Authoritarianism Functions in Everyday Practices That We Can Change

Announcements about the arrival of authoritarianism now abound in mainstream media. I’m sure you’ve read your share. This article offers something a little different: a focus on how authoritarianism functions in our relations with one another and how each one of us can embody relationally democratic practices. Now, more than ever, we need to drag our attention away from the spectacle of authoritarianism-as-regime and its drumbeat of inevitability by understanding how authoritarianism functions in practices between us that we can change. …

Authoritarianism in the U.S. is not new, however. State-level authoritarian practices have existed here since the beginning. Severe power imbalances founded the American legal story. Our white forefathers committed genocide, murdering and enslaving native inhabitants of the land, stealing as much power as they could from those brown bodies. Our economy was born on the backs of slaves: the state stole as much power as possible from Black and brown bodies, further empowering itself and those who claimed authority and control of the state’s resources.

The power relations that founded our institutions, our laws, our systems and processes, and “the people” could not have been more severely imbalanced.

American racism is a form of authoritarianism. So is classism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and speciesism. Each has as its core feature an imbalanced power relation. Each imbalanced relation functions in (racist, classist, sexist, heterosexist, ableist, and speciesist) practicesthat are entrenched in systems and processes and also present relationally between individual human beings. …

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a “perspective” on power

[In the spirit of KQED’s Perspectives]

Everything I learned about power-sharing, I learned in San Francisco Bay Area college classrooms.

Growing up, I’d never seen or experienced power done in any other way than how I lived it in my family’s culture: with a father who was the sole authority, and who held and wielded all the power. Who chained the agency of his young children. My father, alone, decided that no one had the power to speak in our family but him. I tried challenging him, twice, and both left a mark. …

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Everyday authoritarianism

Democracy is a big human experiment in organized power-sharing. In political literature, democracy is both an ideology and a structure. In politically abstract terms, dictatorship is democracy’s opposite.

Authoritarianism is a big human experiment in organized power-stealing and hoarding. In political literature, authoritarianism is both an ideology and a structure. In politically abstract terms, “personal liberty” is authoritarianism’s opposite.  

Everyday authoritarianism, however, is different than an abstract political theory. It exists in human relations, and you can see it in the everyday interactions and the mundane tasks. Living everyday authoritarianism means stealing power from other humans, on a relational level, and hoarding it. Its opposite is everyday democracy.

For instance …

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