2003-02-19

The Peer Theorem

The Peer Theorem states "Other people are my peers". It is the fundamental underlying organizing principle of social interaction. Without some form of the Peer Theorem with reasonably wide acceptance, there can be no persistent social arrangement among people.

NOTE: This is a followup to People Are Not Commodities! and UPDATED: People Are Not Commodities!.

Antecedent to the Peer Theorem is something more fundamental: the Axiom of Self Sovereignty. This axiom affirms "I am sovereign over myself"; it conveys the essential nature of rule over one's self rather than rule by someone outside one's self. It is an axiom rather than a theorem because it is self-evident rather than something requiring supporting evidence to determine its veracity. The Axiom of Self-Sovereignty combined with the Peer Theorem results in the notion of people in general being Sovereign Individuals.

You can get some idea of the value that a person places on something by the way he treats it. For example, a child that breaks or discards a toy does not attribute much value to it, and it is clear. It is also clear that a child cherishes a toy when he keeps it from harm and shows it off proudly. Likewise, you may be able to see the "value" a person places on himself. If you accept that people are Sovereign Individuals, then the value a person places on himself is his value. However, it really is not possible for you to know the inner thoughts of the other person with certainty. Therefore, you cannot simply watch what he does, make a judgement about the value he places on himself and act according to that. Since he is supposed to be your peer, you could treat him as if he had value equal to the value you place on yourself, but again you don't know that he doesn't hold himself in higher esteem than you hold yourself. Therefore, it really isn't possible to assign a particular "value" to a Sovereign Individual; and, the proper way to treat a Sovereign Individual is as if he were invaluable, since he is.

It is the Peer Theorem, in all its variations (some people add qualifications to the sorts of Other People that qualify as peers) and sources (the idea is not a religious one, but there are religious equivalents — although it is treated more like an Axiom in that context) that forms an implicit treaty among Sovereign Individuals.

People who accept the Peer Theorem can participate in a peaceful society. People who do not, but find themselves in the midst of a society must either behave as if they do accept the local Peer Theorem variant or be labeled asocial or antisocial and probably banished or otherwise punished. Behavior which demonstrates a rejection of the Peer Theorem includes crimes such as theft, assault and murder.

This rejection of people who do not demonstrate an acceptance of the Peer Theorem is a crucial social integrity preservation mechanism. A society requires the Peer Theorem to hold together, but the aparent asocial or antisocial person in its midst represents evidence against the theorem. So, the society must condemn such behavior and the people who exhibit it. Any of us finding ourselves participating in a society should not be too surprised to find out that we and the people around us do accept some form of the Peer Theorem, since it is that general acceptance which permits the society to exist in what would otherwise be a sea of conflict due to unenlightened self-interest.

The Peer Theorem, as formulated above, is a statement of personal view (it uses the phrase "my peers"). The point of the theorem, though, is that if indeed other people are "my peers" (roughly, "my equals"), then I must treat them as equals, but also I should expect them to treat me as an equal as well. Since I am a Sovereign Individual, the Peer Theorem requires me to impute that attribute to others, and also creates the expectation that I be treated as a Sovereign Individual by them.

There are benefits to an individual who participates in a society (and therefore accepts some form of the Peer Theorem). Imagine yourself amidst a group of interacting individuals, none accepting the Peer Theorem (let us say there are N people, including you) In this situation, nobody considers anyone else a peer, and so the other people are essentially commodities just like any other commodity — resources to be used. In a situation such as this, you are in the position of having 1 person who thinks you are self-sovereign (yourself), and N - 1 who think you are a resource for them to use. You are going to need to watch your back! Of course, everyone else is in the same situation.

Now, lets suppose that instead, everyone accepts the Peer Theorem. In this case, there is no guarantee that everyone will always agree and there will be no conflict, but it does mean that it is relatively safe to assume that there are N people that recognize you as a Sovereign Individual and N - 1 that consider you a peer. By accepting a version of the Peer Theorem along with a group of people, you have formed a society in which it is relatively safe to operate.

Real societies aren't this perfect, of course. People accept different versions of the Peer Theorem. Sociopaths do exist. The presence of these imperfections in the society do cause pain and suffering. But, real societies do use their protective mechanisms to keep the balance in favor of the participants at large. When they fail to do this, societies die out and are replaced by new ones that do.

No comments: