What if the trouble with power is in our insistence that it can be accumulated, stored, and then controlled by will?
If this were the case, the trouble with power dissolves when we accept that it exists. It moves through and around us, and we have access to it, and can influence its direction and passage; only while we are in contact with it.
All the rest. The claptrap of command and control are the source of our difficulties with power. They stem from an incoherent approach to the order power inhabits. We treat it as a commodity – a common tick – and expect it to act as we would like to imagine it would, and not in the ways it does act. Our intentions remain floating above our tangled perceptions and they resist the fact that the results are never what we expected. We “have” power. We feel control. But the results are never what we expected.
Those of us with qualms about the misuse of power become blocked. Our incoherence manifests as the conflation of the trouble with our habitual relationship with power for the nature of power itself. Distrusting power whenever we feel it we block any possibility of effecting outcomes. It’s not that power corrupts, it is this insistence that it can be owned that corrupts. Incoherence is corruption.
Of course, this does mean that we are all deluded in thinking that we can “manage” power. This means that our assumptions concerning the magnitude of power available to us; from electrical to explosive, to influential power; there is only available the power that circumstances bring into range at any given time. We cannot continue to insist we can hoard power, “save” power, or concentrate power. These attitudes take us back into the realm of unintended consequences. We muddle along baffled that we don’t get what we want oblivious to the fundamental reasons it cannot work.
This hint is buried in a conception of the difference between strength and power. Strength is the kind of power we do have influence over most directly. These are internal qualities of the organism, physical and mental. But there is a continuum that stretches from a muscle twitch and a moment of disciplined suspension of reaction on outward to any manifestation of power that occurs. Honing our strengths makes us more able to inhabit this continuum of power and survive within it as we find ways to have influence over events shaped by power.
Strength is an order of power that, when we have it, we cannot mistake it for something we can hold onto or control in the way we expect to when weakness sends us in thrall of delusional power consolidation. We feel it passing through us. We understand that we can build a capacity for its exercise but that this is not an act of storage. We also feel the way power passes through us, and how blockages interfere with its passage.
This is a hint. It seems to hold lightly within it much potential. It is at once simple and also radical. Many are aware of this in part, but I don’t see this awareness used across the board. It is difficult so long as it is not clearly held. It is easy to slip into incoherence concerning power. The illusions of its control are in themselves a tremendous power, though a power turned against those who think they control it, taking them down along with all that they destroy in their confusion.
As with any such insight it only holds power while it is alive in the mind. Once it congeals – once it has been “stored” as a label, commodified to produce an intended result – it falls back into the overarching delusion that power can be stored.
Power can be stored, batteries, reservoirs, dynamite, nuclear devices, all “store” power just as any technological cookbook of recipes, any compendium of knowledge. But to think that this storage can give that power to its “owners” is the supreme delusion. They are first in line to feel its effects as it courses through the world along its own paths. The shock, the surprise we feel, the betrayal we read into these corrections are the visible signs of our incoherence. These prove our incapacity to handle power in any form.
Once again, we see that humility is not a pious pose. It is essential if we are to be effective. In any relationship we might have with power the advantage is all on the side of power to flow as it will. We can accept and adapt to this and have some chance of surviving our encounters with power or we can be overwhelmed by its passage, insisting all the while that it serves us!