Tag Archives: authority

Quote of the Day: The Way Things Are

Kevin Carson offers an excellent analysis on the recent post by the WSJ on Power Trips. This quote struck me:

In conversations with authoritarians about the stupidity of the pointy-haired bosses, I frequently encounter statements  that “they’ve been put in authority for a reason, and it’s been decided that blah blah woof woof.”  Note the passive voice.  The people in authority, and their policies, are just part of “the way things are,” embedded in the nature of the universe.

Nothing more to say really except to suggest that you read both articles. The WSJ one especially is yet another nail on the coffin of the “Human Nature” myth where humans require some englightened authority to lead them through the straight and narrow.

Obedience makes you stupid

Crosswalk signal feature showing a female pict...
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There is a particular trend in German society, a kind of unwritten rule which says that people should follow laws and state orders uncritically and far too many Germans do this, to the degree that one can even say that they are characterized as a society by this unquestionable obedience.

Pedestrians for example follow traffic lights to the second. A typical German will not cross the street until the little green man appears, even if the street is completely empty for a km in either direction. They claim that this is to give the good example to children but then again, they will act like this even if no children are around. A cyclist will wait on the red light, even if the green pedestrian light of the direction he is riding, is on. Even worse, when the green light is on, people start walking without even looking. They just assume safety.

This behaviour is not isolated in traffic of course but permeates almost every aspect of life. From state laws to rules of etiquette to even personal behaviour. If there’s a rule, it must be followed as closely as possible. And to make matters worse, when someone does not follow the expected behaviour, many Germans, especially the older generations, will take it upon themselves to scold and complain in an attempt to set them back on the “right track”.

This post is not to complain about Germans and Germany of course, not to paint them in a broad brush as there’s quite a few that rightly dislike and rebel against this behaviour. Germans simply provided me with the insight into something else; an interesting side-effect of this excessive obedience to laws and rules that I’ve noticed; it  is making people behave in a weird way, a way that I can only label as stupid.

It seems to me that an unquestioned acceptance of authoritarian orders makes people’s own individualism atrophy, it strips them of the capacity to decide for themselves which course of action to take which in turn makes them afraid of making their own decisions and taking responsibility for them. Better to defer to authority and absolve yourself in the hierarchical chain of command. If, as a car driver, you drive with a green light and you end up hitting a pedestrian because you couldn’t break quickly enough or you weren’t looking anywhere except the light1, it’s their fault. If, as a soldier,  you are ordered to shoot some civilians, then you’re “just f0llowing orders”. If, as a insurance worker, you deny coverage because of a technicality, then you’re just following the rules. And so on.

When you stop thinking and constantly judging your own actions on their own merits then you simply can end up committing the worst actions because you feel no responsibility for them. Atrocities do not happen because everyone found them proper. They happen because everyone just kept following orders. Without thinking. Without looking at the greater picture.

And the worst part is not simply how many mistakes people will do if they feel irresponsible, but how much it affects their underlying mentality, twisting the understanding of authority. Instead of thinking that someone is in power because they need to be able to do the right thing, they start to believe that someone is doing the right thing, because they are in power.

Power does not only corrupt the minds of those exerting it, but just as much the minds of those respecting it. While those below become thoughtless drones, sluggishly trying to avoid any and all work and creativity, those above have to compensate for this and thus start to consider themselves superior, more intelligent and worthy or their position and authority. It a vicious self-perpetuating circle.

This is why authority in all its forms should always be challenged. Many times, it will be defensible, such as authority from knowledge or wisdom. The authority a carpenter has over wood making practices or the accountant over record keeping. But most often than not, it has no true basis in reality. The boss’ and manager’s authority does not rely in them being smarter, more productive or being able to make others more productive. The politician’s authority does not rely on them being more capable of creating the rules for thousands, if not millions of others. The Judge’s authority does not rely on them being more impartial. And while those arguments will be used as the reason, they are not based on evidence but on theory, articles of faith and “lesser-evil” fallacies.

Such authority need to be challenged in all its forms. The worker should challenge the boss’ orders, vocally if possible but silently when not, and decide for themselves how they can work productively. The soldier should challenge their orders and follow them only if they stand on their own merit, regardless of nationalist and religious rhetoric. The pedestrian should challenge the law of the street and take it as a guideline, not an order.

I can’t drive a car, but I do drive a bicycle and I keep crossing red lights all the time. Red and green are for me only an indication and my true decision rests in my own eyes and ears. A red light will be crossed when the street is clear and a green one will be waited when I don’t feel secure. These actions are not simply petty rebellion but simple rational common sense. There will be little consolation to me if someone gets punished for breaking my spine for crossing a red light and I’d rather die than be like those Germans I saw a few months ago which where waiting at an (obviously broken) red light for 5 minutes more after I’d had enough and crossed the street (and that is just until they left my vision).  Just stuck there, cars and pedestrians, apparently not knowing what to do when trapped in a red light prison of their own blind obedience.

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  1. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to run the street because the drivers started accelerating, while I was in the process of crossing, while keeping their eyes on the orange light and not on the street in front of them with the very obvious person in it []

6 reasons why you shouldn't obsess about your Technorati Authority

The goods
CC License: the ryan king

In recent days I’ve seen post after post (after post after post) of atheist bloggers writing a page full of links and putting it on their weblog. I was mildly amused at first but seeing people continue to do it, I decided to write a short post on why this is not only useless, but may actually harm you. First of all…

1. Who Cares?

I’m always confused on why so many people hunt this precious authority in the first place.  I can honestly say that I have never, ever found a blog from its authority. Nor have I ever rated a blog from it. Hell, I haven’t even had my opinion improve by noticing how much authority a site has.

Your technorati authority is an ego stroke, plain and simple. Nobody gives a rat’s ass about what anyone else’s authority is but his own.

On the other hand, do you know what makes me more interested in a blog?

2. Subscribers

When I see that little feedburner icon showing a decent number of subscribers I always think something like “If so many people have subscribed to her, she must have something interesting to say”.

What makes you more interested.

  • Seeing my Authority?
  • Or seeing how many subscribers I have?

Alright, alright, you caught me. I don’t really have that many subscribers (I’d wish). These are actually vjack‘s but I borrowed them to make a point [1. Btw, does anyone consider it insane how many subscribers that man has! He must be faking it somehow…I’m certain of it! :P] .

Your subscribers are much more important than your authority and you shouldn’t sacrifice the former for the later (see point 4)

3. Punishment

When you make posts like these you may assume that you are selflessly helping others bloggers get a better authority (see point 1) but what you have to have in mind is that both Search engines and Technorati are not idiots.

When Google sees a new blog having 300 links one after another, little bells start ringing, gears start turning and sooner or later you start suffering the results. Some of you might not care but seeing as you don’t really achieve anything with it, why do it?

If this kind of thing worked, do you know what would have been at the top positions? Splogs. How difficult to you think it is for 10.000 of them to join a blogroll and jump to the first places?
Don’t be annoyed that you can’t game the system. Be happy that the system cannot be gamed.

4. Annoyance

Have you had the situation where you see a new post from your favourite blog in your aggregator, opened it and was treated to a page full of linkspam? I know I have.

Have you had the situation where you see a linkback, get all excited about it, follow it back only to discover a linkfarm? I know I have.

It is simply annoying. Don’t treat your loyal readers like that.

5. Relativity

There’s millions of blogs on the internetubes at the moment and  thousands of them are vying for this all-important technorati authority. What most don’t realise is that people don’t care who’s on the top 10 (it’s usually tech blogs and lolcats) but rather who’s the authority on the subjects of one’s interests.

Technorati can’t tell you that.

6. You’re doing it wrong

Do you know why blogrolls are generally not counted by search engines and technorati? Because they are irrelevant. A Blogroll is there to show others who else you are reading or find interesting. A generic blogroll like the Atheist blogroll is something that you are not reading. You know it, I know it and Technorati knows it.

Why is it irrelevant? Because nobody uses the damn thing. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have followed a blogroll link and the same goes for the number of times I’ve had a link to me from a blogroll. If people don’t use them, why do you expect automated ranking to consider them?

Pretending this is not the case by posting your blogroll at various places and hoping they don’t notice is just wrong.  If you do want to help other bloggers do it right.

  • Link through the main article. A link through the body text counts 100 times as much as a blogroll link. This in not only because of google algorithms but because there links are used by your readers. They are useful.
  • Link to actual posts. Linking to the main page of a blog is not very helpful and most people just bounce away. If you want to do the most good, link to the permalink of a specific article you liked and that others might also enjoy.
  • Link often. There’s not better way to drive traffic to your favorite blogs than by linking to them in your articles. Point people to insightful posts they make or comment on something they write. Not only does this improve their authority, but it helps them be discovered.
  • Don’t overdo it. Linking to 100 different blogs in one month is much more efficient than linking to 300 blogs in one day.

A final word

Before I close this post I want to make sure that I haven’t given you the impression that blogrolls are not useful. Indeed a short blogroll of someone I like does make me click the links to see what I might discover. It is the humongous lists of hundreds of links that just make me blank out.

For example, the Atheist Blogroll is at the moment at 760 individual blogs! This number is pretty much unworkable for humans without extra tools but it does not mean it’s not useful otherwise.
However boosting the technorati authority is not one of them.

If you have any objections to these points or want have another one to mention, feel free to post them in the comments.