When I was a child
I crapped in my pants
Today I am a king in the world
Now I make others crap in their pants
This is the indigestible truth
Of too much power
That cannot be changed
Even by changing kings
Few people disagree that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Still, most people will gladly accept a little corruption, if it is backed by a little power swinging their way. Of course, corruption seems much worse if we are on the short end of it! Power is not distributed equally among humans, and those privileged to possess it, routinely wield it for their own advantage. Whether through unconscious bias and egocentricity or just plain selfishness, imbalances of power in human relationships leads to corruption. Even with good intentions, those with greater power end up molding the world into their image, at the expense of the reality of other people’s lives which are disproportionately discounted. Who of us would not want the magic wand of power to mold the world to fit our ways?
Relinquishing power is not common, and might even be considered foolish by conventional wisdom. The point is not to relinquish any and all power. The point is not to have substantially more power than others. This is rooted in recognizing that power differentials lead to human corruption; or, perhaps better put, lead to a corruption of human community. In fact, relinquishing power in order to help establish a more healthy balance of power in human relationships is a form of exercising power. This form of exercising power witnesses to an understanding of a higher power present in reality, that more egalitarian balances or power produces better humans and human community. The sad truth is that most people have more faith in fascism or other forms of concentrated power than they do in egalitarian human relationships. This is almost universally true when those with lots of power are aligned with our own particular interests. Even better yet if I am the benevolent dictator!
Large power imbalances typically result from and are maintained by violence. A relative surplus of power quite predictably leads to a lazy humanity perpetuated by force, routinely re-“making” humanity in the mold of those wielding the power. The purview of power is expediency, playing into our bias for our own ease rather than than often difficult work of building healthy human community. The natural ascendency of the masses rooted in their common and democratic (in the sense of majoritarian) everyday reality can only be put down by large power differentials driven by elites. Historically, there have been numerous rationalizations by elites to justify their minority rule over the masses. None of these rationalizations can stand as they are founded on the bankruptcy of violence. Violence is not persuasion; it is overwhelming force. Violence is what people rely on when reasonable persuasion fails. Of course, violence is persuasive in the sense that any human act carries with it the power of modeling how humans should act. However, violence does not lend itself to reasonable human relationships. Violence is the lowest form of community. It should be no surprise that violence leads to more violence. I actually like surprises! If we meet violence with non-violence, there can be some really cool surprises made possible. If we want something more than violence, the inevitable outcome of large power differentials, then we need to do something else. We can do better.