Our society mirrors the dichotomy between the haves and have-nots.
KIZITO OKECHUKWU | MARCH 30, 2020
The United Nations list of the least developed countries contains about 47 nations that comprise some 900 million people – and these countries are riddled with urban slums, which are hotspots for the coronavirus to thrive.
As many cities and countries lockdown their borders and movement of people, one must ask just how will these shanty-town communities survive? How do they self-isolate and maintain social distancing in closely-knit shacks? How will the ones that live on hand to mouth survive? Perhaps, this presents the perfect opportunity to rapidly implement the various infrastructural reforms so much needed in these oft forgotten and ignored communities. Maybe this is also a sincere wake-up call for the wealthy and governments to grasp the veracity of the dire conditions in which the severely underprivileged live. It is time we work harder to develop our communities.
Sure, we all take the virus seriously, but for many it’s a manageable situation that we can cope with by simply following the rules, while the condition of the most vulnerable remains an inconvenient truth. It has been a bit of inconvenience here and there for the rich and middle class but for the poor, it’s a license to the grave as many struggle to fend for themselves. In this light, we must revisit the social contract that currently exists in many countries.
In 1762, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote that “man is born free, but is in chains”. In the opening sentence of his book, “The Social Contract”, he explains how man went from a state of autonomy to the modern condition dominated by inequality, dependency, violence and unhappiness.
Although this brought with it some positivity, such as the creation of families, the discovery of tools and technology, the building of cities and social organisations, this also gave away the right of the strongest, where a reign of inequality destroys man’s original state of happiness and freedom. Social contract arguments typically posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority in exchange for protection of their remaining rights or maintenance of the social order. The State of Nature posits the hypothetical life of humans before societies came into existence. One could hypothetically ask what life was like before civil societies came into existence?
In the State of Nature, there was freedom – but, with Social Contract comes rights and obligations. In other words, the contract imposes restrictions upon individuals to curtail their natural rights. The State of Nature brings chaos and disorder, while Social Contract brings law and order.
The risk we face at this stage is that we may be bringing back a State of Nature, and understandably so, due to the severe frustrations fuelled by a sense of “forgotteness” in many poor communities – all because we have failed to construct a proper and inclusive Social Contract that is fair and equitable for all levels of society.
Over the past few weeks, the panic buying trend revelled all over the world and there are fun videos and challenges about bulk toilet paper buying etc., yet the poorest of the poor can barely afford just one roll. This brings into effect human reasoning and the relations of ideas and matters of fact.
This could return us to the matters of cause and effect and can even bring back the State of Nature, in which each one has their own moral rules. And just as this is happening, it seems the majority of the people also have their own rules – including what the poor can and cannot do. They create their own rules to suit a particular time and situation.
It was Hobbes, an English philosopher in the 17th century, who argued that natural inequalities between humans are not so great as to give anyone clear superiority; and thus all must live in constant fear of loss or violence; so that “during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called warre; and such a warre as is of every man against every man”. In this state, every person has a natural right to do anything one thinks necessary for preserving one’s own life, and life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. Hobbes described this natural condition with the Latin phrase “bellum omnium contra omnes”, meaning “war of all against all”.
Back-peddling to the State of Nature. This only has nature to govern it and its anarchic and self-serving sentiment obviously remains completely impractical at this point in time – and any in the future for that matter.
So right now, a solid and totally unbiased Social Contract takes centre stage. Yet this has to be designed to make sure that the socio-economic journey all of us embark on every day includes the plight of the poor, addresses the high inequality that continues to exist in our cities, communities and countries and ensures that we work together for the common good of all – in Latin, “pro bono publico”.
Let’s bin Darwin’s theory of evolution about the survival of the fittest for now. It’s time to care for all and ensure the survival of all.
Once more, kudos to the men and women that are keeping us safe during this difficult time and for our leaders for making the tough decisions. We will continue to pray for a safe health and economic recovery.
In Other News
Most of us grew up knowing what the basic societal norms are and we adopted them and conformed wherever possible.
The roles and responsibilities of business, political, medical and religious leaders, as well as civil society, parents and family members have changed drastically over the past few months.
In his piece on the meaning of a war economy, James Galbraith wrote that the public obligation is to do what is necessary; i.e. to support the military effort, to protect and defend the home territory, and especially to maintain physical well-being, solidarity and the morale of the people.