Social Question

OpryLeigh's avatar

How do you feel about authority?

Asked by OpryLeigh (25260points) December 21st, 2009

Some of the answers to another question currently active on Fluther got me thinking about how many people I have recently heard say that they do not respect authority especially when they are in the form of the police. If you are one of these people what led you to feel this way? I understand that every country’s policeforce will act in a different manner.

Or are you like me? I have respect for the law (yes, I have some little niggles but, on the whole, I feel that laws, even ones that I feel are silly, are for the good of the community) and for the police (I can only speak for the poolice in my country obviously). This is not to say that I haven’t come across some real power hungry dickheads but for the most part I have found the police to be helpful and caring.

This question is not just about your feelings towards the police but authority as a whole. How did you feel about your teachers authority when you went to school? How about your parents authority?

What would be an ideal situation for you when it comes to law? Do you think rules in a community are a good or bad thing and how should the rules that are in place be decided and then monitered?

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74 Answers

Pseudonym's avatar

Without authority, things would most likely become unorderly and stressful.

Freedom_Issues's avatar

I’m kind of anti-authority, because I tend to think the way I live my life is not wrong. My feelings toward the police are not bad ones, I like them because they keep me safe, and I haven’t really had unpleasant experiences with cops. I DO NOT like teacher’s/school worker’s authority, it seemed the school would hire these really mean nasty people to be hall monitors, and they would always choose favorites. I also did not mind my parent’s authority, because they had pretty relaxed rules for me growing up.

J0E's avatar

“I fight authority, authority always wins” – John Mellencamp

JLeslie's avatar

I have respect for the law, teachers, adults in general.

The thing about the police is people go into law inforcement because they are good people who care about the law, or because they are power hungry people who like the idea of being able to have a gun. So, generally I trust police, but with some caution. I would not let a cop in my house unless I was expecting him, or could verify why he had come to my home. It could be someone posing as a cop, or a bad cop.

I do not think anyone should trust authority figures blindly. If something seems off it probably is, but I do think that respect should be given to people who look out for us, and risk themselves for us. So it is complicated.

I have seen many children not showing respect to adults, and I think it is awful. For that matter, in some ways it is not dependent on age or position, just basic respect for others would be nice nowadays.

rangerr's avatar


CMaz's avatar

I have a great deal of respect for authority.

Until it contradicts my actions.

jackm's avatar

I think I share the same feelings as N.W.A.

You know what I am talking about.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@JLeslie GA. I couldn’t have said that better myself but it seems you and I have a very similar opinion of authority and I completely agree with what you said about giving respect to those who risk their own safety to protect the general public.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@jackm I don’t think I do know what you’re talking about I’m afraid. Care to elaborate?

absalom's avatar

Not a big fan.

rangerr's avatar

-“I have some little niggles”

Uh. What’s a niggle, Leanne?

poisonedantidote's avatar

well, authority. it does not really exist. there is no such thing, its just an idea. its all just something that someone made up because it suited them.

here is a way of looking at authority…

1— if we remove all law and all police we will have anarchy and chaos.
2— if we have anarchy and chaos, the strongest and most violent will take control.
3— if the strongest and most violent take control they will make rules
4— if you do not follow their rules, they will use their power against you.

is it just me, or does 4 sound a lot like what we have now?

so you see. there is no authority, all we have is the result of lawlessness. a group has taken control, and if you do not do as they say, they will use their power against you.

Berserker's avatar

I really hated most teachers because aside from handing the material which is meant to be primary, it seemed that most of them took it upon themselves to teach me what morality is, and how I should think and react and what I should find acceptable or not…

I realize that the education system is training wheels for society, whether that’s consciously acted on or otherwise, but I really hated it, and felt the need to be difficult towards them.
Not all of them were like that, but the majority certainly were. I suppose it’s to be expected. Only I felt really insulted that these people would deny me my own experiences and judgment, to be replaced by what they think. It’s not because they know more about academic subjects than I do that my own life is worth nothing compared to theirs. That may be off, but that’s how they made me feel, and made no secret about their intent.
I didn’t trust school and I still don’t, despite how normal I think its process and concept is.

As far as the police goes, they’re here to keep order, and not teach me how to live. Sure if you get arrested they might give you some moral lesson, especially when you’re young, but as a whole they’re doing their jobs, for whatever that’s worth.
Good cops bad cops, they’re human like everyone else. I don’t mind following or doing what they tell me to, because a police officer merely enforces the law, he doesn’t establish it.

Justice on the other hand, I don’t see much eye to eye with it, but that’s probably lame of me to say, since our Western justice system allows me to rant about it without getting my head cut off…

And anyways, whether I like it or not, it’s not like I can do anything about it lol.

Snarp's avatar

I have a great deal of respect for authority and the law. I obey laws (like the speed limit) that the vast majority of people think it’s O.K. to ignore. I think that a certain amount of respect for unwritten social rules is important too, and just as missing as respect for more formal authority. On the other hand, I don’t think having a gun and a badge gives you the right to do whatever you want. There are serious problems with police behavior in the U.S. and around the world. If authorities want to be respected, then just like anyone else they should treat others with respect. That said, if you want to be respected by the police or other authorities, then you need to treat others with respect.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@rangerr Haha…sorry. Niggles = slight irritations ie: There are some rules that I find a bit ruidiculous.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@poisonedantidote So what would be the ideal set up for a community in your opinion? Can we keep the general public safe without a certain amount of aunthority?

rangerr's avatar

@Leanne1986 Is it bad that I keep making that racist in my head? ...and that I fully plan on adding that to my vocabulary?

Snarp's avatar

@poisonedantidote All you have done is provide one explanation for where authority comes from, you have not shown it to not exist. Quite the contrary, you have shown it to be inevitable. I prefer, however, to believe that authority comes from the bottom up. That of course is the foundational philosophy of the United States, that the authority to govern derives from the governed. Of course it can happen both ways, but ultimately people in a chaotic system will demand law, even band together to create an authority.

absalom's avatar


The term authority implies an unquestioning aspect to the relationship between the figure of authority and the other. If one questions, authority dissolves. And I am far too likely to question someone in order to determine the legitimacy or merit of his actions.

Very few of the authority figures in my life have been “qualified” to occupy their positions. This is true of police officers and teachers I know, as well as others’ parents (I listened to my parents because they were good, open parents, not just because they were parents). Holding a position doesn’t (or, I suppose, shouldn’t) automatically grant one authority. I can sit on a throne but that doesn’t make me a king, unless of course there are subjects in the court foolish enough to bow to whoever sits on the throne.

Whatever that means.

JLeslie's avatar

@poisonedantidote So you think the physically strongest and most violent are in control now? And, I guess it is implied that they also do not want the greater good, but just power for themselves?

mowens's avatar

I thumb my nose at it.

Whatever that means.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@rangerr Lurve for making me chuckle!

Qingu's avatar

I’ll obey authority (under most circumstances), but authority doesn’t deserve “respect” automatically, just because it’s authority.

In fact, I’d argue that authority should get less automatic respect and more scrutiny and criticism because it is in a position of power over people.

Val123's avatar

@rangerr You’re grounded!
I appreciate authority. I AM authority in many situations.

poisonedantidote's avatar

@Leanne1986 ideal situation. what we have now, but take a part of the world and designate it a neutral zone. a place without law of any kind where those who want to opt out can do so.

@Snarp well, i would say that i have shown that authority is actually just a fancy word for ’‘or else’’. if violence is all that determines who the authority is, then i present my violence as my counter argument.

sure, authority may exist in some social subjective way. but its just something we made up. its not real and not final. all authority can be overthrown.

@JLeslie im tempted to call straw man argument on that. but yea, you know anyone more violent and stronger than the army?

im not claiming that the police force as we know it today is just a bunch of strong warriors that have taken control. but when man fist started to form communities it was. so yea, all we have now is a more refined version it. a glorified vigilante system.

JLeslie's avatar

@poisonedantidote but do you think bad people are in charge?

rangerr's avatar

@Val123 But it’s almost Christmasssssss.

poisonedantidote's avatar

@JLeslie for the most part yea. there are some good ones but really its mostly bad eggs making the final decisions and deciding all the rules. and it normally comes from simple self interest.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@poisonedantidote a place without law of any kind where those who want to opt out can do so

Really? Would murder and rape be allowed in this place? I’m failing to see how this would benefit anyone.

poisonedantidote's avatar

@Leanne1986 sure, make murder and rape legal in this place i talk of. but just be careful for a moment, before you go kill or rape anyone. remember that there will be no police to save you from their family and friends should your actions be discovered.

a world without police is not a world without consequence.

Val123's avatar

@rangerr But I’m the boss and further more THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SANTA!!

Qingu's avatar

@poisonedantidote, it’s not vigilantism when authority is held accountable.

Val123's avatar

No authority would be very, very bad.

poisonedantidote's avatar

@Qingu held accountable by who? some other ’‘authority’’ at what point does this all brake down and just become a large version of a gang war?

janbb's avatar

I bow in obeisance before it – until it pisses me off.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@poisonedantidote So, would you live in that place?

poisonedantidote's avatar

@Leanne1986 if they had internet, sure why not.


seriously though, i would try it. at least for a while.

EDIT2: it probably worth noting that i live in spain, and the police here are terribly corrupt. a vigilante system would actually be an improvement.

jaketheripper's avatar

I hate most representations of authority that I have come into contact with. I think that the police often abuse their positions and misrepresent the law to intimidate people. If they violate our rights or use unnecessary force, we as citizens have no recourse without incriminating ourselves except to make a complaint or sue. I hate that sense of vulnerability, and to think that the US is leading the way in that kind of freedom really makes me sympathetic for people in other countries where they have it worse. As far as school authority goes it sucks too. I went to private christian schools and experienced no end of problems from teachers because I was a smart, energetic, and sometimes mischievous kid. I wasn’t bad but in those schools I was one of the worst because the other kids were very well behaved, and consequently I was targeted for a lot of unnecessary punishment and lecturing. I had only one teacher i feel who used his position of authority wisely and it made a tremendous positive impact on me. The rest was detrimental as far as I’m concerned. I think the maxim about power corrupting proves itself true time and again. What do I suggest as an alternative? I have no idea whatsoever :(

OpryLeigh's avatar

@poisonedantidote Actually the fact that you live in Spain is very relevant because, personally, I have no experience with the police in Spain and so I can’t judge your feelings towards them in anyway. Your experiences lead to your opinions.

Snarp's avatar

@poisonedantidote Interesting statement you make regarding consequences and rape and murder. The reason laws were created in the first place was because the costs of allowing people to mete out their own consequences was too high. Laws were needed, with set punishments for murder and rape, to keep people from waging blood feuds, killing off family member after family member to provide “justice” in the wake of a murder. Authority in the form of law, in a democratic society, gives everyone, strong and weak, equal access to justice and prevents retribution from being visited to every member of the family for generations over the crime of a single person. No doubt this is a deeply flawed system, and the wealthy are more likely to get away with their crimes, but in general, and especially for crimes like murder, the system works, and certainly it works much better than an alternative in which individuals make their own justice by force.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

It all depends on the manner in which this authority is utilized and enforced. I don’t have a problem with the cop that pulls someone over for going 60 in a 45 .. but I am slightly irritated when someone gets pulled over for going 46 in a 45..

As far as the military .. well.. that’s a whole new ballgame .. every leader is different and they all exercise their authority in different fashions .. some I like.. some I don’t .

rooeytoo's avatar

For the most part, I obey those who have authority over me, such as police, government and the like.

Sometimes I respect them as well, but not necessarily the same thing.

I dislike those who set themselves up as authority but actually have no right to do so, they are the real PITAs.

Children should be taught respect for authority (they will learn to question it soon enough on their own.)

Qingu's avatar

@poisonedantidote, held accountable by society as a whole. The actions of authority need to be transparent so we can hold them accountable in the first place.

Accountability in a democracy doesn’t really resemble a gang war, in my opinion. More like an advertising war.

poisonedantidote's avatar

@Leanne1986 well, its not even so much spain, as the island i live on. mallorca, with a kind of independent government.

their idea of investigation is slapping 15 year old pot heads and telling them to give them info. if they pull you over for speeding or something, chances are you can get a discount if you dont want a receipt. and so on and so fourth.

@Snarp i would partly agree with that, but really i cant because the whole situation is a lot worse than that. i would say the system is far from working. im willing to admit my position is idealistic and not realistic at all. but i would argue that this version of yours where the system works is just as idealistic as mine and probably just as unrealistic.

@Qingu yea, nice idea but it does not really work. its not like i would be hard up to find you a source to a story about a cop or several cops abusing their power and getting off with just a warning or suspended with pay or something.

the deeper i look in to the who authority thing, the more uncivilized it all seems to me. there are obvious double standards and you have racism and prejudice and stereotypes and all other things running through the system.

there actions are not transparent at all, cops have no problem. they lie in court if it suits them, and they all look after each other and cover up their own wrong doings.

and there really is no way to hold them accountable apart from taking the law in to your own hands. if a cop abuses you, and you dont have loads of money for lawyers and what not, there is absolutely nothing you can do apart from maybe some violent personal revenge thing.


anyway, thanks for the debate guys. but its cold here and getting late, so ill head off to bed now. but i will drop by again next time to see if anything new has happened. take care.

Qingu's avatar

@poisonedantidote, what a naive attitude you have. Pointing to problems in the structure of social instutitions doesn’t mean you can then proclaim, carte blanche, society would be better with out them.

You’re making the same fallacy that the Bush administration made with Iraq, re: the Baath party. They thought the Baath party was fundamentally corrupt, so, they just dismantled it after they toppled the Iraqi government. They left absolutely nothing to fill the void and, big surprise, chaos filled the void and it was worse than before when the Baath party existed.

To say that a police officer’s actions are “not transparent all” is speaking in naive absolutes. There is obviously some transperency, and we’d probably both agree that there’s not enough transparency. I would even agree that there is a structural problem in most police departments where cops are urged to protect their own and employ double standards. This doesn’t mean, however, that every single cop in every single social system today is non-transparent and unaccountable; nor does it mean that the world would be better off without police officers, however flawed they are.

HighShaman's avatar

I cannot see how we can live without “Authority” of some type .

IF everyone did as they damm well please ; we’d all go around shooting and killing everyone who did not do as we like or who toook something that we wanted etc…

Could you imagine driving if there was no authority to direct and be in control of the highways and interstates etc… as well as local roads…. ?

We MUST have authority in our lives to avoid total Cahos…

Granted; there are a FEW of the Law Enforcement community who do abuse their “authority” and the same can be said for others in “authority” positions . BUT; we are the best system that there is ..and IF you know of a place where it is any bettter ; You are more than welcome to go there .

God Bless America , Mom and Apple Pie !!

JLeslie's avatar

@poisonedantidote It kind of sounds like the mafia to me. Leaving criminal justice in a third parties hands is generally what makes us (I mean the big us not just US) civilized. It is not a perfect system, but better than the alternative from what I can tell.

Spirit_of_the_Nomad's avatar

I understand the necessity of the various types of authority that exist throughout various societies in the world and I respect anybody who is willing to take on such a dangerous job. On the other hand I’m generally feel intimidated by police (the most common type of authority figure I come into contact with most often.) Something about someone with a high school diploma and a badge with the ability to take actions that can drastically effect a persons life rubs me the wrong way.

jackm's avatar

They have a song called fuck the police.

pearls's avatar

As long as they don’t abuse their authority, I respect it.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Some authority is necessary for the proper, peaceful functioning of society. Antisocial elements must be restrained.

The type of authority I object to is the abusive kind. The arrogant beaurocrat, the bullying policeman. Elected and appointed officials who flaunt their priviledges in the faces of ordinary citizens. “Busybodies” snooping on their neighbors and reporying every tiny offense. Self-appointed guardians of the public morals.The “know it all” civill servants who resent any form of criticism.

It is this type that I feel an obligation to resist. To make their day miserable even if it means making my own miserable as well. To confront the bullying cop even if it means a night in a cell. To question the tax examiner even if it means getting audited. To refuse to yield to some politicos motorcade even if it means getting a ticket.

This does not mean a knee-jerk reaction against all in authority. Many are well-intentioned and efficient public servants worthy of praise and I dipense that with equal frequency. I have frequently noted the badge number of a policeman in order to send a letter of commendation to his/her superior.

As a schoolboy, I made it a sort of hobby to question and irritate school teachers and administrators of an authoritarian nature. I found myself frequently in the situation of being on academic honors and disciplinary detention simultaneously.

aprilsimnel's avatar

At this point in my life, I’m my own authority. Seriously.

filmfann's avatar

I have a lot of respect for the office, but really, no respect for people who misuse their authority, or just aren’t good at their jobs.
The off duty DC cop who pulled a gun during a snowball fight is a good example.

YARNLADY's avatar

I think most of the quips here are overlooking the fact the the “authority” anyone has over others actually stands for the fact that we authorize them to act in our behalf in maintaining the status quo which is expected by each member of any society. When the “authority” or agent we choose oversteps their boundaries, it is up to society in general to put a stop to it.

There are many examples in the world of a break down of authority bringing down the entire society, such as Somalia, and the rise of authority by means of coercion, but both of these extremes do not last in a civilized society.

rooeytoo's avatar

@filmfann wow that’s pretty bad. I am usually on the side of the cop, but that guy was a little over impressed with himself and his hummer. Wonder what will happen. I didn’t see him actually pull a gun but he sure was making like he had one.

Great community relations film.

JLeslie's avatar

About this DC cop. I just looked at the link @filmfann and he did have his gun out, but not pointing at anyone from what I can tell. Although, I agree he did not seem to need to have his gun drawn, I think it is ok if he wanted to stop people from throwing snow balls at an intersection where people are walking from one place to another and still driving on the streets. This is not a backyard. I would not be happy having to walk by people throwing snowballs.

Someone actually threw a snow ball at the cop. I think we have to remember that cops have to work in fear all of the time, especially in DC, that something might get out of hand, so they sometimes over react in situations. Similar to what we saw with the Harvard professor several months ago.

I think it was ok for the cop to ask them to stop throwing snowballs, We don’t know what he was saying before he actually took his gun out. That crowd of people may have known that everything was in fun, but policemen take large crowds seriously. Once the cop went too far, which I agree he did, the crowd should have stopped, not antagonized him more, and reported him if they felt he was overzealous with his gun.

Val123's avatar

@JLeslie They threw the snowball at him after he started acting like a fool. Snowballs are totally harmless! That damn fool cop could have caused a riot and somebody could have gotten hurt.

filmfann's avatar

@JLeslie While I was growing up, my dad had a lot of friends at the house who were policemen.
I remember one saying to me that a policeman should never draw his gun, unless he was going to fire it, and should never fire it, unless he intended to kill someone.
My father’s friend was a 30 year Oakland cop, and was proud that he never drew his weapon.

Snarp's avatar

I am convinced that too high a proportion of people with a predisposition toward bullying become cops. Which is too bad because most cops I meet are really nice decent people.

I also think cops get too much training in how to taser someone, shoot someone, hit someone with a nightstick and not enough in non-violent conflict resolution. The truth is that there are situations that get out of control and something violent has to be done. It’s also true that in at least some, maybe most, of these cases the escalation could have been avoided with better conflict management techniques. Of course, that kind of conflict resolution is hard, so that’s part of why it doesn’t happen in some cases.

rooeytoo's avatar

I think that cop is going to be in a lot of hot water for his behavior. He is already being investigated and could lose his badge over his actions.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Val123 While I agree the policeman was out of line, I hope you realize that snowballs are extremely dangerous and have been known to cause people to be killed. When a stranger throws one, you have no way of knowing whether it has a rock inside, or is made from ice, both of which can kill, and snowballs can block a driver’s view, causing “accidents” which are not accidental when they are caused by snowballs.

When my father caught us kids throwing snowballs, he grounded us for a month, and we were required to sign up for volunteer work in the emergency room of our local hospital.

JLeslie's avatar

@filmfann I agree he should not have drawn the gun, I think I had said that. The officer is the one who started to escalate things, definitely not good. But, then when you have an idiot cop, who I agree with @Snarp might be a bully type; as I said in my first response, some cops are power hungry and like carrying a gun, and someone thinks it is funny to throw a snowball at him?? I mean is that guy suicidal? The police officer is not acting rationally at that moment, my advice to the crowd would have been to stop and take the cops name. Why was it so important to keep throwing snowballs in the middle of the street?

@Val123 I thought you were my partner in bad things can happen? Snowballs can cause injury These were all adults and would not be aiming for people’s faces, but it is not harmless.

JLeslie's avatar

@YARNLADY You were writing when I was…seems we were on the same wave length with the snowball safety.

dpworkin's avatar

I have taught my children both to respect and question authority. They know that those in authority are capable of error, and should, at times, be opposed.

Um, oh yeah: Fuck snowball safety. That asshole was in plain clothes and was just pissed off that some kids had dissed his Hummer. He is indefensible.

Val123's avatar

@YARNLADY They specified in the video that people were throwing them at Hummers, which are, pretty much, street legal tanks. No harm there.

@JLeslie Well, I’ve had kids throw snow balls at my car. My only response is, “You missed!!” even if they didn’t. IDK. It gives you a startle for half a second, and when traffic isn’t moving that fast anyway, no harm, no foul. Or, maybe snowballs in DC are different. But….basically, we don’t have the whole story….my take was, they threw a snow ball at a cop, which startled him, and he took all kinds of action that could have hurt someone. He freaked out. OK, he wasn’t wrong in wanting to stop it, but he would have been better off just being cool and telling the people to disperse, while recognizing the fun they were having. Just tell them to knock it off. But…pulling out his gun???

YARNLADY's avatar

@Val123 He was way out of line – but to get back to the question, the “authorities” in charge of him are coming down hard. This was evidently a case where he overstepped his.

Val123's avatar

@YARNLADY We need to Goggle, find out what happened to him. To me, it was like…well, throwing tear gas with the intention of hitting two or three redneck males, but being too stupid to realize that the wind was going to disperse it and blow it over four or five hundred totally innocent other women and children, which is going to cause two or three hundred “protective” males to Go Gorilla….which is what happened here (I was there…the police started a riot by overreacting to a relatively small situation, and tear gassing what was otherwise a family event…..)

YARNLADY's avatar

@Val123 Invidual acts by rogue police do not say to me “Disregard all authority”. I have read many, many acts that go against the rules by authority figures, and yet, I am still on the side of “authority”. I certainly would not give up my authority over my children (for instance) just because I read about a woman who killed her child. It just doesn’t follow.

JLeslie's avatar

@Val123 I agree the cop was out of line, I have said that from the beginning, but that does not mean the others were not wrong also. They were all wrong in the end. As I mentioned above I was wondering what happened before he took out his gun, had he asked the people to stop? Were these people directly disobeying authority, and common sense in the end. No matter what he went too far with the gun, because it seems obvious they were just trying to have fun in the snow.

Not all snowballs are alike. I have no idea what it was like in DC that day (although having lived there many years I can tell you it typically is not a dry snow like I experienced in Michigan), in very cold northern areas snow balls tend to be lighter, made of as they say in Colorado, powder. But, as you move more south where the snow is wetter/icier, they can be pretty heavy and carry a real wallop. My husband would be beyond pissed if anyone threw a snowball at his car.

mattbrowne's avatar

In a democracy with free governments under the law, yes. All power is just temporary and can be removed.

Scientific authority based on credentials is also important. If the majority of reputable climatologists thinks Earth got a problem, we need to take this seriously. Because of their scientific authority.

If Christian fundamentalists think the Earth is 6000 years old, we should reject this and not take it seriously. Because of lack of scientific authority.

Val123's avatar

@JLeslie Agreed that we don’t have enough information. However, pulling his gun was over the top…..

rooeytoo's avatar

Here’s the way I see, when I was a kid I threw snowballs at cars and ran like hell if the car stopped and an irate driver came after me. As an adult I have occasionally stopped the car and yelled at the kid just for the fun of it (being vigilant for the retaliatory snowball that could materialize at any moment).

But I have never had a gun pulled on me nor would I consider pulling a gun for this offense. (Actually I would not own a gun, I might hurt myself)

Now with regard to the __disengaged__ teenagers who stand on overpasses and chuck bricks at cars and buses going underneath, I might reconsider.

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