“Some Generic Notes on Authority”

I’ll start by noting the obvious: 

In order for government policy to have significance to those who govern, someone has to enforce it, or be on standby to do so.  To them, that means stability.  However, logic dictates that any act, by an officer or by anyone else, needn’t be passed, or even proposed, in a legislature to occur.  This implies that, even in present society, a law can be completely unheard of by an offender in a specific case, or simply invented by an arresting officer (as in fact happens), and one can still be jailed in the name of defying “law and order”.  Therefore, we already know that any given law, or lawmaking and law enforcement body, is fallible.  For the sake of argument, let’s look at a hypothetical arrest that went as planned by the arresting officer.  Let’s say it was for a rather petty offense.  Because the arrest went as planned, the suspect obeyed and respected the officer, wholeheartedly agreeing to be placed in custody.  Justice served, right?  It sounds like a rosy enough scenario, but the ugly fact is this:  When the officer arrested the suspect — be the arrest right or wrong in our own minds –, the action undoubtedly became law, or expansion of law, in the mind of our hypothetical, loyal suspect.  He didn’t believe he was wronged, even if he technically was.  Perhaps he was, as the case may be, ignorant of a written law or the lack thereof, but trusting of law in general.  Either way, his ignorance and foolhardy trust in law (and, of course, the officer’s gun, taser and truncheon) resulted in the loss of his freedom, however temporarily. For all he knows, he may have been arrested for no reason other than a personal defect in the officer’s thinking.  And that’s what the arrest would inevitably be about:  Some flaw in human thinking.  The arrest here most certainly didn’t have to happen.  It was, after all, a “petty offense.”  However, the basic problem persists even when an arrest arguably has justification.  Not all terrible acts have been, or are, illegal, and not every arrested person realizes they are committing a terrible act.  In other words, a fallible society creates systemic turmoil.   

            Though no one was killed in the petty offense arrest above, we’re doomed to stupidity if we’re all so trusting as that arrestee.  I would be hard-pressed to justify the existence of a special class of person — typically called a “police officer” — who has a perfect (or even a nearly perfect) grasp of right and wrong; one that can decide for the general public who deserves freedom in a particular moment, and who supposedly deserves time in a concrete cell.   I know full well that no such person exists.  In fact, the general public can scarcely decide exactly who should be jailed and who should not be (I prefer few if any people be jailed, but it’s ultimately not my decision).  On top of that, the very suggestion of a great moralist archetype guardian is terrible, and the idea that a jail cell provides justice is also fundamentally flawed.  So what is the message to those who blindly trust law, and by those who would assume they are great enough to enforce it?  It is, “obey us because we are your moral guardians!  Obey us or you may be jailed!”  This kind of thinking is not just relegated to the Soviet gulags, or “Red China,” or the Taliban. We can find it right here in these United States.  We are all supposed to have law on the brain.  The proper attitude, we are told, must be in accordance to law.  As if no unjust laws have existed!  As if all existing government policies have to be enforced, or ever could be!  As if law does not exist primarily to create and maintain ruling classes and to defend their interests!  “But,” many object, “what of humanity?  Do human beings not need organizations, and policies within these organizations to keep us safe?”  If you prefer organizations and policies, that is perfectly fine.  I am no stranger to this preference myself.  But let us freely choose these things; not because the law allows it, but because they are the logical and moral thing to do.   You do not have to install your organization by brute force, nor do I.  But why is this currently done?  Why are we threatened with imprisonment and fines in so many of our dealings?  It’s because our dealings, particularly those with moneyed monopolies, have elements that are not truly social, but anti-social.

With that in mind, here’s another hypothetical scenario:

Why is it that if I broadcast someone else’s written work and claim it as my own, I may end up paying a large fine, and/or possibly even be sent to jail?  Why?  Please don’t misunderstand me here.  I’m not saying plagiarism is proper, or that it deserves no criticism.  It is undoubtedly a lazy, dishonest and pathetic thing to do, whoever does it.  But why exactly should paper money, coins or credits be lost, and a cell gained if I do such a thing?  Is there an inherent need for these circumstances to be linked?  Certainly not, and we need only consider the very imposition of such punishments.  There is no absolutely inherent need to do it, so we already know there may be other options.  However, if we were sitting on the basic premise that we must always obey law, we couldn’t even conceive of other options.  Whatever the courtroom (or approximation thereof) decides simply must be right, regardless of how logical the counterargument.  In a very real sense, then, these courtrooms are like a “God,” and we must cater to their infallible heavens and hells.  They must determine how we view ourselves, and each other.   And, if we are devout, we must secure and protect this God –sometimes called “justice” and “law” — at virtually all costs (unless, of course, we are bought off  by an outsider – another longstanding standard in so-called “justice”).  The more loyal we are to this situation (or, for that matter, to any organization), the more enslaved we must be. 

            This situation certainly does have perks for the rulers.  As Kropotkin noted in his great work, “Law and Authority”: “Legislators [have] confounded in one code… two currents of custom…[1]  the maxims which represent principles of morality and social union wrought out as a result of life in common, and [2] the mandates which are meant to ensure external existence to inequality.”
He held that “Customs, absolutely essential to the very being of society, are, in the code, cleverly intermingled with usages imposed by the ruling caste, and both claim equal respect from the crowd. ‘Do not kill,’ says the code, and hastens to add, ‘And pay tithes to the priest.’ ‘Do not steal,’ says the code, and immediately after, ‘He who refuses to pay taxes, shall have his hand struck off.’
Such was law; and it has maintained its two-fold character to this day. Its origin is the desire of the ruling class to give permanence to customs imposed by themselves for their own advantage. Its character is the skillful commingling of customs useful to society, customs which have no need of law to insure respect, with other customs useful only to rulers, injurious to the mass of the people, and maintained only by the fear of punishment.”  In other words, what we commonly call law is fundamentally illegitimate.

            So if justice exists and is a “blind” and fair judger of man, it is not because it is an absolute entity unto itself, judging things from outside, threatening us with lightning bolts for our wrongdoings (or alleged wrongdoings).  It is not even a separate entity.  In order for justice to exist for you, it would have to exist in your consciousness, as your relational approach to human affairs; for all human affairs are relational, be they longstanding and filled with purpose, or arbitrary and temporary.  Also important, there are costs and benefits to quite literally anything conceivable.  If, by some unexplainable phenomenon, a man literally must starve in a ditch somewhere and there is no possible alternative, then human justice simply cannot be applied.  If, on the other hand, he can be lifted out of that ditch and fed, this could rightly be called “human justice.”  It is not so merely because some elite body declares it right or wrong, but because we decide so based on the best available logical and moral judgment.  Even barring feelings of empathy on our part for the man in the ditch, we can still reason that he might, at the very least, be of use to us.  So we help him out.  And, if our empathy is up and running, we’ll work all the more diligently to aid him.  In other words, real social justice is relatively blind – and not just regarding “race, religion or creed” – but in that it can never fully see itself in any specific class or organization.  Its purpose is to generalize.  We help the starving person because he could just as well be us, not because we are so much greater than he is.  If we are honest, we cannot fully see through the eyes of justice because its sight is never finalized.  It looks perpetually past the current state of affairs, not in concept, but in practice.  It is change as it actually occurs, which we can only come close to truly understanding after the fact.  A life’s verdict is never over; that is, until that life dies and is forgotten, and the torch of decision is passed on to the next generation.  So justice hardly arrives with a shrill siren, nor is it handed down in a Supreme Court decision.  It arrives however we bring it.  Again, I don’t wish to be misunderstood.  I’m not saying that officers, politicians, lawyers or Judges can never do anything decent.  A cop or a fireman can fetch a cat from a tree, and I’m sure your average lawyer takes good care of his family dog.  I’m simply saying we don’t really need these people “specialized” as officers, politicians, lawyers, judges, or bosses in general.  We never actually have.  Any positive functions they may provide, or that I could possibly provide — even those addressing the violent, anti-social behaviors of others — can be done “unofficially”, checked and balanced by the decisions of the general population.  In other words, existing authorities can be made like everyone else, enjoying no special privileges, even if some of them actually do have knowledge and skills that your average person lacks.  That is an option, even if they don’t like it.  Of course, they often do not like it, which is only a sign that they really are not better people.  They are, at best, average people given extraordinary opportunities.  And, by enjoying well-protected privileges that many of us cannot, they are generally worse people; representatives of what we can only honestly call a ruling class.  Quite often they were simply born wealthy and well-connected (look at George W. Bush, for example –a man hardly fit to represent a bowling league, let alone an entire industrialized country).    In fact, I wish right here to challenge what makes someone a truly intelligent person.  Is it a diploma?  Is it because they have a higher social standing?  Is it because they have specialized knowledge?  A uniform and badge?  A gun?  A state ID card?  These are hardly it.  If they are truly smart, they will seek to generalize their knowledge and expertise as much as humanly possible, so as to enhance their standing in society naturally.  They will kick away any unnecessary obstacles in their doing so, for they will desire such intelligence in others as well.  If they don’t have enough money to help others, they will organize to better the world without regard to economic gain.   In the process of becoming greater, they will not abide by myths of their own infallibility.  Some humility will only be part of their greatness.  This is because, contrary to our much encouraged impulse to worship heroes, we needn’t see any contradiction between one’s being great and one’s being rather humble.  After all, greatness is nothing but a belief, a feeling, and a desire.  What prevents it from being a falsehood is exactly what prevents a policy from being false in nature:  Conditionality.  If a sense of greatness and “being smart” is conditional, and one does not feel flawless at all times, who is to judge such a person?  That is a perfectly healthy condition.  The opposite type of person, on the other hand, we should reasonably avoid.  And the same is basically true of policy. 

            A policy is not “great” and “smart” simply because it exists.  In fact, a policy doesn’t even exist except in concept.  It too is conditional and relational.  The mere carrying out of a policy does not make it unflawed.  Neither does the fact that it was carried out “by the proper channels” of a bureaucracy.  It only matters what is done.  Similarly, it might not matter so much which person actually does it.    Obviously, one needn’t be a fireman to put out fires, nor does one need to pass a law to do so. 

This principle even goes for all the so-called “police functions” in society.  I don’t need a badge or a special license to prevent someone from being raped, abused or murdered, at least no more than I need to wear a big red clown nose.  And this is hardly even in the realm of opinion.  Authorities are no more trustworthy than the general population.  And we easily know this, too.  Just look at the plethora of scandals in the news everyday involving authority, highlighting the very real scandal of authority itself.  So how do we proceed?  Bakunin put it thusly:  “Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor the savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and censure. I do not content myself with consulting authority in any special branch; I consult several; I compare their opinions, and choose that which seems to me the soundest. But I recognize no infallible authority, even in special questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such an individual, I have no absolute faith in any person. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others.”

            We need to base social organization on fact, not on legal dictates.  It is the fundamental right, and indeed purpose, of a thinking brain to question the institutions (the people) around us.  It is not strange to so, nor should it be considered even vaguely controversial.  It is no stranger than the fact that I can see from here to there.  It is to think, to be.  But, much in accord with authority, some call kind of thinking “radical” and “extreme.”  But this is coming from people who think I should be ruled. Which is really more extreme?

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