“For thousands who hack at branches, there is one that hits the root.” ~Henry David Thoreau
If, as Albert Einstein said, “Unthinkable respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth,”then it stands to reason that we must think critically towards, rather than blindly believe, authority. No matter who or what this authority may be.
Whether it’s an eccentric physicist with wild hair or an authoritarian president who demands respect without giving it up. Whether it’s a flat earther challenging the very foundations of physics, or an overreaching cop with high false power. Belief in authority is a huge psychological hangover for our species. It is an evolutionary obstacle of monumental proportions.
Just as we daily overcome ourselves, we must also daily overcome the myth of authority. It’s a myth because it’s a story first and foremost. It’s a story that we have all fallen for – hook, line and sink. It is a story that most of us were culturally conditioned to believe. It’s a story that most of us take for granted, but certainly should not. Because in the end, “it’s just the way things are” is a cowardly copout.
Instead of cowardice, rather than intentional ignorance, complacency and intellectual laziness, we should challenge the myth of authority – across the board. We should be ruthless with our skepticism, as a scientist in terms of his own hypothesis, as peer-reviewed interrogators who keep the science of others honest.
Because the art of living, especially a researched life that is well lived, is scientific, logical and reasonable. It hits the core of orthodoxy, whatever it may be. It undermines the powers, whoever they may be. And it is likely to upset more than a few blind worshipers, myopic followers, and deliberately ignorant law-abiding citizens. So be it. Disturbed their precious carriage anyway. Especially if this wagon is outdated, violent and based on parochial reasoning and fear. As Oscar Wilde said “Disobedience was the original virtue of man.”
“As soon as the generals and politicians can predict the movements of your mind, you must lose it. Let it be a sign to mark the fake track that you did not go. Be like the fox making more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection. ” ~Wendell Berry
The problem with believing in authority is that it leads to the idea that we need to give a group of people permission to control us. And which Lord Byron taught us, power given to an authority tends to become corrupt.
The problem of power is not the intention behind it. The problem with power is that it tends to destroy the one who exercises it, regardless of their intent. So since we all know that power tends to destroy, whether one has good or bad intentions, and since we know that we will all seek power anyway, we need to be graciously careful both with our own power and against the power of others.
It is obvious that we should not unknowingly give power to an authority by blindly believing it. We should instead challenge authority first and trust the other, if at all. The best way to use our power is to use it against authority by ruthlessly questioning it. It is a social leveling mechanism par excellence. As a wise, young sixth grader once said: “Questioning authority, including the authority that asked you to ask authority.”