The rise of the internet led to a collapse of social variety:

That'd be enough. But I haven't even gotten to what I consider the most important collapse: the collapse of legitimation processes.

"What is a legitimation process?" you ask.

In any social system, some moves are legitimate; others are deemed illegitimate. The polite thing to do with illegitimate moves is to ignore them. Someone who keeps making illegitimate moves is ejected from the system.

<aside> 👉 Legitimate moves.


The legitimation process is the backstory of each legitimate move:

<aside> 👉 What makes an arrest legitimate? Before the police can enforce a law, it must be voted into law by the appropriate legislature. Before the bill appears in the legislature, it's been given stamps of approval in other domains: by industry experts and legislative staff. It has been discussed and approved in a subcommittee. Before that it was likely presented by an important person, whose personal reputation is on the line with the bill.


<aside> 👉 What makes sitting next to someone at a restaurant legitimate? You better have come to the restaurant with them. Otherwise, you should ask if it's okay to sit there. But it's not legitimate to ask unless either (a) the restaurant is very full and you're in Europe; or (b) you earlier exchanged eye contact and received an inviting smile. The eye contact is only legitimate if it is brief and contextual.


Once you learn to see it, legitimation is everywhere. Every social process is, on some level, a legitimation processes.

The rise of the internet replaced complex legitimation processes with simple ones—often just upvotes or share counts. The results aren't surprising: spam now circulates freely which wouldn't get through earlier legitimation filters. Even world leaders now discuss what's going viral, rather than what's made it through levels of pre-approval which, in earlier times, would have helped them stick to a plot.

Don't get me wrong—the other decimations I mentioned earlier (settings, social relations, and incentive structures) are huge problems. But the clear-cutting of legitimation processes caused our current situation in politics, media, fake news, data, etc—which many blockchain utopians hope to address.

Legitimation and Web 2.0 and Web3

Now, I'm not a conservative. I think reinventing legitimation processes is cool! Certainly, the old ones had problems. But re-inventors better know what they're replacing.

And... they don't.

Some have simplistic, ideological approaches: "give everyone a voice", "make the world more open and connected", etc—these are not practical approaches to legitimation.