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Newsletter Dated: 5/29/2002 5:22:00 AM
Subject: Power Tends to Corrupt:
Understanding Power (Freedom & Politics)
"A power has risen up in the government greater than the people themselves ..."
Wed May 29th, 2002 at 08:12:18 AM EST
All too often I have to cringe when I see people equate money with influence and power. The realization that power is its own reward helps to analyze situations with no other apparent factors. My theory of power centers around Power Networks, and assumes that all people are motivated by survival instincts to seek, consolidate, and capitalize power.
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
-Lord Acton, in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, 1887.
In the 115 years since that was spoken, few people still fully grasp the idea of "power". We speak of people as "rich and powerful", always instrinsically connecting money to power. What most people (especially here at K5) fail to understand that money and power are equatable. Power is far better than money.
I recently contributed in a thread where I argued that terrorist leaders such as Osama Bin Ladin do not make sacrifices based on ideaology, but use ideaology to consolidate power. The retort was that Osama Bin Ladin, who grew up in a wealthy Saudi Family, could be living in the lap of luxury now, in his homeland of Saudi Arabia, but had given up wealth and power to fight for his ideas. What I then pointed out was that Osama Bin Ladin is still rich, even moreso than before, and has given up the mere illusion of luxury. Because of his monetary and idealogical investment in terrorism, he has gained the adoration of millions of Muslims who idolize him as a folk hero. By the same means, he commands the loyal fanatacism of hundreds of thousands of faithful, who view him not as a rich Saudi who profited from his terrorist attacks, but as a crusader for the Islamic faith against the evil of infidel western nations. This kind of power has elevated him, and although most people outside of the Muslim world view Bin Ladin as a thug, he is for all intents and purposes one of the most powerful men in the world, effecting international changes and mobilizing the most powerful militaries of the world to oppose him. In all of history, no individual could solely be said to have created such upset. Previously, only heads of state were capable of such.
Power Begets More Money Than Money Begets Power
"A power has risen up in the government greater than the people themselves, consisting of many and various and powerful interests, combined into one mass, and held together by the cohesive power of the vast surplus in the banks."
- John Caldwell Calhoun (1782-1850)
What is power? Power is quite simply the ability to influence or affect the actions of others. Power as an item is quite abstract. Many people are more comfortable with the quantifiable capacity of money to exact influence. It can be seen, touched, perceived, and even stolen. But power has the unique property that it is fluid: It does not need a bearer instrument other than the person in whom the power resides. This aspect is what makes power more desireable to a person of politics. The power weilded by a head of State, celebrity, or terrorist transcends international borders. A French Franc is useless when trying to bribe a politician in Israel. Power, when excercised is portable and international, and is more palatable to the public than money, even if they both accomplish the same ends.
Most remarkably, people with power can acquire money without actually expending their power. This is in stark contrast to using money to gain power; Once you have spent the money, you lack the means for further influence. A very good example involves former Presidents. The President receives a salary of some $400,000 per year. In becoming President, a candidate will easily spend more money than they will earn in a full two terms - and still may not become President. As the most powerful person in the world, however, the holder of the Office of the President of the United States commands a trillion dollar military, economic, and social construct whose hegemony extends to all corners of the world. Such is that kind of power, that even after leaving office Presidents still exert considerable influence through the media, and through their persona. President Clinton, for instance, commands a speaking fee of between $100,000 and $150,000 per engagement. In four hours per year, the Ex-President will make more money than he was paid while in office. Through media connections and speaking engagements, Ex-Presidents still have the ability to influence events in the way President Carter recently sought to do with US-Cuban Policy.
The ability to generate money from power does not reinforce power. Power is obtained through deeds, actions, and words. The Founding Fathers of the United States of America knew one simple fact that still escapes people today: Power comes from the people. A politician who successfully markets themself will earn the power of the people. If enough power is capitalized in the form of votes, that person obtains an office which itself has power inherent. Money does play a role in obtaining power, but it is not a direct linear relationship. Money is needed for publicity. Such monies can be gotten from a variety of sources, including campaign contributions from corporations and individuals that the politican already has influence (power) over. Many have called this "selling influence" on the part of the politician, but it would be more correctly portrayed as "selling power".
The Complexity of Excercising Power
"We, in some unknown Power's employ,
Move on a rigorous line;
Can neither, when we will, enjoy,
Nor, when we will, resign."
- Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), Stanzas in Memory of the Author of "Obermann."
Ultimately, understanding power relies upon a string of justifications. Power in and of itself doesn't justify such things as allegience or obedience unless one is familiar with the writings of Nietzsche1. However, basic interactions often follow a set of rules which center around power exchanges.
* Quantum Power Subsistance Rule - There can be no such thing as a power vacuum: All power is derived from someone else in a zero sum game2 of individuals (called cells) which form networks. The individual cells give power to, and derive power from the network. Whenever there is an absence of power in a network, it is immediately filled in by the formation of other networks. A network requires at least two cells; More cells makes for a more powerful network.
* Network Alignment Rule - Power contained in networks is transitive, and the loss of power for one individual in that network to an external network (or a supernetwork of a network) represents a loss of power for their local network. For this reason, such networks work cooperatively, even with external networks.
* Network Cellularization Rule - Every network will be comprised of smaller subordinate networks, untill the division of the network reaches a quanta of two cells.
* Power Capitalization Rule - Power is only capitalized when it produces gain (positive capitalization), or prevents loss (neutral capitalization).
* Network Power Distribution Rule - An individual realizes power because of their network, and cannot achieve a power greater than or equal to their network without co-opting another separate network. This is because even cells within a network retain an amount of power regardless of the need for capitalization in the network.
* Cellular Nexis Formation Rule - Networks are interlinked at the cellular level. The more cells which support the connectivity between networks, the more stable the supernetwork is. However, the connective cells derive above average power in exchange for providing this connectivity, so the more cellular connections there are, the less powerful each connective cell is.
The application of these rules does not imply good or bad. These rules apply to power in political parties, social groups, civic organizations, and communities. These rules ignore the concept of power types3, because this concept relates to how each individual cell derives its power. It can be confusing to reconcile that any individual cell has inherent power in light of the Network Power Distribution Rule; Such a concept would seem contradictory untill you realize that an individuals power is useless unless it can be exerted upon an other individual. Once that interaction takes place, a network is formed. Not all individuals within a given network are of equal power.
Applying these rules can also be confusing in that the excercise of power by one given network over another forms a network between the two. Positive Power Capitalization by any given network means a Negative Power Capitalization for any other network, and in the exchange of power a larger network is formed (even if only temporarily). Any interaction between networks forms a new network. The longterm stability of that new network is dependant upon continued interactions.
One could apply the above rules to all sorts of situations, from special interests within a political party, to interdepartmental office politics. In the process of applying and analyzing interactions under these rules, it becomes clear how power is more highly effective than money, and that money itself is nothing more than a commodity of power.