Essay: The Contract Imaginary
By Lucian Codas
As we sat in the living room sipping our morning coffee and admitting that we both wanted our respective parents to die [she her mother, me my father], I gave language to what had been looming like an unexpressed orgasm for most of my conscious life.
“Parents treat you as if you signed a contract before you were born. For the supposed gift of life you must take care of them and obey their rules. You must be who they want you to be and you must do what they want you to do. It’s actually completely crazy, or maybe just bizarre, because they only ever made that agreement with themselves.”
She nodded and I continued. “Most human relationships are based on something like an imaginary contract. You are treated as if you signed a document outlining your behavior. This is especially clear with the family, where I guess you signed it before you were born, but we see this everywhere, we see it in friendships, we see it in relationships, we see it in the nation of your birth. We especially see it in religion. It’s just assumed that you will act a certain way.
“Of course, there are actual legal documents, contracts, and agreements, but those are of a different kind. You sign those consciously. Yet existence itself seems to come with all these other binding contracts, which are essentially imaginary, which you never agreed to, but which are upheld as if you signed them for entry into what we call existence.”
We sipped our coffee. “Your mother’s death will come with a huge amount of relief.”
She nodded. “Yes. I think so.”
We had fucked twice the night before, a few hours after we met in a Bogotá cafe. Afterwards, lying in her comfortable bed, I explained to her that I had begun the practice of “dream incubation” about a week and a half prior.
Each night, before you fall asleep, you ask “the dream” a question. If you dream that night, you write it down the next morning and read it for a possible answer. I already considered the practice a success, as my dream life had become more vivid, more alive. It had made my total life more mysterious, which I enjoyed.
On my third night of the practice, I asked “How can I best love Evelyn?” The woman in the bed was not Evelyn; she was Matilda. In the resultant dream I am speaking with Evelyn and she is mispronouncing the word “seagull.” We laugh about it. The dream is very innocent.
The next day Evelyn dumped me, which we will get to later.
Lying in bed with Matilda, lying there after we had fucked twice, realizing that we were both nightmares in the heart of the heart of modern society, she began to describe the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, which I knew nothing about. She struggled with the word “seagull,” describing that ground-nesting scavenger, laughing at her mispronunciation, and I began screaming about the seagull dream from a week prior, careful not to mention Evelyn. I told her that the dream was somewhat precognitive, a fairly common occurrence if you pay attention.
The timing was uncanny, as I had also just finished explaining my messy theory of reality: that it basically operates like a dream, recombining various details and elements as it goes along, without any ground or base truth. It could even use what it found in your dreams. Simply to make itself, to explain itself to itself. To go on making. This explanation had led her to describe Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which recalled the seagull dream. One must learn not to think in terms of sequential time, but of connected information points that both predict themselves and make themselves because when they arrive in the present they become memories [a perceived past].
Evelyn texted me the next morning and I was not surprised. She said she missed me. We had not spoken in a week. Matilda was making coffee and we were about to sit on the couch and discuss how much we hated our parents, how we wanted them to die.
“I think there are more and more of us,” she said.
Matilda is 41. I am 37.
This is exactly what the modern world is renegotiating: the contract imaginary.
What do we, the existent, owe each other?
What do we, the existent, owe the future existent?
What do the newly existent owe us?
What does nature owe the natural?
What does life owe the living?
What does reality owe the real?
The answer to each of these questions is, of course, nothing.
As I left Matilda’s apartment, I thought ~ I am practicing existential first principles. Reality is not historical or scientific, it is informational, and one can only start at the beginning: I awakened in a mystery.
I thought ~ I am a fucking idiot, and possibly sociopathic.
I missed Evelyn too. We had recently been on two dates. We agreed there was a strong attraction between us. She said, petting my face, that we were feeling each other’s vibes. A Scorpio. It was all quite hot.
We had scheduled a third date, the night of the Colombian presidential election, another contest of extremes. I was required to send my Airbnb host the information of each guest and I sent her Evelyn’s name and identification number, which would then be sent to the front desk, granting her entry. I had intuited, known, that there would inevitably be some mistake in this process, which would result in hurt feelings.
In typical Greek fashion, this came true, no matter how much I tried to prevent it. Evelyn was standing by the front desk and the woman with braces and blue uniform said Evelyn was not in the system but a woman named Jasmine was. [Jasmine’s leaving Colombia, the country of her birth, for Dubai, the new America, which is any place that allows immigrants to work and live, any place that lets you escape your family.]
Evelyn stiffened, and I knew it was over. After many rejections and assorted kerfuffle, I have become very sensitive to these changes; it is actually very obvious when you die in the heart of a woman. She ended it.
I was not cheating on Evelyn. It was our third date. The night before this I had even asked my dream how to love her. We did not have any official agreement, yet I had violated a contract imaginary. The front desk woman – a blabbermouth, perhaps malevolent, and quite attractive – had perhaps violated some resident privacy law or rule, but I did not know if this were true. To me, she had violated common decency. To her, I was maybe a philandering puta.
A friend in Sicily, after watching a Greek tragedy in the summer dusk, said this was merely an example of female solidarity.
An optimistic view: Civilization is an imperfect system whose general aim is to provide relative safety for the present existent and the future existent.
We could say it for sure. We exist, so we can say it. Sadly, there are many competing civilizations.
If the modern world is, perhaps unconsciously, renegotiating the terms of the contract imaginary, it is also basically saying “Maybe life is not that good,” which is why we need to rethink what it is we’re doing here, and why we are making people.
I am not an anti-natalist, but it cannot be argued: we make people for our own reasons. People are not made for their own sake, because they do not exist until they are made. They are not saved from some boring room, or a really hot furnace. Sure, there are some religious arguments to counter this, but this is not the time nor the place. We live in an age of proof, or rather, the age of a certain kind of proof. I have proof that I saw an approximate rendering of the seagull conversation “before” it happened, but I would never expect you to believe me, and I would never arrange an entire world system around it.
Elon Musk wants us to have more kids. As a highly intelligent rich person, I can see why he’d want that. That’s how successful people sound. They sound that way because that’s who we hear. What he is incapable of realizing is that life sucks for most people, namely, us. Sure, we’re not medieval lepers, we’re not paramecia, we’re not Jews during WWII [which wasn’t that long ago by the way], but within the actual context of modern society, our life probably sucks, and we know it can get much much worse. Most of us are losers, and we don’t want to be your Martian custodian.
This is our age. No living entity, including Mr. Musk, can provide a satisfying answer to this question: What the fuck are we doing? Conscious society is predicated on the reduction of suffering yet we are also saying that suffering is important and necessary and specifically making people in the location of suffering so they can understand the beguiling nature of suffering, which, as I just mentioned, we want to reduce. No wonder we’re tickling oblivion: our precision-suffering plan is falling apart, as if it were ever together; we may as well try to blow the whole thing up again.
Pending further information, none of us agreed to anything before we were born. We could not, because we did not exist. Therefore, all human endeavor is based on a weird fiction: we are treated as if we were saved from a worse place, yet also punished for existing. We were “brought” here. We were “given” a gift. This language game implies we existed before we actually did. This is how the existent get the newly existent to work, to play their game. You think this is something juvenile and minor, but it’s precisely why the world is in crisis. This absurdity is merely growing in size, and technology is the steroid.
Oh and the environment? No one actually gives a shit. Mother Nature should have made a better human. She did make a fantastic mosquito.
There may indeed be enough for all, but there is not enough intelligence to perfect the distribution. Maybe she’s working on this. Who the fuck knows what she’s doing. To me, Mother Nature is a cross-eyed hermaphrodite masturbating itself with dead siamese twins. Science one, religion the other. There is no plan. There is no permanent truth. It’s just going along. Like a dream. The dream without a dreamer.
I thought it was interesting that during Covid the young and healthy were again asked to sacrifice their lives for the old and unhealthy. Maybe “the young” are awakening to find themselves in the jaws of Saturn. Sadly, they are mostly responding by shooting each other. As you’ve probably noticed, the young do hate the old, but the old hate the young in kind. The young also seem to hate the young, probably because they remind them of themselves. The old have always sacrificed enough; they demand the young do the rest of the sacrificing for them. [See every war.]
We simply need to admit that many millennials and younger generations do not feel the same way about life as older generations. This is normal. They are experiencing a different reality, a different way of being. You can throw the usual insults – lazy, entitled, spoiled, UNGRATEFUL – but it won’t change a thing. In fact, it will only make it worse.
After traveling the world for years, it is my observation, not my belief, that many people are asking these questions:
You made me, so what?
I was hatched in your country, so what?
I got born, so what?
I’m working for why?
They are asking these questions because existence is now viewed as a burden, instead of a favor.
If civilization were a parent, which it is, I can imagine it biting its nails, scratching at the formica, because this is just the kind of thinking it fears. Its very existence depends on people viewing life as an opportunity to improve their station. Of course we’re dreaming of robots, but we’ll run into the same issue. We’re already someone else’s robot. We are made. We are not brought anywhere.
The atheist, maybe even the agnostic, may celebrate life as the opportunity to experience the experience. However, this is not so durable, because most of the experience is pain.
I am actually very sensitive to the idea of reincarnation, but this is mostly narcissistic [everyone’s favorite new word; it used to be bipolar, then it was sociopath. Nature itself is the narcissist, if you could just look past your reflection you would see that]. I like imagining myself in different eras and cultures. Reincarnation, at worst, is justification for prejudice. At best, it is a way to attune your behavior to the greater good, for all eternity, as if we know what that means. However, a lot of modern people just don’t have the necessary proof; we’ve become rightly skeptical of the hierophants.
I’m a bit of a crank, open to all kinds of things, but reincarnation is nothing more than a passing fancy. A few months ago, I was initiated into a tantric sect, which was maybe a cult, though they asked nothing of me. After weeks of mantra practice, Ganesha came to me quite cheerfully in that liminal space between consciousness and sleep, where you are completely vulnerable. He was like a mischievous yet innocent boy, I perceived him only by his presence, and he asked if there were anything he could do for me. I asked for some things and he giggled and said okay and disappeared. This happened, sure, but I would never expect you to believe me, and I would never arrange an entire world system around it.
The Hassidim are breeding with diligence and aplomb. So, I assume, are serious Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and billionaires. Is religion making a comeback? Nietzsche, nestled in his galactic papoose, may indeed see God rise from the dead [which would be fitting for the Christians], merely because religion leads to babies. It is a winning game because it is, in a sense, the only game. Religion is not only a “denial of death,” but a justification for breeding.
Many of us who grew up with religion are probably not thrilled with this. We may even feel a duty to procreate just so there are more “sensible” people in the world. However, we are also skeptical of grand schemes of this manner, because we feel ourselves to be the victims of one grand scheme or another.
It is my belief that life skews mystical, nonlogical, but I could never convince you of that. There is a meta-language that functions like a dream and dreaming is the way to understand it, the way to speak it. Alexander Grothendieck, The Hermit and legendary mathematician, called God “Le rêveur,” or The Dreamer. Proof can be found in personal experience, if you actually pay attention. Record your dreams for a year. You’ll see the “waking world” uses them for ideas. Precognitive dreaming is quite normal.
This means that your personal experience is an information-based language game. The learning of this language, the growing fluency, becomes God, and it always was God, because time is not only sequential. The seagull dream both predicted the future and made the future, albeit of a different kind. The real trick is of course how to consciously dream-speak infinite heaven, without lag, without inaccuracy. The language is total, it uses absolutely anything to continue speaking itself. Hence, there is no truth, only eras of certain kinds of truth. God is that which transmutes pain, meaning that which changes the apparent past, and teaches you [itself] how to make the apparent future through the learning of an atemporal aspatial meta-language: imaginative audacious play.
The dethroning of a king. The renegotiation of a contract. The changing of a language. The changing of a mind. The changing of change itself.
The liquid machinations of the total dream.
Whether we like it or not, as a global society, as a global body, as a global infant, we are asking our first question: Why?
Yet the answer comes in the same voice: Do we have a covenant, or did you dream a dream?
Evelyn just texted me. “I think that in any human relationship, agreements are necessary so everyone can make an informed choice. I apologize for overreacting.”
And so the dialogue begins again, the dialogue is that which never ends, and it occurs to me, sometimes, that I am the happiest man in the world.
Evelyn also mentioned wanting her father to die.
Lucian Codas is a freelance legal writer.