Saturday, April 22, 2023

Classifying Authority

I see authority as two-faced. It can be good and it can be evil. It is possible for a good person to use evil authority to do good, and that is a wonderful thing except for the effect of encouraging evil authority to persist. It should not, and whatever good the good person accomplishes with it is tainted with that encouragement. I suppose that makes me a purist and I'll have to keep thinking about it. I want to describe what it is, for me, that divides good authority from evil authority.

I imagine that as humanity developed language and discovered that it is often useful both to those who express it and to those who receive it. This is mainly because language gives us the ability to explain things, and some of us figure things out. Isn't it nice that someone who figured something out is able to create language that helps you figure it out too? Now I can drill down to the difference...

"You must not ..." is something that authority says, whether it's good or evil. It is the nature of authority to tell us that we must not ..., or sometimes that we must ... . We wanted a good word to describe those whose declarations turned out to be helpful, and that, in my mind, is where the word "authority" was invented, probably starting out as something like "author", someone who knows enough to write down helpful information. Authorities figure stuff out and then help us navigate reality. I love that!

Sometimes, we question authority, and this is perfectly natural, normal, and helpful. In fact, I think we don't do it enough. There's a reason we don't do it enough though: that too much of the evil side of authority has been at work. The main difference is the answer to the question every child knows to ask: why? Good authority explains how the universe might hurt you if you ignore the claim. Evil authority may attempt to put it in the same terms, but what makes it evil is that the authority itself, or some agent of the authority, will hurt you, not the universe.

Sometimes, we ignore the demand or claim of an authority that tells us we must … or must not …, discover that the authority was mistaken about that claim, and if we are brave enough (which shouldn't be a requirement!) we will let them know. A good authority will analyze this and get back to us, kindly, appreciatively, and either thank us for helping them become a better authority, or point out some risk we took, perhaps without knowing we took it, or both.

A bad authority does not want to change their working model of reality to reflect your evidence that they were wrong , and so instead of thanking you or offering more explanation, they find a way to make it seem like you were wrong, not logically wrong, but morally wrong, for “defying” them. Rather than bending their model of reality to fit the reality you show them, they try to bend you to fit the model they have. They drift from an accurate understanding of reality because we respect them too much to identify their errors. We should ignore them until they improve their behavior.

Every authority can be classified using two questions. The answers to these two questions are nearly always correlated:

  1. What causes my suffering if I ignore the claim that I must or must not do a thing?

  2. What does the authority say should change if I point out that I ignore its claim that I must or must not do the thing, but suffered none of the predicted consequences?

I mean the honest answers, not necessarily the answers that evil authorities give. If they know they are evil, they will likely lie or mislead you if you rely on them for the answers to these questions. Even if they don’t know they are using evil authority, they might lie because they don’t comprehend the full chain of causation for their own behavior and they might think it's helpful to distract you from the truth when they see that it is actually the authority or system that creates the authority that will hurt you when you ignore the claim.

The correlation, once you discover the honest answers is: answer 1 being the authority or the system that created it goes with answer 2 being that you should be the one to change, and any other answer to question 1 goes with the answer that the authority or its expression of the claim should change.

I posted this on my Substack too, which I think is better than blogger.

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