Social contracts: Vulnerabilities and risks
In many countries, the capabilities of top private actors such as Google, Facebook, Apple or Amazon have surpassed that of governments in terms of realizing what people want, do and think. “But what happens if governments are able to acquire these capabilities? Is this a force for better public policy?” asks David Eaves, a technology and government expert from Harvard University in a debate titled “Rethinking the social contract.”
How can governments adapt and overcome the policy and governance challenges in a world of uncertainties? Rethinking social contract in an era of changing global dynamics may be the way out. But why are we scared? Why do we stay alert and alarmed? What is this feeling of unease?
We are at the cross roads; threats, vulnerability, risk and fear are destabilizing and undermining social contracts. The sense that what holds society together is collapsing indicates that the social contract has cracked.
The three terms – threats, vulnerability and risk – are security nomenclature that are frequently interchanged or used incorrectly. Since these terms can appear outside the security industry, understanding their different and interactive relationship is vital in the comprehensive evaluation of crisis management. While a threat is defined by security consultants as “anything that can exploit a vulnerability,” vulnerability is defined as the “weaknesses or gaps in protection efforts.” Risk is the intersection of both; it is “the function of threat exploiting vulnerabilities to obtain damage” as defined by a consulting firm Threat Analysis Group. A risk situation usually involves danger.
Social change happens; it has always been good in some aspects and bad in others. Differentiating between these terms is important in order to understand true risk.
An opinion piece by Laura D’Olimpio titled “Fear, trust, and the social contract: What’s lost in a society on permanent alert” presented on ABC NEWS states that “Trust suffers in a world on permanent alert. But it’s not the only thing we lose.” She adds, “It is the social contract that provides us with protection and a feeling of security that allows us to trust our rights and liberties will be upheld.”
Learning to trust is not easy, but it’s essential if the social contract is to remain intact. Protecting social contracts occurs when minimizing risk, which happens by minimizing vulnerability and blocking threat. In the absence of vulnerabilities, risk became minimal; the same applies in the case of threats.
So, can threats be prevented? And if so, how?
In a world of extreme challenges, underpinning the notion of the social contract is insightful. Indeed, there is also great certainty that in many countries the social contract is in deep crisis, and that we need to better understand what it means for states and societies in different settings.
Countries affected by violent conflict and fragility are defined as more vulnerable and susceptible to forces from inside and outside, hindering governments from preserving law and order. Profound social distrust of state institutions threatens efforts to build viable states and shared citizenship.
Global actors have been struggling to find successful formulas to preventing violent conflict and sustaining peace which requires a shift from one-size fits all solutions.
A winning formula exists only by promoting contextually relevant development strategies that are home grown and that understands assets, vulnerabilities and threats. “Negative” peace, driven by elite political settlements, will never insure a path to nationally owned and lasting peace.
Today, a group of scholars and policy-advisers are researching 12 countries in the project titled “Forging Resilient Social Contracts: Preventing Violent Conflict and Sustaining Peace,” a partnership between UNDP’s Oslo Governance Centre, The New School, New York and Friedrich-EbertStiftung. The project surveys what a “social contract looks like, and means to people, in different countries affected by conflict and fragility.” The comparative research is meant to reveal the drives of resilience while understanding what the social contract means in different contexts, exploring the notion in designing strategies and action plans to prevent violent conflict and reinforce lasting peace in countries affected by conflict and fragility.
The study defines the resilient national social contract as a “dynamic agreement between state and society, and different groups in society, on how to live together.” It explores how states can avoid risks by lowering vulnerability and threats through various processes. Moreover, it indicates three drives of a resilient social contract: tackling core conflict and fragility concerns by political settlement, fostering inclusiveness, and building social cohesion, while still understanding the dynamism and adaptability mechanisms of each county in transition from conflict and fragility.
Nowadays, social contract, a term certainly known to all, is tested in its ability to build resilient peace in an age of terror. An approach that entails a moral and political obligations contingent with an agreement that is implicit or explicit within a society.
With more researchers studying the relevance of social contract as an “actionable idea” in order to prevent conflict and fragility, the model will still prevail even when it is overlooked. So, let’s stop counting vulnerabilities and start measuring risk.