Authority & Individualism

It has been something of a topic on this blog to discuss assumptions I previously held that I have come now to question. These are usually the values our society holds to be special or important. Most such values have become increasingly incoherent for various reasons including stretching the very concept from a legal or social point-of-view to the realms of absurdity. I need not go over examples as many can be found on this blog under the same categories this will be included in. 

One that doesn’t get questioned very much is the idea of individualism itself. This has become fundamental on a level that is hard to appreciate. I don’t want to get into this on a philosophical level with definitions (as I’m not well-informed enough to do), but I can at least consider it the average person would. This would be with the basic assumption that your own opinion matters. That what you think or how you feel about what ever topic is relevant, valuable and important. 

And speaking for myself at least, I really don’t think mine does.

I do see the irony in my writing the above and what follows on a personal blog where I share my opinion on a variety of topics but I don’t think there is a contradiction in this. I don’t force anyone to read this and most people in my acquaintance — let alone the general public; don’t even know I have one. I also openly and frequently admit my ignorance on topics I cover as in fact I did in a very recent post.

The first thing to consider is the individuals ability to be adequately informed on all the topics that could directly affect them. In short — they aren’t and can’t be. This brings to mind something Michael Crichton wrote on the topic of the news media which most people rely on to be “informed” which he calls the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect and describes it below:

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

I have directly experienced this myself with topics I am knowledgeable about and just like Crichton gone on reading other stories without considering that the same could very well be true of all. I don’t now follow the mainstream news media but I’m sure I still do this to some extent with other types of media. And remember that the above is a quote about the news media who are supposed to do research and not the general population who don’t have to at all to have an opinion. If organisations that exist to disseminate accurate knowledge can’t do it with any reliability, then how can the average individual be expected to?

This thinking funnily enough isn’t leading me to be skeptical of all authority as one would expect but just being more discerning about which authority I trust. Ultimately, I trust in God because he can never fail me. Prior to my conversion, I was very much anti-government and had libertarian/anarchist sympathies. I can’t say I’m much more fond of the government today but I do at least accept that one will exist whether I want it to or not. The objective then is not so much to trust it but to work with it as best you can and render unto it what it requires.

With what else one can trust, it is a matter of experience that one can rely on. I trust engineering because I rely on it daily for life and if it didn’t work, I would know about it. That is if my automobile I drive, the trains I ride and the aircraft I fly in didn’t work, I would certainly know not to trust them. Personal relationships too rely on trust and it is generally quickly obvious if someone is not to be trusted.

What got me thinking about this was with regard to the church which has both a temporal hierarchy on Earth and a Heavenly one. As a Catholic, you have to accept this authority and the fundamental truths it teaches. You can not decide what you do and do not want to believe and still be a Catholic. The idea of individualism still affects even faithful Catholics as I am proof of with quite a number of posts on this blog. All I have written, I believe to be in line with the faith and I am open to correction but I still feel I can make public pronouncements including on quite controversial subjects. In writing this, I wonder if I should? I don’t have a good answer but I do think it is at least helpful to temper one’s thoughts by considering it.  

Finally, I wouldn’t argue that the idea of individualism should be abandoned altogether as it is an important part of Christianity in the sense that every person does indeed matter to God. This is good and true but is now more often inverted in the satanic sense of, ‘do what thou wilt.’ As a society, we are supposed to be and work better when grouped and ideally on a small scale in communities where we can know our neighbours. In a small community where every one is familiar, one’s opinion can be both genuinely informed and matter much more than it can in the society we live in now where even a local politician wouldn’t know more than a tiny percentage of the people he represents.

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