Monday, April 2, 2012

Myths of empire part 1: legitimate authority

Because authority gains legitimacy only through reference to authority, the idea of legitimate authority is logically circular. The psychological circuitry of humans, however, is not designed to function according to strict logic. And the concept of legitimate authority is gets traction through widespread belief in several potent myths—call them “myths of empire.”  Here are two. 

Authority myth 1: The oppressive structures of power and control in modern civilization reflect a logical extension of natural dominance hierarchies such as those seen in many of our animal cousins. Birds, do it, bees do it, even gorillas and chimpanzees do it. So that fact that humans do it too—only far more extensively and efficiently—is to be expected.  But the truth is that what birds and bees and chimpanzees are doing is something qualitatively different from what is being forced upon civilized humans. And to say that the modern police state has its roots in the natural stratification found in primate society is like saying the plastic components of the keyboard I’m presently typing on have their roots in the decayed bodies of prehistoric plankton.    

Authority myth 2: The oppressive structures of power and control in modern civilization are necessary, and without them all would be chaos and misery. This myth persists despite the fact that a large portion of the misery experienced by civilized humans (and all non-civilized beings, human and otherwise, living in the bulldozer’s path) can be linked directly to the oppressive power structures of civilization. All myths incorporate a kernel of truth, and there is definitely truth to the idea that oppressive power is necessary. What is frequently left unexamined is exactly what it is necessary for. Scratch the surface of any corporate CEO’s skull and it becomes clear that the only thing power is necessary for is the amplification of power itself.   

[Bricks, by the way, are probably not the best tools for scratching the surface of corporate CEO’s skulls—especially if you are dealing with a representative of big oil. The desire to want to get below the surface may have a negative impact on your technique.]

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