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Old 05-17-2004, 07:03 AM
Join Date: Nov 2002
Location: Cardiff, EU
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Political Compass #22: All authority must be questioned.

Many political debates here have included references to The Political Compass, which uses a set of 61 questions to assess one’s political orientation in terms of economic left/right and social libertarianism/authoritarianism (rather like the “Libertarian diamond” popular in the US).

And so, every so often I will begin a thread in which the premise for debate is one of the 61 questions. I will give which answer I chose and provide my justification and reasoning. Others are, of course, invited to do the same including those who wish to “question the question”, as it were.

It would also be useful when posting in these threads to give your own “compass reading” in your first post, by convention giving the Economic value first. My own is
SentientMeat: Economic: -5.12, Social: -7.28, and so by the above convention my co-ordinates are (-5.12, -7.28). Please also indicate which option you ticked. I might suggest what I think is the “weighting” given to the various answers in terms of calculating the final orientation, but seeing for yourself what kind of answers are given by those with a certain score might be more useful than second-guessing the test’s scoring system.

Now, I appreciate that there is often dissent regarding whether the assessment the test provides is valid, notably by US conservative posters, either because it is “left-biased” (??) or because some propositions are clearly slanted, ambiguous or self-contradictory. The site itself provides answers to these and other Frequently Asked Questions, and there is also a separate thread: Does The Political Compass give an accurate reading? Read these first and then, if you have an objection to the test in general, please post it there. If your objection is solely to the proposition in hand, post here. If your objection is to other propositions, please wait until I open a thread on them.

The above will be pasted in every new thread in order to introduce it properly, and I’ll try to let each one exhaust itself of useful input before starting the next. Without wanting to “hog the idea”, I would be grateful if others could refrain from starting similar threads. To date, the threads are:
Does The Political Compass give an accurate reading?
Political Compass #1: Globalisation, Humanity and OmniCorp.
#2: My country, right or wrong
#3: Pride in one’s country is foolish.
#4: Superior racial qualities.
#5: My enemy's enemy is my friend.
#6: Justifying illegal military action.
#7: “Info-tainment” is a worrying trend.
#8: Class division vs. international division. (+ SentientMeat’s economic worldview)
#9: Inflation vs. unemployment.
#10: Corporate respect of the environment.
#11: From each according to his ability, to each according to need.
#12: Sad reflections in branded drinking water.
#13: Land should not be bought and sold.
#14: Many personal fortunes contribute nothing to society.
#15: Protectionism is sometimes necessary in trade.
#16: Shareholder profit is a company's only responsibility.
#17: The rich are too highly taxed.
#18: Better healthcare for those who can pay for it.
#19: Penalising businesses which mislead the public.
#20: The freer the market, the freer the people.
#21: Abortion should be illegal.

Proposition #22: All authority must be questioned.

SentientMeat (-5.12, -7.28) ticks Strongly Agree.

The Open Society has many enemies: its best defence is a free press. And how can the press be said to be “free” if it cannot question authority at every turn?

Of course, if one were to pick on the “All” at the start of proposition #22, one could perhaps think of specific instances in which questioning authority might be undesirable or even dangerous, such as in the midst of combat or surgery, or interrupting a school lesson or an important meeting at work. But the important point would be that, even then, there should still be some mechanism whereby the authority could be forced to account for itself and explain its position (even if the answer proved unpopular), and that the questioning mechanism ought to be used regularly in order to continually reassess best practise and explain important decisions.

Such questioning is essential if we are to convince ourselves, let alone others, that a given course is correct. This is by no means “treason” or “disloyalty” as those lacking the patience and intellectual rigour necessary for such introspection might have us believe. Criticism is not merely denigration, nor continual objection, nor automatic disapproval. It comes from the Greek kritikos, meaning to judge. We must judge our authorities and attempt to find faults in order that they be corrected. In line with Popper’s doctrine of falsification, we must put our beliefs and principles to the test, see how they fare, and if necessary reject them for others more robust.
Originally by Karl Popper, “The Open Society and its Enemies” (1945):
one of the best senses of “reason” and “reasonableness” [is] openness to criticism - readiness to be criticized, and eagerness to criticize oneself; and I tried to argue that this critical attitude of reasonableness should be extended as far as possible. ...Implicit in this attitude is the realization that we shall always have to live in an imperfect society.
That is the essence of democracy. Any reduction in the questioning of authority is detrimental to democracy. Indeed, I believe that even reporting “good news” can lead to complacency - we must constantly strive to identify what is wrong with the world which could feasibly be addressed, rather than rest on our laurels and slap each other’s backs at how hunky-dory everything is (although there is ever the temptation of greener-looking grass: again, our comparisons and introspection must be earnest and rigorous, not impatient and reactionary).

All authority must be questioned, if only to confirm that the old answer hasn’t changed.
Old 05-17-2004, 07:44 AM
Right Hand of the Master
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This is very much a culture-bound assertion, however. In most Asian countries, for instance, I think you would find significant disagreement with the word "all" and the word "must." I think you might find responses that parental authority, say, or the authority of knowledge, should not be questioned per se. Not to say such authority can't be questioned, only to say that "must" is a pretty strong qualifier. And that "by whom?" is missing from the statement -- for instance, a very young child should not question parental authority.
Old 05-17-2004, 08:02 AM
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All authority? Including the SDMB administration?

Old 05-17-2004, 08:04 AM
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Agreed, Dex, but the FAQ does address the culture-specificity of the test and in any case we are explaining our own particular answers: I personally disapprove of the sorry state of "democracy" in most of Asia which I believe is largely brought about by inadequate questioning of authority. As for the young child, the "because I'm telling you to" response of the parent should still, at the back of their mind, act as a self-check that their instructions are in the overall interests of the child: introspection is just as essential for a parent as for an entire society.
Old 05-17-2004, 08:05 AM
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7.13, -1.25
Strongly agree.

Originally Posted by C K Dexter Haven
And that "by whom?" is missing from the statement -- for instance, a very young child should not question parental authority.
Oh yes it should. And do, as any parent knows. “By whom” I think was left out because it was so obvious. By you, by me, by everybody.
Old 05-17-2004, 08:06 AM
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Originally Posted by Shodan
All authority? Including the SDMB administration?
Well, we do have a forum specifically designated for "complaints and other discussion regarding administration of the SDMB".
"In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves." -- Carl Sagan

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Old 05-17-2004, 08:28 AM
MMI MMI is offline
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I interpret this as meaning "No authority is beyond questioning" - there is no authority whose will and power are beyond reproach or oversight - rather than the alternative meaning of "you should always get in the face of authority over everything" (although that too has some value)
Old 05-17-2004, 09:32 AM
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I always question people who question authority.

Then I question authority myself.
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Look delicious on your vest,
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Stuff the mattress with the rest!"
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Old 05-17-2004, 09:46 AM
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(-1.88, -4.82)

Agree. My take on it is similar to MMI's, no authority is beyond questioning. I also think what Dex said makes sense, with the addition, if a very young child is capable of questioning a parent's decision, he is also capable of understanding a simple explanation and possible consequences.

An example. When I was 4 years old, we had a convicted (and released) child molester living at the end of our block on the other side of the street. My brother and I were told we were not allowed to ride our bikes on that side of the street and to stay away from the area where that particular house was. I had no idea what molestation was, but when I questioned the instructions, I was told the man was a law breaker (or some other simplistic term) and he might hurt small kids. My dad was a police officer at the time, so I did have an idea what it meant to break the law. Had I not questioned my parents and received an explanation, I doubt I would have taken their instructions as much to heart as I did.
Old 05-17-2004, 11:00 AM
XT XT is offline
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Proposition #22: All authority must be questioned.

Well, again with the absolutes with the questions, which is why I 'agree' instead of 'strongly agree' with this (and other things on this test). I also have a slight nitpicking problem with ALL and MUST. Personally I think my own philosophy on citizenship is that Authority SHOULD be questioned and citizens should be informed to make informed decisions. But ALL authority MUST be questioned? That sounds more like an ultimatum, and its simply not practical in ever day life. There are so many aspects of 'authority' in our daily lives its just not practical from a 'must' perspective.

However, I agree with this take on it:

Originally Posted by MMI
I interpret this as meaning "No authority is beyond questioning" - there is no authority whose will and power are beyond reproach or oversight - rather than the alternative meaning of "you should always get in the face of authority over everything" (although that too has some value)
Old 05-17-2004, 11:29 AM
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Strongly agree.

Originally Posted by C K Dexter Haven
And that "by whom?" is missing from the statement -- for instance, a very young child should not question parental authority.
Of course children should question parental authority.
Old 05-17-2004, 11:58 AM
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Agree. It certainly would have been easier to answer if the question had been phrased: "Generally, it's good to question authority." But it would be hard, indeed, to sketch out a situation where it isn't good to at least question authority, even if you don't act on it.
Old 05-17-2004, 12:46 PM
Join Date: Nov 2001
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I have no particular problem with poeple questioning authority, so long as they follow two rules:

(a) Whenever they disagree with me, they are wrong.

(b) See above if in doubt.


Oh, wait, those are my "hidden assumption" rules. Ooops!

My actual rules are:

(a) They question it in a morally correct manner and within the socially acceptable bounds of society - or from outside it.

(b) They don't be annoying about it.
Old 05-17-2004, 01:10 PM
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+8.2/-3.1, give or take a few hundredths, ticks 'disagree'.

This question, I think, is too clumsy to answer with anything but the stringently literal. I don't question a lot of authority much of the time - that of my employer, especially. I should only question it were it necessary to do so. Had the question been "The ability should always be present to question authority in any conceivable circumstance," I should have ticked 'strongly agree'.
Old 05-17-2004, 01:19 PM
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Don't be silly. Of course it should be. I don't even think this is a topic of debate... it is like, is the sky blue? Is the ocean wet?
What did the people in Sudan say about the Abu Ghraib scandal? "A few bad apples? You don't know how good that sounds right now! We're pretty hungry." - mnftiu

Nothing says 'good luck' like handing off sovereignity and then running straight to the airport. Do we always treat sovereignity like it's a goddamn grenade? - mnftiu
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