An Old Man From Jersey Explains: The Social Contract

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There’s a transcript of the comic at the bottom of the post for viewers using text only browswers.

If you liked/hated this comic you’ll probably feel the same way about these:

Transcript of “An Old Man From Jersey Explains: The Social Contract

Kid: Hey Mister,

Old Man: What do you want?

Kid: Can you explain the social contract to me?

Old Man: What’s in it for me?

Kid: Would you rather have a stupid kid running around your neighbourhood or a smart one?

Old Man: Point taken. Okay, first off there’s no single social contract. It’s just a term for an idea.

Kid: Nope. You’re wrong. There’s a book with that title at the community library.

Old Man: That’s one guy’s ideas on the topic. A social contract can be any agreement between two or more people to collaborate on a goal because they believe they have a better chance of succeeding by working together.

Kid: How is that any different than a normal contract?

Old Man: It’s not. When you hear about sports stars signing contracts to play for a team, they’re signing a social contract.

Kid: I thought it meant like…The Constitution.

Old Man: That’s another form of social contract…just bigger.

Kid: Okay, so The Constitution is the social contract. Got it. Bye.

Old Man: No, you don’t got it. Not every country has a constitution, and the ones that do don’t necessarily follow them. There’s no one, big authoritative, definitive social contract.

Kid: How is that possible? Wouldn’t the world fall apart without one big social contract in the sky to guide the course of human civilization?

Old Man: Hmmm. If you’re right, that might explain some of the wars going on lately.

Kid: Wait a minute! I just got done learning all about World War II in school, and my teacher said after we wont the war the whole world signed some big paper that…fixed everything.

Old Man: A lot of big social contracts came out of World War II. Unfortunately, they were incomplete to begin with, and they’ve since been trumped and bypassed by a million other social contracts all around the globe.

Kid: OMG! I’ve been living a lie my entire life! I thought humanity had it all figured out!

Old Man: …despite much evidence to the contrary.

Kid: But we’ve invented 3D televisions, and we sent a robot to the moon! How do we not have a…universal social contract?

Old Man: We’ve got pieces, but it’s not in anyone’s job description to put it all together.

Kid: Well, then you put it together.

Old Man: Here’s the thing about that. Remember how I told you social contracts exist to help multiple people accomplish a goal for their mutual benefit?

Kid: Yeah, that’s what I want you to do.

Old Man: Well, nobody gives a damn what I think the goal of humanity is. They care even less what I think everyone should be compensated for their contribution to society.

Kid: Yeah, I reckon my preacher would disagree with you on a few points. Well, let’s say the goal of humanity is to create utopia. Couldn’t you write a logical contract based on that?

Old Man: Sure, but nobody would agree with my definition of utopia.

Kid: I see your point. In your utopia everyone would just sit on the porch all day reading the paper. Count me out.

Old Man: …and in my utopia kids wouldn’t bother old men all day.

Kid: Couldn’t you write a social contract that just says the purpose of humanity is for everyone to fulfil their potential and everyone gets a fair share of the booty and everyone has equal freedoms?

Old Man: Sure. Why don’t you help me hammer out the details? First thing you have to do when writing a political social contract is to establish your claim to authority. In other words, what gives you the right to say what you’re about to say, and what makes those things true?

Kid: Let’s just say because God said so. Nobody can argue with that.

Old Man: Very popular choice, but try again.

Kid: How about, it’s true because…if you don’t believe us we’ll kick your butt?

Old Man: Another very popular choice, but no. Try again.

Kid: Well, what did George Washington say in The Constitution?

Old Man: The Constitution said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” Though it’s worth noting that the guys who wrote that had a lot of money and guns too.

Kid: So all you have to say to establish the validity of a political system is, “It’s obviously true. So I don’t even have to explain it.”

Old Man: If you have enough money and guns you don’t even have to say that much.

Kid: Is it possible to base a political system on anything more tangible than “Duh, stupid?” or is life really that undefinable?

Old Man: The best systems in any walk of life are always based on reason.

Kid: Great, do that.

Old Man: It took thousands of Bill Gates-es to write Windows XP. It takes a lot more than an old man to upgrade society’s operating system.

Kid: I asked for results, not excuses. And what the heck to I pay taxes for anyway? Why don’t we have a team of people working on that?

Old Man: You do. That’s what parliaments, congresses and politburos do.

Kid: Well they’re doing about as good of a job as a thousand monkeys banging on typewriters. How come we don’t have the smartest people in the world working on all that instead?

Old Man: Socrates wondered the same thing.

Kid: I wonder how much longer people are going to have to wonder when that’ll happen before it happens.

Old Man: If we meet in the afterlife you’ll have to let me know if your generation ever put the thinkers in charge of writing a social contract.

Kid: They probably won’t. You said so yourself, the government doesn’t want to, and nobody else is paid to do it. So who from my generation does that leave?

Old Man: …by my calculations…everybody.

Kid: Oh yeah, you’re totally right. You could just crowd-source the whole thing, couldn’t you?

Old Man: That’s not what I was thinking, but sure. Why don’t you get started on that?

Kid: No way. I’m just a kid. Why don’t you call up your old man guild and you take care of it?

Old Man: That would be the responsible thing to do, huh?

Kid: Isn’t there a social contract that says kids don’t have to respect adults who don’t live up to their responsibilities?

Old Man: Reason says that, but most authority figures would rather you fear them than respect them…as you may have noticed.

Kid: I can’t count on adults to save the world, can I?

Old Man: Well, you can’t count on chance anyway.

Kid: Gotcha. I’m going to go home and yell at my mom now.

Old Man: Tell her I said, hello.

The End.


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