David Heinemeier Hansson

February 22, 2022

Simulacra

I never did make it all the way through Jean Baudrillard's book Simulacra and Simulation before I lost my paperback copy on a trip. But it lodged several perspectives deep in my brain that I'm still trying to process. One of which was this:

Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real.

It's a novel illustration of the point both David Graeber and Yuval Noah Harari have kept making in their works: Human institutions are all, broadly speaking, make believe.

Where Harari illustrates this point with everything from the corporation to human rights, Graeber invites us to imagine fresh alternatives to debt and capitalism. And I remember nodding to both, but it was Baudrillard's pithy contrast that really made the point sink in.

Yet even when it's sunk in once, it's the kind of existential conclusion that easily dissolves into the unconsciousness of daily life. It's the kind of insight that's almost too much to bear on a constant conscious basis. As the David Foster Wallace commence speech: This is water.

But every now and then the separation between the clearly fictional and the clearly factual turns sufficiently porous to the point that this conclusion reemerges and becomes inescapable. Disneyland suddenly appears more real than the rest. Our contract with what we thought it meant to live in reality is reneged upon.

That's all quite possibly obnoxiously pompous, but that's sorta the nature of most post modern philosophy. Which is probably why I never managed to finish Baudrillard's book, and I don't even pretend to fully understand. But it doesn't mean there aren't profound insights to be found, if you can excavate them from the impenetrable writing and high-concept thinking.

However you explain it, that's what this Canadian trucker protest response felt like to me. Like a tear in reality. Like the upside down version of maple leaf. Like you can't quite believe it yet is overwhelmed by its consequences. And here comes another one of those high-concept post-modern terms from Baudrillard: Like hyperrealism.

After the nausea subsides, this state of mind is also where fundamental leaps can be made. When you allow the admonishing of Harari, Graeber, and Foster Wallace to truly examine the nature of those make-believe institutions.

Now, it's easy to get lost in post-modern nonsense. James Lindsay has done a great job exploring a bunch of it, as it relates to wokeness, in his New Discourses podcast. I've enjoyed several of those episodes. So I strongly suggest you measure the dose of this trippy thinking carefully.

But the difference between poison and elixir is indeed often just the dose. And a drop of Baudrillard can really stir the mental waters.

That's what the Disneyland proposition did to me yesterday. That's part of how I ended up seeing Bitcoin and crypto in a new light. When the traditional money and the bank accounts suddenly seemed like the carton cut-out version of reality.

Someone pass the smelling salts.