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HUEN 1010: Section 007

10-7-13

Word Count: 2352

Power of Authority
It is difficult to deny that the humanistic intuition to do what pleases us, whether it is by indulging
ourselves with materialistic goods or fulfilling our own goals that make ourselves as contented as
possible, is hard to cast away. However, beneath this id still exists the ego that rationalizes and takes into
the account other humans' desires as well. Such concerns for the surrounding people provided the inklings
of a democracy. Prior to the advent of modern democracy however, many attempts had been made in
order to maximize the number of people that fulfill their desires without sacrificing too much of the
individuals' desires that are not adequately met in such an egalitarian state. One of the most successful
ideas of thought that derived from this notion in the mid 19th century is the idea of Utilitarianism, or as
the adage goes, the greatest happiness for the greatest people whilst minimizing suffering in the process.
We can see the truths of Utilitarianism and personal authority retain a timeless quality; these truths are
seemingly ephemeral in Mill's On Liberty only to be reintroduced nearly a century later by Ellison's
Invisible Man. Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man demonstrates the call for asserting personal authority over
outside influence particularly by higher jurisdictions, which is promptly echoed by John Stuart Mill's On
Liberty which motions for self-imposed governance in order to contribute to society. As a result, Mill's
and Ellison's ideologies on asserting control over oneself to maintain happiness only enforce the benefits
of a Utilitarian society.
Ralph Ellison describes in great detail the pains of going through his life trying to become as
visible in society as possible. He attempts to appease his parents by going to school; he attempts to
appease society by attending a black university; he attempts to appease his speaking ambitions by joining
a communist party; he even attempts to appease himself by repeatedly claiming that this life was exactly
how he wanted it. However, what he lacked is his own self-composition. He lay flaccidly and rejected all
notions of trying not to conform to society. The lack of personal authority and justice only pushed him
down further. He is expelled; he is fired; he is rebuked and threatened to be murdered, as each subsequent
traumatizing, yet enlightening event cascades upon the Invisible Man. Evidently, the lack of personal
authority is, as Ellison points out, dangerous and detrimental. Curiously enough, when he reaches the end
of his journey, realizing that all the identities that society coerced on the Invisible Man were fatalistic and
false, he takes on his own persona and comes to term with his invisibility. As such, he accepts the
consequence of remaining content with his own identity was his inevitable invisibleness as he discusses
how "[he himself] ... did not become alive until [he] discovered [his] invisibility" (pg 14). In his battle
against the Monopolated Light and Power, we discover his disposition: our lives and happiness are
independent factors from external influences. His intentional burning of his documents to eliminate his
past is not only metaphorical, but also a catharsis for the Invisible Man, furthermore reinforcing the fact
that personal authority is not only significant, but necessary. By relinquishing the chains of oppression,
the protagonist effectively asserts his own independence and becomes better acquainted with himself.

HUEN 1010: Section 007

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Word Count: 2352

Albeit he concedes he must later head out of invisibility to increase his mastery over his convictions, the
first step towards self-rule shows massive improvement.
Right from the get-go, John Stuart Mill mimics this mantra. He calls that "Liberty, in general,
means freedom from interference, and no government has the right to interfere with a person's liberty" (pg
41) illuminating the importance of the social contract, where the governed demonstrate a need for the
protection from the governors, yet asserting personal independence at the same time. Now what does this
imply? It means that as a collective whole, we must move towards achieving personal liberty. As the
idiom goes, it is easier to talk the talk than it is to walk the walk. Both Mill and Ellison demonstrate the
need to assert personal independence when faced with obstacles that prevent such from forming; however,
what is necessary to create said independence? Ellison provides insightful discussion by mentioning the
benefits of simply becoming invisible, blending out of society. Whilst it seems contradictory to assert
oneself by disappearing, in the context of the text, disappearing is merely relative. Disappearance in the
Invisible Man's world only led to strengthening one's predispositions and control over oneself. John Stuart
Mill provides a secondary solution: convincing either the majority or the opposing party to simply listen
and discuss. Albeit such an idea is slightly optimistic because in Ellison's novel, the protagonist finds it
rather hard and absurd to reason with society, the development of personal authority simply by allowing
other people to discuss with each other is by far the most attractive and existentialist option. However,
which path are we, as humans, recommended to take? John Stuart Mill, although not discussed in depth,
hints towards the Utilitarian state as a great starting point.
John Stuart Mill and his treatise On Liberty provides quite the commentary by demonstrating the
roles of the common people when moving towards a more utilitarian body. In his discourse, Mill declares
that "If one is not harming others or breaking laws, however, and if one is 'pulling one's weight' as a
citizen, then one is entitled to liberty" (Mills, Line 4-5). Evidently, Mill demonstrates the fundamentals of
implementing a utilitarian state. In such an entity, freedom is quite expressive and very much applicable
as he goes on to say "if all humankind minus one were of opinion, and only one person believed the
contrary, the majority would have no more right to silence that one person than that one person... silence
majority" (Mills, lines 7-9), illustrating the benefits that would derive from adding a single drop of voice
to the vast ocean that is the public perspective. What would such benefits entail? It would mean warping
the public eye in a positive way, making others look at problems and solutions in different manners. It
would mean supplying a fresh new aspect against a perhaps biased one. Now let us look from the contrary
side and simply decimate the voices of the minority by applying the forces of authority to implement a
single opinion. What would such a process encompass? Catastrophic devastation. By performing such a
self-injurious action, society hinders the streams of opinion that reach the pool of knowledge, leading to a
homogeneous, banal, and "dead dogma" (Mill, line 23). What is a democracy if a group holds tyrannical
domination of one opinion over another? Utilitarianism prevents such a damaging rule. However, if

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tyrannical rule is what one constitutes as "good", then the definition of ideal Utilitarianism, which will
later be discussed, is now warped and no longer the same. This opposition to tyrannical rule only serves to
strengthen the practicality of instituting personal authority: every individual's opinion is calculated and
factored into the discussion, thus giving importance to all parties.
Furthermore, Ralph Ellison and his novel The Invisible Man also explore the relationship of
Utilitarianism with both the authorities and the common people. Ellison furthers this axiom through his
storytelling as the protagonist recognizes how "Without light [he] is not only invisible, but formless as
well; and to be unaware of one's form is to live a death. [He] himself ... did not become alive until [he]
discovered [his] invisibility" (Ellison lines 67-69). The personal identity struggle the protagonist faces
poses an interesting conflict. Prior to becoming invisible, he is given an ultimatum: either live under the
facade of trying to be a civilized citizen in the American culture, and effectively falling prey to the "dead
dogma", or abandon everything he has worked for in order to pursue his own personal identity. Curiously
enough, the protagonist chooses the latter and as evidenced by the tone of the selected passage, the
audience can tell the author is more contented with his life as an invisible man, despite the cultural
stigmas against doing so. Not only is he a minority through his skin, but he also establishes himself as a
minority in the African-American populace as well by not following the advice of sucking up to
authoritative figures to gain social status. Despite these situations, the protagonist, in essence, provides
the perfect example of the benefits derived from Utilitarianism: the lack of a "dead dogma" whilst
providing the person with individuality all the while keeping him/her content. Ultimately, happiness is
wanted by everyone; why should we deny the facets that create such happiness? Visibly, the protagonist,
as discussed before, is much more content with himself hiding in, ironically, light rather than trying to
meet his parent's and culture's expectations.
Although the benefits of Utilitarianism are plenty, all normative ethics, including Utilitarianism,
possess issues, creating a double-edged sword. Many people claim that it is too idealist and problematic
when actually implementing it in an entity. Thus, I concede that guaranteed perfect happiness for a large
body of people is not exactly the most practical thing to do. Ideally, the voice of everyone's opinions
should be factored in; however, as a state grows, the possibility of appeasing everyone becomes more
difficult. Discussion and voicing our opinion must perpetuate our society in order to maximize the spread.
However, in our own unwillingness to speak out, voices are subtracted from the pool of knowledge. In
addition, I concede that certain rights must be sacrificed in order to generate the greatest happiness for
everyone. For example, if one person's opinions must be sacrificed in order to protect the opinion of five,
even though the voice of the one person is heard if the problem presents itself as unavoidable, then
sacrifices must be made in order to compensate. Another problem with Utilitarianism is that it assumes
everyone in that given body of people have the same definition of good, when in reality there are many,
and differing, definitions as to what constitutes as morally "good". If a person's desire is pure

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Word Count: 2352

schadenfreude, then the ill-will against another cannot be simply negated as the egalitarian state assumes
that every opinion is of equal value. However, this idealism, and the resultant flaws that come with it,
would be applicable only to ideal Utilitarianism. Anything ideal is very difficult if not impossible to
achieve. As a result, adaptive Utilitarianism, where the needs and justifications for establishing opinions
depend on the benefit for the people and the state, would create a more dynamic and flexible solution for
the greatest happiness. Mill slightly comments on this by noting that as long as the action performed by
the human is beneficial to the state, then it is acceptable and not illegal. Such would be derivative of a
dynamic Utilitarian policy as humans can pursue individual ventures and be content with life while the
authority can still maintain order for the society to still function. Adjustment to a Utilitarian state would
also be difficult and arduous as many people would not sacrifice the power they have to gear towards an
egalitarian, happy-for-all state. However, long term benefits and average happiness, as argued by both
Mill and Ellison certainly outweigh the detriments of not creating the greatest happiness for all.
Clearly, the advantages to Utilitarianism are wide and plenty which only contribute to a
more convincing argument to join John Stuart Mill and his quest for a pragmatic society. Now how do all
the implications of utilitarianism tie in with the idea of asserting personal authority when faced with
adversity? Through such a state, one could implement a society that values self-governance over
simplistic dead dogmas that are imposed over the populace. However, this is not merely a call to
implement a better governing structure, but also to persuade those whose dispositions are not as grounded
in their own beliefs as they would like it to be. In particular, another novel that introduces such an idea as
self-enlightenment and staying true to one's ideals is Robert Bolt's A Man for all Seasons. In the novel,
and in real life as well, the protagonist's beliefs are strongly grounded and almost unnervingly so. So
grounded that even when faced with the option of death or simply allowing the king to divorce, he
chooses the former option. Albeit a rather seemingly moronic choice, he is happy with his decision and
realizes that his own values take precedence over those imposed by outside society. Though the audience
is almost unfazed by this death, the audience should be inspired by the incredible willpower the
protagonist displays when threatened to give up his dogma. What was done was completely necessary,
even if it meant death. Had Utilitarian idealisms come to fruition at the time, an outcome would have
been largely different. Thomas More, the protagonist, would have been allowed to protect his voice when
discussing his displeasure at the king's attempts to divorce. Consequently, we see that through the
combination of utilitarianism and personal authority, More would have been allowed to practice his own
idealisms without the consequence of death.
As aforementioned, personal authority is a difficult skill to master. Regardless of whether we are
reluctant to bequeath the power unto ourselves or if it is merely through outside suppression, we need to
recognize that asserting individuality in our actions is an undertaking we must take. We potentially can
achieve such means individually by remembering Ellison's didactic tales, or collectively moving towards

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a self-important society where the individual matters, such as in Mill and Bentham's Utilitarian society.
Benjamin Franklin said in his autobiography, human perfection is an impossible feat; however, the
virtuous path towards trying to become one is the important portion of the journey. The advances must be
made by ourselves. We cannot magically hope for the best when faced with obstacles and hindrances to
personal liberty. Our lives are under only our control and we must remain steadfast when the outside
challenges us because without the stability of personal authority, we cannot establish the steadfast
foundations of our own identity.