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Letter to the Editor: Dangerous Disconnection

Authority and responsibility go together – or, at least, they should.  One reason the US has been so durable is that it did a good job on institutionalizing that connection at the start.  Lately, we have seen that bond weaken.

The starkest case of responsibility without authority I have ever seen was on a school bus.  Drivers were told never to touch the kids.  After escorting a special child to an aide, the driver found a boy in the driver’s seat honking and kicking close to the brake release.  Disobeyed, he had to lift the boy to another seat in order to protect the kids walking past the bus.  His job is to protect children, but he had to risk his job to do it.

The most severe example of authority without responsibility is the power of internet “platforms.”  Their standard terms of service assure that the users own anything put on the platform’s servers, including email, posts, and texts.  The platform receives a royalty free license to do absolutely anything with that content, anywhere in the universe, forever.  If it harms someone, only the “owner” (you) can be held responsible.

These examples sound trivial, but they are not.  Typically, school shooters are not former bullies.  They were the bullied children that adults do not have enough authority to protect.  If schools were parents, the courts would take the kids away for “failure to protect.”

Meanwhile, platform algorithms know us so well that they can feed us content meant to reshape us into more predictable consumers.  Political radicals are more obsessive and, therefore, more predictable, so the algorithms push us toward the extremes.

The platforms get rich and we get school shootings.  Grab every chance you find to reconnect authority and responsibility.

Scott Corey


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