Monday, February 6, 2017

The Price of Power

When a person has power, there is risk of corruption.  I find a quote I can connect with at the end:

I have a personal prejudice against tyranny.  I used to be in law enforcement.  I have seen what power can do to people with my own eyes.  I have arrested people and ticke[te]d them.  All power, even lawful power, degrades the person who wields it.  It is not just the victim who is abased.  The enforcer is also dishonored.  I simply will not be a party to authoritarianism anymore. 
If you think power is good I advise you to go out and get power as a cop or a jailer.  Find out what it is really like.  Then come back to your senses when you realize that all power is more or less evil.
As I have probably said before, I had a very brief stint in law enforcement.  I would not have made such a universal application, but I fully understood, even back then, the feeling expressed in the quote.  I am afraid I was not all that good at my job.  I let people slide.  I bent the rules.  I was chewed out more than once by my superiors.  

There is a way to avoid the kind of degradation that the writer talks about, and that is humility.  Oddly enough -- and I'm going to get all philosophical here, it can be frightening to be humble.  Humility requires courage.  I am going to suggest that true arrogance, as opposed to virtuous confidence, can be a function or expression of cowardice.

Humility and confidence are compatible.  Pride and humility are, of course, polar opposites.  In the First Epistle of John, we are told that there is no fear in love, that perfect, i.e., fully developed, love casts out all fear.  God's love makes us both confident and humble.   It gives us courage even as it preserves us from the corrupting influences of any power that might come into our hands, because, naturally, we are going to have power in some form over someone now and then.

This probably goes to why I harbor such a deep distrust of politicians and others who seek power.  It may even be why I have come to be fairly supportive of Trump.  He has a rather foolish, from someone seeking political office, courage.  Most seekers of power will never dare to tell the truth about what they want -- possibly even to themselves.

I believe that the real driving force behind the quest for power is often found in fear, and that fear is probably difficult to name -- something of an existential fear, the fear of meaninglessness.  

I think we can apply this to all the crap about triggering and hate speech and the protesting and rioting that is going on.  We just saw a violent and destructive protest at the University of California - Berkeley over a speech that was going to be given by the fabulous Milo Yiannopoulos.  Humble people would have listened to Milo without fear.  A speech, words, especially if they are not true, are not to be feared.

Humans have advanced, at least in part, because we are able to communicate with one another, record our words in some form -- including the earliest oral traditions -- and correct actions and adapt our behaviors based on our continuing interactions with reality.  As our interactions have now been recorded in written form across generations, we have a good basis for assessing the potential outcomes of a course of action.  If we are willing to make use of them.  This is called education.

Essentially this past week we saw a university, obstensibly engaged in education, violently blocking information that could prove vital to a generation's success and prosperity, if not their actual physical survival.  No one was going to be forced to accept Milo's conclusions or modify their behavior based on what he said.  His statements could have been heard, analyzed, debated, and considered.

The rioters, instead, acted as those under direct threat.  They acted in fear, fearing, perhaps, the potential loss of power that a contradiction to their narrative might entail.  What they lack is clearly humility.

Arrogance has become the hallmark of the modern world whether in science, politics, or religion.  A humble person fearlessly hears those who disagree with him.  He doesn't resort to disqualifying an opponent by labeling them as some despised thing in order to dismiss the other's opinion.  He doesn't appeal to his own authority or position, or that of another, in order to suggest that power or popularity defines truth.

Scientists used to be confident enough in themselves and in their methodology to accept challenges and debate on the basis of data and experimentation.  Now a computer model that has failed in predictive ability is upheld and defended by consensus.  Government funding rather than nature declares the winner of the battle for truth.  

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