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Thoughts triggered by a full passport — Social Contract

August 23, 2017

I supposed to be in Bangkok right now sipping a glass of mango smoothie by the rooftop pool…well, guess that happened in the parallel universe. I wasn’t allowed to fly because all my passport’s pages were filled up, moreover, I didn’t realize it till the staff at the check-in counter found out. Long story short, my travel schedule was screwed up by my full passport. As I am holding a Chinese passport, I have to apply a new one which takes at least 7 working days. 

There are several options in my mind: A. Add more pages to my old passport. B. Get a fake passport from the black market  C.Just put me on that plane I am a secret service agent! (movie scene). None of the above works. In the real world, I am a Chinese citizen holding a Chinese passport obliged to follow the laws of the People’s Republic of China. Why? Everyone takes it for granted without realizing we are living in a society bounded with social contracts.

 

So What is the social contract (theory)?

 

Socrates (470/469 – 399 BC)

An agreement between people of a society to abide by laws and accept the punishment. Basically, if you live in a society you agree to follow the rules but why people join the society for the first place why wouldn’t they live on their own? The here comes Hobbes.

 

Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679)

“The key to saving the world from chaos was a contract.”

Humans were evil in their state of nature and that society government and laws existed because humans needed them for protection. This concept is called “the state of nature”, which according to Hobbes, was the worst possible outcome imaginable that human life would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short". In the absence of political order and law, everyone would have unlimited natural freedoms, including the "right to all things" and thus the freedom to plunder rape, and murder; there would be an endless "war of all against all". While Locke totally disagreed.

 

John Locke (1632 – 1704)

Humans are inherently good and because we are all born equal that the elimination of the government would lead to liberty and equality where everyone’s inalienable rights would be guaranteed by each other. Locke realized that some people might take more than their fair share and it’s because people want to guarantee the protection of their inalienable rights that they form a government or a social contract all of these members sacrifice a liberty to follow laws but gain the protection of their rights. He promotes the idea of popular sovereignty, which is the belief that the government is created by the members of the social contracts and that its power comes directly from them. Not only does the power comes from the people but they should also have some say in the way their society is run. Locke says that popular sovereignty is the only way to fairly govern any social contract because the ultimate power comes from the people and not God. Any society where the people can’t make decisions about how to protect their own rights could form a new government.

 

We are expected to follow all the rules that we never agreed to follow. For instance, if I tried to explain to the immigration officer who stopped me from leaving the country with a full passport that I never agreed to the rules, so I am not bound to follow it. I was still not able to fly anyway. Sounds unfair to me right? While according to social contract theory, it’s not. Because I have all kinds of benefits from being part of this system like security, education, clean water supply, etc. “Rights imply obligations”. So when you are enjoying the goods that the system provides — you are also expected to pay in. That’s what happens when you pay taxes and when you accept punishment for violating the rules — even the rules you disagree with. The keyword here is “Cooperation”. Contracts make society work. They save you from a situation that Hobbes described as a “war of all against all” and puts you in this idyllic land where everyone cooperates. When you eat out at a restaurant, you and the restaurant owner are contractors, you agree to pay for the food and service they offer at whatever price on the menu. When you get married, you and your partner are contractors agree to be faithful to each other and taking care of each other. When you get a job, you and your employer are contractors. You agree to work for the company with a certain pay and obey the company rules…

 

As I can’t change the rules as an individual without the consent of the group or the government, I can only go to the immigration office applying for a new passport which takes 7-10 working days. Accept it and deal with it. DO check my passport before it gets full.

 

 

 

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