Authoritarians and Magic Words

Posted by mouthyb | Posted in , , , , | Posted on 2:25 PM

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We live, of course, in an authoritarian and highly bureaucratized society. There is a paperwork for everything and everything generates paperwork. We have highly formal rituals for recognizing power in others, with speech and dress codes, most of which are based on race and gender.

It is a perfectly logical move, when one is confronted by a series of currents in society which have such drastic consequences (for instance, poverty), to try and figure out how to game those currents. I think it takes most people very little time to observe that the meritocracy we say we are is not actually how power and authority functions in every day life. The American Dream works for increasingly fewer persons.

And so we try to figure out how to best negotiate all these currents, how to take advantage of anything we can which will allow us to keep our jobs, allow us to not lapse into the very real threat of being unable to provide for ourselves and our family, in a society which tells us that the inability to do so means that we are morally and ethically unfit, in addition to materially unfit.

For this reason, authoritarianism is common here in the US. It is an adaption to our society-- a mal-adaption which sometimes is helpful to individuals, but causes serious problems for everyone else.

If you read a lot of Republican and/or religious blogs, you are reading persons who have learned that they cannot make society better and that all there is, is adapting to the extant system. They have learned that what rules success does not care about them, and that their main task in life is to compete. Sometimes they are authoritarian because it is comforting; they feel as if they can at least partially understand the 'rules' for society, and can negotiate what they know. Change is destructive to the delicate networks they've set up to compete. Anything else seems like chaos to them: unknowable, destructive, annihilating.

This shows up in a lot of little ways, my least favorite of which, as a teacher and a progressive, is the facile repetition of arguments which authoritarians believe to work and allow them to win. Students learn to say whatever the teacher tells them, because the point is not to understand, it is to flawlessly repeat.

Adults and children believe that a facile repetition of the phrase 'I was just kidding,' or 'I have a right to free speech' gets them a magic out. Since there really isn't a meritocracy, and the rules of society are consistently inconsistent, why shouldn't there be a magic phrase?

Why shouldn't saying the word 'discrimination' also be magic?

Authoritarian systems discourage the overview, and any sort of critical thinking. To someone only versed in authoritarian systems, it seems as if, with some kinds of confusing people, saying those phrases causes the argument to end. They do not understand the idea of meta-criticism based on fairness. What in the world could that have to do with the way the world really is?

The most difficult part of my job, by far, is not making speeches or designing pedagogy or creating slides or grading.

The most difficult part of my job is convincing people whose entire lives have been shaped by a system which they have had to game in order to get anywhere that the problems they've been trained to ignore mean something, can be dealt with in little ways every day.

The most difficult part of my job is convincing people whose entire lives have been shaped by an authoritarian world that they can be critical, that they are responsible for understanding, not repeating my words.

There are, after all, no magic words.

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