Laws and rules in this society of ours, no matter where in this world we live, are only relevant when they are enforced. In every time and every place there exists a chasm between the actual laws and rules as written and the conditions for their execution. This void separating the written law, rule, mandate, etc. from its becoming reality in the world is bridged by what we know as “authority figures,” or “figures of authority.” In this way, certain individuals are put in position to ensure that the theoretical laws on paper become manifest realities in the world. These individuals are thereby granted power, power to actively enforce the law. Understand this and you understand that each and every law that exists or has ever existed relies on those in authority and, in fact, the idea of authority itself, to maintain that law. A law is only as good as the degree to which it is enforced.
By the power of authority the world is run. At the point of authority, that is, when that position is achieved, the duty of enforcing “the law” falls squarely on the shoulders of that person with the authority. At that occasion of your auto or business inspection, or during the traffic stop, at the airport Customs gates, even at the doctor’s office, the decisions “pass or fail,” “ticket or no ticket,” “legal or not legal,” “search or not search,” “use this drug or that,” as the case may be, rely, even depend, on this power of authority.
The power of authority establishes what we call “who is in charge.” Whether right or wrong, the person with the power of authority is always right simply by the power of authority. In society, then, this establishes two types of people, those with much, or important authority, and those with no, little, or insignificant authority. This phenomenon also establishes degrees of authority, even conflicts of authority, that can and do arise every day in the world. While one might have authority in one’s own home, at work one might not have any at all, and vice versa. The authority of the Driver’s License Office person dissipates under the greater authority of, perhaps, the Revenue Service investigator, whose own is limited by even greater authorities. In how it functions “authority” is synonymous with “power,” but whereas in the old days the power provided the authority, today the authority provides the power.
Stereotypical of this predicament is the police-man. Similar in duty are the officers of all kinds, the soldiers of all kinds, in short what Plato called the “auxiliaries,” but we will use “the police-man.” A friend once remarked to me that he could never be a policeman, and when I asked him why he replied there were some laws he could not enforce. He could not ticket someone for jaywalking, cite his mother for speeding, or even run in a kid for stealing a candy bar. Today, thousands of times in this world, policemen of some kind will have to make a determination, not always so trivial (like shoot or not shoot), based on their authority to enforce the law; to enforce or not to enforce, to be or not to be, is routinely the question. There is that “just go by the book” mentality, but few police-men cite or ticket friends or relatives, and those who do are certain to have few of either. Yet, to maintain authority the police-man must appease his superiors, those with greater authority than he. Therefore he must ticket someone, follow up on suspicions, answer the call, etc. In short, he must provide evidence of doing his job by on occasion exercising that authority.
After some conversation with my friend I remarked that I am such person that were I to do the duties of a real policeman I would not mind the job, and in fact would find it a bit exciting. Being on the lookout for real criminals trying to hurt other people or damage other people’s property seems like a good thing to do, almost like a superhero, with uniform and badge and the whole bit! I would feel useful to society, and as providing a positive benefit. At one time the actual policeman was one of the most loved professions in the world, he caught thieves and murderers, and kept you safe, he was honest and cared about people. Now, with no disrespect intended, I am sure that most people would rather never encounter a police-man of any kind, for any reason, whatsoever. The police-man, in a very short time and under the same rules of authority, has gone from societal hero and protector of liberty to caricatured nit-pickers unable to solve more complicated (or work-requiring) crimes. To serve and protect has evolved to serve and enforce, because too much of what the actual policeman has to do has little to do with protection. “For your protection,” after all, is a statement always made right before your liberty will be somehow limited. From loved to, I dare say, unliked, one must ask what can lead to such a change in the general perception of this particular authority.
Some answers do exist. The change could be attributed to the idea that too much police time is spent on office detail, paperwork, giving tickets, issuing summonses, directing traffic, finding illegal substances, yet overall lack of effectiveness in reducing and/or preventing real (that is not victimless) crimes and torts. One could argue that the police-men today, on the whole, are very good at earning money for the government and the insurance companies, at confiscating Zippos and open or liquid containers of this or that, but surprisingly ineffective at enforcing a considerable reduction in violent crime, and that this change has sullied the general opinion of the police-men. Indeed, the negative effect “the crackdown on drunk driving” has had on societal relations (not to mention the bar industry) has yet to be adequately studied. It seems as if speeding, theft, and murder are too often given equal weight when it comes to enforcement, and so argue that priorities are out of order. There is also the possibility that the overall perception of authority in general has become of lesser concern, in other words, that respect for authority has declined. Still, as it stands today, police-men have power and authority, indeed are defined in some way by it, but as to what and when to enforce, where and how to enforce, these are very gray areas. Make no mistake about it, legally you will be arrested, at least detained, if you punch someone in the nose. But whether, with what, and how much you will be charged, and also to (eventually) what penalty or degree of fine, are in too many ways extremely arbitrary.
I write this today because I want to appeal to everyone in a position of authority. Whether just in charge of your mobile home and dog, or the billionaire boss of MonkeyTek, if you have authority of any kind you must understand that the law begins and ends with you, and that expect to receive back from higher authority what you give to those under yours. Luckily, for most of us with some authority, we remember our humanity, and so do not always use our power of enforcement, especially not for its own sake. For some, however, authority becomes power indeed used for its own sake, and too often wielded with all the velocity of the executioner’s axe.
When you are disciplining your children, grading the essays and papers, performing the inspection, or conducting the examination – let alone determining crime, or guilt, or penalty – you are in authority. You are the police-man.
It is obvious to me that people are tired. Perhaps tired of authority, both of wielding and yielding. AT the same time, it is also obvious to me that the bulk of mankind is today rudderless, without direction or sense of purpose, and perhaps this is why authority continues too often for its own sake. Even the best of us have to stop and say “but what am I doing this for?” People need leaders, and real leaders today are, I am sure, in relative hiding, while mediocre, mainly rich people pretend to, by virtue of their wealth, be in better authoritative position to determine the greater good. As such “esteemed” members of society achieve this title, and so greater authority, too often because of their monetary value alone. Too often, today, it is appearance that has authority over substance. Or again, as the great unknown philosopher speaking through Andre Agassiz said, “Image is Everything.”
Authority, if one is blessed with it in any of its many forms, should be considered a gift and used with extreme care. This means you must act as if you have been there before. Hypocrisy is here the worst sin, and too many in authority act as if they never had their own conflicts with authority. Judge as you will be judged, punish as you will be punished, is the first step only. Real authority must also be honest, because without truth authority becomes abuse and corruption. The best way to avoid that is use authority over others as your would over your friends, or your relatives, or even yourself. This, I have on good authority.