#PLENK2010 On Authority and Power in Networks

Thanks for raising an important question about authority in Ken’s post on Thinking about Freud. Where is authority coming from? Who is looking for authority? As human, were many ambitious people (the great leaders) in history looking for authority, power, wealth, fame?  Or may be not all of them! Where had they all gone?

As a Catholic, I could sense the struggle one might have with all those formal terms – authority, power, accountability, responsibility and above all leadership etc. throughout our life-long learning.  What do they actually mean in our learning in networks and groups?

So, you are not alone in the quest for why – in response to authority in networks, in groups, in formal communities, and why you don’t like it, and that you wish to understand more about it, from a philosophical perspective.

That’s the fundamental question we always like to ask about authority and power as mentioned in my previous post on Discourse Ethics.

I don’t think I could answer your questions, as it seems to be beyond any human to understand the nature of authority, and why human has that innate nature of power seeking, once one becomes the leader.  May be that is part of our genes, or our evolution, for survival, and to collaborate as a group or cooperate as a network, in order to thrive.

This paper on Varieties of Participation in Complex Governance by Archon Fung provides some insights on authority and power.  Rather than focusing on power and authority centered around single authority, should we be moving towards empowerment, participation, shared decision making and democracy, in case of complex governance in the 21 st century?

So, authority and power might appear differently from that of the last century, it may have to be decentralised and shared amongst the networkers, especially if we want to help and support our next generation to thrive in the 21st century. Refer to this article on Shared Leadership for a framework on shared leadership in education.

From my religious point of view as a Catholic, the only absolute authority that’s worthwhile to explore and conform to fully is our Creator – God and Jesus. Human is by nature an authority seeking Homo Sapiens, and so may not deserve our “adoration” after all!


3 thoughts on “#PLENK2010 On Authority and Power in Networks

  1. Hi John, thanks for the links. Yes, I have a philosophical interest in understanding the Human desire to seek authority. Sometimes I think that each of us is our own authority; we create our worlds, we discover our own understandings, we take actions of our choosing. I recognize the constraints on our freedom to create, discover and act; these constraints include those of the natural world, the social/political world, the religious world. But it is interesting to note how Humans attempt to overcome these constraints: technology provides an extension of the Human cognitive and physical capacities, at the least. We create our technology in order to remove the constraints of our physical being/natural world. I shall have to think about how we attempt to remove the constraints of the social/political and religious worlds. In some ways, these latter constraints seem more self-imposed that the physical constraints of our being.

  2. “each of us is our own authority; we create our worlds, we discover our own understandings, we take actions of our choosing.” Yes, I share that belief too, though under my Catholic belief, I am guided by my God, Jesus, to walk out my life journey that is under Faith, Hope and Love (Charity).
    Technology could be an affordance to human capacities, in particular education and learning – an extension of the human cognitive and physical capacities, as you said.
    We create our technology in order to remove the constraints of our physical being/natural world. However, there are also disruption arising out of the technology – such as chaos in information organisation and transfer (as a result of failure due to information abundance, and a plethora of information sources which are “wicked”, meme with a harmful nature, fake or made up news, spams, attached with Trojans, virus etc.). These have added layers of constraints to our education and learning in a less than invisible manner, but we know they are there. Would that explain why we need more education and learning which could combat those confusion and thus restore some “order” out of complexity? That is the invisible intervention (like our conversation, interaction, recommendation) done through networking, discourse, learning and reflection and decision.

    Do we need to remove the constraints of the social/political and religious worlds? Why? And How? This is a big question.

  3. My follow up comments left in Ken’s post.
    Hi Ken,
    “Some Humans view science as an attempt to cast off the religious search for authority in favour of the scientific search for authority.” Yes, I could see many scientists who are atheists and don’t believe in God (Stephen Hawkins, etc.) and they would try to prove the non-existence of God through scientific experiments, with a “scientific” seeking the truth mindset. That could be both interesting, but difficult to “prove” as I think as human, we do have limits in our intellectual talents and wisdom. This means that such way of pursuing of true knowledge and wisdom would unlikely be achieved. One of the wisest Chinese Philosopher motto was: “We all have limited life, but know that there is unlimited boundary (referring to lots of things, not just information or knowledge, in accordance to my interpretation). To follow the unlimited with the limited minds (knowledge), it’s like going for “death”. For those who kept on chasing such knowledge, death even”. So, why? To me, my interpretation is that one can’t just “think of knowledge” without considering the context, the complexity of life and chaos that often arise due to the interaction of the agents, and the ever changing ecology. Would my conclusion be similar to yours? “suspend belief, suspend authority, suspend scientific positivism in order to make observations and develop models for approximate understandings and knowledge.” May be with my religious belief as Catholic, I would not be doubtful in my God, but could be doubtful in any absolute “truth” claimed, be it based on Science, as I would like to see evidence, in a long run.

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