August 28, 2002

The Social Contract: Shredded Beyond Recognition

By Warren Pease

The people of Portland, Oregon, about 3,500 of them anyway, declared war on the Bush regime last Thursday. And as is to be expected in time of war, there were casualties. Nothing fatal; no physical wounds that won't heal. Some painful pepper spray, a couple of choke holds, the random welt from a rubber bullet.

For some, though, the psychological wounds may never heal. The anguish of being abused by the very people they've depended upon to feel safe in their homes and on the streets may never completely go away.

This group includes the two small children who were gassed, and their parents who tried to get the cops to ease up and were answered with another round of spraying, as if they were mere aphids defiling the pristine streets of the Rose City.

If you go here and click on either the streaming or downloading options, you can view a 10-minute video of the events of last Thursday. If you're a logical person, you might notice a recurring and somewhat disturbing inconsistency in the comments and complaints of the protesters, though.

They expected the police to actually protect and serve, which means they expected the social contract to prevail. Clearly, that's over with. There are no rules. There is no social contract.

The concept of a social contract dates back to the Magna Carta when, for the first time in recorded Western history, government formally recognized that its citizens have certain inalienable rights simply because of their humanity. For their part, the citizens granted the government limited dominion over their lives, and then only in certain circumstances and under specific conditions. This took place in England in 1215, and governments have sought to test the limits of their citizens' appetites for freedom ever since.

So it seems that the woman with glasses who had been sprayed, the young guy with the black hood who opens the video, the woman in the blue shirt who made the local news because she was surrounded by six riot cops, sprayed and placed in a choke hold -- these people all expected to be treated as though they still lived in a functional democracy in which government plays a largely benevolent role and in which certain bilateral rules of behavior apply.

It should have been clear in December 2000 that the American social contract had been severely tested, and subsequent events can only lead one to the conclusion that it's been unilaterally abandoned by the feds and the people to whom they delegate their local dirty work.

So with that as a frame of reference, what now? November elections? They can be rigged or suspended, or maybe they'll just proceed as they should in a democratic republic. Who knows? And what if the GOP wins big? Will anyone be able to prove they rigged the game again? Will anyone care, aside from a couple hundred thousand lost souls who simply refuse to get over it?

I pose these questions in part because Thursday in Portland gave me a sense of personal empowerment and sheer joy in the company of a few thousand people who despise George Bush and all he stands for at least as much as I do. This alone is so utterly unique in this country at this time that reliving it nearly takes my breath away -- or maybe that's just the cell memory of the pepper spray.

However, here we are several days later and I'm getting impatient again. I'm getting impatient with people who simply refuse to abandon their basic assumptions about the role of government in George Bush's America. I'm getting impatient with people who castigate the few violent protesters, preferring to blame the victims rather than focus their blame where it belongs -- on our Fundraiser in Chief and the pathetic puffballs who paid $1,000 to dine with him and another $25,000 to have their picture taken with this dangerous ninny.

And I'm becoming most impatient of all with people who think that ends can never, ever justify the means. These people would have written letters to the editor deploring the Boston Tea Party.

So here's an ends/means hypothetical. Suppose you had it within your power to somehow end the Bush regime today, and suppose that it involved nefarious behavior on your part. Nothing violent, but suppose you came into possession of, say, a stack of perfectly forged documents so incendiary that their publication would bring the entire regime to trial for high treason. Something like papers bearing Dick Cheney's signature on a bill of lading for weapons-grade uranium ticketed for Baghdad might do the trick.

Then again, here in happy-talk land, where the vapid gaze of incomprehension flickers in the eyes of an undereducated, uninformed, incurious, narcotized populace, maybe not. . .

In any case, would your conscience trouble you? Would you quibble about the morality of using false documents to bring down a false regime? Would you sentence yourself, your family, your friends, your country, this planet to a continuation of BushCo and all the environmental destruction and human carnage that represents? Or would you make a couple of phone calls to friendly reporters?

I know without a doubt what my decision would be. I've got plenty of time to play "what if" morality games with these madmen safely locked away. For now, let it rip and I'll gladly deal with the ethical consequences.

If the Bush regime insists on obliterating the social contract, it's only sensible and just that the people respond accordingly.


"Most people understand, intuitively or through personal experience, that altruism is not a property of governments and that power concedes nothing to the powerless." SG, January 2001

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