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May 28th, 2010

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03:43 am - Authority & Comfort
I had a long talk with my dear friend Aaron today about many things, and one of the topics the conversation turned to was ideas about authority and how I react to it. Aaron and I had been sitting on some rocks near the river and suddenly Aaron moved, telling me that I always sat so that Aaron (who is 5 inches shorter than I am) was at least as high as I was, and I was often below him, and then Aaron moved until he was sitting slightly below me, which I found somewhat discomfiting.

We talked about how I am typically uncomfortable in positions of authority, and am far better and happier being in my own an important subordinate position. In this discussion, I understood a bit more about why this is – in addition to my own natural tendencies, I'm less comfortable in positions of authority, because growing up part of the East Coast white upper middle class/nouveau riche culture that I come from, authority was considered very desirable, but it was also clear that one of the perks of authority was abusing it and belittling people that were in any way problematic, something that largely seems an extension of the my parent's general rudeness with serving staff. Much of this is clearly my parents, but growing up, I saw similar (although usually less extreme) attitudes & behaviors among other adults of the same social class. As a result, I unconsocusly avoid positions of authority, because I do not wish anyone to assume that I am like the models of authority that I grew up with
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative

(5 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:May 28th, 2010 11:21 am (UTC)
When my ex-wife and I used to get into arguments, I sat on the floor so I would be much lower than her. It did not really help. We split up.
[User Picture]
Date:May 28th, 2010 05:47 pm (UTC)

An interesting side discussion...

It's odd you bring this up right now, as I've been having some interesting discussions with some friends in the Renaissance Faire community about this very topic.

While a lot of nobles did abuse their power in that time, the Great Chain of Being gave most of the upper classes the ideal that people were born into their respective classes, and provided that they remained at their station there was no need to remind them of their inferior status. Servants and the peasant classes were required for the normal State of Things™. There might not have been a lot of respect for the servant class, but there wasn't outright disrespect, either, as a general rule.

By the late Renaissance, it could be argued that this exact "disrespect" boundary was regularly being crossed by the upper classes, and in the cases of the Americas and France may have been one of the direct causes of the Populist revolutions there. The abuses of the French aristocracy is well established. The abuses of King George towards the American colonies is less clear, however most of the voices of the American Revolution were clear that they felt disempowered, even relative to their station in life. John Adams regularly grumbled that he felt he was never treated as a wealthy member of the merchant class, even though if he was in England he would have quite likely been given modest station because of his land holdings, educational achievements, and financial success as a scholar and attorney-at-law.

Now, since we (arguably) live in a society that values direct achievement over heredity and heraldry (and this is, by in large, bullshit because at best the vast majority of us have no power to really alter our class position, but that's an entirely different rant), the upper classes have all the bombastic tendencies of the classical upper merchant and lower courtesan classes without having the Great Chain of Being around to enforce the understanding that this is the State of Things.

You see it in Republican rhetoric all the time. The poor are only poor because they lack ambition, drive, or are stupid. If bad things happen to the middling ... oops, sorry, wrong era ... middle classes it is because of their own faults, not because of any fault of society at large. We Only Need To Be Responsible For Ourselves is their battle cry. They can't acknowledge that no man is an island, because that would get those icky human emotions like "compassion" and "dignity" involved, and there's no room for that.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:May 28th, 2010 10:00 pm (UTC)
I suspect that much of this is indeed New England vs. the DC area. I don't know New England culture at all, but am told it's different from the middle portions of the East Coast. When I visit the DC area, I'm regularly struck by how rigidly conformist, mean spirited, obsessed with authority, and generally vile the entire culture is, and by all reports that's not true in New England.
[User Picture]
Date:May 29th, 2010 05:49 pm (UTC)
People in authority have a reduced ability to use empathy, and it strikes me as a possibility you may notice and avoid the vantage for that reason, even if unconsciously. I myself am pretty comfortable with possessing authority, but I don't prefer it. I prefer... calm, orderliness, participating in a chain of responsibility. I really, really don't like being in competition with someone who actually wants authority for its own sake. Thus, I tend, usually, to avoid authority because I want to avoid competition for that authority.

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