Deconstructing Power (Part 3)
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 30 Apr 2018
30 Apr 2018 – When faced by “an awesome” projection of power–by a “ruler”, a dictator or a monarch–the initial reaction of an ordinary person is, naturally, that of “awe”, a bit like that of a deer frozen in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle.
The author believes that the power elites are–and have always been–cunning enough to plan their power projections accordingly. Generating “awe” is a major element of their strategy for holding on to power and for enlarging it. The specific technique employed differs from time to time, and from place to place. It may be a grand pageant, huge rallies in support of something, a “crackdown” on some elements of the society, or saber-rattling against an “enemy”.
Indeed, there are huge advantages in following that strategy. Projection of power always polarizes the population. One part of the population – the more cunning – senses instantly “which side of the bread is buttered” and tends to move towards lucrative positions within the “corridors and circles of power”. Thereby the power-mongers receive an unending supply of eager and pliable lackeys, thrilled at the prospect of being amongst the powerful and the privileged.
Some groups in the population may recoil a little from the power projection. These groups are also immensely useful to the power-mongers – to be demonized and then used use as handy targets of “deterrent” applications of power.
Also, power projection is invariably done with public money – and huge profits are generated thereby for the power elite. These profits can very easily be made to look “legitimate” – and of course they serve to perpetuate power.
Even apart from the huge profits, the expenditure of public money also creates opportunities for patronage – that is, buying private loyalty at public expense.
Thus any “power projection” by the power elite serves as a very effective strategy in strengthening and prolonging their own grip on power. Sadly, this also seems to be a never-ending strategy – leading to whispers amongst the wise that “war and misery are business strategies of the power elite”.
[The schoolyard analogy works in this case as well. When a bully picks on a weaker student, and makes a huge spectacle of it, a few students amongst the onlookers would be drawn towards the bully – while others may draw back. Of course the cunning bully makes mental note of all such reactions.]
A “modern” man or woman may be shocked – or even horrified – to learn that some aspects of “modern” societies are no different from those of much older and simpler societies! After all, the dash to “modernity” seems mainly to be a frantic and misguided dash “away from simplicity”! Was it all for nothing?
An inescapable fact of human life is that some key aspects of “group behavior” or “crowd behavior” can never be transcended – no matter how “modern” or “post-modern” a proud society may judge itself to be!
Keeping in mind these crucial psycho-dynamics of power, we can now continue with our general observations about the ways in which “raw power” is exercised in any human society – regardless of the society’s specific characteristics.
[Note: Points 1 to 7 were included in Part 2 of the series.]
- Grand buildings and monuments, ceremonies, institutions, formalities, insignia, invocations, proclamations … et cetera … are the outward trappings of power and wealth – employed to keep the dumb and the powerless in awe.
Tribes of priests, lawyers and courtiers are always at hand to support all such lucrative business tactics. Power elites attend in their finest dresses and jewelry, putting on a solemn and sanctimonious act, trying to appear “concerned for the country” – and more “cultured” than mere mobsters and their molls.
By means such as these, the ordinarily good people of the country are duped into cheering the entire spectacle power – accepting that as being “love of country”. In reality, of course, the good people are being readied for their essential role as workers, tillers of the land, cannon folder and tax slaves.
- Presumably, “Satan” or “the Devil” does not need any justification for being “evil”. He is “evil” because he is “evil” – just as “God” is ”good” because he is “good”. We must take these assertions “on faith”, as absolutes. Certain religions even seem to posit this bipolarity as a fundamental fact of existence.
But human beings do need some kind of justification – or “psychological cover” – for their evil deeds. In this context, “God” serves a most useful purpose. A vast range of selfish activities can be disguised as being “in harmony with God’s will”. All that is needed is some clever and convoluted argumentation – which the power elites in any society can arrange all too easily.
Justification in the name of “God” places actions of the power elites beyond the scope of man-made laws. Also, this strategy makes it easier for the powerful to victimize people who are rather conveniently accused of being “godless”.
- Man-made laws should in theory be aimed at generating harmony, justice and human welfare within the society. However, these are usually not the aims of the power elites in a society. Therefore they usually create laws designed to suit their convenience – but disguised as being “in public interest”. Such duplicity also needs clever and convoluted argumentation, which is easily arranged.
- In the few points above, we see that power elites create smoke-screens out of
- man-made laws, and
- the institutions and rituals of power.
One would think that these enormously powerful mechanisms would suffice!
No! They do not! Nothing they do seems to suffice!
There are no limits to the insecurity felt by the guilty. They must do more and more in futile attempts to douse their burning sense of insecurity!
Hence the further need for secret societies and cabals, secret initiations and other rites, oaths of loyalty, peer pressure, blackmail, psychological manipulation … and all such nonsense. It is “One for all and all for one” in shared evil – not in the brave, open and joyful spirit of the Three Musketeers!
- Power projection is invariably accompanied by a subtle – or sometimes not-so-subtle – projection of immunity from man-made laws. This immunity may be expressed as some kind of “exceptionalism” – made into an article of faith!
There are two common ingredients in this projected immunity. One of them is the old and familiar delusion of power. The other essential ingredient lies in the fact that all the “legal levers of power” are in the hands of a pliable “law enforcement agency”. Whether or not a civil or criminal case is to be pursued vigorously is decided by a reliable branch of the executive – how convenient!
- In a schoolyard gang, no member has an “official” position of power; the dynamics of power are free-flowing – they have not been formalized.
On the other hand, most “gangs of grown-ups” are inseparable from formalized “institutions” of power and patronage. In such gangs, therefore, a person’s role is defined by both (a) his or her individual qualities, and (b) his or her “official” position in the power hierarchy.
- Gangs of all kinds are based on cunning “carrot-and-stick” exploitation of the sense of dissatisfaction, insecurity and anxiety felt by ordinary human beings.
But gangs themselves are motivated by greed and rapacity. There are many different ways to define “civilization” – but surely one of them is this: “a heavily ornamented and thereby disguised dance of greed, rapacity and insecurity”.
- A primary tactic of the power elite is that of not allowing “the proletariat” to know what really goes on “within the deep state”. Usually “the proletariat” tends to have a naïve and idealistic belief in “democracy”, “education”, “transparency”, “public service”, “sacrifice” … et cetera. Such belief is immensely useful to power elites, since it makes “the proletariat” more amenable to manipulation.
“The proletariat” must be sustained in this belief. A stock of idealistic platitudes – to be uttered in grave and solemn tones – is utilized to sustain “the proletariat” in their belief. A very high degree of duplicity, cynicism, acting ability and loquacity is therefore required of a successful power monger.
- Once “power” becomes a yardstick of success – it does not take long for it to become the only yardstick of success. All other human values – loyalty, honesty, compassion, bravery, justice, scholarship – are gradually squeezed out from “the corridors and circles of power”. Of course “wealth” retains its position as the immediate and most reliable “handmaiden of power”.
The result is that within a gang of power-mongers – and also between two or more gangs of power-mongers – there ensues a constant and “no-holds-barred” tussle for power. A power-monger makes and breaks alliances not only within his or her “primary gang of operation”, but also inside other gangs. Such actions give rise to divided loyalties, treachery, embedded moles, payoffs, and so on.
- The author used to wonder how two diplomats from “hostile powers” can warmly smile and shake hands with each other – before each goes on to accuse the other’s country of grave misdeeds and threatens dire consequences.
Hurray! Now the author has figured that one out! Clearly a part of the explanation lies in having to follow orders – or else! But there is also another likely reason behind the bonhomie.
The two diplomats – say from “Power X” and “Power Y” – both have in place pension plans, escape options, book deals and/or future careers as “experts” in think tanks or media outlets. The two may even help each other out with such “contingency options” – out of a sense of professional empathy. The diplomats thus share much more with each other than their public vitriol may suggest.
- We may speculate a little about what makes a person into a bully – whether in a schoolyard or in an adult group.
It would seem that “bullying behavior” is an attempt to rebel against painful reality – that is, to challenge painful reality. Indeed, such a rebellion or challenge would be heroic if it did not cause immense misery!
A challenge to reality is a challenge to the law of karma itself. Indeed, it is quite possible that there is a latent – or sometimes not-so-latent! – desire in Homo Sapiens to say “f*** off” to reality itself. An instinctive reaction in a few people – potential or actual bullies – seems to be similar to the following:
If the pain of life is going to be so acute, then why the h*** do I have to accept it? Why don’t I just go ahead and impose my own will on reality? Who can stop me?
Of course this is the wrong reaction to the reality of dukkha, because it ends up multiplying dukkha rather than reducing it.
It is an empirically verifiable fact that the results of coercive “raw power” have a very short half-life, measured in weeks or months – that is, no more than a “blip” on the historical scale. The grief and bitterness caused by coercive acts of “raw power” ensure a total “wipe-out” of the effects of such acts once the coercion is removed, which may happen through man-made or natural causes.
Of course the immediate agents of coercive “raw power” – being in rebellion against realty – are in denial about reality. Decline in their collective and also individual power is therefore inevitable. With continuing brutal actions, reality becomes more and more unbearable. Wrong lessons are learned from painful experience; instinctive, “knee-jerk” defenses only hasten the inevitable.
Thus a person drunk on “raw power” is in the deadly grip of a one-sided and blinkered view of reality. For “normal” functioning, such a person relies on “stock responses” and habit patterns – that is, a “front”. Such a person is incapable of coming up with creative responses to challenges. A kind of “power freeze” sets in – with no more experience of what it means to be fully alive.
With help from court poets and scribes, a “rising power” has traditionally been made to appear “heroic” and “majestic”. But a “disoriented and declining power” is pathetic – although poets and scribes would continue their assigned work, as long as the treasury continues to pay their salaries.
Is a declining power more of a threat to humanity than a rising power? That seems to be a great imponderable of history!
[To be continued …]
Dr. Naresh Jotwani is a semi-retired academic living in India and a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. Apart from part-time engagements in engineering education and consulting, he engages in an in-depth, personal exploration of how Gautam Buddha’s profound discoveries and teachings can be applied to the acute problems of modern life.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 30 Apr 2018.
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