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Contracts, social or commercial

What does it mean if we conceive of our social relationships in increasingly financial terms? Falling back on the relative “security” of commercial interactions and rights rather than their more loosely defined social counterparts.

It’s something I’ve circled around a few times here, wondering why we might prefer interacting with life as consumers rather than citizens (Notes One). Because it’s completely possible to reduce society down to mere numbers, to quantify and draw a line under it all: we contribute, “paying” for society’s upkeep, and then we’re free to do as we please.

Are we more comfortable and confident within commercial contracts than social ones? Knowing where we stand, we can assert our rights with the authority consumer relationships offer: we demand better service, knowing that money speaks and our voice counts within the online world of reputation. We have leverage there, in that equalising, universal trading space.

And the system backs us up. These are clearly defined contracts that can be enforced or, at least, wielded to push companies into behaving better through the pressure of public relations. Compared with the undeniably messy realities of policing, overwhelm, and the countless ways people attempt to get around things, the world of money’s fairly clean cut.

Maybe it comes down to commercial contracts being something we deliberately enter into as adults? We choose to sign up to them, having had the chance to read the conditions attached. Society, however, we’re born into and its terms are nowhere written down in their entirety; it’s this evolving, ongoing project we’re all automatically a part of (Notes Two).

The fact we’re placed within something that very much relies upon our active, consistent effort in upholding it through our behaviours, attitudes and belief in its ultimate value is really quite intriguing. Surely such a thing would be better done consciously? Would collective reality not work better based on fully informed understanding rather than implied or subconscious pressures and expectations?

Is it enough to delineate broad responsibilities and say, “Here’s the money, deliver what’s promised”? What if costs increase or needs can’t be met? What if the environment changes and problems multiply? What if, left to ourselves, we pursue courses of action that create a whole new set of problems? What if the social model “needs” our more deliberate involvement?

Can that be reduced to money? Is society the same as our commercial contracts, where terms can’t be changed without agreement and publicity creates enough pressure to enforce our wishes? There might be financial elements to society, but it’s also a different kind of relationship. Terms such as trust, interest, contribution, obligation, investment might apply in both worlds, but do they mean the same? (Notes Three)

Does society require something different of us? A more rounded sense of trust and responsibility within collective human activity, perhaps. A deeper sense for how we’re upholding valuable ideals. Greater awareness of situations our personal or commercial actions might be creating, alleviating or exacerbating elsewhere. Otherwise, what are we doing?

Notes and References:

Note 1: Invisible ties
Note 1: Trust within modern society
Note 1: Smart to play the system?
Note 1: Community as an answer
Note 2: Making adjustments
Note 2: Shopping around for a society
Note 2: Freedom, what to lean on & who to believe
Note 2: Questions around choice
Note 3: Right to look out for ourselves?
Note 3: Obligations and contributions
Note 3: Does anything exist in isolation?
Note 3: Interdependency

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