The Fragility of Authoritarianism

I am fascinated by our propensity to tilt toward authoritarianism in certain times. They provide a delusion of hope.  Someone promises to make it all better, and something in us is attracted to the personality cult of bullies and what we think of as ‘strong’ – read uncompromising and not particularly thoughtful or engaging leaders.

The Origins of Totalitarianism - Arendt.JPGPerhaps this is why the writings of Hannah Arendt are increasing in popularity.  Arendt wrote so well about The Origins of Totalitarianism as well as the psychology of unthinking and blindly obedient functionaries like Adolph Eichmann.  A recent article in The Conversation, The Power of Ordinary People Facing Totalitarianism, highlights the trend.  People are showing concern.

But why this tilt?   It is toward an empty hope – a delusion – because authorities represent the opposite of hope for the human spirit, or for the resilience and adaptive capacity should life throw a curve ball – which it inevitably will.  They crush thought and dissent.  Faith in authorities is not just a delusion – it is positively extinction threatening.  It builds fragility, not resilience.

With authoritarianism we almost inevitably end up with the very hubris that blinds us to the truth, and kills dialogue and diversity of thought.  And that sets us up for an inevitable fall in an uncertain world.  Our world.

I know I continue to make this particular observation, and I will continue to.  It is this; those with a propensity to encourage authoritarian hierarchies are those who see the world in a mechanical way.  The STEM subjects tend – in my view – to see such structures as natural order.  It is the Humanities disciplines that reject their rigidity and monomaniac – there is only one way to see this presumably oh so certain world – because the Humanities and Arts rejoice in questioning and putting a mirror before us all.Time lapse dance

Neoliberals and mega-corporations are the worst at this imposition of order and death of democracy.  Treasury has been responsible for the design of our public service authorities and centralisation of decision making away from dialoguing communities since 1984 – all in the image of the corporate totalitarian machine.   Democracy takes away from the ‘efficiency’ of the extractive economy, which – to the corporate and mechanical economic mind – is all.

In a sense this type of authoritarianism is like having a monocultural and monomaniac gene pool, the least resilient to environmental disturbance.  Such systems are always an evolutionary dead end. They are headed for extinction because they live in a world of presumed certainty and control, and will brook no dissent that might suggest otherwise.  They may eat their own world in the short term; they may dominate and grow large as the behemoth and think that size represents evidence of their own success as a model of life – they may even appear invincible and make it to the outskirts of Moscow.

But in scales of evolution, rather than the mere blip of a human epoch, they are doomed.

The phrase attributed to Darwin says it all …..

“It is not the most intellectual or the strongest of species that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”

If you want to survive as a species, don’t presume that some ‘efficient’ structural homogeneous mechanical construct will get you there.

Resilience comes from the capacity to have foresight that a shock will happen (though we can never foresee them all), the capacity for robustness to take a hit and bounce, the capacity to adapt and shift to a new system – one that maintains the functional integrity of that system.

We have come to be danced.pngResilient lands require capacities to cope and adapt – think of flood and drought, cost rises and price falls, the sudden unavailability of one thing around which you may have built your world.  Think of building the self-organised functional integrity of a social and ecological space.  Never think of life as a sausage machine, measured ‘resources’ on assembly lines.

Resilience thinking creates social structures that are the very opposite of authoritarian constructs.  Systems that openly question, openly dialogue, work together toward a shared goal without being merely obedient and functioning cogs; social systems of belonging and where those with spark can speak a thought, where artists can reflect on a different way of looking at the world; where Humanities can constantly uphold the Ethos of the Enlightenment to challenge the accepted mechanical Dogmas of our Modern mechanical Age.

I really think this is our greatest challenge – to move beyond seeing our world as a construct of some bizarre set of mathematical universal laws where the obedient march in single file is the metaphor for life, where certainty and control reign supreme.

We need to change the metaphor of life from the march through the certainty of a machine to a wild dance that embraces life in all its flux and flow.

That’s where beauty and expression replace dull order.  It’s also the rational and sustainable way to be, not to be a cog and look upon the world as nothing more than a dispassionate assemblage of ‘things’.


Chris Perley


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1 Response to The Fragility of Authoritarianism

  1. Pingback: Changing the Culture of Our Councils | Chris Perley's Blog

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