The Social Contract of Gangs in the Southwest

According to Thomas Hobbes, the state of nature is a constant state of war because we are always competing for resources, power, and wealth. This creates an anarchic state, therefore, people come together to create a social contract because the fierce competition forces us to pursue our desires at another's expense. In this social contract we create laws, legislation, judicial regulations, and political systems to keep people in line, which is supposed to serve the greater good. This was the way most societies developed. But what happens to people who are living in the underground or within subcultures because they reject the norms of the social contract, or because the popular social contract rejects them? They create their own.

When Mexican American gangs began forming in Los Angeles as far back as the 1920s, it was mostly to maintain ethnic ties because the dominant culture left them marginalized. Stigmatized because of their backgrounds and isolated from the status quo, a unique social contract was created in barrios all across the Southwest. Having very limited or no political representation, mostly ignored or victimized by the legal system, and living in disenfranchised conditions, this group of people were living in an enhanced anarchic state. If a social contract was created to serve the greater good, but a significant portion of the population was left abandoned, then the war of all against all became greater. In addition, law enforcement was created to keep people in line, yet in barrios they often conducted themselves as criminals by enforcing all types of biased conduct. Therefore, Mexican American street gangs formed a social contract to protect themselves from the constant state of war of the dominant culture.

Philosophers like Hobbes and Rousseau agreed that all people fear danger and a violent death. It is a self-preservation mechanism that keeps us moving and progressing through a natural state of survival even though there are systematic forms of power in place to keep people down. Because the Mexican American community suffered abuses that originated during the Mexican American War, it is easy to understand their fear of a violent death. Yet, despite those abuses of power, they simply wanted to fit in and be a part of the larger culture. They also wanted to participate in the "Keeping up with the Joneses" idiom like anybody else. Mark Twain referenced this in an article published in 1923, "The outside influences are always pouring in upon us, and we are always obeying their orders and accepting their verdicts." In urban working-class barrios all across the Southwest, it was this school of thought that led to the social contract of street gangs.

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