Social Reality

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” —Thoreau.

A king does not claim the power of life and death over his subjects because he can telekinetically crush a person’s heart. He has that power because when he says the word, everyone else gangs up against whomever he indicates, some by actively restraining and harming him, but most by refraining to interfere.

How easily could such institutional injustice persist if it was understood that the social order was simply a consensus? Suppose the king said frankly, “I want this person murdered; and although it is of course totally irrational that I should uniquely expect to have such requests obeyed, you all had better go along with it because I have a hierarchy of soldiers, each of whom has a better prospects within it than of coming out ahead in some alternative system, and for that reason they’re ready to single out and kill anyone among themselves or the rest of you who suggests we organize ourselves any differently; and they will do this long before anyone can realistically expect to have better odds allying with any alternative than staying where he is, no matter how oppressed he presently is.” This might seem like a pretty intimidating speech the first few times, but as long as people thought clearly in these terms and understood that their position is simply the wrong end of a Nash equilibrium, could the king be expected to stay in power for long?

Instead, the king and his ministers do their best to give the impression that the office is a constant even though its holder may change from time to time. The king claims to be steward of the gods, avatar of the people, first among equals, or something similarly ridiculous. This relies on an argument from special pleading, although the argument is never stated aloud. To state it aloud would be to invite challenge. Instead, the statists do their best to frame the debate in terms that preclude certain fundamental questions. The more preoccupied people become with the details, the less aware they are of the more fundamental questions. To discuss alternatives to the social order is not like imagining a different production model; it is more like imagining a universe with antigravity, or five spatial dimensions.

This view of the social order as something analogous to physical law I called social realism. A social realist is someone who holds this view. The funny thing about social reality is that it exists entirely because people believe in it. Barack Obama is president of the United States entirely because everyone agrees he is. If enough people begin to say that he is not president and that the United States does not exist, then both statements would become true. Imagine that a group of people were debating a practical issue about how to cross a river or traverse a mountain range, and then one of them butted in and said, “Maybe we are all dreaming and this problem is simply a shared illusion. We should all blink a few times and try to wake up. Then it will be gone.” This is what it is like to be a social realist when someone question the basis of power.

When people believe that there can be no change, they can be led to go along with anything. Their reality can be manipulated by the articulation of a new doctrine. When people believe that big changes are possible, then a new consensus can emerge much more easily.

A social realist is the opposite of an entrepreneur. A social realist is a fatalist. An entrepreneur has faith in his own mind and in the future, uncertain though it may be. Thus, he creates social reality, but he does not live in it. In China AD 22, a prophesy had somehow got around that a man named Liu Xiu would be emperor. A farmer named Liu Xiu decided to use this prophesy to his advantage. He started a rebellion and used the prophesy to give it credibility. In AD 25, he ascended the throne as Emperor Guangwu. Liu Xiu was not a social realist, and because he was not, he was able to see how to manipulate social reality.

Words create worlds. The great powers of the world persist by convincing people that their doctrine is more than a doctrine. One of the best things we can do to promote freedom, therefore, is to recall we are living in something like a dream world. The apparently solid walls of our prisons can melt away at any moment.

Imagination alone cannot destroy the state because it is still real as long as everyone else believes. However, by keeping in mind the reality that the state is a shared hallucination, he can avoid being fooled. For example, voting is the official means by which the people are supposed to create change. Therefore, voting cannot possibly work. Talking to people is not likely to work because most people are not aware of the outside perspective from which the entrepreneur looks at things.

The state does not kill alternative doctrines by logical argument. It kills them indirectly by intimidating and punishing people. What works, therefore, is to think about how to state a new doctrine in a way that the state cannot defeat in this way, and to think about what kinds of doctrines can be stated it such a way. A rumor is much harder to kill than a man.

This is why ideas like 3D printing and Bitcoin are so powerful. They are hard to kill. The Bitcoin protocol is a doctrine, and so is the block chain of Bitcoin transactions. The Liberator weapon is also a doctrine. But they are doctrines which are stated in ways that are difficult to disrupt. They present alternatives to the state’s doctrines that it cannot argue against simply by reframing the issue and suppressing alternatives. These are the Noble Truths to the state’s Noble Lie. The day that the state is put in a position that requires it to justify itself through logical arguments is the day that it dies.

Are you a social realist or an entrepreneur? Can you step outside of our social reality? To those who do, I wish them happy lucid dreaming.