Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What Is Contract?

A woman is crouching in the corner of a room, beer bottles smashing violently against the wall beside her. Her husband, once a loving and charming bachelor, has become a raging abusive alcoholic. She wants a divorce, but the proceedings would take a lot of time and money that she is unwilling to forfeit.

What is contract? That is the question this essay will occupy itself with. Contract takes many forms, but whether verbal or written, authoritative or impromptu, contract rules a great deal of our lives. Marriage, for example, is a contract which entails that:

· Two people – usually of the opposite sex – agree to live with one another for the rest of their lives.

· The bride must buy a very expensive dress

· The bride’s family must pay for a glorified party

· The groom is expected to purchase an expensive ring

· Flowers are expected to be thrown over shoulder

· The groom is expected to ask the bride’s father for permission to propose

· Economic endowment is shared between the two people

· Vows must be written

And a whole host of other traditions and customs. Yet, at least in the United States, 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Half the people who sign the contract end up breaking it. So we must inquire: which is most just?

The retainment of a contract no longer unanimously agreed to?

Or the abandonment of all duties contractually specified, any interval of time after the participants bound by them object to their enactment?

Abstractly speaking, there are 2 variables in every contract:

· The stretch of time the contract applies to, and when it expires.

· What duties or restrictions are entrusted to volunteers that enter into it.

For example, let us propose that Satan comes to me with the following proposal –

If I agree to fellate him every day, he will grant me eternal life.

If I should ever fail to fellate him on any day, he will kill me.

We shall hold, for the sake of examination, that I agree to and consent to these terms at the moment I sign the contract. Perhaps I’m in a wave of sexual urgency, and Satan has transformed himself into the lustiest concubine ever seen. The time this contract applies to is literally eternity. I have bound myself to two options – please Satan every day, or die.

It may be argued, however successfully, that I deserve whatever destiny I reap from this contract. I agreed to it, after all. But if after a day, or two days, or a week, I begin to dread sexually pleasing Satan, should I stop?

If I do stop, would it be as morally wrong for him to kill me as it would have been had I never signed the contract at all?

The question is one of trust. Satan has put his faith into receiving stimulation from me on a regular basis. I have put my trust into living forever. But if I take my trust OUT of living forever, for whatever reason, I may decide I no longer agree to serve Satan for that reward. Does Satan’s trust overrule my desire to refrain from servicing him?

Sure, letting him down would be unkind to him. But persisting in fellating him would be unkind to me. There is unkindness no matter which route you take.

Is he justified in murdering me now for changing my mind about an agreement I made yesterday or yesteryear?

No. To suggest otherwise is to pervert the intuitive truth of justice.

There is no one moment in time that can serve as a rule for any other moment in time. Today I may wish to do this, tomorrow I may abhor undertaking that same action. Today I may wear a green shirt, tomorrow I may wear a red one. Popular wisdom has long warned to “be careful what you wish for”, as if there were some genie manifesting your edicts as you spoke.

But this aphorism is what Nietzsche might have called slave-morality. It is framed from the point of view of the Aladdin, of the serf.

Being that there is no genie, each of us is approximately as powerful as the rest of us, we should instead remember we all possess the capacity to enforce and to decree. Therefore, I amend the popular wisdom to:

“Be careful what wishes you grant, as yesterday’s consent to their terms is no replacement for today’s, and justice does not shut it’s eyes at your whim.”

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