Broken social contracts

More and more you see conflicts in which a social contract is at stake. This means that a conflict will take place beyond the social order; beyond how certain groups are used to interacting with each other. That is a sign that sections of the community are not only dissatisfied with material outcomes, but are also increasingly thinking differently about what matters in society and how to achieve this.

Rembrandt Zegers, February 2022

verbreken sociale contracten SOL

They don't listen anyway...

As an example, we can mention how the international climate scientists openly put on the table earlier this year that they want to stop their work. Politicians and governments don't listen anyway. That is one such example of a social contract that is under pressure and perhaps even broken. That comes to light because one group in the contract (the scientists in this case) has announced that it no longer believes in it. Examples of differences in thinking about what matters in society include the movement to decolonize, the movement to denounce systemic racism, and the movement to reverse the ideology of unbridled growth or the movement to different way of interacting with nature. We are talking about changes that last several generations. But we now know that if we look at the climate, we don't have that time.


Breaking a social contract leads to conflict. The question is, of course, when it was broken. When climate scientists throw in the towel, or much earlier, when politicians and governments decided for themselves to ignore climate scientists? But can the signal from the climate scientists make us look at the problem in a different way, and more connected?

To prevent

Recently I was involved in a conversation of mediators about the contemporary nature of conflict. There is a clear trend in which those involved in social development and conflicts are looking for the most appropriate intervention. In particular, the prevention of conflicts is becoming increasingly important. There is, of course, a connection between the development of conflicts and the way in which they are sought to be dealt with.

Fear and intolerance

The Belgian psychiatrist Damiaan Denys shows that fear and intolerance (or tolerance) are related. An increasing fear or an increasing sense of insecurity increases the chance of (unlimited) aggression. The reflex is to respond with more enforcement, stricter rules and their application (legalization), but that does not take away the fear. And what was the outcome of the recent research into the undesired effects of care in closed juvenile detention centers? Yes, that many young people come out more traumatized than they go in.

No client

Social conflicts that lead to tension or breakdown of social contracts do not have an unambiguous client who can order mediation or a different approach. We see the same when we look at the major societal challenges; housing, care, energy and climate, nitrogen/biodiversity. Now that they are on the political agenda, they seem to have a principal and seem less conflicted, as if we collectively have this crisis under control. But the practice is far from it.

In dialogue

The climate scientists are sending the message that it no longer works like this. A message that might help break the cycle. In this way everyone who has a heart for social issues is challenged to find new forms and ways to solve them. The core is that we enter into a dialogue with each other, enter into a dialogue or renew it where it has got stuck. There is no point in answering fear with bigotry. Deep ruptures and lost trust are not a suitable breeding ground when it comes to solving the existential issues and transitions that society faces. How do you deal with this?  

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