Existential Psychology

Irrational Authority

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Where rational authority is open to questioning and criticism from its followers irrational authority brooks no such dissent. Irrational authority sets up obedience as the highest virtue and disobedience as an unforgivable sin. It uses all the psychological tools in the belt to reinforce the idea that any questioning, criticism, and especially disobedience are off limits and should be punished, should be treated as crimes against honor, duty, loyalty, morality, the state, etc.

Its most potent weapons to motivate compliance are fear and doubt. Authoritarians, who represent irrational authority, are abusers. They use irrational authority to bring about, maintain, or strengthen unequal power relationships and with these unequal power relationships to derive certain desired psychological, emotional, or material benefits. This is true whether we’re working at the level of the nuclear family or the level of the nation state. The psychology of abuse, of the abuser, of irrational authority, is the same.

Those attracted to irrational authority at the macro level, those attracted to the siren song of authoritarianism in its political incarnation, are those most likely to either wield irrational authority in their professional and personal lives or to have come under the sway of irrational authority in their professional and personal lives. That attraction to the larger political structure is an unconscious way to try to rationalize away as ethical an emotionally and psychologically crippled way of being in the world.

Irrational authority discounts, demeans, and diminishes any and all perceptions of reality that break with the narrative spun by that irrational authority. This abusive tactic, called gaslighting, effectively tells the people on the wrong side of the unequal power relationship that their clear vision of events is fundamentally flawed or flat out wrong.

While irrational authority holds up justice, virtue, honor, and order as the highest virtues, in objective reality irrational authority is the very representative of injustice, vice, dishonor, and disorder, though the authoritarian rarely recognizes this paradox due to reaction formation, the psychological mechanism where that which is repressed is broadcast in equal and opposite strength to the world.

Underneath it all, the central message that irrational authority wants to get across, whether in the nuclear family or in the political sphere, is that resistance is not only futile but wrongheaded, even immoral. And while the fact that constant doubt and fear of reprisal play such a central role in the lives of those subject to irrational authority should be enough to tell us right away that the relationship is broken and unhealthy, irrational authority seeks to convince the victim that the fear and doubt are being generated entirely within the victim, are entirely the victim’s responsibility, are the direct result of the victim’s own guilty conscience due to bad behavior.

Rational authority doesn’t need to resort to the instillation of doubt or fear to maintain control because control and with it the maintenance of unfair power structures for personal gain are not rational authority’s intention. The primary intention of rational authority is to offer up superior knowledge, traits, and skills in order to make the lives of those without the same knowledge, traits, or skills better. Rational authority is always trying to narrow, not widen, the gap of the unequal power relationship, it’s always trying to use its power to eradicate the power imbalance. The great parents, teachers, coaches, politicians, and spiritual leaders across time all share rational authority as their way of relating to people and the world while the great villains across time all share irrational authority as their way of relating to people and the world.