• August 14, 2013
Photo by Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

Photo by Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

We have an idea we call “the social contract,” which is not a contract in the legal sense at all. It is a nebulous idea that we all live together, we all have some vague sense of the rules by which we live, and we all agree to play by these rules, even if adhering to them, at times, is against our narrowly defined self-interest.

An excellent example of the social contract at work is our willingness to pay taxes.  We work hard, get paid, and then many of us (most?) gladly and dutifully pay taxes on our income without cheating, fully understanding that, in doing so, we are parting with our hard-earned money for a return that is amorphous, uncertain, indefinite and, some might even think, nonexistent.  Most of us, however, recognize that paying taxes is for the greater social good and we all benefit from governmental services from cradle to grave, even if the direct recipients of some of these services are people other than ourselves.

If, however, people feel the social contract has been breached by others — whether by the government, corporations, unions, by an empowered faction of one kind or another — then people rationalize their own dishonesty and wrong-doing, allowing themselves to breach as well.  It’s just payback.  The wrongs we suffer (or that we imagine we suffer), we use to justify the wrongs we perpetrate.  This is easiest to do with so-called victim-less crimes like insurance fraud.

If the allegations against Erickson Building, Inc. are true in the RICO case pending before U.S. District Court Judge Donovan W. Frank (D. Minn.) are true, one has to assume that the defendants clung to this crooked justification when they tore apart homeowners’ roofs (allegedly) and then offered to repair the roofs that they themselves damaged (allegedly) “for free” (that is, by getting the roof repair paid for by the property insurer).

Standard Fire Insurance Company claims to have undertaken investigative efforts and to have caught Erickson Building red-handed on video, damaging roofs and then billing for repair of the damage.

Without reaching any kind of conclusion as to the accuracy of the charges against Erickson Building, this kind of conduct is a far more common and pervasive evil woven into our society deeply through every layer than “pure evil” of the Adolf Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, Idi Amin, Charles Manson variety.

As a society, we often seem preoccupied, even obsessed, with psychopaths and terrorists as portraits of evil.  But we are comparatively blind to more monotonous and subtler evil.  In part, I suggest this is because it is more comfortable to think of evil as something extreme, foreign, and outside of anything that we ourselves, our friends, our loved ones, or our colleagues, would ever do.  If only it were so.

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