One of the key arguments in this blog is that attitudes to authority represent a key foundation of all politics and political debate. Authority, it is argued, is a moral foundation whereby individuals tend to find themselves on a spectrum which regards authority as morally worthy per se or morally disreputable per se. For many therefore, authority is virtue by default and for others, evil at birth, however, for many, probably most, the intuition is weak either way. In his book, the Righteous Mind, the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt demonstrates that moral intuitions about authority trigger in us a sense of right or wrong and then a cloud of emotion and then the deployment of strategic reasoning (use some facts, ignore others, forget other, twist some) to get to our goal: reason and argue in politics to support our moral intuitions about authority (and fairness, harm reduction, loyalty, freedom and sanctity).
Neither of these intuitions are correct or wrong, they may have served several significant social purposes over many the millennia in which they formed but today the are a form of faulty wiring, a series of confounding cross circuits. Authority is now neither good no bad or average, it needs to be seen for what it is free of these ancient biases.
Doesn’t the Greek crisis provide insight into this process? How many commentators simply default to either the sins of the Greeks or the sins of the institutions the ECB, IMF and the EU? The crisis is an interplay of two grave failures, the legacy of Greek misgovernment and the mishandling of the issue by the Institutions. Fascinatingly, the IMF has conceded incompetence but it is unremarkable how this is ignored by moralised authoritarians and their strategic reasoning which stresses Greek corruption, Greek pensions… Unremarkable if these commentators are employing reasoning in support of moralised pro-authoritarianism….and they are.
An aspect of the crisis is Syriza’s unwillingness to take responsibility to take ownership of a reform process which would satisfy their creditors, and in fact this has deepened the austerity that they potentially face. Syriza failed in this, in part, because it conceives the issue as the malevolence of authority which had the effect of diminishing the responsibility of the Greeks.
These misfiring Intuitions sometimes manifest themselves in the starkest terms as the moralised pro-authoritarianism at Fox News demonstrated earlier, but Jon Snow of Channel News in the UK recently raised eyebrows by lamenting the death of a key Saddam Hussein ally, Tariq Aziz calling him “a nice guy”. Counter intuitive to find a good guy at the heart of Saddam’s wars of aggression and multiple repressions but intuitive if you conceive authority as inherently corrupt and the enemy of your (corrupt) enemy can be considered morally benign.
Another stark illustrations was the attitude of the campaigner and comedian Russell Brand to the one minute silence held in the UK to honour the 30 Brits murdered by a terrorist in the seaside resort of Sousse in Tunisia. Brand thought the minute’s silence “bullshit” and explained to an interlocutor that the massacre of tourists on the beach in Tunisia was created by the UK Government. Stretching the strategic reason to breaking point he claims that authority is arming the terrorist by arming the governments’ fighting the terrorists. His interlocutor, a friend of the victims agrees with him. That shouldn’t be so surprising if the premise here is correct that moralised pro and anti-authoritarianism is pervasive in forming opinions.
Worthless, distorted misapprehensions worsen and deepen the Greek crisis and almost everything else.