‘Authority’: its misuse and dangers of individual conformity to it

This post is a look at the impact of the misuse of authority in our society upon the wellbeing and mental health of the individual and by extension our communities.  It is not intended as an attack on benign or benevolent expressions of authority where they might exist in the world.

The Death of Common Sense

You don’t need to be an Anarchist to realise that we live under unprecedented levels of surveillance, legislative control and financial penalties imposed upon us by those we routinely term ‘authorities’.  Drive down a bus lane at the wrong time or park a few inches over a yellow line and you will be sent a hefty fine regardless of whether you made a mistake or caused any harm or inconvenience to anyone.  Gone are the days when we might be able to appeal to a Police Constable’s or city employee’s individual sense of fairness and interpretation of the spirit of the law.  Now, Police ‘Officers’ are trained to adhere to policy, claiming they have ‘no discretion’ over how they enforce the letter of the law.  No longer are we permitted our human nature’s tendency to make humane or intuitive decisions or honest mistakes; no longer are we permitted to speak freely, outside of the ever-narrowing confines of ‘political correctness’; and no longer are we justified in using what used to be referred to as ‘common sense’.  Alas, common sense is no longer common at all.  Indeed, as a symptom of the deliberate erosion of our inner intuitive sense of morality and self-determination and a corresponding increase in conformity, common sense appears to be all but extinct in many people today.

And it is ‘we’ who have killed it.

“I think with intuition. The basis of true thinking is intuition.  Indeed, it is not intellect, but intuition which advances humanity.
Intuition tells a man his purpose in life. One never goes wrong following his feelings.  I don’t mean emotions, I mean feelings,
for feelings and intuition are one.”

Albert Einstein

What was Common Sense?

And what did ‘common sense’ used to be in any case?  Well, it was the commonly found and commonly shared ability amongst the majority to refer to their inner sense of fairness, morality, justice and intuition under a shared set of narratives that helped us make sense of the world.  It was our means of self-determination and direction according to an intuitive drive to creatively meet our needs in life.  Now shared community narratives are fragmented and fractured as we have learned to take our direction from authorities over the shared and individual intuitive intelligence of ourselves.  With the increasing infiltration of externally-imposed policies and procedures, laws and legislations seeping into every corner of our lives, our inner reference gradually shifted to an outer reference point: the capricious and ever-shifting rules handed down from ‘above’.  And by ‘above’ we are no longer referring to God, but to the faceless departments and offices; the committees, boards and panels; the unempathic jobsworths and personalities who populate them and hand out the demands, judgements, declarations, the tickets, and threatening letters, the bills and summonses, frequently in defiance of individual and community common sense.  For these State-suppoted jobs are often populated by the common senseless: those who occupy roles of obedience in positions of authority over others and who increasingly direct our lives against good reason and genuine fairness for the sake of a salary.  For the real problem with authority is that it is invariably misused to service the interests of those in power, with a dual set of standards to preserve oligarchic power over an obedient underclass fed on the illusion that they are free.  These are well-established structures.

  • Video: Malcolm Muggeridge speaking about the misuse of power

You are Free to do What We Want

And we are repeatedly told we are ‘free’ and that our leaders are there to protect our ‘liberties’.  At least these are the reasons handed down to us by those same leaders and their servants who, for the past decades have been marching our forces into illegal invasions and the systematic destruction of lands, cultures, schools, hospitals and peoples abroad who have done us no direct harm whatsoever.  Indeed, it is becoming better understood that it is corporate and geopolitical objectives rather than humanitarian or moral imperatives that are directing the will of military forces these days.

And what liberties are our authorities claiming to defend by such actions?  Tony Blair systematically eroded civil liberties in the UK over the decade or so he was in office in Downing Street; giving speeches to the nation on how lucky we all were to have the ‘freedom’ to say what we wanted.  During his tenure we saw an unprecedented destruction of the public’s civil liberites and freedoms since the end of World War II: freedoms our grandparents enjoyed in the space that used to be referred to as common sense, community, cooperation and workers’ rights in the post-war years.  The largest single protest march in British history – protesting against the proposed invasion of Iraq – was completely ignored by Blair.  To this day he expresses no remorse nor even regret over his decision, which led to the deaths of millions.  And all in the name of ‘freedom’.

The version of ‘freedom’ that we have been sold over the years by Blair and his successors is, of course, not freedom at all.  It is a conflating of Capitalist economic notions of ‘consumer choice’ and ‘liberty’, with each consumer freedom involving our choosing to which branch of the oligarchy we elect to give our money, time and energy.  Being able to choose between two hundred breakfast cereals and ten, or whether we work for Microsoft or Amazon, doesn’t constitute ‘liberty’ or ‘freedom’.  Blair’s often regurgitated ‘democratic freedom to speak and protest’ was automatically met, time and again, by over-sized thugs, hired to grab those with the courage to speak out and to march the ‘free’ out of whatever conference hall in which they dared utter a sound in Blair’s presence.  True freedom in the social sense is our ability to make choices to peacefully determine the directions of our lives without hinderance or penalty from dictators like Blair, who to this day people still refer to as ‘a war criminal’ who continues to avoid prosecution, as do his counterparts in the USA.  This is nothing new of course.  The entire twentieth century and beyond is a litany of authoritarian illegality executed with impunity by the dominant elements of our global society.  For example:

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men [and women] are almost always bad men [and women], even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”

John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, 1st Baron Acton (10 January 1834 – 19 June 1902)

Political Morality is No Morality At All

So, the political salesmanship that claims we’re all safer and free-er thanks to government intervention and over-reach making our lives ‘more secure’, is undertaken by the same politicians who instigate rapacious wars and who sell billions of pounds and dollars in weapons to oppressive regimes who use those weapons to terrorise, ruin and kill innocent men, women and children.  On closer examination this process of trusting – either by concious choice or by default from our indifference – those ammoral authority figures who were actually elected to serve us but who in reality end up governing us, turns out to lack what used to be called common sense or common decency.  It contradicts personal responsibility and any kind of moral imperative that the individual claims to hold.  In reality, our conformity to authorities who murder in our name is our inescapable collusion in the process.  Not only is it immoral to kill people for being poor, dark skinned, or who have the ‘wrong’ religious beliefs, or who live in the ‘wrong’ location, or who stand in the way of resources our governments and corporations feel entitled to take from them by misuing our soldiers, it also stigmatises the citizens of the aggressor countries.  Namely, you and me.  More than this, it has been proven to create and worsen so-called ‘terrorism’, thus eroding our security rather than blosterin git; a prediction made by UK intelligence services prior to the illegal invasion of Iraq by the UK and US, for example.

“If you see yourself as a creature of external forces, buffeted by a market, government […] you search for something […] that’ll tell you what the meaning of […] life is. If you have [..] respect for yourself […] you will design the meaning of your life.”

Noam Chomsky, quoted by Chomsky_Quotes

Authority that is Undermining Our Welfare and Wellbeing

It is the same political salesmandship from the same salespeople – our politicians and their minions – who on the one hand tell us we should treat the sick, the poor, disabled, elderly, ethnic minorities, and other groups with ‘equal opportunities’.  Whilst at the same time they cut criticial services to these people, using the public funds instead to create advertising campaigns on billboards, on TV and the news media that stir up prejudices and resentment against people who claim welfare benefits; turning citizens against one another by inviting us to begin to identify the poor, sick, disabled or out of work as potential ‘benefits cheats’.  It is the same politicians who employ – using our taxes – hoardes of faceless – some might say ‘soulless’ – individuals all too willing to execute the grim work of their masters for a wage packet, and whole departments designed to penalise the public for petty infractions of Draconian rules and discourage people from legitimate claims for crucial financial support via the welfare system.  I refer to institutions like the Department of Work and Pensions, who now routinely and by design make it incredibly difficult for the poor, elderly, sick and disabled to succeed in their legitimate claims for disability and other essential welfare payments.  A similar phenomenon can be found in the treatment and mistreatment of military veterans in the UK and US, who often return with the damage inflicted upon them by unjust wars and toxic weapons, with little support in response (https://writeforyour.life/) and where many of whom, in the US at least, end up on Homeland Security watch lists as potential ‘security threats’ to the State.

Fromm

Mental Health Impacts

The catalogue of mental health impacts created by our authorities in the most vulnerable groups seems endless.  Individuals detained without charge or trial also suffer horrifying mental distress by virtue of their incarceration, humiliation and torture in places like Guantanamo Bay, Israel and hundreds of other lesser known facilities around the world.  Asylum-seekers and other non-whites fleeing persecution are likewise held in detention camps by our authorities.  And the stories of mental decline and suicides unravel and renew decade after decade (Australian example).  No longer can our authorities claim that failed policies on protecting the welfare and wellbeing of people is all just an accident, or a sign of events beyond their control.  Because most of the time the suffering involved could have been prevented, as in the case of 130 000 UK children who will be homeless this Christmas.

The failures of our authorities aren’t just happening abroad or in reference to non-whites.  Poverty and homelessness have increased significantly in the UK and USA as well as the use of food banks, as more and more British and American families are forced into greater hardship by authorities who were, we mistakenly assumed, elected to serve and protect our best interests.  The links between financial hardship and stress, poverty and mental distress, are of course, well established and self-evident were we to use our common sense.  The poor in the UK have been made even poorer by our authorities as a direct consequence of their “austerity measures”: namely, favouring the bailing out of banks and corporate interests at the expense of ordinary citizens, and to pay for the impending disasterous handling of Brexit by the UK Government.  Self-harming behaviour and suicides amongst children and adolescents, prisoners and chronically ill people who have been declared fit for work, have been rising for years in direct resonance to authoritarian politics and self-centred economics and as greater pressure is put upon our young people to ‘succeed’ in a dog-eat-dog society.

The relevance to individual mental health and wellbeing of this misuse and abuse of authority lies in the stresses and hardships created by the authorities in our lives who extract more money (money being, for the working class, a representation of our precious and limited life energy) from the nation’s people every year whilst giving less in return and increasing the constraints upon our lives.  Our submission to those who destroy our freedoms and the freedoms of poor people at home and overseas, has the consequence of also repeatedly subjecting our minds to horrors and traumas normalised by their repetition in everyday media and home entertainment, as well as damaging our personal authenticity and internal sense of agency via unquestioned conformity.  Personal authenticity is relinquished when we submit ourselves – as if we were children – to the will of authoritarian parent figures, particularly in ways that erode our freedoms, our beliefs and moral values, and the very conditions that help us live.  Our belief in our ability to self-determine is also eroded by such subservience.

Austerity Policy and Impoverishment of the People

As in the welfare state examples and the taxes levied upon every facet of our existence from purchases, labour, fuel, utilities, and the things people need to survive, authorities these days are typically engaged in creating conditions in our society that habituate us to struggle and a hyper-vigilance on making money.  Harnessed to a system of fixed penalty fines for even minor mistakes and their enforcement by threat of loss, of violence and illegal aggression against people based on lies, terrorist propaganda, fear, xenophobia, ‘austerity measures’ and greed, there is a rather crude system of very little carrot and a lot of stick at the centre of authoritarian control. The people in effect live under a hierarchy driven by normalised and increasing fear and fear’s correlates in anxiety, stress, and worry.  People cannot thrive whilst they live in fear, however compliant or adjusted we may have become to its influences upon us.

Then there is Iraq, which was – against millions of protests from the British and American public – invaded and destroyed in a deliberate operation to create chaos in the Middle East, not to defeat the so-called ‘terrorists’ who had allegedly attacked the World Trade Centre.  Iraq and Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with it; nor anthrax, nor “Weapons of Mass Destruction” claimed by Bush and Blair.  Dr David Kelly – UN weapons inspector – said as much, and paid for his honesty with his life.  Nor did Muammar Gadaffi and the people of Libya, nor Afghanistan nor Syria have anything to do with it: all countries subsequently devastated by US and UK invasions.  Indeed, those towards whom the body of evidence points in their guilt and complicity in the 9/11 attacks are Israel* and Saudi Arabia**.  And yet neither of these countries have been attacked or had a single sanction placed against them in response to the volumes of evidence produced by dedicated researchers and investigative journalists.  Instead they continue to enjoy favoured status, attracting billions of dollars and pounds in direct aid and financial support, and increased sales of weapons of mass destruction from the US and UK.  Meanwhile Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s victims grow in numbers through countlesss annual death tolls, illegal detentions and torture, the deliberate maiming of unarmed civilians, forced starvation, incarceration of children, and illegal house demolitions in Gaza and The West Bank, whilst Saudi-created famine conditions and the resulting deaths of 85 000 children under the age of five in Yemen goes unpunished by the vast majority of the ‘civilised’ west.

  • *see the work of Christopher Bollyn on youtube
  • ** mainstream news readily available

Murdering millions of innocent human beings in our name has an impact upon our individual psyches because these souls have been destroyed by our leaders, our military, our taxes and resources under our flags.  Like it or not, you’ll have great difficulty convincing anyone that you as a citizen of an aggressor state have had nothing to do with what your state is doing or has done, especially if you yourself have done nothing in protest against the actions of your elected authority figures whilst that State continues to use your taxes to finance the slaughter.

Secondly, the mental health of the military personnel we send to these countries to do the dirty work of our authority figures is severely damaged, and in many cases permanently disabled.  One only need do a quick search on the internet for ‘military suicides’ or ‘military mental health problems’ to recognise that killing innocent people for no good reason traumatises the psyche and makes you mentally ill if you are a person of conscience and normal morality.

Thirdly, the mental health of countries that our authorities attack with impunity is always damaged.  Palestinian men, women and children suffer terrible mental health problems as a direct consequence of Israel’s illegal occupation and oppression of these people.  The people of the Chagos Islands suffered suicides and severe mental health problems as a direct result of the UK’s eviction of them from their homeland on Diego Garcia so that the UK authorities could rent their island out to the US military as a base.

The Shift: from Individual Morality to Political Immorality

The ‘authorities’ in our world have systematically created a shift from our inner compass of personal intuition, common sense and morality to an external reference source: policies, procedures, rules and legislation, penalties and fines, threats of imprisonment, threats of violence and loss against us.  That shift in the individual, from an inner reference point to an outer and ever-changing external set of references, not based on morality, God or human kindness, but on the politics of fear and violence, is the most insidious misuse of power and social engineering that could be perpetrated upon the human race.  It means that our innate, inner wisdom and sense of right and wrong; our true freedom to choose which path we travel in life according to our natural disposition to justice and goodwill is severely compromised by our obedience to institutions and authorities who do not have our best interests at heart.  Instead, increasingly we see that authorities are comprised of elitist collectives along class divisions and lines of privilege, and operate according to the collective greed or narcissistic self-interests of those who populate governments, institutions and corporate structures.  The everyday man, woman and child are who suffer as they comply with these authorities and hierarchies of power and influence.

The Frivolous Worship of Social Status

Sadly, many of us have allowed ourselves to be so conditioned to accept the direction of authorities that we willingly volunteer ourselves to be so governed and overseen; teaching our children to subjugate themselves to the same norms of conformity, and in many cases seeking out regulatory bodies to whom we willingly pay money each year in order to have our lives monitored, controlled and limited by them in return for some sense of personal validation or professional stamp of approval that we can wear in public.  If this example does not hold for all, then the purchase and wearing of clothing that advertises the corporation who manufactured it might.  Our willingness to behave in ways that actively demonstrates our subservience or association to some authority or other – by name-dropping, celebrity mimicking, the use of status symbols and corporate labelling, even personalised car registration plates – is now so integrated into the social conscience as to be a source of individual pride.  In reality, we have simply learned that the freedom we use is the consumer freedom to choose between iron or gold-plated shackles.

But of course, I realise that not all of us are ready to give up our Nike, Boss, or Gucci in sudden rebellion against our masters!  There are often more pressing concerns before us, particularly if we are sensitive or conscientious people trying to make our way in this world whilst struggling to make sense of the madness.  Depression and anxiety-related disorders are so prevalent in Capitalist countries modelled on US and UK exploitation economics and the cut-throat greed that drives them as to have become one of many normalised dirty truths of our national statistics. Such economies rely entirely upon a fundamental warping of human nature, by for example:

  • Increasing exploitation of the workers through low pay and poor conditions (Jeff Bezos’ Amazon is a good example)
  • The public acceptance that the exploitation and profiteering we perpetrate upon our fellow humans is ‘successful business practice’.  Some even go to college to learn to be better at it.
  • Endless ‘growth’ and the devastation of the environment, wildlife, indigenous people’s homes and lands, to supply resources and raw materials for such growth
  • Marketing the illusions required to keep the middle income classes eternally pursuing and purchasing spurious notions of ‘happiness’ founded in novelty, transient pleasures and material possessions
  • Management of the moral, spiritual, physical and mental consequences of our oligarchic system to the population via ‘the professions’, ensuring that people disturbed by the status quo are ‘adjusted’ back into an unhealthy system.  This is done by assuming that mental disturbance and distress are the consequence of personal failings, individual defects or deficits, personal choices and private thought processes.
  • Maintaining a super-wealthy elite in authority who take more and more for themselves at the expense of the wellbeing of the people and the planet
  • Fostering, through education and the media, a subservient and worshipful mindset in the masses to ensure that they continue to ‘look up’ in obedience to narcissistic authorities whilst at the same time destroying any genuine spiritual development, real democracy or political freedom in our cultures (see John Taylor Gatto and Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt)
  • Educating children to believe that hard work, talent, ability and cleverness are what make people wealthy, successful and famous

Authenticity: Reclaiming Your Autonomy and Mental Health

From the point of view of mental health and psychotherapy, it is of crucial importance that individuals begin to reclaim their inner wisdom, their inner intuitive and moral intelligence, whilst consciously resisting and refusing those injunctions and demands that would motivate us by fear to ignore the self-regulatory wisdom of our inner compass.  In this regard it is a step into mental health when we can clearly see that we, as individuals have freedom to create better health and stability that is innate within us as human beings.  That freedom exists regardless of the actions of authorities around us.  It exists as a necessary feature of our mental health and our moral strength to make choices based upon what we know to be right or wrong, healthy or unhealthy, good or evil.  The problem exists where, in a culture that has been declining for decades, the individual’s development and access to his or her inner faculties may well be atrophied to the degree that he or she no longer knows how to trust themselves or even what to trust.  And so the necessity of being able to access trustworthy help that is built upon – not simply helping people re-adjust to insane circumstances – but actively assisting them in a journey back home to themselves, is crucial if people are to have a chance of escaping the pathology of a dysfunctional system.

Developing and embracing our inner faculties of intution, morality and autonomy, and encouraging others to do so is the one sure way that common sense can truly become common again.  Making decisions to step out of the fear-based system of authoritarian control by, for example, examining all of the ways we voluntarily relinquish our self-determination to the illusion of ‘no choice’, is a first step in rekindling self-reliance and individual power.  These steps on their own are the beginnings of a return to genuine individual liberty and the possibility of community and common values and aims.  Without this return we travel inexorably down the Orwellian road that spells ruin, not only for common sense, but for the essence of what makes us human in the first place, and our collective and individual sanity.

Related:

  • Dr Rodney Shakespeare’s Binary Economics: http://www.binaryeconomics.net
  • John Pilger “Stealing a Nation” [the theft of Diego Garcia from the Chagos Islanders]
  • Native American Mental Health [a culture and peoples destroyed by genocide, ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism]
  • Native Australian Aboriginal mental Health [a culture and peoples destroyed by racism and settler colonialism]

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