17 February 2022

The seduction of power

The seduction of power


Topic by Ines

Essay by Lawrence


I will limit myself to discuss political power although this is just an arbitrary perspective. We can find power relevant in business, family clans, or even society in general.


Political power is different because this has the capacity to influence everyone’s behaviour. Political power can even force people to do things that might be necessary but not necessarily attractive to the doer: for example defending one’s country. This might explain why we look at political power as a privileged occupation.


Some virtuous people might genuinely seek power to implement programmes to benefit the general population and introduce fair and equitable government. Others just look at power as a means to favour themselves or their friends or as an opportunity to confer riches on favoured people. How people reach a position of power depends on the method used to reach this status. As a rule of thumb, I would say people with good intentions would use some form of democracy to achieve their goals, although even the term democracy is itself problematic.


Alternatively, for a quick and ready description, non democratic means tend to be used to accede to power. Although people who gain power this way want to oppress the population rather than empower them or enrich them.  


This popular view of power might explain the sense of seduction associated with power. A meaning of seduction is an attraction towards something (someone) that can also be seen as something accessible. It is not that power is easily obtained but rather it possible to obtain. At least in theory, power is accessible even if in reality this might be simply wishful thinking.


A good reason why we are seduced by power is that as human beings we tend to focus on the object rather than the details involved in reaching an objective. This is a real problem for us humans; details take time to assimilate and technical “know how to” requires real experience. But time might dilute our motivation to obtain an objective;  we just don’t like to wait for things as evidenced by “fast food” vs “real food” we are prepared to pay for fast and not for real. In effect, we replace: “what does it take to achieve something?” to “what do I want?” The latter question is much easier to consider than the former.


By failing to consider “how is power obtained?” we fail to understand the structure of power. Those familiar with the The Prince by Machiavelli would appreciate the struggle to achieve power, and then an even greater struggle to keep power. In general, the way we see power is from a spectator point of view. We see the public relations side of power and not the exercise of power with peers hiding political knives ready to replace the leader. Thus those who pursue a political career, access to power is part of the nature of the job. And those who fail to understand the nature and mechanics of the game are destined to fail: the ex President Trump is a good example of someone who was not familiar with how to play the power game and how to play it.


I want to suggest that seen from the person who has power, the chances are that power was a means to remain in power. A prince would already have some innate amount of power, but that power remains useful if it can be protected by a higher access to power. An abuse or misuse of power would sooner or later lead to the downfall of that person: this is evident throughout history with Prince Andrew of the UK the latest example.


I would argue that what is attractive and seductive about power is the status and trappings of power and not the possession of power itself. As I tried to argue those who possess power need power to protect their power: this is like some vicious circle where to protect one’s power the person needs up the game for more power. A good example is the career progression of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who started as a KGB officer.


To sum up, the reason why we are seduced by power is probably because we are not fully cognisant of what is involved in having power, how to reach power and then to minimise the number of people we antagonise. We might also not have what it takes to obtain power in the same way some people do not have what it takes to be medical doctors or high tower window cleaners. Of course, power has an innate attraction by virtue of what can be done with it. As it is said, some people are born into power, some people have power conferred upon them and some achieve power. What type of person are you?


Best Lawrence


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