Authority: An Iffy Subject

Question Authority. If there is an eponymous bumper sticker for my chosen culture, that's the one. Although over the years, I've come to question the dictum itself, wondering if it isn't taken to mean, more often than not, Reject Authority.

Rejecting authority is something I did for quite a long time. I was one of those teen agers. You aren't the boss of me, even when they were. Later on, as a woman who should know better, I once contemplated making a list of misdemeanors on the books in Green Bay and setting out to commit them, one by one. I didn't get around to doing the research, but I can confess to walking on the grass and jaywalking, at the very least. More than that, I won't incriminate myself.

When my daughter was a teenager, I had one rule - well, actually two. No. 1 was "Don't do anything I have to pay for." She did okay on that one. No. 2 was, "Don't make me talk to authorities." That one she broke a time or two. But no jail time was involved.

I still don't like talking to authorities. They scare me. I was brought up to believe I was very likely doing something wrong most of the time, so I would prefer not to talk to them because, even if I was innocent, I know I would look guilty. Because I know I'm always guilty of something.

I actually scored slightly higher than my blue compadres (2.3-2.1) on Haidt's Morality Foundation Questionnaire, while our red fellow travelers scored a whopping 3.3, higher than they scored on any of the other four values of harm, fairness, loyalty and purity. Which I find curious, because these last few years they have been in the streets, Questioning Authority. And very often Rejecting Authority.

I suspect my own score may have been due to acquiring a late appreciation for the general rules of conduct. Making up all the rules as you go along can be exhausting. Whether it's the written law in the form of rules of the road or the unwritten law of social intercourse, following a path well-beaten by authorities past and present leaves the mind free to follow other paths less well-beaten.

As Deadheads, we obeyed the authority of Grateful Dead Ticket Sales to the letter. I remember filling out those 3x5 cards, making certain the information we supplied in the upper right or lower left-hand corners was in the right place and absolutely correct. We famously stood in lines that could "make it to the moon and back and nobody would complain."

I'm still of the opinion that Haidt asked too narrow a range of questions, a range that results in the implication of a relative contempt of any form of authority from me and mine, and a blind obedience to authority accepted by them.

I checked out a Tea Party site, looking for slogans on signs, and came across a picture of one woman carrying a sign that read "Dissent is Patriotic." A sign which could have been and probably was carried from the Vietnam War protests to the Occupy Movement.

I'm still iffy about authority. I still rebel at strictures I don't want to obey. I'm happy there are rules that everyone can follow which make it easier for us to get by, get along, get there. I question authorities on subjects I'm researching, even when I find their ideas compatible with mine - especially when I find their ideas compatible with mine. But I don't think the line is so finely drawn between those of us who accept authority and those of us who don't. Much of the time it depends on who's talking, who's making up the rules this time.

Trying to get a handle on this post today, I looked up a few quotes about authority. You can read them for yourself. Here's my favorite:

To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself.

Albert Einstein