Social Contracts and Social Constructs

Earlier this month, I wrote about the Occupy movement and renegotiating the social contract, which I still think is an important way to look at the movement. Yet 'the social contract' and 'movement' are both social constructs, and I have to wonder if we have to dig deeper and look at social constructs. Are they also being redefined at this point in history? As I mentioned in yesterday's blog post, I flew out to a conference on health care and social media at the Mayo clinic and on the plane I was reading Michel Foucault's "The Archaeology of Knowledge", and this is shaping some of my current thinking.

First, let's start looking from a historical context. The first construct I want to explore is "The Mandate of Heaven". Rulers were viewed to be blessed by heaven, as long as they were just, and their domains would prosper. But, if there was injustice, this mandate could be taken away by the heavens, as seen by rises in poverty or natural disasters, and the people would have the responsibility to overthrow the rules that no longer lacked the mandate.

Is this some of what we are seeing today? And if, so, how do we understand the overthrowing of rulers in a representative democracy? In theory, the rules are people we've selected to represent us. Are elections sufficient, or are other forms of change necessary?

It may be that the equating of money with speech and calling corporations persons is undermining our democracy to such an extent that major changes are necessary, perhaps even a constitutional convention. Could the occupy movement lead to a constitutional convention?

Many revolutions, including perhaps, our own, have been about overthrowing oligarchies, where political power is inherited and not earned. Has the role of money in politics, especially the money of the richest 1% and money coming from inheritance and privilege moved our country closer to the sort of oligarchy that we fought against over two centuries ago?

Another historical construct is Marx's "alienation of wage labour". That is when the workers, frustrated by the owners of the means of production take too large a cut of the value of the workers' labor. Economic imbalances are created leading to a proletariat revolution. I realize that quoting Marx is not popular in American political discourse, but if we look at Karl Marx as an economic historian instead of a revolutionary socialist, we should wonder if we are currently seeing the alienation of wage labour leading to a loss of the mandate of heaven.

If so, I am worried. Our country has thrived on the peaceful transition of power, but the economic imbalances seem so great that violence should be a concern, whether it be similar to riots of the sixties, or something worse, like the economic imbalances that led to World War II.

Yet the mandate of heaven, the alienation of wage labour, and even historical contexts are also social constructs. Do we need to dig deeper? To borrow another popular construct, are we seeing a 'perfect storm', where an alienation of wage labour driven revocation of the mandate of heaven is coming together with new tools of communication and organization as seen on the Internet? I saw a poster of a demonstrator recently that read Tools of Revolution. At the top of the list, crossed out, were AK-47 and machete. The tools that were checked off were Facebook and Twitter. People are spreading more and more information about economic imbalances via these tools.

Then, what of the demands of the occupy movement? Here is a place where I think the traditional media is really missing it, again, perhaps, because they are stuck in a narrow historical context. Looking more broadly, is asking about the demands of the occupy movement similar to asking about the demands of the counter culture, or perhaps of the reformation?

The occupy movement is, after all, a social construct in and of itself. Perhaps we need to read a little more Foucault and try to step away from the assumptions we are bringing to our analysis of this movement to get a better view of what it may really mean.

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