Some Thoughts on Authority

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An 18th c. photo of John Jay, anonymous shitpoaster.

Down below, Derek writes that “Authority and leadership are antithetical with anonymity.” Is this true? I don’t think so, but honestly, I don’t know, since Derek continuously refuses to well-define the term ‘authority.’

We’ll set aside, for now, the implicit second claim in this conjunction, given that my position on leadership was established two years ago.

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Authority is a word that has a wide lexical range. I’ll try and define some of its most popular senses here, and explain why Derek is wrong in his sweeping declaration.

Authority in its barest form simply means authorship. It seems obvious that ‘Nick Adams, of Wye Mills, Maryland, is capable of authoring articles. It’s equally clear that ‘Boxer’ is just as capable, given that he’s been doing exactly that, here on this blog, at least as far back as 2017 (see photo above).

Derek will, of course, claim that this isn’t the sense in which he’s using the word. That’s fine. We can get as specific as we like.

Normative authority implies that there are certain ideal norms which govern right conduct. Since I occasionally cite the New Testament and the U.S. Constitution, it’s fair to assume that these are two norms that I accept. It seems that I can cite such norms independent of divulging my identity to any third party, and it also seems that I can accept those two norms without knowing who the original authors might have been. In the case of the New Testament, this is obviously true. I mean, I think Saul of Tarsus might have had something to do with that book, but I really don’t know, and can’t ever know. The text is prehistoric, and the identity of the author is lost to us forever.

Theoretical authority is the ability I have to discuss the definition of ‘authority’. I have a degree that says I’m qualified to do this. Over the course of my career, I’ve taught propositional logic and foundations of advanced mathematics. Those are philosophy and mathematics courses (and, as a fun little bit of trivia, despite being in two disciplines, over half of the content of those courses is identical). I wouldn’t ever be pulled to teach a biology course, or an English course, or a class in law or medicine, because I have no authority to teach such stuff, and I make it a point never to pretend to speak on my own authority about legal matters on this blog. Though I often discuss the law, I do so as a novice, who shouts from the cheap seats. If you want serious advice about such stuff, you have to go find someone with a master’s or doctorate in those disciplines, and ask him.

This is the only sense in which Derek’s point might be valid, since this sort of authority comes down from other scholars (specifically, the people on your thesis defense committees) and it’s something like the notion of apostolic succession. I’ve never heard of a graduate scholar who gets a degree under a throwaway pseudonym. Even so, it doesn’t seem like Derek uses this sense of the word when he bandies it about.

Political authority seems to be what Derek is talking about, in that political authority is not only the ability to prescribe right conduct, but to compel compliance, even in the unwilling.

Derek is obviously wrong about authority when he uses the word in this sense. Do you know the man who wrote the tax laws in your state? I don’t either. Try to evade your taxes, and see how much it matters. Much of the political authority wielded, not only in our society, but in every society, is nameless, faceless, and anonymous.

Political groups like the IRA and Viet Cong were almost completely anonymous, and yet they compelled obedience in the territories they influenced. They did so with violence, same as the I.R.S. does today.

Author: Boxer

Sinister All-Male Dancer. Secret King of all Gamma Males. Member of Frankfurt School. Your Fave Contrarian!

10 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Authority”

  1. This is a nice analysis of authority.

    I consider blogging under the first two concepts: Authorship and Normative Authority. I use blogging mainly to record what I’ve learned in my personal life, to disseminate these ideas, and to get feedback from others on those ideas. In short, it’s about ideas, more than it is about me directing the lives of others, but I also recognize that ideas have a way of doing that.

    I believe being anonymous actually increases my authority (under these two definitions), rather than detract from it.

  2. This post connects somewhat to the Sound of Sanity podcast involving Dalrock. One podcaster expressed tremendous concerns that Dalrock chooses to be anonymous, posting under a pseudonym.

    For what it’s worth, I think the podcasters had a few valid points about Dalrock, but, overall, I found them to be overly impressed with their own importance and knowledge, and, to make it worse, their behavior is reminiscent of junior high boys. I’d say the exchange led to a final score of 0-0.

  3. There is a lot to reply to. Please bear with me as I write multiple comments. This is the first.

    “Political authority seems to be what Derek is talking about, in that political authority is not only the ability to prescribe right conduct, but to compel compliance, even in the unwilling.”

    (1). The authority I refer to is more influence (definitions 1a and 3b) than force (definition 2). If you point a gun at someone you have compelled authority over them. Anonymous bloggers do not use threat of violence, but they do moderate and block. Thus we exclude Compelled Authority from the proposition.

    (2). Authority is often hierarchical. Heads of departments and branches who are not anonymous—CEO, board of directors, president, congressmen, judges, etc.—hold power and grant it to those under them. The underling wields others’ authority.

    “Do you know the man who wrote the tax laws in your state?”

    (a): If an activist writes a law, it’s irrelevant: words have no authority. When lawmakers enact laws, words become authoritative. Thus authority derives from the identity of lawmakers, not authors.

    (b): The anonymous have names (e.g. Dalrock). Anonymity hides identity. The lawmaker’s identity matters, not their name. We obey laws because they were enacted by our congressmen. You don’t need to know their names to know their identity, but their names are always known, whether or not you took the time to know them. Names and titles are interchangeable when the identity is the same (e.g. POTUS).

    (c): The entire hierarchy does not need to be known. If you accept a representative’s identity, then you implicitly accept the higher authority. Someone in the hierarchical chain is non-anonymous (the identity is known).

    (d): You might accept a fake cop’s perceived authority because of the perceived identity. When you discover it is a fake cop, you will not. This proves that authority is based on identity, whether real or imagined.

    “Political groups like the IRA and Viet Cong were almost completely anonymous”

    (3). These were not completely anonymous. For example, the IRA was a typical non-anonymous hierarchical organization. Members accepted the authority of the commanding officer and higher superiors.

    (a): Society as a whole rightly refuses the authority of anonymous groups. Stable government cannot exist with anonymous leadership and authority.

  4. “Authority in its barest form simply means authorship…Derek will, of course, claim that this isn’t the sense in which he’s using the word.”

    Of course. This is definition 4a. We must exclude Authorship from the proposition.

  5. Normative Authority

    Normative authority of the type you describe (definitions 4a(1), 4a(2), and 3a) is basically orthogonal to truth value of the proposition. What makes something a normative authority? Specifically, what role does identity (or its lack) have in making a source an authority (especially to someone else)? That’s the question being begged.

    Obviously you can believe or cite any “authority” you like, regardless of anonymity. But it is anonymously wielding authority at others that we are primarily concerned about. Consider the proposition:

    “Authority is antithetical with anonymity.”

    Can someone anonymous, like Dalrock, produce meaningful* authoritative normative material or himself be a normative authority? I believe that mere anonymity precludes this, that is, he requires identity to have or accomplish authority (of any type other than the excluded types mentioned). Of course this is the very thing under debate, so we must set this type of authority aside to avoid circular reasoning.

    * I’ll acknowledge that the anonymous can wield small amounts of authority, but it is fickle and limited in both scope and time. This is why I used the term “antithetical.” Anonymity directly opposes authority. They can coexist in a limited manner, but they are always at odds, never supporting one another.

  6. Hey did you just subtly dox yourself? Don’t publish my comment (bc not drawing attention to it) just applauding your sly sense of humor.

  7. Theoretical Authority

    Included in the realm of theoretical authority are definitions 1a, 3b, and 4c and to a lesser extent 1b and 4b. If you are anonymous, your theoretical authority means little, and yet the authority is still required and expected.

    Thus, I posit, that Dalrock’s status as a Texan father with a beautiful submissive wife and two typical children is essential to any authority he claims or is given by others. It is his identity, albeit an anonymous perceived and presumed identity. Being anonymous, it is fickle and limited in scope and time, as I previously stated. Were he revealed as a NYC lesbian, his theoretical authority would be crushed, likely taking any other influence he had with it. (It would also explain why he fears doxxing so much)

    You have your degrees and areas of expertise. You have theoretical authority. But how is that authority transferred? If you speak authoritatively on a subject, your anonymity stands in tension with your expertise. Some may accept your perceived identity, others may be cautiously accepting but skeptical, while others might blow you off entirely. None can rationally be fully confident in those claims. To wit:

    “…it’s something like the notion of apostolic succession…”

    Yes. We humans fundamentally rely on authorities to sort through what we should or should not accept. We could be wrong, of course, but we still require it. No major body of Christianity treats the Gospel of Thomas as scripture: it is not authorized. It’s why we have elders in churches, thesis defense committees, scientific peer review, and Twitter blue checks. We want our information stamped with the approval of someone we trust, someone who is not anonymous. As such, Dalrock needs as many of the Cane Caldo’s and Warhorn’s of the world to grant him credibility, because on his own he’s got nothing.

    Consider Richard Dawkins. Here is a non-anonymous influential atheist and author who has theoretical authority, produces what many people accept as normative authority, and seeks to use political authority. Were he judged purely on the merits of his arguments, you’d reject his contradictory views outright. But that’s not how the world works. No matter how much I want the proposition to be false (and I do want it to be false—consider my dislike of peer review and Roman Catholicism), authority is required by society and anonymity stands in its way (perhaps one day this will change?).

    Consider the proposition’s use of authority. Theoretical authority is one, but not the only, sense of authority in which the proposition holds true. The proposition is concerned with authority that flows from an anonymous source toward others: normative words or persons, prescriptive commands, influence, or expertise—formal or informal. While the non-anonymous Dawkins can utilize all of these, the anonymous just can’t achieve this level of influence.

    Miscellany

    This discussion has been limited to authority. I think it also applies to leadership, as leadership is closely related to authority, however, more could certainly be said on that topic.

    What if someone anonymous is not trying to speak authoritatively or be a leader? It logically follows that my proposition does not apply to such persons. I would, however, caution that those who claim that this applies to them are, perhaps, not being perfectly honest about their motives. A great many anonymous bloggers and commenters have built up attachment to their persona. How many would be willing, for example, to routinely throw away their nick and change their gravatar for the purpose of masking their identity and association with previous works?

    Another question is this: can an anonymous person build up authority on a subject solely on the strength and acceptance of their own words? This seems like the best way to escape the proposition. I claim that such a person is extremely rare throughout both history and the internet. Regardless, it should not be discounted outright and is worth additional consideration. That said, absent an authoritative personal identity the anonymous seem to require an external identity to authenticate/authorize their work. St. Dalrock, patron of anonymous bloggers, would be an authority, but this fact would be orthogonal to the proposition as the authority would have been assigned. In other words, authority can come from within or from without, but the authorizing force must be non-anonymous.

    I’ve previously said that anonymity among Christians is wrong because it is a false witness. I’ve also said that anonymity is cowardly in the specific context of the manosphere’s masculine ideal. Thirdly, I’ve made the claim that the risks of non-anonymity are significantly overblown. These are all lesser (and different) claims than the proposition here, which is making a strong claim. It is much harder to defend the stronger claim. I’d like to think that I’ve given it a good effort, but it’s been challenging.

  8. @Boxer

    I was going to write up a nice summary conclusion, but whatever. If you can’t follow my reasoning, what good is a conclusion going to be? Baring some sort of response by you or others, I don’t think I’ll have more to say down here on this topic. I had some other notes drafted up, but I don’t think they are needed.

  9. Derek:

    I’ve been enjoying your contributions, and you’re welcome to write further if you change your mind.

    I was going to write up a nice summary conclusion, but whatever. If you can’t follow my reasoning, what good is a conclusion going to be?

    I think I understand your points, despite the fact that they’re couched in language that’s needlessly complex. e.g.:

    Normative authority of the type you describe (definitions 4a(1), 4a(2), and 3a) is basically orthogonal to truth value of the proposition. What makes something a normative authority?

    Part of becoming a proficient writer is anticipating the needs of your audience. Most people won’t know the sense in which you’re using words like orthogonal. (Note: This is not a discussion of the Cayley-Hamilton theorem.)

    Off the top of my head, I could probably argue that normative authority has distinct necessary conditions, including consensus. The U.S. Constitution is a normative authority I appeal to, because I live in the U.S., for example.

    There’s probably a pragmatic dimension to normative authority, also. If something was counterproductive, it wouldn’t ever have a temporal ability to become a norm, after all. One can analogize this to feminism, which is so counterproductive that it only becomes a norm in places with a huge surplus of wealth and free time (like the decadent west).

  10. “…you’re welcome to write further if you change your mind.”

    I write in bursts. I just need some inspiration and no writers block!

    “I think I understand your points, despite the fact that they’re couched in language that’s needlessly complex…Part of becoming a proficient writer is anticipating the needs of your audience. “

    This is good advice. Still, you were my audience. If you understood reasonably well, goal accomplished. Debate with you has been challenging and brevity has failed us. I aimed for more formality and detail.

    Initially I accepted your categorization of authority (because why not?). Yet, the dictionary categorizations are also useful. My argument doesn’t neatly fit your categorization, so my response became complex as I tried to reply category-by-category.

    “Most people won’t know the sense in which you’re using words like orthogonal. “

    Perhaps, but you understand it. Many people I interact with use the term this way. There is always a dictionary or two.

    “…normative authority has distinct necessary conditions, including consensus.”

    The semi-anonymous voters in a republic/democracy work similarly. But how does this meaningfully apply to my proposition? I’m not sure where you are going with this (or your other point).

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