Oscar Romero was assassinated on 24 March 1980

In this episode we explore how human beings respond to authority. Since the philosophical ideals of libertarianism sit exactly opposite those of authoritarianism, Jad and I are essentially always focused on this topic. I think that made it all the more enjoyable to discuss.

We’re going to be looking at how most people are taught from an early age to blindly obey authority, and how that affects their ability to resist obvious injustices later in life. We’ll consider topics like minority subjugation, American slavery, the Jews in Nazi germany, and how upbringing, education, and religion all play a hand in these. We’ll also acknowledge that when you defy authority, somebody is probably going to try and fuck you up. But if people are unable or unwilling to stand up against such aggression, how do things change?

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Transcript of Podcast

Kevin: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of our show. While we have yet to name this verbal venture, we have set up a website at JKPod.com, where you can find all of our episodes, show notes, and references. We’d certainly love for you to stop by and leave us your comments. As we continue flying in all directions around the human experience, the central themes of our show will remain those of humanity, liberty, and the pursuit of equality for all. In this episode, we explore how human beings respond to authority.

Since the philosophical ideals of libertarianism sit exactly opposite those of authoritarianism, Jad and I are essentially always focused on this topic. I think that made the conversation all the more enjoyable.

Jad: It makes sense that people are blind to the abuse of authority because they’ve spent a lifetime at the hands of authority that’s been blindly abusing them.

Kevin: So we’re going to be looking at how most people are taught from an early age to blindly obey authority, and how that affects their ability to resist obvious injustices later in their life. We’ll consider topics like minority subjugation, American slavery, the Jews and Nazi Germany, and how upbringing, education, and religion all play a hand in these. We’ll also acknowledge that when you defy authority, somebody is probably going to try and fuck you up. But if people are unable or unwilling to stand up against such aggression, how do things ever change?

We’ll be hearing a lot form the co-creator of the show, Jad Davis. I’m Kevin Ludlow – welcome to our show.

Jad: To stay sane as a human being, you have to believe that your parents are good you know, and you have to you know, believe that your 12 years you spent sitting in a chair like, filling out dittos was not a prison sentence handed down from your enemy, but was rather some attempt to give you some gift. And of course, God is you know, a great guy, so He’s going to you know – anything He does, anything that can be ascribed to Him has got to be good – even if it’s to do with genocide, and whatever else.

So you have to make this make sense. You have to weave the story together where this makes sense. And the only way to do that is to have some premises[?] like, there are certain people that are absolutely good, or whatever they’re doing is for the best –

Kevin: Right.

Jad: – and you just have to do it. And if you don’t do it, then whatever the fuck they do to you – no matter how awful – is totally just. And that’s – everything most people bump into in their entire lives has that message in it. And so it’s not a real shock that at some point, they’re just not able to grasp the fact that they deserve a lot better as a human being than what all of these institutions are handing out to them.

Kevin: Yeah, I guess you’re right. I mean, I think you and I, and John spoke about this once at lunch, and we were talking about when somebody tells you to do something, how difficult it is in reality to actually stand up to that. And it sounds very trivial I think specifically, I was about to go somewhere and we were talking about the TSA, and I know lots of people who talk a big talk about what they’re going to say to the TSA and what they’re going to do when this happens, or when they get pulled over by a police officer, what they’re going to say to make sure that there’s a charge levied against them before they are complicit with anything.

However, in reality that’s not what happens because it’s a whole different world when you’re standing there being subjugated, I guess – or just condescended, or talked down to, or abused in some sort of a manner. It’s a lot harder to stand up for yourself when you’re in that position, and there’s a person of authority either physically or metaphorically standing over you.

Jad: Right, absolutely. Sure. And I think that’s the same thing as trained, right?

Kevin: Yeah.

Jad: I mean like, just imagine that you have a natural instinct to stand up for yourself or whatever, and you’re 4 years old or whatever and you’re dad – not necessarily your dad, but a typical dad anywhere on the planet throughout all of history says, “go do X”, and you say, “no, fuck you”. I mean, you’re not going to survive that encounter.

Kevin: Right.

Jad: You know? I mean, it’s a classic government thing, right? It escalates slowly you know? You get a stern warning, and then you might get pushed around a little bit. You know, if you fight back, eventually you’re going to be harmed.

Kevin: Absolutely.

Jad: And so when step 1 happens – which is you know, somebody who everyone around you imagines is your boss, is in charge of you, or has authority over you – tells you to do something, you’re already walking down that road. And even thinking about disobeying is going to make you sweat.

Kevin: Right.

Jad: But just because that is the soup we swim in you know, everything is backed by violence.

Kevin: Right.

Jad: Everything to do with the state – and sometimes with our families – were conditioned for that. Everyone is just reflexibly conditioned to that. It’s very rare, I think, to be an anti-authoritarian naturally, genuinely. I mean, we were talking about in that same conversation how you know – well for me anyway – it’s just something I’ve even tried to do within the last 5 or 6 years, and it still is terrifying every time.

Kevin: Sure. Oh you feel it, you get anxiety you know, your heart starts palpitating – it’s absolutely. I want to meet the guy who’s just calm as calmness could be and goes through that situation. You know, I’ve been getting better and better at it, and I do practice – but it’s a conscious effort. And then there’s another side – in my neighborhood anyways – there’s definitely just thugs walking around, quite frankly, and I’m always interested to know how they would feel when they’re dealing with positions of authority. You know, it’s a completely opposite point of view.

Jad: Right.

Kevin: And I’m just interested in that.

Jad: Yeah, it is interesting. I think you know, the position again, that you and I, and others have come to from being you know, at least in the same broad social category as the people who hold power, and the people who are police and all that. I think what we’re sort of inculcated with is that the institutions are good. That also adds to it, but when a police officer says you know, “I’m just trying to keep traffic safe, and so I need you to do XYZ”, the idea that we have is that this is a man trying to do something good in the social setting – man or woman – trying to do something good in the social setting, so we should do it because we want to help him do the good things. And even though at the TSA – which [?] ridiculous if you get down to it and you’d be like, “well, he’s trying to keep us safe from terrorism”, so you know, you’re just holding up the line, you’re just causing trouble for everyone, and what they’re trying to do is a good thing and so you should just help out and cooperate.

Kevin: Right.

Jad: I think our African American and Latino friends have a much clearer picture of what these agencies are for and what they’re doing, and I think they understand very clearly that they’re not helpful. That they’re not out there trying to do good, and that that’s not a virtue to obey them – at all. And I think in many respects, it’s just a far clear picture of what those cops and government workers, and social services, and all these things – what they really are.

Kevin: Right.

Jad: In many respects, they have a much clearer view of what government is than the middle class white population.

Kevin: Yeah, I think you’re probably right. I mean, the other side of it is considering what one has to lose. With respect to a job for example, a job is a great one because most people – in fact most people that I know – are really indebted to whatever their job is, and they’re scared of their job. They don’t want to lose it – I mean at all – and they feel it would be like, the most devastating thing that could possibly happen.

And so no matter how many irrational things they’re told to do, no matter how much it is against whatever social contract they’ve established with their employer, they’re still going to do it because it’s a fear based culture. And I don’t buy that, you know? I’m going to do the very best I can and if it’s not good enough for somebody, then that’s it – I just leave. I mean, there’s – I’m not going to let them be in a position to think that they’ve got something over me –

Jad: Right.

Kevin: – at any point. There’s nothing that they could say to me, whether they’re like, “well, if you don’t do this, you’re fired”. Well then fire me – and I have no fear of that whatsoever. But I also recognize that very few people are like that because obviously, there’s a socioeconomic standing that tends to go with you know, the minority populations. And if I didn’t have anything, then what are you going to do you know – put a lien on my government assisted house? I mean –

Jad: Right. Right.

Kevin: So – and I don’t know if that factors in or not, but –

Jad: I guess it could very well – just the position of like, I’m just going to refuse to surrender to your authority, and like you said, you’ve got nothing to steal from me. The most you can do is put me in a cage and you’re probably going to do that anyway at some point. So fuck you, I don’t know.

Kevin: You in particular are probably one of the better examples of people that I know who are actually willing to stand up – at least in verbiage –

Jad: Important difference.

Kevin: Right. But that is the important difference, right?

Jad: Sure. Sure, yeah.

Kevin: But for things that you genuinely believe in, and those things are, I think, good in every respect for humanity, right? How far can you actually take that? If somebody says, “well, here’s the deal, either you step in line or you’re going to prison for the next 6 months”, is that enough for you to fight your case? If they say, “okay, well fine. You either step in line, or you’re going to jail for the next 30 years” –

Jad: Sure.

Kevin: And the threat of that, I think, really puts people into line and it makes people do things that they would otherwise obviously never do because you’re being – you’re at the barrel of a gun.

Jad: Well, I think that’s the crux of the whole thing right, because I don’t see how you can have morality when you’re under duress like that – morality goes out the window. You’re not making free choices.

Kevin: Right.

Jad: But I – and I think that the important distinction that all that draws out is that the only place you make moral choices is outside of the realm of government, and the only people that are allowed to wave guns around and force you to do that is this one group of people that calls themselves the state.

Kevin: It’s interesting though, because [?] if you extrapolate the context that you just said right, like I’m actually certainly happy to agree with you on it. If you have a gun to your head and you make a decision, are you really the one making the decision. Is it fair to say that you have some sort of moral obligation whilst under duress – and I think even legally speaking – you don’t, right? Like if you were to commit a crime whilst under duress, you’re actually – you’re in no way responsible for that, as they’ve proven many times.

Jad: Yeah, no, that makes sense, yeah.

Kevin: I mean, if you’re driving the getaway car but it’s only because somebody’s got a gun to your head, you’re not actually the getaway driver, right? You’re just doing what you’re forced to do. On the other hand though, if everybody has the gun to their head, how does the society ever change? Doesn’t somebody have to stand up and –

Jad: Get shot.

Kevin: – and either get shot, but get shot trying to grab the gun I guess, so to speak.

Jad: Right. Right. Well no, there’s a lot of interesting metaphors in there. The thing is I think it’s important to keep the analogies where they belong. Like you know, paying your taxes, there’s a literal gun to your head. Like, there’s an actually – you will actually be shot to death if you don’t pay taxes, and then when they come to take you away, you refuse to go with them – you’re not going to live. So any analogy that says you know, there’s a metaphorical gun to your head with X, Y, or Z, it’s really – it really is a different situation, you know what I mean?

Kevin: Yeah, I would agree with that.

Jad: And actually, there’s a really good – I think it’s pronounced [?] – he’s a French author who wrote this saying in like the 1500s – around the same time as Machiavelli was writing the prince – and it’s the first person who basically is like, there’s one prince, or one king with his 5 chancellors, and each of those chancellors has like 100 retainers, and each of those 100 retainers has like, 100 bended[?] arms, and so there’s like 8,000 guys that are ruling a few hundred thousand French people or whatever.

It’s like, we’re all on the same side, we could easily take them – there’s no problem at all. But instead, we worship them and bow to them, and do whatever they tell us. All we would have to do is like walk in there and take their guns, and they couldn’t stop anything. It’s the same argument with slavery like, it’s the slaves in the American south, outnumbered you know, the whites like you know, 30 to 40 to 1.

Kevin: Right.

Jad: And so the question is why is that? Why is it possible that that kind of power dynamic can exist?

Kevin: The thing that actually pops into my head is all of the you know, the Holocaust movies I’ve watched – I forget the one in particular that does this, I think it’s The Pianist actually – but you know, they get all these old guys, they put them on the ground, and I think – there must be 7 of them – and the Nazi over them has a six shooter and he just goes to the first guy, shoots him in the back of the head.

Goes to the next one you know, a second later, shoots him in the back of the head. And he gets to the 7th guy and of course, he’s out of shots. So he just stands there and he’s just casually reloading his weapon, and meanwhile the other guy’s on his knees just waiting for it – he has to know it’s coming you know – he obviously does – God knows – easier said than done. But I always watch that, and it’s such a metaphor that puzzles me as to why doesn’t everybody stand up and rush the gone.

Maybe you’re going to die, but you know you’re going to get shot in the back of the head a second later. I think the simple answer is that you’ve got a hope – I think everybody has the hope that the good thing is going to happen – that somehow you’re just going to survive it that good is going to triumph over evil.

Jad: I think again – and this is the Jew and Europe example I think – is really pretty perfect, I mean it’s about as good as the slavery example. You’re talking about people from the instant their parents can tell them anything, it’s do whatever you’re told to do by this group that we’re living with, because we are – not even necessarily, we really are sub – you know, a sub-class of citizens. But they believe we are, and if you challenge that you’re going to suffer at their hands. So there’s this inculcated obedience to that authority that I think is just – like you said or like you’re saying in those instances – it’s just impossible to overcome. So I was just reading something today, and someone was actually writing about why good men do nothing sort of thing –

Kevin: Right.

Jad: – and then [?] were saying another example – one that I hadn’t heard before is that when they were liquidating the ghettos, the people would like, have their luggage packed and their clothes on like not that they were trying to escape, they just wanted to be ready to go when it was their turn to get loaded onto the trains. It’s just got to be super deeply engrained that you know, you are to do what you’re told and if you do what you’re told well enough you know, it is going to be a reward beyond this life maybe you know, if you obey the rulers and your being good, you’re fulfilling the requirement for you know, for some reward later, or because the leaders are good, you will be treated justly.

Kevin: Right.

Jad: Even if you know somewhere else in your head that people are being killed wholesale. You can keep both those things in your head, I think it’s just a tremendous trick of conditioning.

Kevin: Yeah, the Jewish thing probably is a really good example. But I mean there it’s pretty much all upbringing then, right? I mean it’s just –

Jad: Sure. Sure. Well that’s –

Kevin: [?] cycle thing.

Jad: It’s always hard – the nature nurture thing is always tricky, but you were saying you know, your dad is a business man so he taught you to sort of thing and be mentally agile, and seek your own self-interest, and express your desires and not suppress them, right? So if there was 500 of you in a room, and some guy walked in with a pistol and was like, “I’m going to line you up and shoot you one by one”, that guy wouldn’t have a chance, right?

Kevin: Right. Right.

Jad: And so I think it is just all about upbringing I mean, I think that’s why I’m really interested in education and stuff because I think the purpose of the American school system is to make you docile and obedient. And along the way you might learn to count and read – maybe. But in any case, you’re going to learn to obey, and learn that if you don’t obey, you’re going to be punishes, and that’s good – that’s how everything has to work.

That’s why I think things like school, and the other thing I’m always reading about is religion because I think it’s just – that’s the purpose of religion is to break you into this idea that there’s arbitrary power that just does awful things – but it’s really, really good, you just don’t understand it because it’s too complex for you.

Kevin: Well, I mean, absolutely. You’ve seen – I assume the Zeitgeist movies, or at least the first one?

Jad: Yeah, yeah, I saw the Zeitgeist movie.

Kevin: Right. So I mean, that’s basically the point that he makes in it right? I mean that’s – that’s the structure of his entire narrative is that he starts off with a religion, shows how all religions are pretty much the same from their pieces and then metaphorically speaking, and then it goes on to more or less say that if you can be convinced to believe this without questioning it, then of course you can go on to believe this amiss without ever questioning it as well.

Jad: Right.

Kevin: You know, and I think it’s a really strong point whether you’re a religious person or not, I think you – I think you should be objective enough to be able to admit that to yourself.

Jad: Well, there are religious out wires – it’s really interesting. There’s a guy I actually follow on Facebook that I you know, end up sniping at every now and then. He’s a very, very nice guy and he’s just like – he’s a minister somewhere in Austin. I really can’t figure out what he believes other than like, you should be good, and we should have community. It seems like everything else, he’s like, “this is just crazy superstition to believe in prayer”, or whatever and I’m like, “really? Prayer? I thought that was kind of a fundamental thing.”

I had a totally different sort of thing, but like the Jesuits or whatever, there are instances in which somehow a group of people get the idea that God is against whatever the ruling class is, and then you end up with you know, seditious priests that are teaching peasants to read or something like that you know? Like Central America in the 1980’s you know where they actually ended up killing an archbishop because he was trying to incite a peasant rebellion, essentially. Oscar Romero –

Kevin: Yeah, Oscar Romero from El Salvador.

Jad: Yeah. Point being, it can be a revolutionary or radical force, but it’s just – it’s exceedingly rare, it’s almost always a reactionary you know, conservative force that tells you to accept your fate, to obey the laws, obey the rulers, you know? Or even more so, don’t even worry about the material world – this is all just a waste of time.

Kevin: Right.

Jad: And you know, you should not even be thinking about what happens here at all, just focus on the future, you know? Focus on the part after you die, which is just a brilliant and patently[?] absurd, but brilliant tactic to keep people docile.

Kevin: I just – I feel like I’m part of the Matrix sometimes when I just look at everybody else and I’m like, “how is it that you clearly do not see what is going on here?” Regardless of your faith or your creator, or your level of poverty, or whatever the case may be, how can you not see some of the writing on the wall here? How your own government, how the state – whatever the state is – all around the world, it’s just built to subjugate its own people, and again, I guess a lot of it does come down to religion, and a lot of it comes down to the upbringing and it’s just – it’s blinding to me sometimes.

Well, unfortunately that’s all the time we have for this week. Thank you so much for listening, and we truly hope you enjoyed the content. We will pick back up with the other side of this episode soon and talk about education. I mentioned at the beginning of the show that we do have a website up at JKPod.com. If you’d like to reach either of us directly, visit our websites at either Jad Davis – that’s J-A-D dash D-A-V-I-S dot com, or Kevin Ludlow – K-E-V-I-N-L-U-D-L-O-W dot com. Thanks again, and we hope you’ll tune in next week for another episode.