About the Word “Authority”
My friend, Larken Rose, describes authority as “the most dangerous
superstition” – and has, in fact, written a wonderful little book by that title. I heartily recommend it to anyone wanting to delve deeper into the subject than the limited treatment in this article. Having said that, let’s take an intellectual peek into the meaning of the word.
The word, “authority” would appear at first glance to be a noun – though
technically it isn’t one – because it doesn’t describe or name something that can be put in a wheelbarrow. Traditionally, a noun names a person, place, or thing. In recent years some have chosen to extend the definition to include ideas – but I find this more confusing than helpful.
Instead, on the advice of the eminent linguist John Grinder, I refer to such
words as “nominalizations”. As such, a nominalization is itself an idea, but the concept so labeled usually proves, on examination, to represent an action or a process. The same can be said too of the expressions, “power over”, juris diction, and rank – as they are essentially synonyms for “authority.”
In discussing authority, the subject is further confused by the fact that, in
practice, the word has two distinct meanings.
Two Kinds of Authority
There are two meanings for the word in common usage:
1. It can mean an expert – someone who is unusually well versed in a
subject – as in “Einstein was an authority on physics”; or
2. It can mean someone who exercises power over others – as in,
“Governments have authority over their subjects”.
At the moment we are born, naked, helpless, and totally dependent, our
parents are the expert authorities responsible for our well being. We have no choice but to respect their superior strength, knowledge, and experience. In fact, our very lives depend on it. So when they say, “Don’t play in the street”, we do well to obey, and we can take some comfort in the fact that they have more expertise than we when it comes to survival in the jungle, the woods, or the city. This is a case of authority as defined in (1) above.
Unfortunately, it is all too common that parents treat their children as though their authority is of the second type – requiring obedience without regard for the child’s mental/emotional state. “Be respectful! I’m your father!” expresses a typical attitude of such a parent. This is the attitude that is usually meant by the adjective, “authoritarian”.
It is the responsibility of an ethical parent to teach their offspring what they need to know to become independent adults with good self-esteem and a strong sense of responsibility for themselves. This cannot be achieved by maintaining an authoritarian posture in relation to them. This attitude, instead, teaches fear, obedience and dependency. When the posture is based on corporal punishment, it also teaches violence – and is arguably the primary source of violence in today’s world.
An even more profound consequence of authoritarian parenting is its effect on a child’s awareness of self-ownership.
As small children it is apparent to everyone that they are owned by their
parents. In school the mandate to obey is largely transferred to our teachers – making them our stand-in owners. And as employees it is easy to imagine ourselves owned by our employers. We are conditioned to accept these roles – even though they are false.
It is very convenient for those who wish to rule us to have us think that we are “free”, when we fail to recognize our own self-ownership. This distortion of our awareness causes us to regard the ruling class as our owners – and to obey its members as would slaves. The conditioning to bring this about begins when we are infants – being raised by parents who have already been trained to obey “authorities”. In reality, “authority” refers to nothing more than coercion by means of force or the threat of force. And the purpose of perpetuating the concept as something else exists only to make us easier to plunder. When we yield to this mandate, we remain permanently child-like, unwilling to take on the true responsi-bilities of adulthood. In effect, we choose our own slavery.
The Adult Quandary
Our culture makes it very easy for us to accept our serfdom – and difficult to honor truth, love, awareness, and creativity. The latter choices put us
immediately in conflict with those who wish to “rule” us, and they aren’t
hesitant to beat, pepper-spray, taser, torture, cage, and kill those who fail to comply. This makes for some difficult choices for those of us not deceived by our early conditioning.
The Unfortunate Default
While some of us maintain an uneasy balance between compliance and self-determination, most people choose, not only to comply with our self-
appointed rulers’ edicts – but to turn on those of us who don’t, by supporting violence that is directed at those of us who are free enough to recognize the falsehood of all forms of “authority”.
The Controllers and the Controlled
The intense need of psychopaths and sociopaths to control others by
exercising power over them derives primarily from the devastating abuse to which they were subjected very early in childhood. That abuse left them feeling so out of control of their lives, that to survive they had to learn to respond in kind – by becoming even more controlling than their abusers. To date there is no known way to heal the results of such abuse.
So, What Is “Authority” and What Can Be Done to Correct for It? The mythology that underpins our subservience to “authority” is no different
today than it was when monarchs claimed the “divine right of kings”. It is
based on the fictional notion that some people have an unassailable right to control the lives of others. In order to gain our freedom from such slavery we must first recognize it for the big lie that it is. The primary mechanism of “authority” is hierarchy.
We know now how to create non-hierarchic organizations that are both ethical and effective. This new model makes the old one obsolete. If there is a key that will end our servitude, this is it.
– Bob Podolsky – 2016