“In the act of provoking people to think differently, philosophers make it clear that we are not fated to live within the often-stifling systems of thought that we inherit. We can change the subject.” ~Raymond Geuss
Are you sick and tired of TV talking-heads babbling their way through political propaganda and scapegoating each other through underhanded claptrap that does nothing more than keep outdated bipartisan “authority” entrenched in the minds of the people?
If not, have you ever asked yourself why you just go along with it? Have you ever questioned the nature of authority itself?
Ask yourself: what makes a person an authority? The answer seems simple: a bunch of other people “believe” that person to be an authority. Usually arbitrarily, without questioning the legitimacy of the authority and believing it only because the majority believes it. Or blindly believing in some outdated “social contract” reasoning that strong-arms everyone into obeying.
Have you ever asked yourself how much of your belief in authority is merely culturally conditioned, societally brainwashed or merely indoctrinated? How much of the authority surrounding you is made up of prestigious and courageous individuals who have actually earned it through the merit of their own blood, sweat and tears; and how much of it is made up of individuals who were merely pigeonholed into positions of power by an outdated system of indoctrination void of courage and prestige?
Tough questions, for sure. But only you can answer them. Because the secret to overcoming authority like a fucking genius is realizing that you are the authority. The only person you can control is you. So it’s on you to become the most badass authority (author of self) that you can become.
Your authority is paramount, because only your authority can decide the authority others have over you. Your authority alone must decide if another person’s authority is legit or not. Nobody else can decide for you. It’s your responsibility alone to either become your own authority or to allow the authority of others to control you.
Others claiming to be an authority can choose to violate the golden rule, or the non-aggression principle, or attempt to block your freedom, but that’s on them. That’s their bad conscience to wrestle with. You can’t control them. You can only control how you act as an author of self in the face of their violation.
It’s a psychosocial quagmire, for sure. This is because we are foremost social creatures. More so, we are imperfect social creatures who are prone to mistakes. So. The secret to overcoming authority is to become a badass authority: an author of self.
But, here’s the thing, becoming a badass author of self will require a shitload of self-improvement and self-overcoming. Beginning with embracing the inherent fallibility of the human condition…
Understand that we are all fallible:
“Mastery is an asymptote. You can approach it. You can home in on it. You can get really, really close to it. But you can never reach it. Mastery is impossible to realize fully.” ~Daniel H. Pink
Here’s another secret: Nobody knows what the fuck is going on. Nobody has it figured out. We’re all confused. We’re all a member of a fallible, prone to mistakes, clumsy, fumbling species going through the motions of living a short life within an unfathomably ancient universe.
Any authority claiming to have it figured out and using that claim to attempt to control you is not a legitimate authority but a tyrant.
It’s your responsibility as a free human being to maintain your own freedom. That means having the ability to question authority while also improving upon your own authority: author of self.
Understanding that we are all fallible is vital towards overcoming authority precisely because it helps keep in perspective just how arbitrary authority is. As George Carlin ingeniously quipped, “I have as much authority as the Pope. I just don’t have as many people who believe it.”
Anybody can claim to be an authority, but only earned authority should be respected. And even earned authority should be questioned. Especially since, as Lord Acton observed, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
I could claim that I’m an authority on unicorns, but I better come correct with my knowledge. And it would also help if unicorns existed. But the point is this: If enough people “believe” that I’m an authority on unicorns, and they “believe” that I have dissected a unicorn and revealed the magical quality of its insides that causes it to shit rainbows, then I’ll not only have violated truth, I’ll have violated the minds of others and taken advantage of their ignorance.
But, and here’s the rub, it’s their fault for not questioning my authority. As Albert Einstein said (himself an authority in the field of physics), “Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” So if we’re correct to question Einstein’s revolutionary theories, then we’re exponentially correct to question my theory on unicorns.
Respecting a prestigious authority or taking into consideration important knowledge gleaned by someone who claims authority in a particular domain of knowledge is fine. It’s even okay that sometimes we allow people to violate our minds. We allow artists to do it all the time. Problems arise when we “believe” in authority, when we blindly follow a perceived authority. That’s when things go wrong.
Blind belief in authority is dangerous because people are fallible. And it’s doubly dangerous when the majority of people are under its spell. Which is precisely why we should take that sixth grader’s advice: “Question authority, including the authority that told you to question authority.”
Learn self-discipline and act with confidence:
“It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal––carries the cross of the redeemer––not in the bright moments of his tribe’s great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair.” ~ Joseph Campbell
If only immoral people indoctrinated by a profoundly sick society are controlling the social narrative, then the kind of authority you’re going to get is an immoral dictation that sustains the profoundly sick society.
Which is why you should work on becoming a badass author of self. By confidently becoming your own authority, you can make a bold attempt at changing the narrative. A person who has the ability to question authority and themselves will be better able to rise out of the sick society with vital medicine.
The trick is being bold enough to claim you have medicine. People will continue to believe the authority that keeps the sick society propped up until you convince them that you have a healthier alternative. So it’s on you to become an author of self, have the discipline to question authority and to refine your own authority by becoming a leader.
Decide you are a leader. Own it. Take control of the narrative by creating the narrative and then have the confidence to declare to any and all so-called authorities that you own yourself.
Real leaders don’t follow power; they learn how to turn the tables on power, even their own, so that power does not corrupt. Real leaders don’t kowtow to tyranny or authoritarian rule; they question it, despite the “rank and order” and outdated narrative that props it up.
The social narrative is a bucking bronco. It takes discipline to get it under control. It takes audacity to admit that there’s no trademark on the voice of authority. There’s no patent on influence. It’s all up for grabs. And it’s up to you to grab it. Grab the social narrative by the reins by declaring confidently and assertively what needs to happen.
Be confident. Learn self-discipline and self-overcoming. Question the lot. Then have the courage to wrestle the narrative into submission and give it your own healthy voice. Just be responsible with your power and only use it to transform the “profoundly sick society” into a healthier one. Easier said than done, certainly. But, as Spinoza said, “All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.”
Gary Z McGee, Guest Waking Times
Read more articles by Gary ‘Z’ McGee.
(Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.)