Thursday, October 23, 2014
What is Power?
So I recently saw both Sin City and it's new sequel, and the esteemed Powers Boothe is excellent in both films (though only briefly in the first). His most wondrous line was "Power is is Power does." Because who knows more about Power than a man named Powers? Well, as much as Powers Boothe knows to most of us power is a nebulous thing. However the easiest way to describe it is one's ability to influence another human being, whether voluntary or involuntary. Power translates fairly evenly to natural resources, military strength, the sheer number of humans under one's control, and one's skill at manipulation through fear, deception, and even positive reinforcement.
Power does not however, automatically translate to money itself. Sure money can theoretically equal power but money itself is a nebulous, flowing thing that doesn't actually signify something in and of itself; it is a simple stand-in for a barter system. A marker as it were. To have enough money to achieve something appreciable as an individual (i.e. be the sole financier of a major military conflict or revolution) is functionally impossible; as that figure is in the trillions of dollars; thus these vast fortunes that people accumulate are functionally more or less useless. You can have billions of dollars, sure, but you can't actually effect change with that sum due simply to the sheer preponderance of wealth in the world (JD Rockefeller may have had some capacity in his era, however) and the logistics of controlling millions and, indeed, billions of people.
Thus wealth itself is largely meaningless beyond a certain point, the most expensive sum of things an individual can buy that is actually useful is maybe ~$30 million, anything beyond that does nothing beyond slightly influence election campaigns (for which there are major restrictions) or give to a charity and help a few people in the short term. So, if it isn't wealth you should strive for in the pursuit of power, what is there to pursue? Well in America it's very difficult to say, much of the elements that would make one powerful are simultaneously divided and institutionalized in such a way as to benefit those that already have power (which is the nature of humanity); in broad terms to pursue power you need to be able to influence people rapidly and effectively.
For one: Have a message, it doesn't necessarily matter what that message is as long as you're able to make it resonate with others through speaking, motioning, or demonstrating en masse (not in small numbers mind, in vast and broad numbers sweeping across the entire society). Power can be created with eloquence, however more often the best messages are simple and easy to understand; these messages largely focus on single human emotions, anger, hate, fear, love, and reconciliation being amongst them. Anger is most common and generally the easiest to utilize.
What makes a seemingly small and archaic organization such as ISIS powerful? Well they seem to be competently organized for one; structured effectively with a zealous devotion to their cause; however that zealousness is organic rather than a symptom of the systemic design. You can not create that kind of passion in people through training, you have to produce it from some other means; generally with some kind of emotional resonance. Thus Iraq's military fails even with a vast superiority in numbers and materials; the smaller, more aggressive force is functionally more useful than this country-wide organization. Obviously a larger force from the US or Canada (wouldn't that be something?) or whomever could easily repel and hold basically all of the territory ISIS has, naturally they wouldn't be able to eliminate them due to the nature of Guerilla warfare and invading an opponent's homeland; but that sort of feverish devotion to a cause is one of the symptoms of power.
Power is situational, fleeting even; it doesn't hold in one place for long. Some men have borne the mantle for their entire lives, but once they die the message rarely gets passed on effectively to the proceeding generations. To make an organization sustain extraordinarily levels of influence for more than 20 years is an extremely difficult task, but it is one that can happen through communication and faith in the particular cause. While some small handful of men have had the term "powerful" applied to them in a non-erroneous fashion, we need some way to translate this down to a lower level so that the followers of such men can still maintain that power in their passing. So what is ultimately the answer here? Who really wields that kind of power? Why, God of course! Religions are the only organizations in human history that sustain power throughout time; and the reason is simple, there is a Nietszche-identified trait in humans to pursue some sort of belief about the end of their existence; it is universal, even in those that deny it. Powerful groups must embrace some sort of over arching faith or belief in a cause beyond themselves and all such causes are founded not on logic or reasoning but in simple emotional resonance.