Authority is an imagined reality

February 23, 2015, 5:46 pm

Agree22 Disagree6


The debate "Authority is an imagined reality" was started by bitman on February 23, 2015, 5:46 pm. 22 people are on the agree side of this discussion, while 6 people are on the disagree side. People are starting to choose their side. It looks like most of the people in this community are on the agreeing side of this statement.

PsychDave posted 6 arguments, I_Voyager posted 1 argument to the agreers part.
Sosocratese posted 3 arguments, I_Voyager posted 1 argument to the disagreers part.

bitman, PsychDave, Hjkp98, taigaaisaka, Egert_Clueless, Hollister_boy, Martin2489, llthslvtr and 14 visitors agree.
I_Voyager, Sosocratese, BabyT14 and 3 visitors disagree.

I will start by going through your examples, then pose one of my own to illustrate why I feel authority is an imaginary concept.

All authority is based on a promise other a threat or both. If you want what is promised, or are afraid of the threat, and do what the person wants, they have authority over you. If you ignore the threats and promises, you can reject the authority. That doesn't mean there are no consequences, but history is full of people who refused to bow to authority (Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Arab Springs) and brought about change.

International politics is no different. Leaders exchange IOUs and threats to get what they want. Sanctions are employed quite a bit and are rarely effective (look at Cuba - USA). Nations can, and have decided that they didn't feel like playing along. Germany decided that they weren't going to pay their debts just before the start of WW2.

Blackmail is again the threat of either harm to yourself or your reputation. You always have the choice of not allowing yourself to be controlled. That doesn't mean there will be no consequences, but it does mean the blackmailer's authority only extends as far as you permit it.

Finally my example is this. If I have a rock in my hand, it is real. You can touch it, see it, etc. If I threatened to hit someone with the rock, the threat isn't a real thing. I have imagined something, and shared that imagined scenario with them. At this point I don't have any authority, just a rock and a violent mind. If they agree to do what I want however, suddenly I have authority over them. If this authority is not an imagined thing, where does it come from? The rock didn't give it to me, and the other person did not recognize my superiority until I induced them to imagine what I would do if they didn't. Realistically, I only have the authority as long as they keep imagining that me hitting them with the rock is worse than doing what I say. If they are ever in a situation where their perceived outcome is worse from doing as they are told than being hit with a rock, my authority is gone and all I have is a rock (and a person who is very angry with me).

5 years, 4 months ago

Please correct me if I'm wrong here. I'm gonna make sure I understand your position. You're saying that authority is grounded in willing participation. That it's a made up concept that, we can escape if we simply don't participate.

I'm arguing that while the power of authority is given to a group or individual by consent, the authority they exercise is grounded in something other than consent. My argument is that authority is grounded in the consequences one is able to bring to the individuals that are subjugated by said authority. This means that authority exists outside of the agent wielding it. We can create and destroy political systems and offices, but the fact that someone will have more authority than another is inevitable and constant. In human society someone will always be able to bring about more consequences than another.

In international politics, threats are very real. Economic sanctions are much more than just a "silent treatment" they are a form of economic extortion. This extortion can not be escaped by simply not playing along of you will. Simply saying you won't use money any more if economic sanctions are placed on your country is not a solution. Exports are vital to economic success and so regardless of the system by which you pay for things, an inability to purchase things you need or sell your resources will have real consequences that you can't avoid by simply not participating.

Blackmail is another type of authority that is grounded not in consent, not in some imagined form, it's grounded in real life consequences. There is no way that any kind of none participation could prevent the authority of the other agent from being enacted.

If authority can be exercised without consent than it isn't something imaginary formed by consent. It is a power gained by the amount of harm you can inflict on another without their consent.

5 years, 4 months ago

Socratese - I am not saying authority isn't real or that it doesn't have consequences, I am saying that it is a made up system. When the people involved agree on a system, some are given authority. That authority isn't a physical thing, not is it something intrinsic to the people who hold the power.

As far as international politics goes, the entire process is done with imaginary money representing resources and loans. The whole of international politics is one part threats and one part promises, neither of which are real things. Countries can, and have, decided that they just aren't going to pay back debts and they frequently place trade sanctions against each other, which is the international equivalent to to silent treatment.

5 years, 4 months ago

I agree that authority can be given and taken. However, that doesn't mean it isn't real. People willingly subject themselves to authority on order to live a better life. Societies are based on that concept. The authority wielded by China, the US, etc... In the international markets, communities, and geopolitics is very real and not subject to a revolt short of violent uprising by nations wielding less authority due to their either political, financial status, etc... that authority can't be revoked, it must be taken.

If authority is something that must, in some cases at least, be taken rather than revoked, then it is grounded in something other than the willingness of the subjugated to participate. It is thus not imaginary but grounded in something more objective. I would argue that it is based on the consequences the authority can have on the subjugated. It can be weakly grounded, as is the case with democracy where the subjugated have direct recourse with the authority by being able to remove them from that seat. Or it can be strongly grounded, as with international politics, where the subjugated have very little recourse.

5 years, 4 months ago

Haha, just don't point out my myriad errors and we're fine ;)

Scientific authority can be faked, but only to people who lack the ability to test the authority. Maybe this forces me to ammend my claim so that scientific authority is real authority over intelligent enough bodies.

5 years, 4 months ago

Wow, autocorrect butchered that one and I missed it. The first sentence should have read "Scientific authority can be faked."

5 years, 4 months ago

But scientific authority cam be faced. Through selection bias, data manipulation and confirmation bias, researchers can influence the results if their research. Look at the debate about vaccination. The original research has been completely discredited, but there are many people who still believe it. Authority based on knowledge is only effective if there is someone else to confirm that the knowledge is real.

5 years, 4 months ago

I agree with Psychdave here in general. But you are both also forgetting that there is onlg one 'real' authority which is not firstly the result of a human thought structure: the authority of scientific expertise. Since the pre-requisite of this authority is objective knowledge, and the method of giving this authority is through rigorous testing and analysis by intellectual peers, the authority is not imagined. It's true despite consensus. This kind of authority is more real than a queenship, which rationalizes perfectly Stephen Hawkings denial of knighthood. His authority as a PHD in physics is superior.

5 years, 4 months ago

Socratese - In every case, if people as a whole decide to stop following the leadership, what happens? If the military and/or police do not continue to follow the leader, what authority does the leader have? If the leadership of any group is not a creation of the group, it implies that there is some reason that the leader was selected (divine right). I don't mean that there is no consequences if people break the law, there are, but the laws themselves are made by people and we agree, by virtue of being a citizen of the group, to follow them. There are many examples of people rejecting the authority of their legal government (American independence, Arab Springs, suffrage, civil-rights movement) and forcing change.

5 years, 4 months ago

I would say authority is very real. It may come from some form of social contract, but the authority given to a leader or group of leaders is very real. We know authority is real as we even place restrictions on authority (police proceedings, checks and balances in governments, etc..). It's hard to argue that authority arises from social constructs, however, the exercise of authority is very real and has very real consequences.

5 years, 4 months ago

OK now order for anyone to have authority, those they have authority over have to agree. The worst dictator in the world is one man. Without followers believing in his authority, and doing what he says, he is just one person trying to tell everyone what to do. Without the shared imagined reality that they have power, they can't do much of anything.

5 years, 4 months ago
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