The Last Road

Living every day like it's the last… because one day, it will be.

Authority and Responsibility

Posted by Rystefn on November 2, 2012

I was having a conversation a couple of days ago and a subject came up that seems to be a bit of a recurring issue with our culture. A person of my acquaintance has caught a bit of shit at work because, when her boss was gone, things didn’t get done. Not things this person was supposed to do, mind, things other were people supposed to do. See, she didn’t make them do their jobs, so she’s getting more crap than the people who weren’t working. Somehow, it was her responsibility to make those people work. How was she supposed to do this? Fuck, I don’t know. She doesn’t know. Her boss doesn’t know. It’s not like she can do any sort of reprimand. Hell, the most she can do is report them up the chain, which is exactly what she did, which is exactly why her boss even knows.

She was given responsibility without the attendant authority. This is, in a word, bullshit.

Anyone who thinks about it for half a second will agree. In what kind of demented mind is that a sane way to conduct things? Anyone can trivially come up with examples of this kind of thing, though. Because that’s how we do it around here. Even though we all know it’s bullshit. So how does it keep happening? Because of the flip-side of the equation.

See, authority and responsibility are always equal. Authority creates responsibility and responsibility creates authority. Ideally, they would always be kept together. If you have authority over something, then you would have the responsibility to handle it well. If you have a responsibility to get something done, then you would have the authority to see it happen. That’s just not how it works, though. Authority and responsibility are transferable, and they’re rarely handed off to the same person in the same amounts. In the previous example, the boss took a vacation, and handed the responsibility to see things done to one person, but distributed the authority to see those done to everyone.

As almost always happens when someone was given authority without responsibility, they dicked around, because they knew the fuck-ups wouldn’t come back and cause them any trouble. Sadly, this is one of the less shitty ways the division of authority and responsibility is done.

Sometimes, it’s done the other way. When all the authority is given to one person, but the responsibility is passed around and divided up, it’s even worse. The person with authority and no responsibility dicks around (like they pretty much always do), and because no one person has much responsibility, all the other people dick around, too, because the consequences are small. Especially since situations like that almost always see just enough authority given to each of the responsible parties to pass their responsibility off to someone else if it gets bad enough.

This is what’s happening in the US (and pretty much everywhere). Whether it’s banks with the authority to fuck up the housing market for their own gain passing the responsibility for the loss on homeowners or political parties with the authority to fuck this country right to Hell passing off the responsibility onto whoever they can dump it on (both parties are guilty of this in a big way). Why do we allow this? Because even though a culture that allows this bullshit rains shit on pretty much everyone, pretty much everyone takes advantage every time they can, so there’s no incentive to fixing it.

It’s human nature to try to claim as much authority as possible while dumping as much responsibility onto others as you can get away with. Even though the system fucks damned near everyone (maybe even literally everyone) more than they can possibly ever benefit from it, they just keep at it under some reverse tragedy-of-the-commons “If I stop shitting on others, then I just get shit on and I wind up with the most shit” mentality.

The only way to gain in a system like that is to climb up the ladder so there are fewer people above you to shit on you. Of course, it’s easier to climb if you aren’t hauling all that shit, so to make any real progress, you’ve got to drop that shit on someone else. The shit from above, and your own shit as well. So anyone trying to get into a position of authority is almost certainly doing so for the express purpose of shitting their responsibilities onto other people.

That’s why I’m an anarchist at heart. Anyone who wants to be in charge is pretty much guaranteed to be a useless asshole who should never be allowed there. The higher up the ladder you go, the more true this is. Unfortunately, I have to live in the real world, where there’s just no way to change this. Not just because so many self-proclaimed anarchists are just doing the same thing writ small – they want authority over their own lives, but no responsibility for the shit that happens when they’re in charge – but because it only takes a few assholes figuring how to dump their responsibility onto others to fuck the whole system up again.

All we can really do is try to keep it in check. Do our best to keep things from getting out of hand. When too much shit falls down the ladder, try to throw as much back up as we can and hope some of it sticks to the fuckers at the top. Of course, since most people are in a position to throw at least some of their shit at someone else, damned-near everything is a struggle against shit-flingers. The people who are taking on the responsibility for trying to make it better very rarely have the authority to make any of it stick. What’s worse is that as soon as you pick up any responsibility from someone, they’re encouraged to keep throwing as much as they can away, since that must be the way it works, right?

So by trying to make it better, you’re still feeding into the damned problem.


One Response to “Authority and Responsibility”

  1. James Vance said

    Well said. I deal with this kind of crap at work all the time.

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