Resisting the Temptation of Authority

For many reasons, submitting to authority is extremely attractive. It takes the pressure off. We don’t have to think for ourselves. If any problems arise we don’t have to worry about deciding what to do. We can just do what the leader says and be confident that answer is the final truth.

This innate craving for authority is rooted deeply in the human psyche. In Freud’s philosophy, the mind is divided into three segments. The id is our primitive childish side. It causes our spontaneous desires for sex, food, and laziness. When you get an urge to quit working, take a nap, eat junk food, or look at pictures of scantily clad members of the opposite sex, that’s the id at work. The superego is the opposite of the id. When you feel compelled by success and ambition, the superego is exerting its influence. The ego is the moderator between the id and superego. It tries to balance the two and is perpetually torn between extremes. Authority forms a bridge between the superego and the id, allowing the ego take a vacation. When you submit to authority, the superego is happy because it believes you are doing the right thing, the id is happy because your childish craving for a father is satisfied, and the ego is thrilled because for once there is peace.

Authority is not constrained to a single personage. It takes the form of belief systems, religious doctrines, political parties, and any entity claiming to hold truth exclusive to all the rest. These entities appear to have our best interests at heart. They take us under their wing and shelter us from the world.

In our heart of hearts, we’re all searching for a great teacher, someone who has mastered life and will show us the way. Isn’t it invigorating to discover a potential authority? Whenever I find a new author that strikes a chord I can’t get enough. I read everything they have to offer, hoping to find that elusive truth. But inevitably, my naive enthusiasm wears off and I realize the answer isn’t there.

From childhood we are conditioned to submit to authority. Do what the teacher says or you will be punished. The desire for authority continues in adulthood and there is never a shortage of potential leaders urging us to join them. Consider the books and web pages you read. How many claim to improve your lives, if only you subscribe, tell your friends, and follow their instructions? Understand that all motivation is rooted in self interest, and be guarded against those who offer simple answers.

There is No One Right Way

I’m not saying that everything offering guidance is evil. There is much to be learned from authority. But it is harmful when accepted unconditionally. There is no ONE right way. The are many shades of truth and ways to live. Growth, intelligence, and perspective are developed by experiencing a broad variety and drawing your own conclusions. By submitting to authority you sacrifice originality and potential for personal growth.

Nothing Will Solve All Your Problems

Many people are of the opinion that if one party took over the government, or if some ideal system was implemented, our problems would be solved. Our problems are not so simple. The root cause is human weakness; greed, selfishness, aggression, and jealousy. There is no system of government that can change human nature. The conflict would remain and people would turn to another ‘answer’.

We see the same weakness exploited at a personal level. Supposed gurus preach miraculous programs. For a price, you can be cured. We are so desperate for authority we flock to these frauds, and in a desperate search for answers oversimplify our problems. Suppose the guru is correct and you make a million dollars, or fulfill some other dream, what then? Authority will give you no lasting peace.

Authority Exploits

When we submit to authority, we willingly pull the wool over our own eyes, exposing ourselves to manipulation. The greatest catastrophes of human history were caused by submission to authority. The Holocaust was caused by submission to the Nazi authority. September 11th was caused by submission to Bin Laden’s authority. Everyday people are suckered out of hard earned money because they blindly believe in authority. Be distrustful, question what you’re told, and don’t believe that anyone claiming to have all the answers has your best interests at heart.

It is a cold and lonely road to stand alone without authority and rely on your own judgment. But as Emerson said, “To be a man, is to be a nonconformist.” I hope you will choose to trust your own intuition above any outside authority. Be honest with yourself, live by your own principals, and you people will admire you for it. But don’t take my word for it, reflect and draw your own conclusions.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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