Adventures in newspeak: "Authority"

Adventures in Newspeak is a series that highlights the perversities of English that strongly contribute to an oppresive, hierarchical society.

The word "authority" has always bothered me, and Mike Gogulski has given me a chance to explain why. The word authority conflates two separate and only slightly correlated concepts, and this conflation reinforces oppresive power structures. The document that he links to especially irritates me because of how it dances around this extremely problematic word instead of pulling it apart.

Sometimes we use the word authority to mean expertise or knowledgeability, i.e. "In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or the engineer." (from above linked document) Substitue "knowledge" or "expertise" for "authority" and the sentence does not change meaning. Other times we use the word authority to mean power or control, i.e. "How Much Authority Does the President Possess When He Is Acting as "Commander In Chief"?" (from here) In context, this doesn't ask how expertly the President performs the duties of a Commander-In-Chief, but rather what powers he has in such a situation.

Using the same word for both of these concepts implies that those with power have the knowledge to use it well, and that those with knowledge will gain the power to put it to good use. Ideally this is the case, but it often doesn't quite work that way (just look at the economy). The post that Mike is responding to doesn't even use the word authority, but he inserts it anyways, even though Alberto clearly says which kind of authority he objects to ("oppressive forces weigh down on the average college student"). This arbitrary reinvention of someone's words does not further the deconstruction of power hierarchies.

I am not accusing Mike of intentionally twisting words, or arguing in bad faith. I am simply trying to illuminate an oddity of English that hinders communication so that we can have a more constructive conversation.



Conversations in My Room 1

So I show my roommate this.

Roommate: Is she just trying to make all women in power look stupid?
<pregnant pause>
Me: Yeah, sounds about right.

Biggest Story of the Election

The lobbying firm of McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis has been getting $15,000 a month from Freddie Mac until last month. I'm sure this had nothing at all to do with McCain's support of the Freddie and Fannie nationalizations. This flies in the face of statements made by McCain as recently as this past Sunday and which Palin repeated in this interview:

One of the giant mortgage companies at the heart of the credit crisis paid $15,000 a month from the end of 2005 through last month to a firm owned by Senator John McCain’s campaign manager, according to two people with direct knowledge of the arrangement.

The disclosure undercuts a remark by Mr. McCain on Sunday night that the campaign manager, Rick Davis, had had no involvement with the company for the last several years.

Now someone has been lying here. If we assume that McCain lied to us, why we are the Republicans promoting a liar as president? If we assume that Davis lied to McCain, why does McCain associate with liars, and what does that say about him and his ability to pick and vet advisors? Shouldn't a president(-ial candidate) know potential sources of bias in his/her advisors?


A fearful servant

And a terrible master.


McCain is scared of reporters

Look at his body language. He's tense, blinks a lot, and forces a smile for the first half of the interview. He relaxes a little bit after the really hard questions get asked, but even at the end he is stiff. It doesn't reflect well on his experience if he is still scared of reporters after all these years, now does it?


The FM's

The government has taken over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac:
Federal regulators on Sunday took over the failing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage companies, quasi-government entities that got into trouble with subprime lending. Officials with the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Housing Finance Agency seized control of embattled mortgage giants in hopes of stabilizing the housing and financial markets.
Since the people are the government, and those 2 companies account for half of the mortgages in the country, does that mean half of the country now owes themselves for their house? This is all fallout from the subprime lending thing. Why is the focus on bailing out the failing banks, and not on bailing out the homeowners? It takes 2 to make a loan, so the banks are at least as much at fault as the borrowers. It's really just the elites looking out for themselves.

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