Not Remotely Good Enough

‘The question of ‘what can I do’ has answers, supported by scholarship and experience.’ Photograph: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

I’m very encouraged to see articles like Authoritarianism is making a comeback getting around. And this one is over a year old now. As far as I’m concerned, every step in the right direction is a good one.

And yet I read it with a pit in my stomach, although a little more hopeful than usual.

There are several levels of recognition about any problem. First, an inkling that something is wrong. Then, a symptomatic grasp of what’s wrong. Then a symptomatic reaction which, although it won’t fix the problem, is good because it drives us to action, eventually showing us that attacking symptoms to solve a problem is like trying to wave a dog by the tail. But that’s what it often takes to finally uncover what the real nature of the problem is. Then, we still need to do a lot of digging to get enough info to hone in on root causes. Until we have a clear picture of causes, our actions remain determined by the problem, since that’s exactly what reacting is: triggered by, aimed at, and in large part defined and limited by the problem.

Einstein’s, “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind-set that created them,” applies here. We might think that once we know the root causes, we can solve the problem. But according to a master problem-solver, we need to take one more step first: Change our minds.

The article takes that step, which is very cool, by asking what alternatives there are to merely succumbing or reacting? Lots of good info there.

But no one yet has started questioning the authoritarian paradigm itself, let alone the principles that formed the paradigm. Until we do that, we can’t replace authoritarian environments that create problems. At best, then, all we can do — which, sadly, most people settle for, including this article’s author — is to mitigate some of the problem’s symptoms… for a while.

Tyrants’ tactics require the consent of large numbers of people. The first lesson, then, is not to obey in advance.

Great advice. On what basis do we decide what not to obey, whom not to obey, and when? If we had a cogent grasp of an alternative to authoritarianism, we’d have a way to make those decisions intelligently, but so far we don’t have any.

One of the first things we need to do is realize that “authoritarianism” doesn’t just mean undue, excessive or abusive exercise of authority, as if poison in moderation would somehow be a good thing. Well, sure it is, I guess, if you need to kill something. But it’s like we’ve decided that the strychnine of authority is so effective, we might as well lace our water and sprinkle our food with it, too.

Authoritarianism is insistence on relying on authority as a means to manage our affairs — especially as the primary means. The insidious element by which “power corrupts” is the black core of the demented heart of authority: the supremacist belief that everything will fall apart unless someone or some few or even a majority rules everyone else. The sire of that belief is an unfounded, (which is the rank opposite of “proven”, by the way,) belligerent, blind presumption which flirts with paranoia: that we cannot trust others until we’re sure to the contrary, so better be safe than sorry and treat people as potential threats until they prove otherwise. Authority is how we make ensure they’ll behave as we want. By nature, it’s intrinsically degrading — both to those we subject to it and to all who impose it.

Just to show how far our minds have fallen, democracy is not “non-authoritarian” by any stretch. Less authoritarian than a dictatorship? Of course, no question. But just ask any minority who got the majority’s will shoved down their throats — like it or not, whether it was right or not, no matter how destructive it was to anything less than 50% of the people concerned. Ask them if they liked it, if it was right, and if it was beneficial. Arguing that “majority rule” is the best we know how to do is a sorry excuse for a justification, and it’s false. Besides, we don’t tolerate that kind of collateral damage anywhere else that matters to us.

A consistent 40% – 49% failure rate (majorities on any important issue are rarely greater than 60%) proves that a system is terrible, not great. In what other area of life do we allow that kind of error margin or wastage? It’s ridiculous. The very reason for “majority rule” is none other than to avoid doing the work to negotiate and make the compromises that would be needed to figure out a solution that everyone could live with. Democracy begins with despair over anything so “idealistic”, so its very premise is cynical, and it never aspires to better than tyranny over the minority.

As long as the people who supposedly stand against abuses of power — rights advocates, activists, protesters, movement organizers and their followers — keep clinging to authoritarianism, their achievements will continue to be marginal.

Consider this statement from the article:

Unarmed civilians using petitions, boycotts, strikes, and other nonviolent methods have been able to slow, disrupt and even halt authoritarianism.

So “halt” is the pinnacle of their aspirations. Not “abandon”. Not “eradicate”. Not “replace with” anything essentially different — let alone radically different. In other words, the best that social justice “warriors” have been able to envision is to bring things back up to zero… for a while.

Halt authoritarians? Cool! For how long? Or have rights “champions” ever prevented authoritarians from hijacking back what they managed to “liberate”? No, not anywhere I know of. Marginal improvements, maybe, but nothing with remotely the benefit that would justify the inordinate costs of getting there… let alone sustaining it… for a while.

This, I’m grieved to say, is how slaves think. The best they can dream of is to “halt” their masters — on some point; in some incident; for a while. A world without masters? Pshaw! Utopian folly! Childish naiveté! Or, the worst denunciation of all: Unrealistic!

We’re creeping up on 200 years since abolition, and racism is still robust in the USA, having morphed into “justice” against “crime” that suspiciously fits profiles of behavior of demographic groups offensive to the privileged, who literally get away with serial mass theft and murder by calling them “collateral damage” or invoking the absolute bullshit of “national security”, “eminent domain”, or “development” and “progress”.

As long as we love authority, there will be people who take it up and use it for advantage for the few and the detriment of the many.

As long as we think it’s a good idea for one or a few — or even a majority — to tell everyone else what to do, we will remain stuck in this social and moral cesspool, the “powerful” aperch their little islands, squawking their clichés, their walls strong to keep us “unwashed” on the “outside”, their propaganda fans furiously blowing the stench away, while we grovel, hoping at best to stop them from dumping more shit on us… for at least a while.

We need to do something about the cesspool; which means we need to climb out of it; which means we need to believe there is some solid ground to climb onto.

We haven’t even started, yet.

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