POWER

POWER

This section features some short text fragments on the nature of power. The topics include: the different types of power, the ambivalence of power, the relationship between power and violence, and how power can be used to liberate as well as dominate and manipulate. There is also an essay about attacking poverty by empowering the urban poor and a review of Gene Sharp's classic book The Politics of Nonviolent Action.

Some of the longer pieces have a summary page with graphics.

This essay includes thoughts about the true nature of power and the origins of hierarchy. It makes the point that power is never absolute, whether it is employed in the attempt to technologically control nature or to politically dominate populations.

"All power relationships are interactive, mutually modulating, reciprocal."

This short piece defines power-over as the kind of power that strives for total control and total domination at any cost.

"Power-over is voracious. Power-over takes what's there; it makes no distinctions between right and wrong. Power-over must expand or die. Power-over fills all vacuums, crushes the weak, extends itself wherever it can."

Individuals and small groups can act as catalysts for major social and political changes. This essay sites the Czechoslovakian dissidents who signed the Charter 77 petition as an example of how individuals can change history when they stand up for what they believe.

"Those in power are frightened by the rebel, the non-conformist. They know that even small acts of resistance can have unforeseen consequences."

This piece makes the point that while social and political institutions appear permanent, they are subject to the same weaknesses and vulnerabilities as the human beings that staff their bureaucracies.

"All institutions exist only because we believe in them and live our lives in compliance with their demands."

When we believe in something, it becomes truth. This is because our beliefs determine the choices we make in our lives, and our actions help shape the world we live in. This essay asks why we don't examine our beliefs critically and adopt ways of thinking that celebrate human life and dignity.

"Be careful what you believe because it's true."

A brief thought on how fear is used to control us.

"Fear makes us the instruments of Power. When we are afraid, we obey."

Violence often diminishes the power of those who employ it, necessitating the use of more violence in an attempt to gain or maintain control.

"A terrorist that blows up a building or assassinates a politician gives government the excuse it wants to crack down on individual liberties and expand its sphere of influence."

This short piece offers some thoughts on the dubious advantages of military superiority. For example, during the 1991 Persian Gulf War the U.S. was able to pulverize Iraq, but the outcome was politically indecisive.

"After a point, increasing destructive potential does not translate into increased security. In fact, quite the opposite is true."

This is a review of The Politics of Nonviolent Action by Gene Sharp. In part one, Power and Struggle, Sharp discusses the nature of political power, why people obey rulers, the limitations of using violence, and how change can be brought about through the use of strategic nonviolence. He also offers reasons why historians have largely ignored the technique of nonviolent struggle.

"Without at least the passive support of the general population and his/her agents, the most powerful dictator in the world becomes just another crackpot with dreams of world domination."

I wrote this in 1992 shortly after the Rodney King uprising. This essay proposes empowering the urban poor by teaching them organizational skills and nonviolent action techniques. I consider this a radical idea because it attacks the root cause of poverty: powerlessness. Lack of power breeds despair and violence, which results in more poverty.

"Imagine the effect of this empowerment on individuals: increased self-respect that comes from feeling in control of one's life and community."