Shared belief generates power.

The title of this entry is a clear summation of a principle which is manifested in all areas of life. Where there is shared belief, power is created and sustained. Where shared belief is deconstructed and extinguished, power is extinguished as well.

The simplest and clearest example is money. In and of itself, a dollar bill is nothing more than a piece of paper, worth only a few cents at best. It is a tool of trade only because there exists a shared belief that the dollar bill is a valid currency. Without this shared belief, the use of dollar bills would dissipate in short order.

Religion is another simple and clear example. Without a whole network of attendant beliefs, the power of religion would simply not exist. Because some of these beliefs have been refuted (for instance, the belief that religion provides the best framework to answer scientific and moral questions), religion has in fact lost a great deal of its power in the Western world. In the same way, but in a more primitive form, inflicting a voodoo curse on someone actually works because the victim believes that the curse is real, and thus inflicts psychosomatic harm to himself.

Government is, of course, sustained by shared belief. As De La Boetie pointed out, without the support of the masses, tyranny would fall of its own weight and break in pieces. Without an obedient population paying taxes and obeying the law, the State would simply disintegrate.

What people believe imbues power to the object of belief. Does that mean that belief is reality? Not so. One can obviously hold irrational or false beliefs, and the fact that people believe in money, God, voodoo or the State does not make these beliefs rational or true. Power granted to a non-existing entity is attributed to the people who claim to be acting in its name or are seen as acting in its name. The law as moral obligation does not exist, but there are plenty of people ready to club you in its name, and they get a lot of power for it.

To be a realist must mean that one only believes in what is real, and refuses to believe in, become enmeshed with, anything unreal. To live in fantasy means to believe in what is unreal, and develop a whole network of beliefs based on it. As pretty much all the examples I have listed prove, believing in what is unreal leads one to adopt a whole network of beliefs based around it, and to quarrel against anyone who adopts a different network of beliefs (just look at all the Christian sects and you get the idea). The castles in the sky that people build trying to reconcile reality with their internal fictions can be quite elaborate and ludicrous.

An individual cannot pick perspectives out of thin air. Once a shared belief is established, the only way for the individual to progress is to move around elements of what is already there. Anarchists can only grapple with their concepts within the framework of statist indoctrination and statist exploitation, since it is the only framework that currently exists. By trying to distance ourselves from that indoctrination, we merely seek its opposite, not any absolute truth. And it is a constant of history that anyone trying to seek out alternatives eventually becomes a mirror of what he fights against. Unfortunately, Anarchist groups fall prey to this principle with alarming regularity. Whether realist or fantasy, the shared beliefs shift our perspective in profound, unconscious and even sometimes in utterly occluded ways to the point that, when the beliefs disappear, people’s behaviour become in retrospect so absurd and evil that it becomes a taboo subject altogether.

The same thing is true of love and control. Both ways of thinking are self-reinforcing and become a shared belief in many different forms (such as “other people can be trusted” or “other people cannot be trusted”). While I don’t know of any research done on love, papers have been written about the spread of cooperation and how it works. Likewise, much historical research has been made on various control systems, such as the State, and how they spread as well.

But this spreading, in both cases, take place in a relative vacuum. Cooperation cannot spread in a statist environment, and control cannot spread in a cooperative environment. This reinforcing process means that a change in framework is inherently very difficult. This is not to say that it’s wholly impossible. Obviously our thinking has been revolutionized in all sorts of areas throughout the centuries, but it is a long and excruciating process, especially when there are loads of people benefitting from the existing system who will do everything they can to discredit or kill new ideas.

The fact that belief lends power is simply a fact of human nature. The Anarchist does not fight against this principle. In fact, Anarchy is equally based on this principle, just as any other ideology. We want our own concepts to gain social acceptance, and thus to hold sway over people’s actions. In order to achieve this, we must show the benefits of cooperation by building alternatives. Anarchist alternatives would be both a reality and a symbol: a symbol that Anarchy is a living ideal, a representative of Anarchy in the world of concretes.

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