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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Authority is Like a Condom

The Condom is a Cuirass against Pleasure and a Spider's Web against Danger.
-- Madame de Staël (1766 - 1817)

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

 
How Does Authority Protect?

All new teachers, like many old-time missionaries, or any person newly thrust into a leadership role, discovers that the reputation of those who bestowed authority upon them may matter very little. Kids, for example, are not impressed with State issued teaching licenses. People raised in one religion, or in older forms of the same religion, are resistant to the new authorizations that have ordained the newcomer.

Authority of any kind is ultimately based on 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 such disregard is why those in authority try to aggrandize power. See Usurping the Rights of Others)

This is no weird, esoteric practice to be carried out by bald monks on a mountaintop. 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 disregard whatever other concerns a native of that culture might have. Sight-seeing in a church does not mean you will be a convert.

Not acknowledging as authority what others do may lead to conflicts of many kinds. But accommodating diversity is what makes possible the differences between families, religions, cultures and nations. But diversity, still, is what sometimes makes teaching and preaching an uphill battle. (Especially where coercive power is lacking.)

To examine these issues further, see The Indeterminacy of Consensus

Cordially --- EGR