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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Your Authority is an Attitude in the Minds of Others

I have as much authority as the Pope, I just don't have as many people who believe it. -- George Carlin
Authority of any kind is ultimately based on a consensus, an agreement to acknowledge the validity of that authority. This consensus may based on traditionally shared beliefs, values and attitudes, or be merely expedient acquiescence or outward conformity.

This is the reality of the moral freedom we enjoy as individuals, if we only think about it. We, each one of us, can choose, if we are willing to live with the consequences, not to acknowledge as pertinent to our lives, any "authority" whatsoever. (The possibility of disregard is why those in authority try to aggrandize power.)

Mentally disregarding authority while outwardly conforming to it is no weird, esoteric practice only carried out by bald monks in mountaintop monasteries. It is exactly what we do to a great extent when we visit other countries and cultures: we acquiesce in behaving so as to keep ourselves out of jail, or to avoid social opprobrium; even though we accord no real respect whatsoever to other concerns a native of that culture might have. Sight-seeing in a church does not mean you are a convert.

The authority we exercise often distances us from others, making ordinary forms of social intercourse strained, if not impossible. Yet, it does not in and of itself, protect us from brute force, as any battered spouse with a restraining order knows full well.

All new teachers discover – as did many an old-time missionary – that the reputation of those who bestowed authority upon them may matter very little. Kids are not impressed with State issued teaching licenses. People raised in one religion are not very impressed that a religion different from their own has ordained the missionary.

Not acknowledging as authority what others do is what makes the differences between families, religions, cultures and nations. It also is what makes teaching and preaching an uphill battle. Especially where power is lacking.

To examine these issues further, see The Indeterminacy of Consensus


Cordially
--- EGR