The abuse of power

Billions of dollars disappear in the dark and opaque bureaucratic pits of coal mining and so many other shady places. But why? Is it really about human greed and money? Maybe, but we have to consider that every rupee is only a means to one end: power.

The Oxford Dictionary defines power as “the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.” Power as such is penetrating every aspect of our life, whether it may be our relationship with other people, the state, or whatsoever.

The Nobel Laureate and philosopher Bertrand Russell defined power in his book Power: A New Social Analysis as the capability of achieving one’s aims. Therefore, money is nothing but an instrument of power, as it is always implemented for one’s aims.

Further, since any premeditated action has almost always a goal, it involves power. I would even go so far as to claim, that every act, as long as it is conscious, is necessarily subject to my aims and thus simultaneously to power. However, the same way my aims do not have to be malicious, power does not have to be malignant.

Unfortunately, power has the propensity to be abused and to be pursued in unhealthy excess, for it does not know boundaries. The way we abuse our nature is a perfect exemplum for this: by exploiting natural resources, we hope to gain more power, which we utilize for our goals.

Russell argues that the insatiable hunger for power is an idiosyncrasy of the human being, which is not shared by any other animal. But why this “impulse to power”, as Russell calls it? Simply, because  power is used to fulfill our goals, and our goals are the end to our wishes.

The psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm was right, when he wrote “I cannot be satisfied, since my wishes are endless.” Only if we understand that more power and the fulfillment of our wishes does not mean ultimate beatitude, we will be able to overcome our unnatural yearning for power.

In my opinion, there are two reasons why we constantly wish for more. Firstly, our wishes are closely related to our will. The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer saw will (or Radscha-Guna) as an engrained will to life (quite similar to what Baruche Spinoza called conatus). According to Schopenhauer, “all will finds it’s source in need, thus in absence, thus in sorrow.”

It is the nature of the imperfect human to lack something, as long as he restricts himself to the immediate world, where his physical life is and will always be limited. For Schopenhauer the easiest alternative to the eternal and vicious circle of willing is a state of lethargy and boredom (or Tama-Guna). The modern Reality TV and Playstation generation is a breathing example for this.

Secondly, there is a problem that already Thomas Hobbes pointed out in his magnum opus Leviathan. He thought that the human is self-interested ans suspicious by nature. This would cause everyone to accumulate more weapons, goods and commodities, so that someone else would not be able use the same resources and commodities against themselves. Although I personally do not agree with Hobbes philosophy of  homo homini lupus (man is a wolf to [his fellow] man), I find some truth in it.

Especially in modern times, our consistent focus on the future, our anonymity and lack of true communication as well as our self-centered way of living creates an atmosphere of insecurity, whereupon we react by hiding behind a colossal wall consisting of goods and power. So what to do?

Give up the concept of power altogether? That is impossible, for power is a requisite of our world, as long as we have to act. However, there are two ways of challenging the problem. On the one hand, we could try to understand the concept of power better, as already Russell suggested.

Surely, this path of contemplation must be accompanied by an urge to live in the present, true communication and trust. Yet, this method would probably never bring us to the full understanding of power, as our thinking as such will often by tricked by our natural will to life.

The second solution, on the other hand, would be to leave the realm, where power is governing our actions. You may call this the path of meditation. By detaching ourselves from this world and by just being one with the only power that is always pure and good, the divine power, we might be able to overcome our desire for earthly power.

Whatever may be the way to gain “pure knowledge”, as Schopenhauer calls it, it is certainly not what Friedrich Nietzsche summarized with his concept of “will to power”, but something that – as negative as it might sound – represses our will to life in a positive manner. Something that countervails our insatiable avarice, or pleonexia, as already the old Greeks called it.


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