The Will-to-Control grows out of our resistance to accept our vulnerability. At first glance this seems like a good idea. We are so conditioned to positivism, to striving to maintain an optimistic stance, that we’d rather suppress anything that might shake our confidence. Is the alternative to just lie down and take it? To accept every and any impingement on us simply because we don’t have the power to fight back? It’s surely right to resist anyone trying to lead us down that path! And so it goes…. Willful misunderstanding has a strong pathway and is ready to de-rail anything that cuts at the lie of our invulnerability.
Strength versus power. We tend to see them as synonyms. Or that strength is a measure of the power available to us. In a Newtonian sense this may be true, but what if we go beyond reduction? Let’s start by asking, “Who’s strength and who’s power?”
Let’s begin with our own and then contrast it with greater “forces.” Strength in this regard is a capacity. It’s a capacity to handle stresses with robustness. Power tends to be taken to mean an ability. Within the short-cuts of common-sense assumptions power is seen as the ability to carry out one’s will.
We begin to see the terms diverge. Strength leads towards a greater capacity to endure while power, the will-to-power, breeds a dependency upon a wished-for direct connection between desire and outcome. At this point they can be seen as mutually exclusive! Investment in power directly corrodes one’s strength.
Why would we do this then? It comes back to maintaining the lie of invulnerability.
As young dependent beings we rightly fear that unless we are cared-for we are vulnerable beyond our capacities to cope. We are assured – or we find ways to console ourselves – that someone will protect us. Within a culture that took an interest in our development – instead of taking us as raw material for exploitation – we would grow out of this dependency and, as in the case of initiations in tribal societies, we would transition from a state of dependency to one of a building and deepening sense of strength. Instead we are thrown haphazardly into conditions that threaten our vulnerability without adding to our capacity to cope. This muddle leaves us without a place to stand. In our precarious state we come to lean on fantasies that help us maintain a magical cloak of invulnerability. We fetishize the trappings of strength. We give priority to bolstering any attitude that helps us resist coming to the full realization that our vulnerability is absolute and inviolable while all that we value is contingent and transitory. This bargain creates a momentum behind the force of will that gives us the illusion that it can control our conditions. We chase after power as an end.
There is a feed-back loop at work. The more precarious our strength, due to its erosion as we chase after power, the more vulnerable we feel. The more vulnerable we feel – within this precarious state of dis-equipoise, the more we strive after power, the more our capacity for strength is diminished, and so it goes…. As with any human dynamic that trends towards increasing infantilization, this erosion of capacities magnifies and is magnified by all the other factors that impinge on our gaining maturity of outlook. As the process gathers force and momentum it brings on increasing levels of stress and a concurrent sense of urgency. Our focus narrows and all we can see are the giants we’ve unleashed and the battles we’ve set them to fighting. Our capacity to accept any other alternative withers away as our systems become ever more brittle.
This has been termed a fall into the patterns of the Lizard Brain. I’ve used this characterization here in the past. It seems now that while this does close down our capacities to a primitive limbic level, we differ from a lizard in continuing to have a super-charged imagination and memory. The easy contentment of an unchallenged lizard sunning itself on a rock between bouts of rage or panic is unavailable to us. The stories we elaborate continue to proliferate and we never have the rest that limbic mind, any mind, requires.
While we look to any excuse to ascribe power to ourselves, or our nation, our society, our culture – anything we can identify with and use that identification to build up a division between Us and the Other – who must not have power, lest they do what we wish to do to them back at us! We take examples of immense energies acting in the world as models for the power we wish for ourselves. This appropriation of abilities we find, and misunderstand, in nature is released in our attributing these forces to Our Gods, or better yet, to exploiting our cleverness to develop technologies that seem to give US those powers to Control directly.
The trick is that while we gain access to immeasurable power in this way, we do not gain control of those powers. This brings us to this pesky term control and what it might mean. To a being that lacks the strength to face our ultimate vulnerability, the existence of a capacity-to-control is central to developing and maintaining a fantasy that vulnerability can be defeated. Outside of this loop of tautology there is no evidence that control exists. There is plenty of evidence for the existence of order. It seems to expand and can be seen to include everything that we tend to call chaos and disorder. These are brought into a concept of order when we accept that complexity can expand infinitely. Whatever we cannot understand can be assumed to be partaking of a level of complexity beyond our capacity to measure, instead of taking our capacity as the measure of what is or is not ordered. This is one of David Bohm‘s central insights.
There is no “control” behind an earthquake, or a cosmic collision. There is order, even in the tiniest detail of turbulence within the flow of a charging tsunami. Unless we can take the conclusions of these two statements to heart we cannot get beyond where we are caught.
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While the will-to-control, the will-to-power, take hold of us and send us reeling they maintain conditions within us that keep us pushing, striving to fulfill their exacting demands on us and making it harder and harder for us to see that they are not living up to “their” side of the bargain. “Faustian” keeps coming to mind as a description of this bargain, except that – at least in the common perception – this story pits us as hapless victims of an external force, a satanic presence that might more usefully be seen as a projection of the way this dynamic unfolds within our psyche. That tick, that insistence to externalize a foe, is diagnostic of the mania for control, the desire for power.
As we’re caught up in these self-induced struggles – let’s not forget Bohm’s stroke victim’s night-terrors – we keep looking askance at the last remnants of a world outside these battles. We either project our own motives onto those we insist are separate from us, the “Savage” Lioness, the “Violent” earthquake; or we are disturbed by the glimmers of strength we find underlying a way of life that accepts what is and goes on from there. The concoction blended from a mingling of both of these feed our willfulness and prop up our destructiveness as necessity; or they feed self-hatred and guilt that only further repress our abilities to cope.
Throwing more optimism at this does nothing beyond trapping us into further cycles of increasing efforts to maintain the lie of invulnerability with its resulting increasing levels of urgency to fuel the adrenaline rush and add to the burden of inevitability we need to maintain the lie in the first place.
In this way, we can begin to get past a sense that “giving up” on the toxic-means we’ve invested so much in, as we’ve wished for a magic release from the consequences of our conditions. We can begin to sort out which of these conditions are of our own devising and begin to trust – not that any trick will deliver us – but that abandoning these obsessions will strengthen us to face what IS while loosening the immense pressures our continued striving puts on us and our world.
What kills a drowning person isn’t the water, an inability to float. It’s the panicked insistence of the swimmer to be out of the water, to somehow through sheer will remove one’s self from the situation. A body at rest will float, and with enough strength to resist focusing on the impossible, we find the point of our equilibrium. This is not an assurance of invulnerability. A storm, or a passing predator, can easily make our position untenable at a later time. But unless we cease resisting, we lose this moment.
Is this worth it? Just to continue maintaining a lie?