November 7th, 2011 § 0 comments

This post has been a long time in the making; maybe one cannot write about authority until one has become an individual, capable of autonomous action and of feeling the effects of assumed authority.
It’s strange that for the majority of my life so far I have been involved with authority systems such as education and government. These institutions are run by people as much as 7-11 is run by people, yet the people working within larger institutions are, in some way, quite comfortable with constructing guidelines for others to follow. Ostensibly these rules are for the good of the individual, and when this reasoning fails, the good of society is the justification.

Accomplishing tasks in a timely manner is a big part of authority; it seems primarily practical to me. And in large part this is connected to a sense of modern society that ought to be progressing via many individuals who don’t know much about each other. The nature of conflict/change morphs due to the positions of the participants. Within an anonymous society the justification for conflict and change must come from an abstraction of the common good. If I lived in a smaller more contained society I could find many other justifications for helping others, such as I know your father, or your brother is helping repair my barn. But since I don’t know much about people I have to fall back on guidelines which are based upon a general view of what is good for society.  Lo and behold, authority is there to provide guidelines.

This is where democracy comes in: ideally the majority decides what the standards of the society will be, tempered by principles that are not easily negotiable. Here’s where things get really strange though.  All around us we see aspects of society that ought to be changed: poor investment in education and health care, generational poverty, and crummy working conditions for many citizens.  So why not elect people who will create systems of equality?  Apparently, we have been electing people who have no problem exercising authority to maintain the status quo, and even to increase gaps between groups in society.  It strikes me that many people want leaders to tell people what to do, even though it is not in their best interests.  In this sense our leaders are manifesting our ideas of how authority should be exercised.  In another sense, if these leaders are brought into power through an influential minority with monetary input, we could say that our leaders create expectations of authority and that people get used to being told what to do, in a passive acceptance.

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