On Sacred Liberty, and Authority

Is liberty sacred? Anyone indoctrinated under the current worldview would I suppose, like the Aztec’s belief in human sacrifice, will either explicitly or implicitly agree with this belief. But what do we mean when we say liberty? This is towards a question I believe I’ve asked already, but what do we mean when we say we’re free? Free do what, exactly? Whatever we want, is the oft-given answer. Free to follow our animal instincts, obviously – or, if we’re rational actors – if we’re machines – we’ll work towards reasonable ends. But who thinks like a machine? Who wants to think like a machine? More importantly, is a machine ever free? This is the key point.

Lets all admit, first of all, that a certain about of individual autonomy is both necessary and healthy. Who wants to be observed and controlled at all times? Who wants to be observed and controlled at all? Let’s concede that what we should really be talking about is restrictions, like tall guardrails set up to prevent us from falling off all the cliffs we’re likely to encounter in life. Beyond that, perhaps, we could expect some painted lines on the ground to direct you if you get lost, and, hopefully, a few guys with beacons to wave us in the right direction if we’re about to crash. The assembly-line life is something to be avoided. But does sacred liberty keep us from a mechanical life, or does liberty make it inevitable?

Authority is freedom. Sounds vaguely Orwellian, doesn’t it? But I think it’s just a trick of the language, in this case. Perhaps this has all been said before in some text I haven’t discovered yet, but it seems that authority does allow for real freedom. How? You might say it doesn’t make sense (but perhaps that’s the point), and maybe you’re right – but stay with me for a minute; although the language might be against me on this, I think the truth is with me. To start with, maybe it would be better to reword the Orwellian passage to read: ‘authority creates human freedom’, rather than (and perhaps in opposition to) an absolute, natural freedom.

It’s better to care about humans, after all, than nature, since the two don’t always get along. And are there any animals who get along with external nature, or do they just accept it? Any submission of humanity to nature reeks of paganism, which itself stinks of failure and cruelty. But I digress. Human freedom is antithetical to nature, but nature, in the form of instinct, lives in every human – how then, to solve this problem. The solution seems almost too obvious, like even cavemen without the slightest formal education could have figured it out. I guess we’re a special kind of idiot.

What am I talking about? If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m talking about authority. Let’s step back and talk about it in as vague of terms as possible. For example, can I really be trusted with myself, given the demon ‘human nature’ that lives inside me? Let’s get even more abstract, to appease the atheists. Can I ever be objective about myself? To a point, certainly. But I can’t see myself, and my self-knowledge is a slow growth due to age – and in life, time is a factor. Wouldn’t it be better, to defer to someone with experience, and, perhaps most importantly, to someone, anyone, outside myself?

Be honest, how many people do you know who don’t seem to objectively understand either themselves, or where they’re headed – but you can usually see it, can’t you? Especially if you’re older. And those who do seem to see themselves, and ahead of themselves, how do you think they understand? Even without overt authority, we use complex social signals to attempt to deduce how we should behave and how we should move forward with our lives. This deduction is our authority without authority, and it is just as controlling, and far less human, than true authority. A human, after all, can be a rational and a moral actor. Those social signals are, I believe, nothing more than instincts on a group level – the mob has no morals, only the individual can. Do you see the contradiction which is not a contradiction? In order to make use of individual morality, some individuals have to have power. If all individuals have the same power, no one has power, and when there is no authority to override it, we moral individuals have no choice but to listen to the amorality of the mob.

We can try, perhaps, to create a new mob with an altered directive. But that mob, no matter how good their intentions, will, eventually, seek for something else – what? Efficiency. Fitness, perhaps. What do I mean? Eventually, it seems all instinctual systems tend to develop into fitness seeking entities, whose primary unspoken goal is to exclude the weakest (according to the rules of the group). Haven’t we all seen it, even recently? The liberal left is only the more blatant example, since I believe on some level they seek that quality in systems, but all new group have descended into infighting and purity testing of some kind. Why is that? I think it’s because all systems without authority tend toward that kind of behavior. That’s the natural progress of free systems. Without an authority, all those groups will eventually fracture, because without either natural restriction (geography, necessity, etc) or a human authoritarian directive (or director), all they can do is select.

I don’t like authoritarianism, personally. My whole life I have been bad at following orders, rebellious against authority figures. If I’m making excuses, I’ll say I was bored. It was entertainment, and an exertion of my own will in a life where I felt repressed – I think many people can empathize. But why can they empathize? Why did I feel like that? Aren’t we free? Isn’t liberty sacred? I was free in the same way in which freedom exists in all natural systems: free to select myself out. Free, so to speak, to opt out. Compete, or die. Be politic, or lose. Obey, or be exiled into the wilderness. You are free. And why is it so bad now, you might ask? Maybe we just weren’t good enough at it yet, maybe we needed practice, or maybe it was the lingering patriarchy, or traditional authority, which was protecting us even as it lay dying.

So what does our freedom do? What benefits does it bring? Many, of course. Selection helps, obviously, by destroying the weak who are a burden on the system (who else did that? never mind). Second, it allows for more avenues of domination within the system. You are free to figure out your own way to win, so long as you obey. This drives innovation, since people are desperate to discover new ways to escape the struggle of maintaining equilibrium in the system, and especially to avoid being named as weak and selected out – ending up on the street, in a tent, in the cold, for example (or maybe just single). Maybe they succeed in the market, maybe they succeed in politics, maybe they marry rich, or invent a perfectly legal scam, or become a criminal, it doesn’t particularly matter. It’s all the innovation drive of a natural system – like natural selection, and the will to power.

Do you see?

Most importantly, by selecting away the weak though freedom, the majority of people assume there is no one to blame. But there is, of course – not by intent, but by lack of intent: by nature. And what would intent be in this case? An authority figure making the choice! What in the end is so bad with authority? We can even have the pleasure of blaming the faults in the human, and perhaps correcting them by criticism or replacement. But how to correct efficient selection systems? Artificial incentives? To say: “if you do this thing, which makes you weaker in according to the rules, we will reward you”? If you go far enough to make it worthwhile, don’t you approach totalitarianism? And is this, finally, the cause and source of the totalitarian instinct: our need to keep freedom and be decent, which are ideas both at odds with one another? And in order to remedy the problem, we try and alter the system itself in order to make it decent, which is to say: we give the system the power of working through human intention, instead of mere instinct – and then, selection becomes visible, and extreme. Real human men in authority will, of course, still have to select in some cases, and these men, being human, will be mistaken often enough – but at least it will be a human choice. What is wrong with these people, who blame authority? Without authority, human life is not suddenly free, it is suddenly and tragically trapped in the underlying natural systems.

To return, finally, to the original point, I wonder about these efficient system of unspoken rules, whether social, market, sexual, or otherwise. What exactly does it mean that we are following these rules if we’re good little socialized learners? An entity that obeys a set of rules without (too much) deviation – what do we call that except a machine? In any computer program, errors, must be removed. Errors, do not lead to the proper outcome. It feels to me like we are ourselves machine learning how to make a more efficient (not more moral) humanity, at an enormous human cost. Is it any wonder our society seems to be, as a certain market aristocrat said, becoming a bootloader for artificial intelligence. What else can we become, but machines? We are selecting for the ability to follow rules, instead of obeying authority – do you see, by now, the distinction?

A King, for example, makes rules, and we follow not because we will be punished by no one – yanked out to sea by social or market tidal forces – but because that man right there sets the rules, and those rules may or may not have anything to do with efficiency, or nature, only with the whims or morals of a particular human (and those around him), someone who is, intentionally, not necessarily better than us; it is, at least, someone like us, not something inhuman, not our own instincts. Perhaps a King is a bad example – in the end, how exhausting would it be to have to suffer the social selection games of a peaceful aristocracy. Was kingship the first step towards liberalism (mostly a joke, of course, but maybe it explains God’s warning about kings)? And what about God, then. God is He who made humanity is His image, and so, can we for the sake of my linguistic trick, say God is better than humans while still being ‘human’? I should stop before I get too off track.

When we make liberty sacred, we are trapped in inhumanity. We barely notice. Why would we, we’re only being ourselves. But that’s the very problem. Everyone, being themselves, making rational and instinctual choices together, creates a prison of intersecting instincts. Therefore, submission to human (or divine) authority is freedom. Even a certain Hegelian philosopher (and living meme?) posited (and often repeats) that the patriarchal father-figure, with his overt authority, is somehow less authoritarian than the post-modern father-figure with his compelling suggestions, and whose inescapable pressure is so much more oppressive than the patriarch’s strictest orders.

Authority should, perhaps, be put in the hands of a single man, or a few men, men whose human intelligence is therefore free (or freer) of the subtler manipulations of efficiency and selection (or it should be given to, let’s say, our mostinspired’ fellow humans, if we can manage such a system) – and while man is grossly flawed, while he might even abuse us, maybe we should be thankful for his visible abuses – ridiculous I know, I hate it too – but after all, we should know by now the terrible immorality of natural authority, which always seems to arise in absence of a real human authority; and while men may very well curtail our freedoms, they could never do it as effectively as liberty.

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