March 8, 2014

Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth. --Albert Einstein
"They must find it difficult...Those who have taken authority as the truth, rather than truth as the authority..." --Gerald Massey

Studs Terkel on Authority VClip ST

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Democracy NOW! May 16, 2007

Pospisil (1963) suggests that Westerners perceive leadership as involving compulsion, and formality in announcing policy, but that the Kapauku have a different arrangement. (Boehm 1999:111)

Authority: Correcting a Major Linguistic Deficit

In Chapter 6, Lessons from Leadership, I suggested that when it comes to understanding "leadership," we "urban literates" suffer from a "major linguistic deficit." We're now in a position to fix that situation. Let's do it!

In Chapter 3, Hierarchy and Leadership? Not in My Group!, we observed that, "Clearly the notion of 'leader' was a very different idea within our egalitarian ancestral groups than it is for us hierarchical moderns." Pospisil's comment beginning this chapter amplifies that contention. Rather than "involving compulsion," what is the Kapauku alternative to Western style hierarchical "leadership?"

Recall how our "urban literate" observers characterized what they thought was "leadership" in small groups -- but what we're pretty sure was, instead, co-Operation. Those small-group individuals perceived as leaders by our modern observers, remember: "never order or make demands of others, cannot boss another man, and do not 'assert authority'." In fact, remember, "A particularly disvalued form of deviancy arises when one of the main political actors belittles, bullies, or otherwise tries to control another" (Boehm 1993).

Further, our "urban literate" anthropologists, ethnologists, etc. described the folks they perceived to be "leaders" as "facilitator(s)," "noticeably reserved and modest," and they "assisted consensus-seeking" by "sharing their ideas with the group in the form of suggestions, without asserting any authority."

So those perceived as small-group "leaders" by our urban literate observers were just the individuals with more good ideas or those who shared ideas more often or were more involved in successful consensus-seeking. Most likely our "urban literate" observers would 1. see such individuals "co-Operating" the group more often than others, 2. ignore the fact that control switched around a lot 3. apparently jump to the conclusion that they were observing modern persistent hierarchical "leaders" instead of prolific co-Operators -- and 4. pick one as "the Chief." This is likely what Pospisil had in mind when he suggested that, "the Kapauku have a different arrangement."

By contrast, as we know from Chapter 7, What's Wrong With Hierarchy?, Western style hierarchical "leadership" and the associated pecking orders, "involving compulsion, and formality in announcing policy," include the establishment of "an order of dominance and paramountcy" and are at base, established and maintained by competitive "dominance displays" which, ultimately, amount to "threats backed by the possibility of attack."

Further, to maintain " centralized political authority", modern human hierarchical societies regularly include dominance tactics designed to "intimidate" "browbeat," "coerce," "extort," "alarm," "dismay," "scare," "frighten," and "terrify" citizens. The bulked-up American L.E.O. with his hand on the butt of his weapon, for example.

Compare hierarchical leadership -- ultimately based on coercion accomplished by threats, intimidation, and competitive displays -- with "co--Operation," accomplished without making demands of others or bossing or bullying another man and, without asserting authority.

So inherently coercive hierarchical leadership and voluntary non-coercive co--operation don't quite sound, look, or feel like the same phenomena do they? Then why do we confuse the two of them? Why did even our trained observers (the ethnologists, etc.) have such trouble recognizing and understanding the difference? Why do we "urban literates" fail to easily distinguish between compulsion and co-operation? Not to mention politicians -- and those who write headlines about them - - -

Mr Bush told Syria that it "must co-operate" with Washington as it continues its effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. ... "We believe there are chemical weapons in Syria," Mr Bush said. "We expect co-operation and I'm hopeful that we will receive co-operation." --US tells Syria to co-operate or risk conflict, Tim Reid in Washington,, April 14, 2003 [1]

Do you see the inherent contradiction in "must co-operate" -- and "co-operate or risk conflict?"


This {inherent }contradiction was very clearly understood by small-group humans, remember. The transient, non-bossy type of temporary knowledge-based co-Operative leadership, they valued; on the other hand, because of our "instincts for freedom," the persistent hierarchical threat-based type of leadership exemplified in "co-operate or risk conflict," they universally and cat-rubbing-like criticized, ridiculed, ignored, shunned, ostracized, banished, deserted, etc.

It is most likely our urban literate forebearers' failure to continue making this distinction (beginning with our early European forbearers), which caused Europeans to be "stunned" by accounts of the non-hierarchical new world. Likewise, it's probably also what made explaining small groups like the Arawaks without mon-archs (that is, without "single leaders"), etc. to "urban literates" - - - such as ourselves (who, growing up in hierarchical cultures, ass-u-me they are natural) - - - an "enormous task." AND, where "The Fallacy of the Chief" came from.

A large part of this confusion and "stunning", then, is caused by our archaeologically recent failure to clearly, consciously, and concisely distinguish between persistent hierarchical domination-based "leadership" built on force, threats, and intimidation on the one hand, and transient egalitarian co-operative knowledge-based leadership built on distributed decision-making necessitated by distributed information -- and leading to "spontaneous order" -- on the other.

And the confusion and stunning these days isn't helped by the fact that "spontaneous order," which is the alternative to hierarchy, and is the result of following a multiplicity of rapidly evolving ideas from different folks, baffles not only central-planning Kremlin bureaucrats but also biologists, ethnologists, and even Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan -- to say nothing of 19th century European hierarchical strangers and our early American ancestors.

When you know what to look for, however, it's relatively easy to distinguish between the two: Knowledge-based leadership is usually transitory and moderated by relatively subtle "alpha-confidence" signals while domination-based leadership, especially when institutionalized -- which it usually is these days -- begins with the more obvious aspects of dominance displays -- and runs the gamut, sometimes even to enhanced dominance displays, like the LEO with his hand on the butt of his weapon. Or, even, "Shock and Awe."

authority vs. Authority

In fact, the crux of the confusion even our anthropologists experience in attempting to understand what they mistakenly thought of as the "behavioral aberration" and apparent "anomaly" of these universally occurring, seemingly "acephalous" (leaderless) small groups, is clearly revealed by the way we "urban literates" ambiguously use the word "authority."

According to the WordPerfect Thesaurus (from WP version 9) an authority is:

A person or group empowered to command or control
A person with a high degree of knowledge or skill in a particular field

According to our modern definitions then, an "authority" may be considered as such either because 1. she has "a high degree of knowledge or skill," that is, knows a lot or, 2. is "a person or group empowered to command or control," that is "a person or group" that asserts the right to order or make demands of others, boss other men, and assert authority -- ultimately backed with force or threats of force -- and to do so on the basis of status or position alone and regardless of their level of knowledge.

So the modern word "authority" includes both persistent hierarchical domination-based coercive so-called "leadership" behavior as well as transient co--Operative knowledge-based leadership behavior in the same word. We subliminally ass-u-me that any coercive "authority" is also knowledgable, but that's not necessary, and increasingly rare.

As the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests, the way we see the world is shaped by the language we speak. Just as we don't usually percieve the nine different kinds of snow easily distinguished by Eskimos because we lack separate words to describe them, so we fail to consistently perceive the two separate kinds of behavior we currently (2014 A.D.) lump together in the word "authority" as different.

To us, these two forms of authority are one and the same; to our small-group ancestors and tribal folks, they are extremely different phenomena. No wonder we are stunned and confused by leadership as practiced in small groups. We lack a separate word to describe it. We lack a specific word for co-Operative "authority" -- which is pretty much the only kind our ancestors practiced -- and so, like those nine kinds of snow, we can't easily see it. And remember, as Lakota elder Dan pointed out, we "urban literates" have to "name something to make it exist."

Let's clear-up this confusion: We'll differentiate between the two by referring to the persistent domination-based "command and control" form as "Authority" (capital "A ") and the "knowledge or skill" based transitory form as "authority" (small "a ").

In practical terms, even though it's often a matter of life or death, on the surface, it doesn't matter much to us moderns whether or not an "Authority" knows anything: he is "empowered to command or control" regardless. Our small-group ancestors would be baffled and/or horrified by such a situation. And rightly so.

On the other hand, our modern hi-jacked hierarchical cultures are replete with the sort of pervasive, mindless intimidation integral to enforcing Authority, and this is now considered normal.

Small-a "authority" usually uses only a subset of alpha-dominance for special signalling -- and only on a temporary basis -- to facilitate distributed decision making based on current conditions. In contrast, capital-A "Authority" uses full and sometimes enhanced alpha-dominance displays specifically for domination and intimidation -- and as a matter of standard practice on a permanent basis, often regardless of current conditions.

Thus use of coercion is a permanent and chronic fixture of Authority's M.O. and unlike small-a authority's connection to good information, need have no connection at all to good, current, local information, or for that matter, to any relevant information or knowledge at all. It counts, instead, on often untimely, primitive, rule-based behavior -- which depends on uniform, repititious and thus predictable processes -- and on accurately recognizing some hopefully relevant process and it's current stage. But that's another topic entirely.

The purpose of an Authority is to compel compliance with or without voluntary agreement -- the default is usually without voluntary agreement. An authority, on the other hand, can't compel anything and doesn't need to -- the people who interact with "a person with a high degree of knowledge or skill in a particular field" decide to take advantage of that knowledge or skill voluntarily because they or someone they trust have determined to their satisfaction that it is in their best interests to do so.

It is the mode or method of operation (M.O.) of the two, based on coercion and persistence of leadership -- or lack thereof -- which is the "categorical imperative" that distinguishes them from each other: An authority that operated or functioned as an Authority, compelling compliance, would actually be, de-facto, a capital-A Authority by virtue of the use of coercion as M.O.. It is in fact this mode-of-operation -- coercion -- which tipped our ancestors off cat-rubbing-like, that they were dealing with a budding Authority. And they knew how to handle that.

Once again, the fact that we have been using the same word, "authority," to describe both behavioral modes, a mistake our ancestors definitely wouldn't make -- is a good demonstration of our failure to distinguish between these radically different modes of operation -- and an important key to how our civilizations have been hi-jacked.

The Master Capital-A Authority Serves

Because it doesn't necessarily have to deal with here-now process, Capital-A "Authority" almost always evolves into a separate, isolated rules-bound function, often and regularly completely unrelated to useful current information or knowledge. [2] This separation "sets it free" so-to-speak, to serve any master, any goal, including especially taxing (robbing) the people who "hired" that function, and up to and including bombing and invading foreign countries with little or no provocation, [3] murdering innocent men, women, and children in foreign lands with drones, etc., etc.

Coming from genetics as it does, as in other hierarchical animals, the master which capital-A "Authority" most usually evolves to serve is the interests of those currently at the top of the hierarchy, that is, in us humans, it usually serves the prerogatives of the persistent "leader(s)," and their cronies, brown-nosers, suck-ups and hangers-on. In other words, Authority serves "centralized political authority."

Even if we moderns don't quite know how to handle this situation, we often have instinctive reactions similar to those our ancestors had, which may largely explain our burgeoning "problems with 'Authority'" as suggested in Chapter 13, Anti-authority Explained.

While we're hopeful that an "Authority" will also be an "authority," modern experience is far from encouraging in this respeat. This isn't too surprising -- the two "authorities" are after all, distinctly different in character, motivation, and mode of operation. One, was "designed" by the process of evolution to make the best use of the information and knowledge widely distributed among many individuals to help them all survive, the other to favor the dominant individual(s) and help them survive -- usually at the expense of the other group members. Thus "Authority" is most likely to be attempted by males with genetic hierarchical tendencies rather than by those with egalitarian genes.

So, according to Daniel Webster remember, "There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." And, in the same context, we also might want to remember J.R.R. Tolkien, on "bossing other men": "Not one in a million is fit to it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity." And consider that in today's hierarchical societies most all those who boss other men seek the opportunity, particularly "politicians" who nearly without exception, "seek office."

Authority as Assault

Keeping in mind Boehm's long chapter on how our ancestors dealt with "bullies," it's interesting to note that the sort of behavior engaged in by capital-A Authorities is exactly the kind of behavior engaged in by bullies. That is, ultimately an "Authority" is a force-wielding hierarchical dominator who compels compliance to a rule or whim with force or threats of force -- that is, by intimidation. In this context, it's most noteworthy that, "in the eyes of the law," such behavior (which amounts to an agressive "dominance display") is, by definition, assault:

assault: A crime that occurs when one person tries to physically harm another in a way that makes the person under attack feel immediately threatened. Actual physical contact is not necessary; threatening gestures that would alarm any reasonable person can constitute an assault.

So, "assault" can amount to nothing more than a threatening hierarchical "dominance display." Now envision a L.E.O. bulked-up from lifting weights -- as a large percentage are -- approaching you with his hand on the butt of his hand-gun. Re-view Jason Halperin's description in his piece, "Patriot Raid," from Chapter 7. Watch an episode of "Cops" or a SWAT team, ski masks in place - - -

In this context, we should remember that small-a authority was nearly the only mode our ancestors understood or respected, and in fact, except temporarily during emergencies, they universally criticized, ridiculed, ignored, shunned, etc. capital-A Authority. The implication is that, through our instincts for freedom, most of us may be genetically predisposed to feel and behave similarly. [4] How do you feel when confronted by a cop, judge, or other person who asserts Authority as a matter of course?

Some folks suggest there are other practical alternatives - - -

I am convinced that those societies (as the Indians) which live without government enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under the European governments. Among the former, public opinion is in the place of law, and restrains morals as powerfully as laws ever did anywhere. Among the latter, under pretense of governing they have divided their nations into two classes, wolves and sheep. I do not exaggerate. --Thomas Jefferson

So tell me, how can you avoid dividing us into wolves and sheep? How can you lead without "bossing" or "asserting authority?" If you're still at a loss for an answer, that in itself should give you an indication of just how far we have been hi-jacked from our true small-group genetic heritage.

It's note-worthy that all seven characteristics of small-group leadership involve constraints on leaders. Perhaps it's because these characteristics are so significantly different from those exhibited by modern leaders -- and what our baffled ethnologists expected -- that they found a way into this list of seven.

To us moderns, innured to completely unnatural levels of hierarchy, such subtle, gentle and non-coercive unassuming small-a authority type behavior simply isn't recognized as "leadership." Instead, we've become conditioned to perceive the blatant, coercive, and often explicitly violent hierarchical capital-A Authority type behavior we associate with modern "leadership" as the norm.

Because it doesn't involve "compulsion, and formality in announcing policy," non- hierarchical leadership is anti-climactic and lacks instant dramatic imperative -- which largely disqualifies it as sound-byte material or plots for movies, TV, or video games. [5] And, in general, most of our "leaders" don't know how to do it anymore. We'll try to do something about that in later chapters.

From now on, those of us who are aware of the information in this chapter can, with relative ease, make the same distinction between transient knowledge-based co-operative leadership and persistent hierarchical threat-based leadership that our small-group ancestors did automatically. More importantly, we know that Authority is neither the only nor the prefered kind. And, most importantly, that there is an alternative way for us to get non-solitary things done.

If our ancestors were able to operate almost exclusively with authority rather than Authority, can we moderns do the same? Why or why not?

I bet you know how to "lead" without "bossing" or "asserting Authority."

Don't you?


Apparently because of our modern biases, it seems even our trained "urban literate" observers mistook small-group transient co-operative knowledge-based leadership for persistent hierarchical threat-based leadership.

Such a mistake seems unlikely. Afterall, from Lessons from Leadership, we know that in the case of co--Operation, folks never order or make demands of others, cannot boss another man (except very temporarily -- DUCK! that baseball for example), and do not "assert authority."

By contrast, from "What's Wrong With Hierarchy?," we know that persistent hierarchical threat-based leadership requires ordering and bossing others, is maintained by competitive "dominance displays" which, ultimately, amount to "threats backed by the possibility of attack," and that human hierarchical societies regularly include tactics -- such as coercion, intimidation, etc. -- in order to establish and maintain "centralized political authority." How could we have made the mistake of confusing the two?

As the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests, the way we see the world is shaped by the language we speak. Just as we don't percieve the nine different kinds of snow easily distinguished by Eskimos because we lack the words to describe them, so it seems our anthropologists fell victim to the same sort of lack of vocabulary. We can see this clearly in the modern definitions for the word "authority."

An "authority" can either be "A person or group empowered to command or control" or, "A person with a high degree of knowledge or skill in a particular field." The fact that we use the same word, "authority," to describe the two separate and jaringly different contexts and behaviors likely explains our confusion.

We may alleviate this confusion -- and will from now on -- by establishing a linguistic convention: The word "authority" beginning with a small-a -- "authority" -- we will use to refer to someone who has knowledge and/or information. The word "authority" beginning with a capital-A -- "Authority" -- on the other hand, we will use to refer to someone who thinks that they have the right to order and make demands of others, boss other men and assert "Authority" as a matter of course -- and regardless of their level of knowledge.

Once divorced from knowledge -- which it regularly is -- Authority regularly evolves to serve the prerogatives of persistent hierarchical leaders, their brown-nosers, suck-ups and hangers on - - - and "centralized political Authority." Since Authority serves hierarchy, and thus usually interferes with the efficient use of distributed information and knowledge (and for other reasons) in line with Daniel Webster and J.R.R. Tolkien, we might want to be extremely cautious of those who "seek power."

We noted that Authorities, in their attempts to coerce and intimidate citizens into accepting "centralized political Authority," regularly engage in a form of behavior indistinguishable from competitive hierarchical displays, exactly the kind of behavior exhibited by Boehm's free-riding bullies. From a legal viewpoint, such behavior, if it "would alarm any reasonable person can constitute an assault." Thus we have transient knowledge-based co-operative leadership (authority) and persistent hierarchical threat-based leadership (Authority), and most likely, genetic reactions to them, peculiar to each, and similar to those of our small-group ancestors. Including anti-Authority genetic reactions.

A problem with authority and non-hierarchical leadership is that it isn't very dramatic and so isn't prime material for sound-bytes, movies, TV or video games. So, in the modern world we tend to disvalue and ignore it and as a result, most of our leaders don't even know how to do it anymore. Which is a result -- and a symptom -- of being hi-jacked.

None the less, since our ancestors were able to operate without Authority, except sometimes in emergencies, can we moderns do the same? Why or why not?



[1] History proved that the reasons given to overthrow Saddam Hussein were distortions and out-right lies concocted by the Bush Administration. return

[2] A recent news story illustrates: October 10, 2003, A 15 year-old asthmatic Texas high-school student who shared his inhaler with a girl classmate having an asthma attack was, as a result, expelled from school, arrested, and faces 3rd degree felony charges because the inhaler's albuterol is classifed as "dangerous" in the state code. The girl, who didn't have her inhaler at the time, had been prescribed the same drug. [A subsequent survey discovered that 12% approved of the prosecution, 27% thought he should be expelled only, and 57% thought nothing should happen to him.] -CBS Pgh Channel 4 News return

[3] American president George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 claiming its leader, former CIA "asset" Saddam Hussein had "weapons of mass destruction" he would give to terrorists. Such weapons were never found and the evidence suggesting they existed proved to be purposely doctored and distorted. In fact, researchers documented that The Bush Administration lied at least 935 times to induce war with Iraq. return

[4] [Ohio "Judge" Martell] has decided that she [Cathrine Barnhill] has committed thought crimes, and so must be re-educated. She needs help with "issues dealing with authority figures in general and specifically to deal with any future confrontations she may have with Law Enforcement personnel." Mrs. Barnhill ran afoul of the Authorities because she was breast feeding her infant daughter while traveling on the Ohio Turnpike. return

[5] According to two of my video gaming friends, while hierarchy is abundantly inherent in video games, there are no good ways to exercise anything like co-operative leadership. I'm not sure that's completely true in the multi-player games played over the internet. return

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