Tuesday, July 31, 2007

On power and responsibility

just a thought I've had on numerous occasions, and yes, inspired by Certain People more often than others, but it's actually a phenomenon that's not limited to any one group. It is a certain type, though, usually among fringey idealistic groups of various bents, most likely "radical" political ones, more likely ime on the leftier side of the dial, although that could just be my relative familiarity. although the "no, really, we don't believe in Authority" thing is important, i expect.

anyway, it goes like this:

You can't have it both ways. Either you're a teeny tiny miniscule little insignificant po' l'il marginalized oppressed group with no power, don't even -want- any power (and/or you're just playing around, really); or you're an unstoppable juggeranut o'Righteousness cruising toward Revolution; but, you -really can't be both at once.-

And, frankly, the inability to see that is, well, kind of creepy, even if the former self-description ("teeny tiny insignificant etc.") is probably more true than the latter. -Everyone- has -some- power, and I don't trust people who try to disown it, particularly when they're clearly ambitious as all hell. What they really mean isn't that they aren't authoritarian, because they -are-. They just don't want to accept that they have any responsibility toward the people who are saying "hey, you're hurting me, there."


Renegade Evolution said...

See, I am blatantly ambitious and think power is a good thing to aspire too, personal, physical, political, monitary, you know, all that stuff...I'm pretty predictable like that...what makes me a little twitchy is these types that you mentioned, of all sorts, who want yet reject power attempt to rip away every little scrap and shred of the "power thing" away from other people, either via attempting to instill guilt, self doubt, employing slander and speculation or more outright and overt tactics...It sort of like "we are nothing, we have no power, yet we want it and sometimes have it, but we don't...so you can't either, bitch!"

Cassandra Says said...

There are few personality types more dangerous than the ones that crave power but are unable to admit it, even to themselves.

Me, I LIKE power, but at least I'm honest about it.

Donna Darko said...

hey bd, how about the third group, non-authoritarian, righteous power? just because we haven't seen it doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Sassywho said...

I'm all for power, achieving it, striving it, applying it and giving it, but never with stealing it or being robbed of it. With our recent political corruptions and the usual conversations about power, you would think that it was a dirty word. However, like Ren says ambition is a good thing, no matter how it manifests itself.

The difference is in those who weild the power, or want to. For instance, certain groups are given just power because they are born with it. Other groups have to work for it, but many obtain nonetheless. Power itself is not bad, in fact if affords progress.

"Power" can be abused by both, those who worked for it and those who earned it. Imagine a global privately owned company, that employs thousands of people. The owner dies and his offspring inherit it, immediately they have significant power in which they can make decisions based on common good or go with their own agenda. Chances are if they were not involved with the company previously, they could make some very serious mistakes if they did not listen to those with less power but more knowledgeable to make accurate decisions. On the other hand you could have a power-hungry person or group who position themselves as next in line should the owner meet their demise. This person could be corrupt and without concern for the wellbeing of others and make the same mistake as the novice above. Either could have beneficial or negative outcomes, both have the power to steer.

Power can be a good thing. People, institutions, organizations, militaries, and even children can use it for good things... things that benefit people in ways that they may not have been able to access themselves. But the snare is for you to channel that power... you have to acknowledge it, otherwise business goes on as usual.

Gorilla warfare may work in some parts of the world, but in a typically Western part of the world you need to identify your intentions, otherwise you are just met with suspicious raised eyebrows.

Sassywho said...

and I want to add, that it's usually those who say "but we don't have that kind of power" who do the most damage, by not doing anything.

humbition said...

I had forgotten how strong Janet Halley really is on this. Here's a key quote (pages 341-2) from Split Decisions:

"I argued in Part One that feminism now has a considerable purchase on a wide array of state, statelike, and social/cultural power; that it has a will to this power; and that, in the course of wielding its power, feminism distributes social costs among women, to men, and to other social groups and to the bearers of various social interests. I also noted that a very profound (but highly contingent) commitment among many feminists to the Injury Triad -- to seeing the world in terms of female injury, female innocence, and female immunity -- not only involved them in a denial of their will to power, and of their power, but precluded them from acknowledging their actual social effects when these take the form of female immunity, female aggression, and/or male injury. And I argued that even the feminist minima precommitted feminism to disaffiliate from social groups and the bearers of various social interests that could not be converged into these terms. That is to say, I have laid at the door of the Injury Triad feminists, and feminists more generally, the accusation that they are exercising power in bad faith."

CrackerLilo said...

I completely agree with you. I don't feel liberated or even helped by people who try to tell me I don't have power. I feel violated.

Trinity said...

"There are few personality types more dangerous than the ones that crave power but are unable to admit it, even to themselves.

Me, I LIKE power, but at least I'm honest about it."


"hey bd, how about the third group, non-authoritarian, righteous power?"

Define "authoritarian", "nonauthoritarian," and "righteous" please. I have no idea what you're talking about.

Personally I always liked Wartenberg's discussion of different forms of power-over. I think he does a great job of discussing forms of power-over that are actually beneficial while not glossing over the forms that are deeply pernicious or oppressive (which are not always the same thing either.)

Octogalore said...

Trin, good distinction. I think not only power is nice, but that power-over isn't necessarily a poor stepchild. The whole theme of "oh noes not power-over" in feminism is yet another way we're tripping over ourselves.

Donna Darko said...

Trin, those were bd's words in her post. What I'm saying is power isn't necessarily bad as long as you don't oppress anyone else.

A.W. said...

The whole theme of "oh noes not power-over" in feminism is yet another way we're tripping over ourselves.

Is that because some people like to pretend their own power doesn't exist, and it ends up not getting used for helping other downtrodden masses?

And would it be called 'power over' if it isn't being used to oppress someone else?

humbition said...

How I interpret Halley is, if you're not an anarchist, then you accept some dimension of legitimate power in the society you are in. For example, legal feminists have succeeded in passing a lot of laws, which everyone in the society is bound to follow whether they are feminists or not. Many people, including myself, believe these laws are mostly Good Things, but they exist in the public sphere which mean, firstly, they are fair game for any citizen to discuss and interpret (whether these citizens are "good feminists" or not) and, secondly, they will have unintended consequences, people who use them in unfair or unjust ways, etc., and these also should be fair game for discussion in a democratic society.

There is a unique way in which people who used to be excluded from power use that sense of having been persecuted to see themselves as righteous. Look at the way many Christians emphasize the first few centuries of martyrdom when they were oppressed by the Romans but not the centuries in which they became the oppressors themselves; somehow harking back to an era of oppressed powerlessness brought about a kind of moral authority "capital" that has brought dividends over a period four times as long as the original oppression.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

I get a kick out of the "I have no capacity to oppress, how could you think I would be doing such a thing ... and HOW DARE YOU DO THAT, HOW DARE YOU SAY THAT, HOW DARE YOU DISAGREE WITH MY POSITION, and by the way here are a half-dozen of my friends to engage in public attempts at shaming. ... hey, the dissent went away? Aren't we cool, supportive people?" kinds.

Unfortunately, I can't get a kick into them.

Octogalore said...

A.W. said: "And would it be called 'power over' if it isn't being used to oppress someone else?"

That's the thing: yes, sometimes. The idea of no bosses, no leaders, everyone completely equivalent in decisionmaking power, is soft and comfy, but a guarantee of chaos and inertia. Someone, whether it's running a lemonade stand or a law firm or an Israeli kibbutz, needs to guide the ship. That's power over, although it can be either dictator-like or benign.

If women decide we're not about that, and that when the storied Revolution happens, we won't need it anyway, then we are playing into the hands of the status quo enablers. Because guess what, there are going to be people in those positions, and whether they look like us or not is up to us.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

One of the major cognitive issues I tend to have with the 'Come the utopia there will be no power-over, just egalitarian consensus decisionmaking' folks is that I have historically been driven completely spare by all of the feminist-we-disapprove-of-power-over consensus-decisionmaking processes I've encountered, and start to champ at the bit whenever I have to deal with one (whether it appears through coercive force of numbers or because I'm being polite on foreign space).

Which tends to mean we stare at each other in, in the best case, blank, staring incomprehension.

Octogalore said...

Agree. The idea of throwing masses of people together wiht the happy goal of fuzzily consensing towards some kind of decision, with no guiding structure, makes me go nuts as well.

Amber said...

The 'egalitarian consensus decisionmaking' thing is a nice thought, but in reality it more often than not is like herding cats.