The Enemy Is Not At The Gate But At Our Table
The terrible thing about authoritarianism is that it robs one of moral agency. That’s a fenchy-smenchy way of saying it takes away your individual moral responsibility.
“I was told…”
“The boss said…”
“According to the book…”
In each case the individual surrenders their ability to make a choice for good or ill and lets somebody else decide for them.
On occasion, this is good: It speeds things up and prevents low level functionaries from making a mess of establish procedure.
But there’s also several magnitudes of difference between a check-out clerk who won’t give a refund without a receipt because of store policy, and a person who refuses to help a desperate person simply because the paperwork has been filled out incorrectly.
In the first case, one can always push it up to a manager or other higher authority figure; even if denied the person seeking the refund is unlikely to suffer great personal harm. In the latter, one may see that will befall a person, and simply avoid doing anything about it because one can hide behind authority. “Hey, I didn’t want to sends those Jews back to Nazi Germany, but their papers weren’t in order and the regulations are clear.”
Authority offers a comfort factor: In an authoritarian environment, everybody knows their place.* Theoretically, when the old king dies the new king – even if only a child – immediately steps in, and things proceed in an orderly fashion.**
When many people feel their world shifting unfamiliarly around them, when they’re no longer certain or comfortable where societal boundaries lay, then they turn to authoritarianism.
A big hunk of this comes from fear of losing status, safety, and security to change. As human beings we are almost always more comfortable / less anxious if things stay the way they’ve always been.
“’Twas ever thus.”
But not everybody enjoys their current or past status, and many want that status changed, at least to the point where they feel safe and secure.
Too often those with the old mind set cannot grasp why they can’t continue acting and talking the way they once had -- they have no problem with it and literally can’t imagine why anyone else would.
I remember in grade school, way back in the 1960s, hearing a sweet little white haired old lady ask after church, “Well, what’s so wrong with calling them n[bomb]s? That’s what they are.”
Racism is authority in the form of tradition: We have always had this system, ergo we must always have this system.
And since racism hinges so much on shoring up the status of the dominant group, it’s no surprise members of said group flock to comfort under certain authoritarian banners.
They want something to make them feel safe and secure, and gladly surrender heart, mind, and soul.
“I am not a racist,” they proclaim, and in their specific definition that’s true.
But it doesn’t mater if you personally kick your neighbor’s teeth in or if you merely say nothing while somebody else kicks their teeth in if the end result is the same: Your neighbor gets their teeth kicked in.
We are now engaged in the opening salvos of a great test of our national character, one in which we shall see if we truly do believe in liberty & justice for all and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, or will throw it all away in a desperate yet futile attempt to cling to a past that not only no longer exists, but never really existed in the first place and certainly can’t be summoned forth now.
There will be no neutrals in this struggle. There may be peacemakers, but those peacemakers will not be neutral.
We have failed -- in fact, have been failing for a long, long time -- our tests of moral character. We need to choose wisely so we do not destroy ourselves entirely.
Nobody thought Byzantium would fall…
…until it did.
* And if that doesn’t sound offense and demeaning to you, it’s because you don’t feel the sting…yet.
** Theoretically. And that has happened on many an occasion. The pages of history, however, are well saturated with blood in all the places where it didn’t and pretenders to the throne went to war over heirs-apparent.