Saturday 26 March 2011

The hierarchy of authorities


Authority comes from masters, via apprenticeship.

And a humble, simple master is not just adequate but the best kind of master for humble, simple apprentices.

His job is to fit the message to the specific circumstances and limitations (of age, time, aptitude, motivation etc).


Authority must, however, form a hierarchy; and the humble, simple master must stand in an apprentice-relation to his betters - the high-masters, masters of masters.

Above whom stand the eternal authorities.


And the apprentice relation is individual, one master to few apprentices.

Given this; it is undesirable - as well as impossible, because ineffective - to have a 'flat hierarchy' of one master and many apprentices.


(Just as it is both undesirable and ineffective to have a flat hierarchy in the military - as if there were to be officers but no sergeants or corporals. Naturally this reduces efficiency; since efficiency is effectiveness divided by resources. As officer/ NCO resources are reduced, so effectiveness declines faster than the saving in resources. At the reductio ad absurdum of saving resources on officers and NCOs we would have an 'army' of one General and five thousand private soldiers.)


One high-master cannot in reality exert authority over, teach, many apprentices; many apprentices cannot learn from one master.

The master needs to be able to look each apprentice in the eye, and interact with them repeatedly over considerable time in order to know what the apprentice has truly learned.

This explains why modern systems of (tele) communication (radio, TV, recorded media, the internet) do not benefit the transmission of knowledge.

The mass media do not (contrary to popular mis-conceptions) disseminate knowledge more widely.


What the mass media do is to disseminate the misinterpretation of knowledge more widely.

The mass communication media do not sustain traditions and do not preserve or advance knowledge; rather they undermine and subvert traditions and destroy knowledge.


(Obviously so! - nobody really believes that a high school kid with Wikipedia at his fingertips, or a hotshot globetrotting research professor, actually 'know more' than Aristotle or Aquinas. Rather, students and academics now actually know almost-nothing, and are - presumably - stuffed and overflowing and mere-conduits-for billions of words, sounds and images of fashions, illusions, delusions, distortions and open-ended misunderstandings.)


So apprenticeship is replaced with increasingly-fake simulacra: apprenticeships are replaced with formal institutions (schools, colleges, universities) - tutorials are replaced with seminars and 'small group teaching' are replaced with lectures are replaced with electronically disseminated lectures are replaced with 'e-learning' are replaced with 'non-fiction' entertainment, psychotherapy and wholesale distraction.

Maybe at some point on this slippery slope matter are as good, or even better, than pure individual apprenticeship - but once you have stepped onto the slope, it is impossible not to continue sliding beyond this ideal point.

At the reductio ad absurdum of flat educational hierarchy we have a school/ college/ university of one virtual teacher/ professor 'facing' five million students watching an online recording.

Or they could just browse the web on their own, and pick-up a new vocabulary of ignorance and incompetence.


And the process of subversion and destruction is insensible and wholly deniable, because after just a few generations the tradition has died; which means that there are no authorities, no masters; therefore nobody remaining who can tell the difference between the real and the ersatz.

The maximum level of human achievement then becomes only as much knowledge or skill as a single human can develop in a professional lifetime without benefit of learning from the past.

And without benefit of learning from the past the average level of human achievement drops, since each individual is building from the ground-up.

When knowledge is no longer hereditary, but simulacra dominate; then 'expertise' has replaced authority.



dearieme said...

Chill out, man.

The Ghost Of Robert Filmer said...

Professor Charlton,

This is excellent. My military experiences corroborate your views on the decline of authority and capability. Western armies have traded authority for bureaucracy to a monstrous extent. I don't have much to add other than to encourage you to continue with your work.

What are your views on Spengler, by the way?

The Crow said...

"He knows, you know".
Say it like Jimmy Clitheroe.
And it's true, of course.
I spend more time than I should on internet forums, and it is horribly clear how few people even understand clear, accurate ideas, in their own language, let alone be able to communicate their own ideas.
My one experience of apprenticeship had me working like a slave on jobs nobody else wanted to do, and learning nothing, for considerably less pay than it took to support my being able to keep going to work.
Even in 1968, things were that bad.

Apprenticeship is, of course, crucial to the handing down of knowledge. It either makes a comeback, or knowledge is going to be lost for good. It already is, to a large extent.
It must become important for future governments to consider, along with all the other myriad things a society needs to implement and honor, when narcissism and empty ego have run their sorry course.

Bruce Charlton said...

@dearieme - thanks. Ahhh...

@GoRF - Thanks for the confirmation. I have read in Spengler's great work (but not all of it) and found it interesting and useful.

I would regard Spengler (from a personal perspective) as what Marshall McLuhan called a 'probe', something that shook and stimulated my thought, rather than having a shaping effect.

@Crow - apprenticeship is necessary, but not sufficient. Part of this is that apprentice ad master should choose one another, and not be allocated. (And, usually, the apprentice pays the master; not vice versa - this is not exploitation but investment.)

The Crow said...

How about this:
Abolish state education.
Make it the way it always used to be: prohibitively expensive to most.
Education annihilates true-nature, and replaces inborn wisdom with what you see, every day.
Ego, delusion, calculation, conflict.

Peter Arnold said...

"What are your views on Spengler, by the way?"

The Ancients and the primitive Church Fathers are infinitely more circumspect and learned - he's clever though and not altogether wrong.