Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Authority to Command

Issues regarding commands and who has the authority to give them are part of everyone’s life. We are all subject to the commands of one person or another, with a tiny minority of possible exceptions at the highest levels of authority. For that reason, everyone’s going to encounter questions of authority and the right to issue commands.

One wouldn’t think these would be difficult questions to answer… and one would be surprised. In the anime series .hack//Sign, for much of the series, there existed a player organization called the Crimson Knights. Throughout the first parts of the series, the goals of the Crimson Knights are obvious: they work to help keep control of the game world. They try to bring players that are violating the rules to “justice”.

All well and good, right? It can’t hurt to have people working to help keep the game under control. Game masters of MMOs across the world are overworked trying to do that job; surely some help is a good thing. There doesn’t appear to be much of a problem at first; the knights are loyal to their leader Subaru and follow her orders.

The problem develops over the series. A conflict slowly develops between Subaru and the second in command of the Knights, appropriately named Silver Knight. The problem is of course a question of authority. Silver Knight wants to take as much control as possible, and be as active as possible in hunting down and punishing anyone who breaks the rules.

This forces Subaru to constantly remind him as the series progresses that they are merely players. She never says any more than that, but the implications are obvious: the Crimson Knights are not the game’s police force. Nor are the Crimson Knights the administrators themselves, as the Cobalt Knight Brigade was in .hack//Legend of the Twilight. The Crimson Knights do not have the authority to command other players to do anything, nor do they have the authority to sanction other players for breaking the rules.

It can’t hurt, though, to have additional people keeping an eye out for rules violations, right? Keeping an eye out is not a problem, but what Silver Knight wanted was to have the authority to punish players for their actions. And that most assuredly is a problem.

Any kind of authority carries with it a responsibility. The two cannot be separated; if one has the authority to punish those who violate the rules, one has the responsibility to the players to fairly and evenly mete out punishment. Any authority carries the responsibility that that authority be used appropriately.

This holds true with all kinds of authority, as well. A commanding officer of a military unit has a great deal of authority with regards to that unit. He issues all of the orders to that unit, whether it be a platoon of soldiers all the way up to a carrier battle group, and directs its actions. With that authority comes the responsibility to ensure that unit’s well-being and direct it wisely.

The President of the United States is one of the few people in the world to whom my earlier exception about taking orders may apply, and has a wide range of power inside and outside that nation’s borders. But with the massive amount of power that comes with the position is a very heavy responsibility to use it wisely to the benefit of the American people and society at large; this is why the election of a new President is such a big deal both inside and outside the United States.

As with the President, because of the responsibility that comes with authority, people are only given authority if they can be shown to be able to handle the responsibilities of that authority. Which brings us back to Silver Knight. The problem was not that he wanted to keep the game under control (although last week’s post has more to say about the desirability of that). The problem was that he and the Crimson Knights were trying to take on authority without recognizing or appreciating the responsibility it carried with it.

One of the many dilemmas of command is the heavy responsibility that comes with it. One of the problems of carrying authority is having to be aware of that responsibility. Silver Knight and the Crimson Knights behind him cared for none of that. They tried to take on the authority of the police without being recognized by anyone as able to handle that responsibility. And partway through the series, they were disbanded by Subaru when she realized these exact problems.

The authority to command is not merely power. It is also the responsibility to those that one commands. One who merely gives orders for the sake of feeling strong or authoritative is not a commander, and can truly only be called a bully or a thug. To truly command, one must recognize that one’s duty to the people or rules above you must be balanced by the responsibility to those one commands.