According to Cornell Law, authority is “A power to act or to order others to act.” In other words, authority is the ability to move things forward granted to those who require it to carry out orders. Authority is a tool to do a job, nothing more, nothing bigger. Obviously, we should always question who has that tool and how they use it, whether authority is used in the service of power-sharing (democratic) ends or power-stealing and hoarding (authoritarian) goals.
Authority functions as democratic when it employs resources that facilitate power-sharing practices, processes, and systems. Our electoral system, for instance, ought to be authoritative in its ability to facilitate a fair and free election. Democratic authorities are to employ the people’s resources to facilitate power-sharing in the form of casting a ballot to express a choice. Democratic authority is the most healthy form of authority for humans. It nurtures trust, vulnerability, creativity, and difference, all of which nourish the enabling conditions — the healthy social soil — that grows the strongest democracies.
Authority functions as authoritarian when it employs resources to facilitate power-stealing and hoarding practices, processes, and systems. For instance, the arguably stolen authority granted the man with the title “Attorney General of the United States” is being used consistently to steal and hoard power from as many vulnerable human beings as possible. The people’s resources are being employed to facilitate practices and policies that force the formerly democratic authority of “Attorney General of the United States” to now function as authoritarian. The man granted the authority now steals rights, life, and human well-being from U.S. citizens, all of which are necessary to generate and maintain forward momentum and to participate in democratic practices.
American authority that functions as authoritarian is one of the most unhealthy forms of authority for humans. Authority in the service of power-stealing annihilates human relations, the very basis of healthy change. It breeds mistrust, secrecy, opaqueness, and hardness. It manifests as toxic masculinity, whiteness, racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and speciesism. Its tools are mass propaganda and violence. And, at the cultural basis of it all are humans in families where one person claims authority, steals and hoards power from the rest, and whose punishment paradigm still lives in the bodies of their children to this day.
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