October 7th, 2010

Civilization and the Social Contract

Civilization is defined by Webster as "the culture characteristic of a time or place;" the root means "the art of living in cities." Implied is that a culture is a product of human beings; I know of no examples of culture that do not involve people. (Argue that, say, baboons have culture and I'll suggest we give 'em the vote and find out; I can't at the moment picture this as making any of our current cultural or political issues measurably worse.)

A social contract (Webster, again) is "an actual or hypothetical agreement among the members of an organized society or between a community and its ruler that defines and limits the rights and duties of each."

If a society doesn't care for me as a human, it seems to me that it is not acting as a contractable entity. Instead, it is simply a feature of my social environment, there to be exploited if it is possible for me to do so [1]. The first social functions we recognize are those of caring for the sick, elderly, and incapacitated. If we-as-a-People no longer do this, are we still a People? It seems to me the answer is "No."

This has become relevant to me because I am writing a business plan for a Civilization Corporation, and so I need to know what one is and what its fundamental or defining characteristics are.

[1] Another school of thought around this is based on the idea of conferring rights on 'the environment'. Because I have never heard of an environment initiating a legal action, I don't think they are reliably capable of *exercising* legal rights extended to them, and I doubt also the reliability of human mechanisms put in place to protect those rights. Since I am dependent on said environment for my existence, I find this to be an important issue and want a more reliable form of protection. The argument that civilization implies a social contract places on that civilization the responsibility for environmental maintenance, whether directly or by delegation, and thus solves the problem that organized systems can only account for things that are *inside* the system. My environment is not inside the system of my civilization, but my contract with it is, and if that contract requires maintaining my life-support system, inadequate or insufficient maintenance can be measured and acted upon within that system.

Did I just make sense? If not, do you have any pointed questions to provide, the answering of which might cause me to do so?