Friday, September 02, 2005

The Social Contract

Reading blogs and email lists over the last few days I've been astounded to read how many people are horrified by the looting and the reports of crime coming out of New Orleans. The tales of rapes and abductions in the Superdome are shocking, of firing at rescue helicopters are disturbing, but what I don't understand is why people are surprised this is all happening. Do people on the internet, as a group, suspect people of being noble and selfless?

Maybe it's my natural cynicism. Maybe it's because of what we just went through here in Israel. But for decades governments have been encouraging people to give up on self-reliance and trust Big Brother. And people have bought it, whether that means relying on the federal government to build better levees or to provide housing for people they've expelled from their homes. We've given up the social contract for social servitude.

I may be too harsh. I do know how impossible it was for many to get out of New Orleans, because evacuation was primarily in private cars, and the poor often do not have cars. But tell me -- did they not know that they were no priority to the New Orleans government? If social services were so wonderful that the poorer residents thought the government would save them, then they'd already have had the means to get a car. If they were still so poor, so down-trodden, obviously they were not a priority for their government, and so should not have expected help.

Locally, did the people to be expelled from Gaza and North Shomron really expect that the government would quickly resettle them? After months of threats and arrests? After a decade of being delegitimized? Did they think the Left would force the government, riddled with corruption, to suddenly be efficient and beneficent to those they had vanquished?

There's an old saying that from 7 to 70 a person does not change. Neither do governments. The saving grace of society, what keeps things running smoothly, is people's gullibility, their belief that though the Powers That Be may be screwing everyone else, they'd never do that to me. Each individual believes, down in his or her heart of hearts, in their unique merit, and that this unique merit will be recognized and rewarded. But life isn't like that. The social contract has not been with individual citizens any time that I can remember. When push comes to shove, the government will deal with its contractual partner, and not with the down-and-out homeless, even if those homeless were tourists with homes elsewhere or until last month owned mansions.

And once the realization hits that the government doesn't owe you anything, that you have no unique merit that sets you above the crowd, that you are not entitled to anything and that all you'll ever be certain to get is what you take for yourself--why does it surprise people that others act on this knowledge? When you're stuck in a dark wet place with limited food and water, overcrowded and abandoned, in what is something like the seventh level of hell, why would anyone expect you to think about tomorrow? What do you have to lose by satisfying your every base impulse? Fear that you may be jailed for 3 to 15 years? C'mon--does anyone think jail will be worse than what the Superdome refugees are going through now?

So why were the people expelled from Gaza and North Shomron so much better behaved? Why did (with few exceptions) the whole process go off so smoothly? Because they haven't yet realized that it's them, not their addresses, that the government doesn't care about. They still have their bank accounts, their possessions (albeit small amounts thereof, and the rest packed up somewhere, being looted by Arabs and by some soldiers). They are still afraid the government will take away their children "for the sake of the children." Their accommodations, no matter how often they have to move and no matter how cramped they are, how inconvenient, are still better than jail. They haven't yet descended far enough into hell.

But our government is already talking about more expulsions. And since they aren't trying to solve one group's problems before creating a new group of homeless and jobless, sooner or later we will get down far enough. I have a plan in place. I won't rely on "my" government. They've broken whatever feeble contract they had with me; I expect nothing from them and offer them nothing I'm not forced to in return.

Self-reliance: they can't take that away from me.


stephanie said...

Moze, thank you for saying very clearly and concisely what my sorrow and outrage have prevented me from putting into words.

Diann said...

Thank you, Moze, for saying this better and more kindly than I ever could.

Here in earthquake country, we're told to plan for at least 72 hours before any help arrives, and everyone I know does. Of course, there are lots of folks I don't know, and they may not plan. But I've always assumed that I'm on my own in an emergency.

Thanks again!

/Diann (

zibibbo said...

Well said my friend, well said.