This is a great piece but I guess the reason the end disappointed me is that it turns out to be a sardonic, passive-aggressive (not that there’s anything wrong with that) reaffirmation of the meritocratic winners’ authority, when what I would rather read is somebody’s portrait of alternative authorities. So sure, here’s a list of reasons I’ve seen real people be treated as authorities. Andrews’s list would be different no doubt but that’s precisely why I would have liked to read it….
None of these are forms of power, I think (unlike e.g. intelligence, wealth, or acting/rhetorical talent), and all of them are better than intelligence or education:
# length of time living in one place (Andrews’s point about the meritocracy’s effect on where politicians come from was great) or doing one thing
# having had a lot of babies
# holiness. This can be cashed out as “prayerfulness” or “love of God’s poor” or probably other things, but it doesn’t seem to correlate at all with education or intelligence. (Maybe a negative correlation with intelligence?) I think I’m talking about an ingenuous simplicity in one’s faith. Some smart educated people have it but you find it basically everywhere.
# willingness to do manual labor, “pay your dues,” spend your time making other people’s lives easier at the expense of your own preference for non-boring labor.
# actually producing a good thing, whether it’s a novel or a lasagna
# listening–viewing others as authorities on their own lives, rather than explaining them through the lenses you already possess
# having been, years ago, part of a group that won a great victory or made a serious sacrifice for others (or both, lots of things are both)
# being willing to tell people hard home truths. This is also a super easy way to squander authority so you do need a certain ingenuousness–people can’t get the sense that you think of yourself as someone who tells hard truths–and the ability to laugh at yourself.
Maybe we should seek these people out more.