To start this conversation properly we should establish the meaning of “authority” itself. Often people use terms authority and power interchangeably where in fact power is prior and it is “the ability to influence other to do something that one would not have done”. Meanwhile authority is matter of relationship – it is power recognized/accepted by the subjects. To be precise and honest – the debate over authority is unfinished, or rather it is quite “work in progress”, and you can find some other definitions, but let’s keep things simple for now.
When you realize how obedient people are to all sorts of authority it could just scare you. People acting against their values held under serious threat… Well, they are adapting into conditions to somehow survive, it’s not much of a case for this discussion. But take a short glance at famous Milgram experiment (you can watch the whole experiment at the bottom). Examined people are acting clearly against own values (painfully punishing other person) under non-rational authority (of a “scientist” who isn’t a threat nor he has any other power over examined one than just being recognized as a scientist). First point we can make is that nothing has changed since the tragic of World War II, and there is still much of the same potential in people to do horrible things in the name of “whatever could posses authority”. Second point is that one can never give away the control over his conscience to any authority. Precisely because of that hidden potential.
Now, we can argue if being under authority is any good. As in many cases the answer is simple – authority itself can not be good or bad, it is essentially neutral. What people do with recognized power can be analyzed in those terms. Under authority some can be (and feel) more secured, taken care of, not be stressed as much, have better outlooks, be inspired to do some epic things etc.. That’s why some of us are straight forward, honest conformists. My overall point is this: We are evolutionarily designed to be vulnerable to non-rational authority, so don’t be harsh with yourself or with others because it is not “a defect” – it is just what it is, a human condition. All that being said, in my personal opinion, having second thoughts on and challenging our personal beliefs with pure logic, available knowledge, overall rationality and our own conscience once in a while is more than healthy. I do prefer non-conformist approach to authority (and please don’t mistake it with anti-conformist approach, which is being just as conformist, but to a contra-culture). I want to be inspired, I like great deal of the mainstream culture, I like the idea of politeness, sometimes I even like being taken care of. But also I like my liberties, I want to have choice over my actions and opportunities and, above all, at the end of the day I want to be proud of the things I’ve done.
What’s your view on authority and conformism? I’m really curious how this discussion could develop, so I please in the most kind way I know, share in comments.
Take good care
– Przemek Kucia