Thoughts on the nature of power

Power has always been an enigma to me.  It always seemed strange and peculiar.  There never seemed to be a good explanation of it either.  The explanations I have heard seem very shallow and simplistic.  Power seems to work independently on its own, with its own laws, and its own way of doing things.

To me, power is the ability of something or situation to influence other things to its ways.  In effect, it ‘moves’ things.  There are times when this can be almost magical, defying all rationale.  There are times when it is predictable.  I should point out that the form of power I speak of here is more in the lines of the power seen in humanity and human society.

Power can display itself in many ways such as: 

  • Being short-term.  By short-term I mean that it only lasts for a small period of time, perhaps, even a few seconds.  In these cases it usually is to get a certain response or action (like waiting for someone to pass or apologizing for something).  Once this is done, the usefulness of the power is gone so it disappears. 
  • It can also be long-term, perhaps affecting a person’s whole life (such as in marriage).  Because of this power can mold some people’s personalities. 
  • It can also be continuous, always there, never letting up. 
  • It can also be intermittent, coming and going at random. 

No doubt, power has many means of expression.  But, generally, when we think of power we think of the ‘power of society’ with all its manifestations.  By this I mean the power that exists in society that keeps things in order, keeps things directed, and as if seems to ‘hover’ over us.  The ‘power of society’ is not a single force but a multitude of forces. 

As a person, we all have a number of powers effecting us at one time.  Many of these we may not be aware of or never realize or even suspect.

There seems to be three qualities in the manifestation of power:

1.   The person, persons, or organization who are in a position to use power.

2.   The means to display power.

3.   The recipients of power.

Obviously, there is a great ‘power struggle’ in human society, as something always needs to be in power in society.  Human society, really, needs it and depends on it.  It keeps human society stable, working, and active.  Like a captain of a ship, it keeps it ‘on course’.  As a result, there have to be a person, persons, or organization who use display this power.  Most power, in human society, is not people wanting it for malicious and evil reasons.  That seems a common conception.  That does happen, but its the exception rather than the rule.  Most power is beneficial.  If it wasn’t societies would be falling apart left and right.

Power has to exist in human society.   As a result, if there is nothing in power then something will be made in power, whether it wants to be in power or not and whether its capable or not.  That’s the way it is.  This can be for good or ill, depending on the situation. 

To have power, though, there must be means to demonstrate it.  Without it, no power exists.  In many ways, much struggle and conflict in human society are created because of the inability to have the means to demonstrate any power.  History, in a way, is often nothing but a chronicling of attempts at having a means for power by people.  No doubt, there are many ‘latent powers’ out there that sit dormant, unable to manifest themselves due to the lack of a means.  They as if sit waiting for a time, which often never appears.

But, in order for power to work there must be the people who are the recipients of power.  There is no power without the recipients!  They make the power relevent and useful.  This means that much of the population is needing power over them.  Many of us need power to give us direction and place.  In so doing, power becomes instrumental in people’s identity. 

When it has the means of demonstration it must have the ability to affect either the population or people who are in a position to cause some change.  In general, the manifestations of power seems to have a spectrum ranging from a single person (who subsequently is in a position to cause effects) to the general population.

There seems a variety of forms of power which include:

  • Active power – where something actively displays power on its own accord.
  • Passive power – where the situation or condition of power slowly effects a change without anything causing it.
  • Forced power – this is when something forces its power onto something else.  By ‘force’ I mean against the recipients will.
  • Needed power – this is power that the recipients need.
  • Illusionary power – this is power that only appears to be there but really isn’t.

Power, itself, seems a magical mystical force.  It is not necessarily in one thing.  It is often undefinable.  In fact, I tend to feel that power is usually a complex of different forms of power, particularly in human society.  No single entity has ‘absolute power’.  What may have power today doesn’t tomorrow and so on.  What you think has power ends up not having the power you thought.

One of the problems with political power is that the people with ‘power’ actually don’t have it.  Political power is, more often than not, an ‘illusionary power’.  I have always felt that one of the problems with politics, and why it’s so ‘touchy’, is that we’re ascribing power to people who don’t have it.  In other words, political power is an illusion.  This is part of the ‘enigma’ of politics.  We tend to think that people or organization or policies has power but they actually don’t, at least not as much as we think.  In reality, political power is made up of a multitude of different types of power that fluctuate over time.  I’d almost be inclined to say that political power is a ‘soup’ made up of different forms and aspects of power as its ingredients. 

One thing that is overlooked with political power, and which makes politics so ‘touchy’, is that the people need the political system.  People are upset with the government, not necessarily because of what the government did, but because their ‘need’ for its power (and, subsequently, its influence) is not being satisfied.  In many ways, the people are like screaming kids, wanting something and not getting it.  Often, the ‘screaming kid’ is where the problem of politics lies, not with the government itself.  But, as I said above, people expect power from the government that it does not have and so are perpetually upset.  This creates a massive “power want/power don’t have” dilemma which is common in human society.

I tend to feel that one of the errors of the perception of power in human society is that we think power is in a ‘thing’.  We think its in a person, a law, an organization.  We look to it for power, as if power is contained within it and only within it.  This does not seem to be the case.  It seems to me that power is a fluid thing that seems to travel around like a breeze or wind.  It does not attach itself to any one thing all the time (though it may be dominant in a ‘something’, like a government).   

It also seems that power is actually a condition, a state, a situation.  In other words, power is determined by the condition, state, or situation rather than by being in any ‘thing’.  In a sense, it is the condition, state, or situation that gives the ‘thing’ any power at all.  The human social condition, for example, is what gives the ‘thing’ called government any power at all.  One of the “secrets” of power, then, is having the correct condition, state, or situation to make it relevent.  Without that, any ‘thing’ you have is nothing.

The condition, state, or situation of power seems to be made up of the three qualities I have described above.  All three must be there for the condition of power to manifest itself.  If one is missing then there is no condition of power.  This, again, shows that power is a product of a complex of different elements working together in the right atmosphere. 

Being that power is very conditional, the quality or form of that condition is very critical.  What I mean by that is that if the quality of power does not fit the quality of the condition then power is ineffective.  The power may be there but its ineffective.  This shows that, oftentimes, things must come together at the right time to allow for a power to manifest itself

All this seems to show that power is not a ‘single entity’ but something that is influenced by many elements which include:

  • The three qualities.
  • The fact that power is a condition, state, or situation.
  • Its fluid-like and constant changing ability.
  • Its quality or form matching the current situation.
  • The need for a multitude of things to ‘come together’ at the right time for it to manifest itself. 
  • How all these elements create a multitude of ever-changing power forms.

These things make it difficult for power to be ‘grasped’, no less controlled.  As a result, power is very elusive and sort of an enigma.  It cannot be scaled down to a ‘science’ or system.  This is a good thing.  Otherwise, we’d have people trying to demonstrate power left and right.

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