Tag Archives: power; power management

The Nature of Power, Part 2

The management of power requires personal authority.
The Power of Personal Authority

Much of this post, as with part 1, is a precis of The Parable Of The Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution by Andrew Schmookler (1984). For me, the book is a brilliant summary of our current cultural stuckness.

If an expanding society willingly stops where its growth would infringe on others, it allows death to catch up and overtake its population [it must become stable . . . to birth and death!]. With no natural order . . . to prevent it, some will surely choose to take what belongs to their neighbors rather than accept the limits that are compulsory for every other form of life.

The Parable of The Tribes

The parable suggested by Schmookler is that of a group of tribes living within reach of one another. They could all choose peace, but what if one is ambitious for expansion and conquest.

The others must respond! Their options are:

  • defeat and destruction,
  • defeat and absorption,
  • fleeing to another location (likely temporary, as well as loss of homeland),
  • successful defense by adoption of their own patterns of aggression

“No one can choose peace, but anyone can impose upon all the necessity for power. . . . Power is like a contaminant, a disease, which once introduced will gradually and inexorably become universal in the system of competing societies. . . . A selection for power among civilized societies is inevitable.”

“What is viable in a world beset by the struggle for power is what can prevail. What prevails may not be what best meets the needs of mankind. . . . Power therefore rules human destiny.”

There will be a selective advantage to those who hunger for power. Power is a selective process that gains its potency from being cumulative over time.

What Determines Societal Development

But power is not the only factor determining societal development, merely an important one. Thus there can be other social forces such as the desire for humanizing values, for compassion and beauty, but power competes! And competes in major ways [as evident by our cultural history and our current political environment.]

“Since the rise of civilization, there has been a strong note of torment in the human condition,” monstrous perhaps, evil perhaps. But Parable is not an indictment of human nature — all that is required is the creative development of culture to a certain point of freedom, plus the human capacity of movement towards aggressive behavior (but not the necessity). It is an inevitable stage of human development.

Parable also points out that the parable of the tribes is present both between external groups, and within any one group. The internal processes are what create the benefits and the deficits of governance and of the judiciary system. The dynamics of power can subvert the internal systems just as effectively as the external.

We need to be alarmed about our destructiveness as a species and of our current culture , but it is a simple consequence of our creativity, a tragedy representative of the inevitable options for power. Yet the fall of the tragic hero is the opportunity for humility and recovery.

We Must Manage Power

There is “no way to return the dangerous djinni of human power back into the bottle.” And perhaps mankind will evolve to “control the actions of all to the degree needed to protect the well-being of the whole.” The development of the global village offers this possibility.

Thus Schmookler ends the introductory chapter with the quote I provided in the last post:

The laws of man require power, for power can be controlled with power. The challenge is to design systems that use power to disarm power. Only in such an order can mankind be free.

To all this, I would add the following:

  • Cooperation and authenticity are the necessary vehicles for designing a more mature culture. But they are not sufficient conditions — the transmutation of power is needed.
    • And to be authentic is dangerous. If you have power already you can probably manage the danger but if you do not you are in major trouble. Historically that meant you were killed — in modern times you’re not likely to be killed; we have simply become more subtle in how we threaten people. The movie Trumbo, the story of the blacklisting of Dalton Trumbo during the McCarthy era, is an excellent example of how this is done.
  • It is said that darkness cannot hide in the light. But it can hide! It can hide where there is the denial that darkness exists. This is the current dilemma of global warming, hiding in disinformation.
  • There are many who advocate that we just need be kinder to each other.
    • I am not convinced; we are capable of aggression and viciousness. Attempting to suppress this feature of humanness does not work.

What we need is maturity. We need to be able to do something else, something that includes our tendency to aggression! A fundamental need when stuck is to do something else that transcends and includes. This is the fundamental basis I offer in my anger management program.

The Nature of Power, Part 1

Arrogance - The Power of Domination
Arrogance – The Power of Domination

I’m going to continue with how I ended the last post — the need to manage power. I believe it is essential to do so. I also believe that the book The Parable Of The Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution (Andrew Schmookler, 1984) provides brilliant insight into the nature of power.

I am slowly re-reading this book (which I will refer to as Parable), so it will be long before I complete it (likely I will do a number of posts on it). For now, I do not want to lose my immediate insights (and a friend wants this information for a book she is writing). Much of these two posts will be a précis of the first Chapter of Parable.

First to understand power. The definition I use commonly is “the ability to influence.” I distinguish two kinds of power:

  • External power, or the ability to dominate, the ability of one party to impose their will on the second party without the permission of the second party.
    • Domination is characterized by fear, both on the part of the second party (fear of immediate loss) and also on the part of the first party (fear of reprisal).
  • Internal power, or personal power, the ability to influence because the behavior of the first party impresses the second party to the extent that the second party wants to interact with first party.
    • Personal power is characterized by a sense of aliveness, personal integrity, authentic relationships, and the ability to contribute.
    • Many people want this kind of power, both those who have it and those who do not. It is gained by personal growth.

So, some thoughts before I give you a précis of the first chapter of Parable.

Does a deer have choice? Yes, in a sense. Does a human being have choice? Definitely, and seemingly more so.

Can a deer have power. Possibly. Can a lion have power? Definitely a lion can be a dominator in seeking food sources. Can a human being have power? Definitely.

What are the differences? That is a part of what Parable seeks to address.

Parable suggests an alternative view to the commonsense view that human beings have created civilization by choosing beneficial outcomes for humanity. As evidence, the past ten thousand years of human development have been inconsistent and disappointing in terms of what humanity could have achieved, given the striving for good that cultural exemplars manifest. We are capable of great cooperation, but our consistent behaviors are competitive. Why?

First of all, the evolution of human beings has taken millions of years, not just ten thousand. For any species of life to develop, there has been the need for environmental stability. Life has basically been the adaptation to niches, only a few of which have then favored flexibility of response. The more complex niches have allowed more complexity to evolve. Selection eventually favored learning as a more efficient route of development, on which our human complexity has been built over several million years.

Next, because of their ability to learn, human beings maximized the development of culture, the ability to transmit what we have learned from generation to generation. As part of this, tools and language arose, as well as bodily modifications such as heels, hands and mouths to make use of culture.

But culture created the unpredictable animal, the freedom to choose. A “creature with the freedom to choose can be dangerous — to self, to others of his kind, to all life.” Thus arose the myths — only humans can confront the choice between good and evil.

The development of culture was radical, but culture “developed over hundreds of thousands of years without disruption of continuity” in individuals, society, and the natural order. Human societies were limited by the food that nature provided spontaneously! [These were the hunter-gatherers described by Herman in Future Primal, a people representative of the first democracy.]

The development of agriculture and domestication meant more food, more reliably, and thus open-ended changes in the structure of human society. Thus could society shift from hunter-gatherer (small, mobile groups, with social equality) to civilization (large groups, specialized).

In nature, all of life pursues survival, but within biologically evolved limits — “the struggle is part of order. . . . With the rise of civilization, the limits fall away.” Previously growth was limited by scarcity and consequent death. Civilization brought the capacity of seemingly unlimited growth.

In so doing, “full-scale civilization arose and showed a frightening face.” Social equality gave rise to “rigid stratification with the many compelled to serve the few! Civilization magnified the freedom, but was no longer subject to the limitations posed by nature. Civilization became governed a wholly new evolutionary principle, power!

To be continued.