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Power

November 2008

The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that – for myself – the most important part of Jesus' life and example is his constant relinquishing and abandoning of power.

Problem is, life teaches me – and constantly reinforces – that power is the means by which change is achieved. I'm getting results from wielding power, dammit.

Well, power works, but I'm beginning to feel the violence involved in wielding it – usually violence to another's will. And if there is one truth of humanity it is that violence begets violence.

But fuck, it's hard and scary to relinquish power. Power is the means by which I assert ownership of my self – and my direction – in a myriad of ways, and that's not something I'm ready to just give up.

Is there another way, or do I just have to surrender to everything and let the world determine my course? I'm currently on the path of the Warrior, and I'm feeling a calling towards the path of the Saint, but I'm afraid that I'll lose myself on the way there. Warrior just seems easier.

Nato commented:

Maybe there is a middle way? Relinquishing power over others but retaining power over oneself. It's entirely possible to be very powerful, without using violence. Sometimes it's more powerful than violence.

Random Examples:

  • Gandhi, who used non-violence to achieve a lot. He seems to me to be very powerful.
  • Aikido, where an aikidoka defends himself by blending with an attacker, attempting to avoid harming the attacker (even avoiding thinking in terms of an attacker).
  • Person Centered Psychoherapy, where the therapist facilitates therapy, but mostly leaves the responsibility and direction of therapy with the client.

All three (and Jesus) require a lot of power over oneself, and are powerful in their own ways, but are non-violent and do not violate the free will of others. So I think the key is to have power over what one rightfully has power, but to not overstep that boundary, and attempt to assert power over what is the domain of others.

I guess it depends on what one defines 'power' as?

Matt commented:

I think ‘power over others’ is a third path (the ‘path of the Chieftain’?), which I have already consciously rejected.

You're right in that both the Warrior and the Saint require power over oneself – self-discipline – but I think there is still a difference; I'm just struggling to express it.

Okay, example: Jesus tells us to give everything away – to make ourselves financially powerless, to disarm ourselves. The Warrior would instead feel a duty to wield his wealth as a weapon; not necessarily in opposition to the will of others, but in service to his beliefs or goals.

Except that there's different types of wealth, and in the same way that some would wield money as a weapon, Jesus and Gandhi both wielded social influence as a pretty powerful weapon in service of their goals, so I'm not sure what to think about this.

(Thinking out loud here.)

Nato commented:

(I like thinking out loud too...)

I wouldn't say the power over others is the 'path of the chieftain', because generally chieftains, and other leaders come to that power legitimately. So I wouldn't call people in leadership to be exerting their power violently, because ultimately it would involve some form of consent. I'm think more along the lines of the 'path of the usurper' (which sounds kinda cool :P)

Another thought, remembering that 'power' doesn't actually exist. It's just a concept that we've made up, and we could define any way we want. So, forgetting 'power', we come up with a way to live: we should behave in a right manner towards others, that doesn't force people into things against their own will (even if for their own good?), and instead we do things in co-operation with others?

Matt commented:

Okay, that's maybe a good way of looking at it, but let's list the possible parties (and let's take right and wrong out of the picture, and just talk about conflict):

  • Oneself
  • People with similar goals
  • People with conflicting goals
  • Systems with similar goals
  • Systems with conflicting goals

Obviously where one shares goals with an entity, power doesn't really need to be wielded. Power only becomes an issue in conflict.

So, would it be fair to say that Gandhi and Jesus wielded their power against systems which they opposed, but chose to let people do what they wanted, even where people chose to support those very systems?

Maybe the path of the Saint then becomes this: the Saint chooses never to use his power against people.

And the path of the Warrior is this: the Warrior will use his power against anything that stands in his way.

And maybe one can then theorise a couple of other paths, based on a grid of "will use power against people" on one axis and "will use power against systems" on another. Maybe? (Giving us the Hermit or Desert Saint in the "no power at all" corner, and the… Politician? in the "power against people but not systems" corner?)

Usurper is about gaining power rather than using, I think, so I'm inclined to ignore that one for now.

Matt commented:

And so, what I'm getting at is, is it ever okay to infringe on another's free will? I have some feeling that yes, there are times when it is morally necessary. (See: should one kill a mass-murderer, if that were the only way to stop him?)

KT commented:

(oi, fellas, it's spelt Gandhi.) [ED: Thanks, I've fixed that now.]

Nato commented:

I'm a bit unsure about your introduction of systems into the mix. It makes it a bit more confusing, as systems and people are intertwined. And is it possible to resist a system without resisting people?

Maybe there are three domains, our own, others, and a shared domain / no man's land. Within our domain, we have the authority to do what we will, and no-one ought to stop us. And so we oughtn't intrude on other's free will within their domains. (But we ought to intervene when people seek to impose their will upon another's domain - e.g. murder, etc...).

I'm not sure what rules should govern the middle domain. But maybe that's where your saint & warrior come in? A warrior will exercise their own will in their domain, and the shared domain, but not in others, while the saint only exercises their will in their own domain. However, a saint will also be powerful if she lends a hand to others protecting their own domains.

However, I'm not sure where to fit systems into that framework.

Nato commented:

I'm also wondering to what degree should we expect ourselves (and others) to live by these rules and definitions that we make up. Maybe life isn't going to be easily categorized into two different ways, instead maybe we've got to come up with an individual solution to each individual problem? :P

Matt commented:

There's also a question (which is related, and currently concerning me) as to whether or not persuasion is an act of violence – how much strength is one allowed to use in convincing another of some point? Does the subject make a difference?

David commented:

Power is a tricky one to define. Power-over is different from power-with; for instance, the power to love, the power to think, the power to act, these are different from the power to control or to take.

I think the more of the former you claim, the more options you have ... and the less of the latter you'd need.

But it's a struggle I certainly have all the time, myself. Personally I think I'm in a similar place, finding that I need to exert more outward "force" and yet being caught in the slippery slope, feeling like it is a bit too violent for my taste.