In an inherently unfair world, legitimacy becomes the true currency of reality. Whatever, injustice one might suffer is meaningless so long as we inhabit someone else’s reality.
When we allow others, or the mass society itself to define our world for us, we fall in the habit of accepting what we call ‘reality.’ No matter how pointlessly cruel and boring our society might become we snappily admonish one another: “That’s reality.”
Indoctrinated from an early age and trapped in a bubble of mass consensus, the system we live in enjoys an enormous degree of legitimacy.
If questions of legitimacy are about dividing up the terrain of reality itself, it is no wonder they are taken so seriously. An accepted set of ideas is nothing less than an empire of belief.
Belief may seem like the stuff of fairy tales but is quite real.
One should ask: What happens to a fiat currency when people stop believing in it?
What happens to a nation when people no longer believe in its laws or its right to govern them?
So solid and monumental is the reality of legitimacy that a purely empirical world view begins to seem rather foolish.
One cannot measure legitimacy in a laboratory, but its loss brings about the fall of nations just as surely as does a lack of material wealth.
The richest state of all is powerless if its citizens see no meaning or purpose behind the wealth and the power.
The importance of legitimacy explains to us why conformity is the general rule of every society and social organization. Every dissenter disrupts the legitimacy of society, decreases the extent of its territory, limits its power. No society that has survived in the long term has much tolerance for those who diverge.
To those with a stake in a legitimate reality, it matters little if critics of established ideas are correct. Even a challenger with a point might undermine the strength of the group and weaken its ability to unify in the face of adversity.
Few of us consciously think of the strength of established realities as a physical, precious resource, yet in practice all people and social organizations instinctively and jealously guard their power over perceptions of reality.
Just as states can come to the brink of war over a diplomatic incident, a domineering parent might fly into a rage when a child dares ‘contradict’ them.
Thus when putting forth an idea, the first consideration need not necessarily have anything to do with whether it is right or wrong, but rather its potential to gain and hold power in our world. What version of reality will ‘sell?’ What message best agrees with the dominant reality already in place?
Advertisers, salespeople lobbyists, lawyers, and politicians all approach the world with this sort of mentality. All of these professions are examples of legitimacy engineering. For persons in these professions, group perceptions of legitimacy come before any objective truth.
Often in our everyday life, we would be better off examining our situation in terms of accepted realities. Most Americans I meet will challenge their bosses and co-workers when they sincerely believe they are right. Inevitably they also end up complaining about ‘brown nosers’ and ‘suck ups’ who understand that agreeing with the accepted orthodoxy is the more prudent path.
Judicious individuals understand that their own perspective is too weak to win against a collective. They understand that new ideas must be introduced carefully into the established reality for being right is quite dangerous.
Those who foolishly ‘tell it like it is’ never seem to understand that right or wrong is meaningless if they come to be viewed as a dissenter, an outsider, a target. Naturally they end up watching other people advance while they stay put or even get demoted or fired. They continually fail to understand that an objective truth is impotent when one is bankrupt in terms of legitimacy.