Society is a contract. The contract states that we live and let live, through equality and freedom, whatever your view of life. This contract has been broken left, right, up, down, front, rear and center in the past decade, because we have forgotten that freedom is not just something you have, but also something you extent to others. Freedom doesn't work if we take it, without giving it. So, with the recent developments in mind, let’s break down the current story of society.
The Paradox of Freedom
Freedom is a paradox. It is both absolute to yourself and relative to others. You have absolute freedom to take that freedom and use it as you see fit. However, so do the other people around you, making freedom not just absolute to you, but at the same time relative to your neighbor. If your ‘taking of’ freedom leads to another person having less freedom (or vice versa), the societal contract states that we side with those whose freedoms are being damaged. In the past period however, this has shown to be increasingly difficult to do for the people at large, and minorities in particular.
The examples of this recent ‘taking of freedom’ are numerous: The Credit Crunch, The Panama Papers, the MeToo Movement, Black Lives Matter, the Hong Kong protests, the continued destruction of rain forests, the annihilation of animal species, fake news, privacy violations from Silicon Valley, failure of governments and businesses to truly tackle climate change, the growing gap between the rich and pour, the continued neglect of rural conservative communities, election interference… to name just a few. Heck, a private company even violated a 46.000 year old aboriginal site, destroying a part of mankind’s earliest history. An attack on all of humanity if ever there was one.
The Age of Distrust
What we see is an incredible, mind boggling amount of violations to that social contract. From a birds eye view, it really does not matter where you are on any political divide. People are hurting everywhere. Our freedoms simply mean less to too many of the powerful, who willingly take them to the point of death. This has resulted in what Edelmans Trustbarometer has called The Age of Distrust, where the trust of consumers and citizens in government, business, courts, media and even NGO's – the pillars of our society – has dropped to record lows.
This mistrust can partly be explained by the rise of the internet, because of which the powerful have lost their monopoly on information, and the people can now create their own stories. Another part of the explanation is the transparency that the Internet has brought, with the people being able to expose things by using their own communication media. But the biggest factor surely must be the behavior of our powerful in their attempt to wrestle this power of information back from us.
Turning on the powerful
A beautiful example is Mark Zuckerberg his refusal to fact check political ads and messages from those in high power, from either left or right wing. I do not mean censorship of course (I am a writer after all), which would be a break the societal contract of freedom of speech. What I mean is to leave a message intact, yet fact check against incitement of violence, discrimination or promotion of dictatorial practices, which all are breaches of the same societal contract too.
The irony here, is that his own personnel has now spoken out against him, stating that the company they so love, should not end up on the wrong side of history and become a propaganda machine for the powerful. Now, regardless where you are on this issue, we can agree on one thing; a more potent example of our distrust in leadership is hard to find. These words are spoken by Facebook employees on the Facebook medium itself. Of all the companies...
This one example of many shows that people are rising up and shedding their fear of those in power, even if it risks their livelihoods. We have just recently been asked to comply to lock-down rules, out of empathy for those hit by the pandemic, and have by and large shown that empathy worldwide. Now, with the ignited spark of George Floyd, we are again reminded that too many of the powerful blatantly disregard the very rules they ask us to follow, even when they themselves turn them into law.
The breaches are numerous
Police violence is one such example of course. But so is the Chinese government breaching the Hong Kong 2047 contract. In 2020. And smaller breaches are a dime a dozen these days. For instance Dominic Cummings his refusal to abide by his own lock-down rules in the UK. Or in my city, the mayor turning up at a Black Lives Matter protest, which I attended too, without following her own rule of wearing a mask, an insult to us following her rules. And again, agree or disagree with me, I'm sure you can come up with a few potent examples of your own.
The birds eye view is this: theses breaches have now gone on for such an extended period of time, involving so many people from so many walks of life, that it has fueled the anger and grief of the masses to such a boiling point that it even defies fears of viruses and power. Furthermore, in their own fearful response to control the masses, a massive push by governments is being made to gather even more information of its people, making the gap in distrust even wider, to a point were things will become dangerous.
The powerful are tempting fate
We are all, in essence, protesting the coming of a worldwide police state that takes freedom, without giving it back. So to those in power, if you want to avoid people rising up and kicking your butt, you might want to stop building that.
Violence is of course viewed by many as unacceptable. But violence in Hong Kong to push out a dictatorship and a surveillance state, or violence against policeman who break their vow to protect and serve, or violence against corporations who keep taking away our freedom to have privacy, can also be seen as self defense.
And even if you disagree with all of the above, there is a fact none of us can ignore: of all the human emotions, anger is still the hardest for us to control. So from a base emotional level, violent uprising will be increasingly harder to avoid as long as society does not work better to follow its own rules of freedom.
Take a knee
In short, all of us, from all walks of life, can no longer afford to live in a society that keeps breaking its own contract. The stakes surrounding economy, human rights, privacy, nature and climate change are just too high at this point in history. For many, it is becoming about survival, nothing more, nothing less. Those in power should understand that, if we are to prevail as a peaceful species on the only planet with life as far as we know, they have to stop taking freedoms. Now.
It is high time for the powerful to comply as the people have done, or face the consequences of that one word I've been avoiding so far: revolution. Power needs to adapt to a world in which they no longer have the monopoly on information and must start to lead by example and rid itself of its excesses. They must also understand that they themselves hold the key to stopping the anger from boiling over. How?
By peacefully taking a humble knee. And staying there.
And plant trees people. Plant trees and check out my book The Whole Story - The Ultimate Guide to Storytelling here !!!
Rogier van Kralingen