Silence in the presence of the Lord. Quiet down when your elders are talking. You cannot criticize tradition. You cannot criticize the accepted norm. Our word is final. Why? Because I said so, and who are you to ask such questions? Who are you to pose such arguments? Who are you to think such thoughts? Who are you to criticize us? Shut up, sit down, and know your place. Shut up, and quell those heretical thoughts. Shut up, because I’m your grandpa.
I violently resent the implication that someone could put another person in their place with simple authoritative appeal or intimidation, and the reason for the intensity of my resentment should be plainly evident. I find such arguments to be explicitly lazy and apathetic, implicitly dishonest, and intellectually stifling toward freedom of thought and expression. More acutely I find that arguments and appeals of this nature to be antithetical to the marketplace of ideas.
What exactly drives this inclination towards hard authoritative appeal? How do those who utilize it find it useful or effective? These questions are important as our critique must be based on an understanding and a rational refutation of the authoritative appeal.
If there is one thing that the authoritative appeal and intimidation are good at (and this is rather central to the entire draw of these tactics) it is stopping conversation and inquiry, halting criticism and dissent, and most generally: getting people to stop talking. How exactly would doing this be useful? Well, why does any individual seek to cut conversation short? The quick answer is dominance.
Dominance is dynamic and complex, it is difficult to fully account for, and even more difficult to overcome. It is intuitively easy to understand why a fast and easy (if not dishonest) method of asserting dominance can appear very attractive. This inclination must be resisted however if you want to preserve some semblance of intellectual honesty.
Dominance has high utility for a variety of reasons, and not the least of which is that it is a quite effective tool of manipulation. Assertion of dominance over an individual makes them all the more likely to agree with your ideas or claims with reduced resistance. A dominated person is also much less likely to think critically or skeptically about commonly held ideas or practices.
Quickly and easily asserting dominance also serves as a cheap method of strengthening the beliefs that you already hold. Rather than allowing an idea to sink or swim on its own rational merits in the marketplace of ideas, asserting dominance gives the illusion of salience or argumentative strength in a way that can only be accurately described as bullying.
Regardless of the inanity, insanity, or insufferability of the practice or idea in question, sufficient levels of dominance and intimidation can secure a bright future for the darkest of propositions.
- Classics of Free Thought by Paul Blanshard
- Letters to a Young Contrarian (Art of Mentoring) by Christopher Hitchens
- Fahrenheit 451: A Novel by Ray Bradbury