Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Functional on authority

For me functional perspective often works to simplify and it occurs to me that authority relative to one entity is when some other entity has information needed. For instance parental authority has been most common throughout human history and parents know much that children do not. And parents at best use that information both to protect their children and to enable them to function well in the world. And the proof of the value of parental authority can be found in competent adults, who themselves some day, more than likely, take care of children of their own.

That I can focus on information with authority grabs my attention as who grabs yours in our times is more and more a big deal. As the web brings access and ease of distribution plenty of people claim authority in lots of areas, but how do you know? How do you know that what they know is truly authoritative?

In the past, authority built over time, literally physically battled out. Warriors could simply take authority by informing those who did not know that they could crush them physically if not obeyed. Which was often demonstrated. And in areas like those that became feudal, the greatest warrior could become ruler. Over time humanity developed systems, and institutions and culture, and gathered in cities, from which the word civilization emerged and authority evolved.

In our times, consider the idea that many in countries like my own which is the United States, find authority in drawing vast amounts of attention from MILLIONS who apparently believe that people who can draw so much attention, must know SOMETHING, right?

The collapse of physical authority on the daily does not remove the reality of power in the hands of nations, which thankfully at the highest levels, is not used at all. But the threat of use of nuclear weapons is still terrifying.

So in our times, thankfully, in society being physically violent with others is not usually an expression of authority, but of NOT knowing that society does not tolerate most physical acting out against others. And great penalties can be ensued if you do. Police authority of course is still often enforced physically in the United States which is a troubling subject. But at best is about knowing the law, and many will follow when a police officer with proper use of authority, informs.

Regardless of the security in general against physical violence, functionally you can end up in an area of some city where threats can mean a dangerous actuality quickly. It is irrelevant then the bigger picture of the awesomeness of modern civilization. In that moment recognizing when others know more about the reality of what they can or cannot do to you, can be about surviving, or surviving with as little damage to your person as possible.

To be civilized in modern society is so much about cities, and being civil is key to large groups of humans being able to live, work and learn together. So much concentration of people and with them much knowledge, with learning happening constantly. Yet how well one can move and with what authority in a city tells so much about what one knows. Sidewalks become testbeds of learning.

Today the web can allow information to flow easily and rapidly around the globe, and web authority is an emergent property I think, where for instance search engines rely on linking behavior, public has been told. The potency of web authority can be experienced by anyone who gets a question quickly answered in a search engine, maybe even to answer an argument. We have it then on their authority how they do it. But for most of us, is a functional reality of asking something, and being given a result that gives the information required. Does it really matter to us details of how a search engine works? Should it?

Possibly it should, as sure quick questions about how to cook something, what movie is playing or when some historical event happened are one thing, but what about deeper questions one might ask?

And what use can be had of that information? Is it a way to gain greater authority over us, as the aggregate of what we tell, tells more about us than we know?

And if we trust enough, or use enough, so that de facto trust is habit, how can we be certain of information given NOT being used to control us. Could answers be manipulated in time, possibly by powerful artificial intelligences telling us things to get us to do things, without us being consciously aware?

How do we know is truth?

But what is truth?

Functionally if authority is about knowledge of one entity needed by another then it does matter of course if that knowledge is correct!

And there is where it matters most. Which is maybe the answer I seek: authority in our times is so much about that answer when needed that works, with that demonstrated on the constant.

The person with false authority? Claiming to know something you need who does NOT in actuality? Well that can emerge far more rapidly in our times than in the past. In the past by the time you realized you had been cheated by false authority, the con artist might have already skipped town, heading for the next city to look for suckers.

Today the web can be faster, if you pursue best information, and do so well. You can even simply do a search on a smartphone, while a would-be con artist looks at you smiling, unaware that you have now on better authority what is true.

And back to parenting, can be odd am sure for parents to face children with greater authority on technological matters of a world where they are growing up, very different from their parents. Looking at authority functionally as about knowledge can find the wisdom in parents who can let the child teach them in areas where child has greater functional knowledge.

The speed and efficiency of our knowledge is transforming our world. And as someone who puts out information myself will readily admit I like the checks and balances, as I like to think I know some things.

But on what authority?

That is for others to seek, learn and accept or not for themselves. Seeking that knowledge can be about finding appropriate authority that will answer.

Checking authority to me is one of the most important skills of our time, but then again, has probably always been important really. Maybe the best thing about now is, is enabled by the web.

Gaining authority in the past may have been quite different than in our times, when access to knowledge was limited by the lack of ability to distribute in ways no longer true. Access to knowledge of course can still be restricted for other reasons, but it can matter much how we question authority, as to when that knowledge that gives it, is held back.

If one entity has information needed by another entity, then gains authority in a situation. Such a short way to look at it, with an entire post building from that simple idea.

That authority is actually about information appeals to me am sure, but functionally showing how that works has me wondering. So then, information IS power? Ok, yeah. Maybe. I wonder.

Finding your authority in the modern world then, is so much about what you know relative to others.

People can claim authority. Society can enforce authority. But how do you know authority?

People seek authority for many reasons. The truth is what determines it.


James Harris