2016/09/22

Thoughts on the Qualities of Power

Idle thoughts about how power (as in, the ability to coerce or influence people) arises very naturally in social situations, and consequently any system in which people interact with each other. I would like to try to avoid ascribing moral opinion to this. It's just a thing that I apparently think happens.

Thought 1: Power structures are inevitable.
People are different. Not just physically, but mentally. They hold different beliefs, have different personalities, differing amounts of mental fortitude, forcefulness, charisma and so on. This means that some people are inevitably going to be more popular/personable/domineering than others. Such people have more opportunities to get more friends, learn to be more confident, practice socialising and so on.
In the context of power, they simply have more of it. And social clout such as this tends to feed on itself. Someone with this sort of soft power is less likely to be ignored by other people, and is much more likely to be a trendsetter or decision maker in the group. This should all feel very high school, and one can definitely see formations of cliques using these patterns.

Social systems like friend groups or community clubs tend to be anarchic, but this sort of social power is inevitable even in very official or "grown-up" systems. Dick Cheney was, during the 2000-2008 Bush Junior (BuJu!) administration, more personally powerful and forceful than George W. Bush.

Thought 2: Power structures are unstable
When people are in positions of power, they will be able to promote their beliefs and their personality through that power. Sometimes they don't, but really, if you believe something, you'd rather other people believed it also. Conscientiously, it is the "right" thing to do.

However, the powerful person's personality is magnified, and any flaws are increasingly highlighted. This causes resentment, and also gives a target for other would-be powerful people to attack. But the community as a whole splinters as people "grow out" of the community, without directly attacking the powerful person. This removal of their power base doesn't necessarily mean that their power has collapsed, but it does move around a bit.

After a very long time, people die. In the case of sociopathic leaders, they usually don't place rules of succession in place (caring for neither their family nor their community, thanks Ghengis). But even without death, there is this constant cycle of shifting power structures, which makes George Orwell's party in 1984 relatively short lived, in spite of its claims.

Plying power is also exhausting for most people.

Quite often, attempting to keep one's power structure stable results in increased instability later on, as though dividends were paid in full. Repression, historically, may have worked briefly, but would require more and more repression later until it became unsustainable.

I'm not entirely sure what the point of all this is. I have a decent number of friends who'd want an abolishing of all systems (weirdly, both libertarian and communist), or see inefficiencies in this bureaucracy or that. I suppose I'd tell them that if they were going to come up with a set of moral rules (or their own system), they should be aware of these two thoughts. Power can be used responsibly, for good, for personal gain, or for a lot of other things. But a large number of political system's failings can be boiled down to not understanding people (or being unwilling to admit the existence of soft power), and that even if you have good people in power NOW, that doesn't mean tomorrow's leaders will be good. Power checks are necessary.

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