Authority? Think Again

Me, the authority on anything? Naw.

I only maybe feel like I am, sometimes — and the feeling itself, I’m pretty sure, is just a waning vestige from decades of authoritarian brainwashing. I’m authoraholic in recovery.

I think it all depends on your starting point.

Note: Second only to our right to remain living safely, our most basic rights are to think what we want and voice our thoughts. Given that people will forego survival for the sake of integrity, thinking and saying what we want might in fact be more fundamental. The following refers to our voices and voicing our thoughts, but applies equally well to choices and actions. Opposition to our voices or will or actions isn’t just resistance to what we in fact say, choose, or do; it can also be resistance to saying, choosing, or doing anything at all, and that’s what I mean here. When I say “negatory opposition”, I mean opposition that not only resists actually voicing our thoughts, making choices, or taking action, but aims to negate them, preempt them, permanently eliminating them.

If you start by assuming that you are the author of your expressed thoughts, no question, then “authorize” need not mean more than “compose” or “write” or “articulate” — in other words, to give voice to your thoughts — along with assurance that it was in fact your voice. It’s about what you do and the fact that you did it, not someone else. This means your voice does its own authorizing, that the very act of saying it authorizes what you say. That seems strange to most of us, but only because most of us were never kings. No one authorizes a king’s voice (unless you believe God does that sort of thing.) So, this is how kings speak.

The rest of us speak quite differently.

Short of being kings, “authorized” doesn’t merely connote that we were the ones who voiced our thoughts, but that someone or something gave us the right to voice them. So, it assumes our right to speak comes from elsewhere, not from the mere fact that we spoke. We don’t assume sovereignty, so we don’t assume that we’re authors, but instead that we need a right to speak: We need authorization. We’re so used to being in this position, we think it’s natural, necessary, or even that it’s the only position possible — unless you’re a king. By force of assumption, we fail to ask why this must be so, let alone whether in fact it is so.

Why would you need a right to voice your thoughts? Well, to answer that, consider: Would you need a right to do what everyone already wanted you to do? No. If everyone were on their seats’ edges in anticipation of what you’ll say, declaring a right to voice your thoughts would be silly. Unless someone wants to shut you up, a right to speak is isn’t just unnecessary, it’s meaningless — like declaring you have a right to eat the giant slice of birthday cake your mother baked for you, set before you on a vibrant party plate under a huge dollop of your favorite ice cream, with all your friends around hanging on that first bite so that they can dig into their pieces, too. (I was raised old school — what can I say?) Whatever would it mean, then, to say that you have a “right” to do what everyone hopes and expects you will?

So, claiming rights implies negatory opposition against the very thing we invoke rights to protect ourselves from. Rights insinuate the reality and significance of opposition by the very act of denying it validity. This is the intrinsic incoherence at the core of denial, the Achilles’ heel of both sides of every rights movement. Denying someone’s right to do what they want first recognizes them and their desire, affirming their considerability, not their deniability, before the denial can be made persuasive. By the same token, denying the deniers emphasizes their denial, backhandedly endorsing its validity.

Demanding rights only works if those already actively denying them will recognize them and accommodate the demand. Do we expect them to change their minds merely because we tell them to? Some rights are said to be natural, even inalienable. Try telling that to the ones who need most to hear it: rights opposers. They have no impetus to change their minds. Without enforcement, rights are little more than toothless entreaties to people bent against us doing what rights supposedly protect. From their perspective, rights are just pathetic petitions appealing to the very interests that contradict their aims. How is that going to work? To bridge this motivational divide, we need something or someone to induce them to respect our rights. With opposers who refuse to recognize sovereign self-authorization and want to silence our voices, we need authority on our side — or so we believe.

So, authorization when we are unopposed concerns the genuineness of what we do and did, present and past — not rights, because rights are irrelevant when we’re unopposed. Authorization as rights bestowed by an authority occurs before we do something and implies — sometimes wrongly — the very opposition that rights aim to shield us from. These are two very different kinds of authorization carried out by completely different parties, one with a view to the present and past and the other with a view to the future, and yet we use exactly the same terms for both. This just hints at how confused we are on this subject.

So, if you start by assuming negatory opposition to your voice is possible, then authorization of rights to protect your voice becomes relevant. If you assume that negatory opposition to your voice is real, authorization of your rights becomes necessary. And if you assume that negatory opposition to your voice is interminable, then authorization of rights — and therefore authority — becomes a permanent necessity. All these assumptions are reasonable, but they are assumptions not foregone conclusions, relevant only if you assume negatory opposition to your voice in the first place. The self-reinforcing cycle this sets up is obvious.

To believe that these are more than mere assumptions would be unreasonable. To insistently or dogmatically claim that there are no alternatives to these assumptions — which most people in authoritarian cultures are wont to do — is pig-headedly dumb.

So far as I’ve seen, no one has done much to rationally assess which of the two starting points above is the most valid. Larken Rose, in his wonderful book The Most Dangerous Superstition[1], makes excellent arguments for the irrationality of the very concept of authority — but argument seems to be where the whole matter stops on both sides of the issue.

Who has assessed in any objective, verifiable way just how necessary authority is — which implies things like data and quantification — under different conditions, starting with alternate premises; and what actually happens when we do or don’t resort to authority under those scenarios? In fact, I’ve yet to see but a few who even recognize the credibility of those questions. I seem to be the only one raising them; and when I raise them, retorts alternately insist that the answers are so obvious, the questions are ridiculous; or that a non-authoritarian starting point is so ridiculous, a comparison to affairs given our customary authoritarian starting point is impossible; or that a non-authoritarian starting point is impossible, so the question of comparison is as incoherent as trying to clap with one hand. All in all, the dismissals constitute quite a scramble to avoid the questions.

Here’s my position:

(Here I’m talking about authority to establish and enforce rights. I deal with the poorly understood question of authority as expertise/competence elsewhere.)

  • Negatory opposition to our voices is neither inevitable nor interminable.
  • We already have ample evidence of our own that negatory opposition to our voices is not only self-invalidating but in fact relatively rare, (unless we’re atrociously bad at choosing the company we keep,) evidence we deny in claiming that negatory opposition to our voices is, instead, unavoidable.
  • Apart from negatory opposition to our voices, authority to establish our right to voice our thoughts is unnecessary, costly, dispensable and more detrimental than beneficial.
  • Our insistence on the validity and unavoidability of authority rests on a delusory denial that negatory opposition to our voices is both invalid and avoidable.

Further, our fixation on defending the validity of authority — I’m tempted to say our addiction to it — distracts us from raising a more primary question, one I’ve yet to see anyone else raise:

WHO THE FUCK thinks ANY justification for opposing and negating our voices is valid, let alone plausible?

I know who: Terrorists.

In other words, authority is a misguided method for winning arguments with terrorists.

Terrorists are aggressors. They did all their discussing, arguing and negotiating long before they decided to wage war against you, their enemy. The inanity of authority is its delusion that terrorists came to argue. Arguing is something you do with people you haven’t already decided to dominate or destroy. Claiming rights with those who negate your voice is like bringing parchment to a gunfight. And that’s only if the authorities you rely on are not hypocritically in cahoots with the terrorists, being terrorists themselves and quite clear that it’s a setup.

People opposed to your opinions, beliefs, desires, choices, actions, etc., disagree with you but don’t necessarily refuse to recognize your voice. Rights can still matter to opposers. To terrorists, your rights don’t exist independently, because they hold themselves as ultimate authorities who dispense any and all valid right. Terrorists deny your right to say anything at all unless it’s already what they endorse. This is the basis for the perverted logic which leads them to the foregone conclusion of all terrorists: If you don’t agree with them, it makes perfect sense to hurt or kill you. If you don’t agree, you need to be made to agree or eliminated. In this light, it’s not hard to see the terrorism involved in much we commonly call “politics”.

So, our insistence that authority is a permanent necessity is irrational — not because there is no war waged against our voices, but because authority fatally mistakes aggression for argument. Authority isn’t just a poor solution, it gets the problem completely wrong. In fact, it makes the problem worse. Authority that establishes rights against aggression actually strengthens the expectation that aggression will be ongoing — because if aggression were terminated, rights would no longer be necessary or even relevant, since there would be nothing left to assert rights against. So, authority expects aggression to continue, implying and thus contributing to its perpetuation.

Adopting a cure that sustains the disease hardly seems like a rational solution.

There is neither right nor argument that could possibly justify opposing our right to voice, trying to negate our voices — in which case there is no arguing rights at all, since there’s nothing valid to argue against. Authority is invalid because the argument it seeks to settle does not exist as argument, so the impression that authority could accomplish its goal is spurious, it having failed to grasp the problem. Aggression is a problem, but authority has no clue that’s what the problem is — that is, if we were to take authority as sincere. Opposing and negating our voices are the acts of liars and madmen. Authority stupidly dignifies lies and madness with an answer and expects to win an argument with violent fools intent on harm — hardly the type that’s amenable to persuasion.

That’s authority at its best. Instead, mostly, authority is just a legitimizing mask, an excuse for violent aggression excused by plausible vindication on the part of terrorists who proclaim themselves guardians and leaders. Authority at its worst is no more than the supposedly legitimate side of a scheme foisted by authorities themselves to perpetuate conflict and profit from it. In this way, authority isn’t an argument over rights of any sort, but a white mask donned by one side of a madman’s feud over who gets to exploit us trapped in their crossfire. Even those who aren’t willing to concede that authority essentially boils down to this can’t escape the mounting evidence that authority has in fact boiled down to this with increasing frequency, enough to make one wonder whether the differences make any real difference at all.

At its best, authority is a lame answer to a confounded question which arises quite naturally from a delusion that negatory opposition to our voices — terrorism — is valid and unavoidable; a belief we not only don’t have evidence to support but have ample evidence falsifying it. And we have a valid, alternative starting point, one that doesn’t naturally lead to these irrationalities. Our reluctance to try the alternative and our dogged refusal to allow it enough credence to make exploring it tenable constitute a whole other, deeper level of irrationality.


[1] Rose, Larken. The most dangerous superstition. United States: Larken Rose, 2011. Print. (back to reading…)

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