We All have both a Right and a Duty to Question Authority

In ways both large and small, we continue to be reminded that authority itself, or the mere appearance of authority, ought to be questioned, as it is all too easily abused. As we can be held morally and legally responsible for the nature of our actions in such situations, it is all too clear that we have a right not to perform actions which cause us to be the victims of such abuse, or to face criminal charges for victimizing others, and a duty, in that moral and legal sanctions can arise from not exercising our moral abilities, and instead being instrumental in committing immoral and illegal acts.

Intellectual Authority

Questioning intellectual authority is seemingly the easiest, and itself is often abused ("Citation Needed"), but is still universally both a right and a duty. Every such opinion should be accompanied by caveats, whether a limit of opinion or scope(IMHO), a balancing of considerations, or an address of opposing arguments. I always try to address the worst holes in my opinions beforehand, but that's no defense against a valid argument presented to me by someone with more diverse or practical experience, and I am as fallibly human as anyone else, with misstakes [sic], blind | spots, and everything else. I like to own my mistakes and learn from them. It makes me a better (both more sensitive and tougher!) human being.

Many forms of fraud depend upon either the presumption of Intellectual Authority, or an actual state of one person being vastly more knowledgeable than the other, and a healthy (but not destructive) skepticism is the first and most necessary defense.

The Presumption or Appearance of Authority

Where a more direct form of authority is being claimed (law enforcement, employer, or other government or corporate official, etc), the first duty here becomes to establish that this person is who they say they are. Are they a representative of said organization? Do they have that specific job title or rank? Does that give them the necessary authority to direct you to do what they have asked?

Real Authorities

Unfortunately, we live in a world where the phrase "institutionalized anarchy" does not necessarily seem all that much of an oxymoron.

Legitimate authority can still be abused in a wide variety of ways, and in this, the worst case, often the abuser is "above the law" or beyond punishment. One of the primary ways of preventing bad acts, deterrence, is then all but entirely absent. The only real way to prevent the abuse of legitimately assigned authority is resistance to comply (and perhaps forceful physical resistance, where absolutely necessary) when it is being abused.

Questioning Authority as a Concept

We are coming to a point in human history when our traditional concept of Authority is beginning to look a bit worn and shabby. Some of the worst conflicts occurring around the world today involve Nation-States, or those attempting to influence or defeat them. The inability of people of good conscience to have their opinions heard, or intervene directly, is becoming more and more difficult to defend. While the concept of Authority has an understandable place in our gory and gloomy history, does it have a place in our future? Hasn't it always been the least of all evils, and not even that good in too many times and places, large and small, to count?

On the other side, we've often seen people who take it upon themselves to exercise what little formal or natural authority they've had available to them, and make great improvements in the human condition, either for a small community or an entire nation. This seems to me an entirely different kind of authority, though. How does this authority differ from the more traditional and formal variety? Being in the right place at the right time, and being prepared to act constructively, seem to be the major qualifications, rather than any systemic and social approval. Many times it seems to be in direct opposition to major social and systemic forces, while force seems to be the final argument of traditional authority. Force, and fraud.