How Simulacra Levels Increase| 653 words
Simulacra levels are an important and confusing concept. The concept itself is described reasonably well by the posts here. I’ve given my list of examples here. However, none of the descriptions I’ve read give a good explanation of why simulacra levels tend to rise. I now understand this process better than I did before, so I will attempt to convey it. My understanding is still incomplete, but I hope that it is at a good place on the correctness vs communicable trade-off curve.1
(Level 0) In the beginning, there were no symbols or language or maps; there was only action. If there was a lion across the river, you did not go across the river. If there was food across the river, you went across the river. There was no communication, only actions and consequences.
(Level 1) Then, people invented symbols and language and maps; there was now communication. If there was a lion across the river, you could say, “there is a lion across the river,” and other people would have the same knowledge. If there was food across the river, you could say, “there is food across the river,” and your friends would not go hungry. The map was not the territory, but its purpose was to correspond to the territory. People used symbols to describe reality.
(Level 2) Then, people realized that other people were basing their actions on their maps, so they started manipulating people’s maps for their own ends; there was now deception. If there was food across the river that you didn’t want other people to get, you might say, “there’s a lion across the river.” If there was a lion across the river, you might tell your enemy, “there is food across the river.” The map is strategically separated from the territory. People pretend their symbols describe reality.
(Level 3) Then, as all communication devolved into manipulation and deception, people began allying with others attempting to manipulate towards the same end; there were now coalitions. If you observed a resource-laden group saying, “there’s a lion across the river,” then you would also start saying, “there’s a lion across the river.” If this group switched to saying “there’s food across the river,” you also switched to saying “there’s food across the river.” The map now tracks how people are trying to separate other people’s maps from the territory. People pretend their symbols pretend to describe reality but are using symbols to join coalitions.
(Level 4) Then, as all communication devolves into strategic alliance formation and coalition building, people start manipulating alliances for their own benefit; there are now impostors. If the group in power says, “there is a lion across the river,” you start saying, “there is a lion across the river.” If the group that says “ there is food across the river” starts gaining power, you start saying “there is food across the river.” You have always said, “there is food across the river.” We have always been at war with Eastasia. There is no war in Ba Sing Se. The map now tracks what is other maps are tracking; the territory is lost. People no longer claim their symbols describe reality.
Each level of progression occurs when the previous level becomes sufficiently widespread that manipulating that level becomes strategic. Many levels will exist simultaneously. Adept players will manipulate all of them. This manipulation need not be conscious (it is actually more effective if it isn’t).
It is tempting to play on a higher level than your opponents. Playing at higher levels has costs. Reality is real; don’t lose track of it.
My friend comments, “my prior for you understanding complicated social phenomenon is low.” I agree, but the little understanding I do have is communicable in ways that other people’s better understanding is not. ↩