The Tinkerbell effect describes those things that exist only because people believe in them. The effect is named for Tinker Bell, the fairy in the play ”Peter Pan” who is revived from near death by the belief of the audience.
Many things may be described by the Tinkerbell effect. Most commonly these take the form of systems, societies, societal decisions, cultural norms, and named interactions between persons. Persons, places, things, and concepts that are capable of existing independently of any other person’s existence, regardless of anyone’s knowledge or belief in them, are not examples of the Tinkerbell effect.
Claimed cases and potential arguments for these claims include:
- private property – The connection between a particular piece of land and an individual is not inherent in nature. It is only by the enforcement of government, physical force, and the agreement of the people that a property can belong to someone. If people then cease to believe in/agree to private property, such property will cease to exist.
- monetary system – The premise of a monetary system is that a certain common device (usually coins or notes) can be exchanged for anything in appropriate ratios in order to expedite trade. If people refuse to believe that this currency could be so traded, the monetary system will cease to exist.
- the value of a nation’s money in a fiat currency system – Fiat currency has no inherent value of its own, unlike gold, and so its value is determined by the credibility of the government issuing it. If there is no faith in the government, the value of the nation’s money ceases to exist. This is an excellent example of the Tinkerbell effect and is the reason for the recent “United States debt ceiling crisis”, along with the corresponding Libertarian arguments against the Federal Reserve. It also explains the relative values of currencies and complaints about certain nations keeping their currencies at artificially low values relative to the rest of the world.
- civil society – Civil society is based on the belief in certain moral social norms that all people should live by. What is considered “civil” changes from generation to generation, as is evidenced in the United States by the effects of “the sexual revolution” of the 1960s. Civil society is a malleable concept, a telling sign of the Tinkerbell effect. If those in the society give it up entirely or decide to disband, as perhaps to anarchy, then civil society, being no longer believed, will cease to exist.
- the rule of law – The effect of the rule of law may be defined as “that all people (including the government) should be ruled by the law and obey it; and that the law should be such that people should be able to be guided by it.” If the people decide that it is not worth obeying and has no use in guiding, the rule of law will cease to exist.
- authority – The premise of authority is that certain individuals have the right to control the actions of others because of their social standing. Authority is a concept that is dependent on the existence of multiple cooperating persons, it is not self-existent. If the individuals controlled will not submit, then authority ceases to exist. Tyranny is not equivalent to authority. It, too, is an example of the Tinkerbell effect.
- compulsory education- Compulsory education comes from the belief that those who are more educated live better lives, and that therefore we should force all to be educated. If at any time we stop enacting this force and stop believing that education betters our lives, then compulsory education will cease to exist.
It has been suggested by some that deities are an example of the Tinkerbell effect. This is incorrect. Though deities, God or otherwise, may or may not exist, and though belief is intimately connected with our knowledge of them, their existence is completely unrelated to this belief. Should God exist and noone believe in Him, He would still exist. Should God not exist and everyone believe in Him, He would still not exist.
If you wish you may take the reasonable but absurd view of the solipsist that the only thing that is certain to exist is your own thoughts. In this case, everything is an example of the Tinkerbell effect. Of course, then you only think you exist, so you may be Tinkerbelling yourself as well. Just don’t get upset if noone takes you seriously. They’re only figments of your imagination anyway.