On Authority

by quanticle 1 min read5th Jul 20181 comment


Stephen Randy Waldman (Interfluidity) writes about the process by which authority is created. His definition of authority applies to information in a social context. Namely, information that is authoritative is information which we take to be true by our actions, regardless of whether that information is true or not.

The method by which human societies cause coordination to scale is by producing authoritative information. While a certain amount of coordination is possible via brute coercion, voluntary coordination is far cheaper and more scalable. In order to engender voluntary compliance, one needs authoritative information upon which to coordinate.

Small societies can easily produce enough authoritative information by choosing one of their members as a designated source of authoritative information, an authority. However, the problems of producing authoritative information grow non-linearly with scale. As a result, much of the social infrastructure we have today (courts, the press, the financial system) is dedicated to the production and (social) validation of authoritative information.

The construction of authority is necessary in order to constrain society enough to produce useful outcomes. The methods by which we construct this authority is among the most important social and technological problems we face.