Archives for April 2009


Absolute Power

Does it corrupt absolutely? I want to believe not, just as I disagreed with my professor about the “tragedy of the commons” I want to disagree with Lord Acton’s saying: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Can’t good and faithful people be powerful? Is there something about becoming powerful that precludes the good and the faithful? I am pondering all of this because of my own personal disillusionment. My disillusionment covers all kinds of subjects from the predatory lending practices of what I thought were respectable banks to my personal knowledge of people who take advantage of their position to their own gain without thought of the cost of those actions. Maybe I should have been disappointed earlier, I am 50! I do remember a fuzzy time years ago when I felt disappointed in our social structure. I remember thinking that I had done everything correct according to the prescribed American culture and I was very disappointed with the outcome.
But this, this disillusionment with humankind’s inability to maintain power without trying to control, this disillusionment is new. I’ve long been familiar with economic power as a control point, yet somehow I had painted economic power in a different category; like husbands and wives trying to work things out, that was the economic trade off that I imagined. NOT SO! Economic power rules the world and is especially established in America, where humans can commit all kinds of crimes and buy their way out of any punishment.
Back to the absolute power, corrupts absolutely. I can recall the first time that I heard that “saying”. I remember recoiling and declaring to myself that it cannot be true, surely there are good people in power. Surely power and goodness are not mutually exclusive.
Ah, here is the rub, our founding fathers actually had a good idea when they created a united but separate union. What occurs as a result of so many voices is that no one voice goes unquestioned. Recall that our forefathers and mothers were trying to escape the tyranny of a royalty and papacy that DID NO wrong and therefore refused to be questioned about any of their actions. The church and the royal houses would systematically murder anyone who questioned anything that was decided by them. The decisions they made were self centered, decisions made without thought of cost to others.
That is why I believe our forefathers and mothers were so intelligent – because – by design they raised a cacophony of questioning voices so that each and every voice is questioned. It is difficult for any one person to “get away” with anything. Free press has taken this a step further, because it pursues the “good old boys” with such zest.
Power is not what is corrupt, yet I must now agree that power, when unquestioned, when followed blindly, when allowed full rein can deceive everyone. Unquestioned power can make the power-wielder believe that s/he is always correct, always right and actually should have all of the advantages and benefits of their own station in life.  This kind of power, unchecked, runs rampant in our society.  It causes the most minor damage and the ultimate damage, loss of life.  Unchecked power is, by definition, selfish and does not weigh the cost of the demand.  Often, when it is economic power, the question of COST goes unnoticed.  There is no acknowledged cost, only demand.

It’s important to be questioned – no matter who you are – your ideas, your structure, your assumptions, should be questioned. If you are powerful and you refuse questioning and your position is biblically righteous, you will have many people around you who are not true to you. How can they be true to you when you are always right? It’s not a human condition that is sustainable: what I mean by that is that if I am in ANY relationship where the other is always right (in our culture) that implies that I am always wrong. Who will stay in a relationship wherein they are always wrong? The human condition requires that we do something, we either vent our frustration and anger and in doing so be untrue to the relationship OR we leave the relationship, one or the other is inevitable.

Indira Gandhi says that “The power to question is the basis of all human progress.”  On that I agree.
Questioning voices insistent on discussion are a GOOD thing. The irony is that by listening and understanding others we actually gain more power and influence…