collective” are rare and getting rarer. We are becoming a very large tribe in this country, one that threatens to kill off progress for the sake of conformity. Of course, now we are too sophisticated to think the creator will anger the gods by challenging the status quo. Instead, we trot out Elizabeth Warren to admonish us about the “social contract.” It dictates that the creator’s achievements are not his/hers, but everyone’s. They owe their courage and creativity to all those that stayed home on the couch while they took chances.

The Founders gave us as solid a protection for our individuality as one could hope for and we have squandered it. Daily the mass of regulations and laws grows, suffocating the creative outliers and clipping the wings of the achievers. The life of this country is in the blood of the productive deviant, not the content conformist. Envy has become a virtue and mediocrity a rallying cry drowning out the voice of greatness. It will end badly as our country starves for want of ideas and energy.

The only question that remains is how it will all unwind. If Elizabeth Warren and her ilk win the day, we will bask in the temporary illusion of plenty. The creators will be looted for the “good of the whole.” All pretense of the right to be better than someone else at anything will disappear and along with it any incentive for anyone to do anything special. For a while, it will be heaven for the timid and lazy.

The Elizabeths of this world will see widespread poverty and mayhem grow. They will try to force the producers to produce, but none will be found. They will have gone underground, refusing any longer to be served up as meat for the masses. Progressives will become frantic when force no longer works. People will begin to look like characters from The Road. The world will descend into chaos.

What then? No one knows. We have to decide whether the Founders were a strange aberration or carriers of the fire. You have to decide whether you will carry the steady, confident gaze of a free individual or the shifty glance of a parasite. Eventually, the world will belong once again to the ones who have always led mankind forward–the man/woman whose own mind is the final authority. But Dear God how many will succumb to a grizzly death in the meantime. There’s your social contract. Use it to wipe up the blood.


About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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