Friday, November 1, 2013

Social Contracts...Why I Now Hate Giraffes

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven't been hit by the Giraffe Riddle, it will be spoiled in this post, so you've been warned!

Different people have different ideas of what a social contract is. A lot of people don't know what I mean. Every day of our sentient lives, we've lived with them. Most of us cave into them. Abide by them. Propagate them. Enforce them to the nth degree. Even change our Facebook profile picture to a giraffe for three days because of a stupid riddle. Why? Because.

That's a stupid reason!

Oh, but we HAVE to. That's what keeps a society together: our social contracts. I won't bore you by quoting Socrates, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, or any of the other great philosophers on the subject, but there are several quite interesting theories on the subject:

One is that when you become an adult, if you wish to remain part of a society and if you wish society to continue its orderly peace, you must tacitly agree to abide by the rules, any rules, even if you don't agree with them. This is why Socrates suffered at the hands of the state rather than escape when he very well could have and possibly should have. Noble sacrifice!

One theory is that humans are, at heart, only self-interested and focused on advancing their own agendas. The best way to get that accomplished is to work together with other humans, therefore, we should make and keep social contracts with others. Honor among thieves as they say.

Yet another is that if the people are united under social contracts, they can take control of a governing body if that governing body isn't doing its job. Well...ahem...leaving that one alone. This blog is about revision and writing, not current day politics.

So, what does this have to do with giraffes? Well, there's a riddle going around that goes something like this: “It’s 3 a.m., the doorbell rings and you wake up. Unexpected visitors! It’s your parents and they are here for breakfast. You have strawberry jam, honey, wine, bread, and cheese. What is the first thing you open?”

Okay, so, the deal is if you answer correctly, great for you. You're a genius If you're wrong, for three days you change your profile picture to a giraffe. Why a giraffe? I don't know. Whoever started this thing must have a love (or hate) for giraffes.

There are actually TWO answers to this riddle: the RIGHT one and the one that's in the social contract being (wrongly) enforced on Facebook.

The correct answer is: the door. You let them in.

"No!" Your FB friend will tell you and throw in a few LOLs and winking smilies just to make you even angrier. "You open your EYES. Change your profile pic to a giraffe! Now!"

And without question, you do so. BUT YOU DON'T HAVE TO for two reasons: One, "eyes" is the wrong answer and two, it's a social contract being wrongly enforced.

You see, in the riddle, it says, "...and you wake up." Your eyes are already open!

This is a really cool quirk of human nature that, if you can include it in your writing, will really make your characters "pop" off the page. Social contracts, wrong or otherwise, bind us into doing things we don't want to do but "should" do all the time: go visit our parents (well, I want to do this but I have exceptional parents), use breath fresheners, sit one to a table if we don't know people in a restaurant, don't look when people are putting on makeup or when children are misbehaving, make the bed (WHY? Please, someone explain that one to me!), not reveal the answer to stupid Facebook riddles in public (which I just did so HA!), etc. etc. The more you think about it, the more social contracts really do rule our lives.

Now I'm not saying you should go out and act like a crazy person breaking every custom and convention you've been raised with. That would be a little distressing. But sometimes your characters need to have a serious kick in the pants or talking-to about what they believe should be true in their little happy world of their minds. This could be the beginning of a great romantic relationship. Or novel. ;-)

Happy anti-contracting! (And no more giraffes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)