"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Jul 2, 2010

So we come to the first juncture, and pausing to catch our breaths, note that...

...if the form and purpose of power do remain consistent, despite the passage of time, and across a wide number of topographies, because power replicates itself, then it follows that the replication of power depends largely on how those who rule draw their replacements.

Obviously, in some societies, this remains largely hereditary, with the ruling class self-replicating rather literally, so that membership in the ruling authority precedes the instruction in the methods of power.

But, in those communities where the hierarchy does not pass strictly along familial lines, or only within some of the competing factions of the larger ruling class, the instruction in the methods of government and power must serve as a function of power itself.

The recruitment and replacement process must inhabit, at some or several loci, the physical territory which the ruling power controls. Since power replicates in order that those who hold it might enjoy the fruits of others' labor, to train for some portion of power a person must train to deprive others of their own work, as well as to persuade or force them to accept this fact as just, natural and right.

Any attempt to capture power, then, results in an effort to capture the authority to deprive others of the results of their own effort, to rule over them so that they cannot create lives for themselves, since, if they create their own conditions of labor and enjoyment, they cannot serve the preservation of power.

In a society where power does not replicate exclusively within hereditary lines, the ruling factions must recruit from their own exclusive subject populations, or from the larger population group.

Those subject populations might appear as religious, lingual, ethnic, national, gender or ideological groupings*, among others. They might hybridize one or more categories of identity, but what unites them all first and foremost - let us call this adherence.

In the simplest form, those who adhere to power accept that some must rule, and that they merit the better sorts of existences. Lacking any cultural, social, electrochemical, biological or evolutionary evidence for the necessity of adherence, we might consider it reasonable to conclude that those who rule raise those they rule, and their own replacements, in the belief in adherence.

Seen this way, those who train to rule others train also to instruct them in the belief that they must, should or ought to obey.

Adherence, then, provides the ruling power with the capacity to rule varying forms of populations, in divergent periods, across a diverse range of terrains. Since the form of power seems to remain stable, while the governed populations do not, adherence describes the methods by which the stable form of power governs the varying and unstable groups over which it rules, and does so with their participation. And also, how it consistently replicates the form of itself.

Those who rule must therefore train, educate and persuade those whom they rule to not only accept the arrangement, but believe in it, obey it and actively participate in it.

From this, we can understand that a person who argues that the capture of power will change the shape of society will very likely have already received an education in ruling others, or that a person who defends or defines the terms of adherence (in our own time, see Ezra Klein and Paul Krugman, as well as any number of analogs in conservative, ethnic, feminist or ideological circles) will predictably come from one of the recruitment centers of power.**

* - which, under any sort of scrutiny, seem rather obviously imaginary, in so much as the claims about them, like the claims about money, disappear the moment anyone checks up on them

** - a mere sample


Michael Dawson said...

I'm pretty interested in the social psychopathology of power, too. I think you're onto something. Comfort (or more) with blatantly inflated "rewards" seems like a sorting mechanism of a kind, and also seems like a pretty close correlate of comfort with taking the fruits of others' work.

Power corrupts and the corrupt seek power. I think the latter may be more important than the former.

Quin said...

Power corrupts and the corrupt seek power.

Perhaps a more constructive-- though less pithy-- way to phrase it would be: "Power corrupts, and recruits the corruptible."

It's worth acknowledging that we're all corruptible, and like it or not, already corrupt to one degree or another. Saying simply that "the corrupt seek power" lets it be something that only those other benighted souls do.

Jay Taber said...

The form of power, if we use it in the same sense, can vary in that it can be concentrated or dispersed. Concentrated it is dangerous, while dispersed it can be benign.

Subsidiarity, dispersing power broadly, is also more amenable to egalitarian, communal, cooperative models of governance. That's probably why we see such hostility from authorities faced with initiatives that require public participation at any level of decision-making.

If you have no power, then acquiring some helps to disperse it. It's also your best chance at improving society.

Jack Crow said...


When I wrote the first quip, I had in mind how small a number of police, in uniform, it takes to effectively pen a population.

I live in a small city of about 100k persons, policed by roughly 200 cops.

I think it's fairly obvious that the 200 police officers alone do not restrain the population, that most of the constraints are in fact self-contained, colonizations of the person, his or her self.

We are instructed in obedience.

Then Jane made a truly insightful comment, while Al Schumann and Owen headed up a brief exchange over SMBIVA way, which really got me looking at the subject.

I agree with you, wholeheartedly, that the sorting mechanism works on rewards, or merit.

Merit, in any society which doesn't have an absolute hereditary form of power, is the primary form of adherence. Hell, it's right in our national, religious and sporting mythologies.

Those who are susceptible to merit based ideologies, and this would span the superficial liberal-conservative divide, are rather likely to climb the ladder towards positions of power and influence - or make the sort of commentariat arguments one finds coming from Krugman, Klein, Yglesias and their analogs in the various camps.

Merit is the replicator, I think. And its persuasive, pervasive and insidious as all get out.

Some person who believes he deserves a ranking in the hierarchy has a strong inducement to seek it and then to preserve or increase his place in the order of ranks.

While any number of persons often contest for limited resources in a horizontal field of conflict, the contest for position takes place vertically as well. And that position can prove very addictive, to choose a word from the modern lexicon.

With respect,


Jack Crow said...


I think you've hit on another primary filtering mechanism. A lot of people get a ruling class education, but the hierarchy doesn't really need many folks to run the show, at the core (which is why there's an export business, towards the peripheries).

Those who prove corruptible, that is, those really willing to enjoy the perks of depriving others of their enjoyment, are far most susceptible to the replicative pressures, no?



Jack Crow said...


I considered that position when I was running this evening, working out the last post.

I tried to look at it from a number of angles, to see if claims that power could be captured in order to disperse it - and I didn't really find any configuration which survived the application of my own use of logic (which is, admittedly, merely personal and limited).

Since I don't think that power is a thing that one can possess, but is instead a way of doing and acting, the achievement of power over others is already an indicator that the person who obtains these subservient staffers is rather willing to use them.

Seeing this from a slightly different perspective, in order to capture even a single office of power, a person already has to lie, cheat, steal, manipulate and otherwise broker away the lives or livelihoods of others.

Even with noblest of intentions, such a person has to have some sort of native ability and/or an education in the methods.

He, in short, is prone to the temptations and allure of instructing others who obey him.

This may explain why so few revolutionaries have thus far been able to relinquish authority over others, since they already have (as MD and Quin note above) a characteristic susceptibility to the "infection."

Take Mao and Stalin (for Bolshevik examples), or any number of members of the access commentariat here in the states, for a less inordinate set of examples.

They rise in hierarchies because they have the skill sets which allow them to rise in hierarchies.

It's my premise that the form of power is stable, regardless of ideology, place, time or language precisely because it is a replicative system which needs the symbolic systems only as a means of control, and can shed and alter them as the population it rules changes.

Perhaps, with the right tools, we could find a proto-form, probably in some hereditary hierarchy, which escaped the confines of that hierarchy and replicated itself across generations and place, varying its interface with the subject population but not its form.

If this is the case, then there's no real way to fight power by taking it, in my estimation.

With respect,


Quin said...

If this is the case, then there's no real way to fight power by taking it, in my estimation.

In fact-- call me defeatist, I guess-- it seems to me that if this is the case, there's no real way to fight power. It is self-replicating, with a seemingly limitless supply of potential inner circle members to draw on from the outer pool. I don't see a way around that. (I hope this is just a lack of imagination on my part.)

It seems to me that all we can do, those of us who become aware of power's games, is choose not to participate ourselves. At least to whatever degree this can be a realistic option when it comes to taking care of the people we love.

Jack Crow said...


I think the whole point of power is to have a controlled population which does the bidding of the ruling faction(s).

So, if your method of non-cooperation is precisely that (non-cooperation), there's nothing remotely defeatist about, at least to mine eye.

But, in describing power as a replicative mode, I think it's possible to develop a set of methods and counteractions which target this strength as a weakness.

We don't live under a hereditary monarchy. We live in a declining nation-state currently governed as a corporate republic.

Part of the system of adherence involves a slew of participatory myths, chief among them, "the consent of the governed."

Personally, I think the commonwealth nation-state has a truncated existence ahead of it, and is being rather rapidly re-tooled as a punitive and disciplinary military-police state, with a much smaller client population and a much leaner modus operandi.

The population governed, in short order, will change its form again - even though the structural hierarchy remains the same.

There are going to be a whole lot of people (or more people, since quite a few are already experiencing the present crisis as such) who interpret this transformation of the welfare state as a overt act of betrayal.

That's part of the confusion which seems to inform the Tea Party movement, with its conflicted identity, divided between the sense of a loss of the over-arching nation, and the unifying political mythologies of a small, efficient, low-tax ruling mafia.

As is to be expected, the crisis has been least understood by professional liberals - since their unifying myth is Good Government, despite the thousands of years of evidence which ought to mitigate against that faith.

When the crisis really comes home to them, they are in for a world of culture shock, except for the creative-managerial types who will make up the bulk of the new state's client population, and who will likely adhere with even more fealty than do present conservatives to the mythological and exceptional Christian nation-state.

Since I often take a whole lot of words to introduce a really simple concept, I'll sum it up this way: a whole lot of people are in for the shock of their lives. And they are going to be pissed. Really pissed. The period of flux which follows that shock is our crisis of opportunity.



fwoan said...

I'm going to have to agree with Spartacus in his assessment. Spreading power dilutes it and makes it more benign. I always like to think of there being "more hands on the steering wheel" in the process of spreading power.

fwoan said...

Okay, I really should have finished reading the comments before I opened my gaping maw. Your reply to Spartacus included:

"Seeing this from a slightly different perspective, in order to capture even a single office of power, a person already has to lie, cheat, steal, manipulate and otherwise broker away the lives or livelihoods of others."

But this, I think, only includes forms of power commonly seen today whether electoral or dictatorial. What about forms of Demarchy where those who are given power are not given it by campaigning, capturing, or inheritance?

drip said...

Nice series. Great comments. I'm not sure I am up to articulating my own simple thoughts in this area, but I will try. We need to understand when we are acting freely and when we are not and communicate the difference to others. Yeah, we are all part of the great, grinding machine, surviving on the crumbs or steaks that are left, depending on how much we are willing to put up with. But if a shock of our lives is coming, and I think it is, I don't want to be surprised and I want as many people as possible to be prepared as well.

In the previous post you ended with [y]ou don't get the job unless you want to do the job. That is true if the job or behavior is inside the realm controlled by power. It is not true outside that realm. There are some real life examples of this. Some of the radical religions that survived the Reformation, operate solely by collective activity relying on dispersed authority. AA, the most successful social therapy of the 20th century operates without leaders or outside assistance. The civil rights movement in India and for a short time here had leaders who lasted only as long as they articulated the needs of the movement. They attracted adherents solely with the power of their expressed thoughts. Commercial ventures such as co-operatives, employee-run businesses and privateer/pirate communities all succeed in limited circumstances without permanent leadership. Granted, these groups are either marginalized because they constitute no threat to the dominant power structure or are co-opted or crushed when they are. All probably receive at least marginal support from that power at least for a period of time. Bu they have the common idea that you can do the job if you want to do the job and can keep the job as long as you can do the job. They have the further attribute of operating voluntarily. Stay as long as you want, do what you can do and participate in the group. The door you came in through works in both directions.

Now, there is no way that any of these examples provide a model for running 300 million people, or the world, but they do show that social humans can operate by consent so long as it is individual consent arrived at freely.

What I hope is that there are enough people who can see a way to voluntary participation when the shock of their lives comes. I am dubious myself, but I try to act in the hopes that we will survive the shock with the wherewithal to create a society based on volunteerism, diffused power and true consent.

Andromeda said...

JC, great series of posts. This reader is glad that your skill with words is equally matched by your skill with logic.

If only everyone were willing to surgically deconstruct the pieces that make up their own reality in order to better understand each piece individually.

It is only in understanding the individual threads that make up the tapestry of reality that we will be able to weave something new.

I, for one, am also weary of the tapestry called "power/adherence" wherein an individual is not free to reap the direct fruits of his or her own labor.

I grow tired of the "carrot and stick" wherein I am supposed to desire nothing more than to leave my fellow humans in the dust should I have a chance to actually get a bite of said carrot.

I don't want to leave anyone behind, nor do I want to be ahead of anyone.

Not sure where that puts me in this world, but it likely means I will be coming in more towards the "last" than the "first." Regardless, I'm not terribly concerned with placing among the last; it gives me a better idea of the course.

Thanks again for this series of posts; it's always enlightening to see someone else's interpretation of the nature of reality---particularly that which we call "power."

Jack Crow said...

Thanks, Andromeda.

I'm trying to work my thoughts around the replication part, next.

If my theory is even half correct, for power to retain a persistent stability, it has to replicate.

I think the adherence part has something to do with it, but my head is a little short on the right words, as of yet.