Respect My Authority!!!

Russell Michaels

Russell is inside his own mind, a comfortable yet silly place. He is also on Twitter.

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9 Responses

  1. Oscar Gordon says:

    They could be speaking complete nonsense and I might not know any better and believe them.

    Gell-Mann Amnesia.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    “Why are *YOU* an authority?” is one of those things that used to have answers and, because it used to have answers, it used to be a good question.

    Sometimes the person would have an answer. “Well, I’m a computer technician. I build the computers that you’re complaining about. That’s how I know you’re doing it wrong. You’re complaining about a problem that I encounter regularly.”

    Sometimes they would have an answer that wasn’t an answer.

    If we believe that authority exists (or can exist), then asking for someone’s credentials is a good starting point. Hey, you’re giving me advice. Upon what grounds!

    If we don’t, then asking for someone’s credentials is the first move in a series of moves designed to dismiss people who don’t agree with the asker (which people who do agree with the asker don’t get asked their own credentials).

    It was easier when we were kids. Not, you know, because we were right about serious people saying serious things in an authoritative tone, but because the certainty that they provided was off-the-charts soothing.Report

  3. Great piece, I enjoyed it mightily.

    As you know already, Russell, we had an interesting convo on the Twitters about the marshmallow test that really speaks to authority.

    Tons of scientists and social scientists have ruminated on the meaning of the marshmallow test, using it to describe children’s self-control, maturity level, and even their ability to think rationally. And we see the marshmallow test being applied to adults in much the same way towards adults by various experts as well, especially in light of the pandemic. Anyone who doesn’t wait for the second marshmallow is behaving irrationally, according to some.

    But if the child doesn’t TRUST that second marshmallow coming, thinks the whole thing could be a ploy, a sham, well why the hell wouldn’t s/he just eat the damn marshmallow? The marshmallow test presupposes a level of faith in the system that there will be another marshmallow. It even presupposes that the person you’re dealing with has the ABILITY to grant you another marshmallow. If you’ve lived under a set of circumstances in which outcomes seem to be arbitrary, where people say one thing and do another, in which people you DO trust are often overridden by necessity or by another, stronger, more powerful person above them, in which your position in this world feels precarious enough so you’re not even sure you will survive to get that second marshmallow, well, eating the first marshmallow is entirely rational because the child or person has done the math and found that they don’t believe there will be another marshmallow.

    “I would rather have this good thing now than wait for double of this promised thing in the future that there is every chance I will not get” may stymie social planners but it’s rational as hell.

    The scientists who designed the marshmallow test thought they were producing data about “self-control” or whatever. But they were wrong. They were testing something different, and so the conclusions they drew were dead wrong. All the people who have mused endlessly on the meaning of the marshmallow test for brain development were wrong. In fact, these people are the reason so many refuse to wait for the second marshmallow – they’re experts and they’re so chronically incorrect, even one of the fundamental studies upon which they base their understanding of rationality and brain maturity is incorrect, and they’re telling some wise child who knows the way the world actually works to wait for some promise that will probably be broken.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kristin Devine says:

      As I’ve said before, my mom ran an in-home daycare center from the time I was 10 until just a few years before she died. Seeing as how she wasn’t running it make a huge profit, her rates were reasonable, especially for the rural area we lived in. It also meant we’d sometimes get kids whose parents were less than ideal. Alcoholism* and drug abuse were common.

      Those kids…

      If my mom had done a marshmallow test to them the first day in, those kids would have eaten the treat.

      A month later, they’d have trusted my mom that another treat was coming.

      Sh*te, we should be using the Marshmallow test to check the parents…

      *More than a few times, mom called the cops on parents who were unfit to drive, refusing to release the child to their care.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        What Oscar and Kristin describe here is connected to a broader theory known as attachment theory. In short, it looks at how secure children’s attachment is to their primary caregiver and how that baseline informs many of their interactions with the broader world. A secure attachment — one where the child is confident that their needs will be met — allows them to transfer this trust elsewhere. “I don’t have to worry about going to school because I know my mom will pick me up. Every time she told me she’d come back, she has.” If that attachment doesn’t form or is insecure, it is hard for the child to develop trust.

        Like most psych theories (in my observation, at least) it believes a bit too much in itself. As Oscar describes, an insecure attachment with a primary caregiver need not be deterministic for all future relationships and other adults can supplant these, even if just between the child and themself.

        To the post more broadly, I think a major issue is seeing expertise/authority as a binary: you either have it and it is absolute OR you lack it entirely. I think it is best to see it as a spectrum.

        Case in point: I’m an early childhood teacher with a bachelors and masters in the field and 17+ years experience working within it. So, I believe I have a degree of expertise on this particular topic. But, I have not read as much on the Marshmallow Study itself as it seems Kristin has and Oscar brings his own firsthand experience observing his mother.

        And while the three of us are largely in agreement on this particular topic, if we weren’t, you’d want readers to consider not just WHO we are in terms of what expertise/authority we may have but also what we’re saying. You’d want to see folks apply critical thinking skills. This is the other piece that too often seems to be missing.

        If you see an expert on TV and think, “Well, what he says *MUST* be 100% right,” you’re doing it wrong.
        At the same time, if you see an expert on TV and think, “Well, what she says isn’t 100% consistent with what I think therefore they MUST be wrong,” you’re also doing it wrong.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Kristin Devine says:

      But the Marshmallow Test results do appear to correlate to future success.Report

  4. Saul Degraw says:

    Funny thing is that as a liberal when I hear a lot of libertarians/conservatives speak, they often end up being “Respect my authoritah” kind of people. Trump was the biggest “respect my authoritah” President in my lifetime. He seethed and fumed and vowed revenge whenever his authoritah was not respected. His supporters like Gaetz and the January 6 insurrectionists against Democracy have the same view point. A huge chip on their shoulders and outrage than anyone would dare disagree with them about anything or deny them a spot at the center of the United States, always first in line, for everything. Respect must be earned is a double-edged sword.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      There’s some truth to this, although I think it’s more common among conservatives than libertarians. The extent to which liberals fall into this thinking gets underestimated, though, because the authorities they follow are non-traditional. I think that Haidt, for example, misses the mark on this. Blind adherence to Zinn’s history or reflexive nodding along with Trevor Noah are somehow overlooked.Report