I am frankly appalled by the lack of respect for authority in our society today.
It seems that virtually everyone appears to be working to undermine the legitimately-appointed authority of others. Some examples: parliament seeking to overturn the authority of the monarchy; the high court overturning decisions made by magistrates, who are then overruled by the Law Lords, who are then in turn overruled by the European court; bleeding-heart liberals seeking to prevent parents from legitimately disciplining their own children; parents who challenge the authority of teachers to use effective discipline methods; children who thumb their noses at teachers, the police and all in authority with apparent impunity; patients eagerly seeking the assistance of the medical profession until something goes wrong, at which point they are perfectly happy to sue them for every penny they have; not to mention the ambulance-chasing businesses eager to capitalise on the misfortune of others; direct action groups who seek to impose their will on society by forceful means, rather than seeking the assent of society as a whole; I could go on.
So do we have a problem with authority in our society? It would appear from the above (and by no means comprehensive) catalogue of examples, that we do.
We cannot continue to challenge whatever ruling is brought against us. When I was a child, we would not dare to inform our parents that we had been disciplined by a teacher or a policeman, for fear that we would be punished all over again. Children these days can expect that an indignant parent will only too willingly confront a well-meaning authority figure on their behalf, and with no reference to the truth of what their children assert.
Please do not misunderstand me - I am not writing a charter for child abuse. However, I believe that parents have the first and most immediate responsibility for the actions of their children, and that if they do not exercise it, or are prevented from doing so by interfering busybodies, we will all one day suffer from the delinquency which inevitably ensues - as indeed we do now. Nor am I arguing for a police state, nor for a society where faceless bureaucrats have absolute power and complete unaccountability. I firmly believe that the actions of our public servants should bear scrutiny, and that the unjust and partial decisions of self-interest must be weeded out in order that justice be properly served. However, having appointed them to their task, we should then give them our confidence and support, unless they prove themselves unworthy of it.
I was mightily perturbed by Microsoft's apparently total disregard for the legal process, which ruled that the company must be split up last year. All Microsoft had to do was wait until George W. Bush's administration came into power, and their friends in high places ensured that nothing more came of the matter. Is this really justice, and does it really serve the interests of society that, having spent huge quantities of public money pursuing the case, and finding that they had consistently abused their dominant market position, that the matter is then dropped because they have sufficient political 'clout' to flout the law so blatantly? I think not.
And what to say about the Clinton/Lewinsky affair? I am not in any way attempting to pass judgment on the morality of the two individuals at the centre of the matter, rather to draw attention to those faceless members of the Republican party who committed millions of tax dollars to a full and at times sordid scrutiny of the whole affair, only then to fail in their attempt to impeach the then president. Should those public funds, committed to a witch-hunt so blatantly partisan in nature, not have been forcibly extracted from the coffers of their party?
It occurs to me that the only authority we recognise is our own. Frankly, if this trend continues, that way lies anarchy.
I believe that we must both individually and collectively determine to defer to the authorities that have been appointed over us, and respect the decisions and rulings they make on our behalf, whether they suit us or not: such is the true nature of authority. Only then may we begin the process of overturning the corrosive attitudes of what has effectively become a dysfunctional society, and start to build a community worth living in.
as published in the Nottingham Evening Post, 5th May 2001