Imagine that Power wasn’t a zero-sum game.
This should be easier than it seems, Power isn’t a zero-sum game, not real Power.
Let’s set up the parameters of a conceptual equation. Power exists in an unstable relationship with Control and Faith. Those without Faith in anything beyond themselves – actual, not professed Faith – also, unsurprisingly, feel a strong need to maintain Control. Since this is an unsustainable wish, they hold onto a fantasy of Control. To maintain it – to make a short term stab at the fulfillment of their desire – they strive to accumulate Power. The kinds of power they see, and want, and grab hold of, are all forms of manipulation and coercion. To be deployed against anyone or anything they see as a barrier to fulfilling their desire. We tend to think only of this kind of power when we think of Power. It is zero-sum. It exists along graduations between polarities, with adversaries at either end. One side holding more or less, or both holding the same level of Power as they struggle against each other. What one side gains the other loses, in relative terms at least. “The Balance of Power. The Struggle for Power.” How we characterize these dynamics.
Can we imagine another Power? One that is not zero-sum. That is, in fact, its opposite?
Where the more anyone has, the more everyone does?.
How does such a prodigy come about?
Let’s look at the variables in our equation. Lack of Faith leads to the other kind of Power. Faith – well placed – allows this kind to flourish. Within one’s self, among one’s peers, in one’s community. It is possible to look at each individual as an autonomous being, an autonomous actor within the relationships, in a dynamic we inhabit. If conditions can be created, and maintained, that foster the growth and development of this kind of Faith. Can we find ways to act that bring a growing level of Power to all?
There are opposing presuppositions behind these contrasting views of Power. They lead us directly to what is desired within each set of preconditions. They directly influence the effectiveness of the chosen form. Its effectiveness to accomplish the desired result. Here-in lies the rub!
This is not an appeal for abnegation, but an analysis of which form of Power has the greatest possibilities for success.
Zero-sum Power presupposes that for Me to get what I want, others must lose. It presupposes that what I want is feasible. Neither supposition is challenged. They are treated as given. That this path has led others to fail is either ignored or put down to their lack of overwhelming force. Something I will muster. Or they were not as clever, or as ruthless…. Not as Powerful as I will be!
Power backed by Faith presupposes that what I want, others may also want, and have an equal right to. It presupposes that I will need to test what I desire against what is feasible, continually.
In contrast to the history of failures of zero-sum Power, This sort of power is exemplified by those who've achieved the seemingly impossible this way. Instead of feeding Hubris., blustering through, we learn to rely on humility as an essential precondition to success.
These are two poles on a continuum of Power relations. Circumstances may fall somewhere within the area bounded by these examples. These are trends within a dynamics taking place within and between people. The greatest value in examining these examples lies in our recognizing which way our own attempts at achieving results may be trending. Are we falling into the traps of Hubristic Power? Are we striving after a greater reliance on the Power of Humility?
I think it is a thoroughly defensible position to state that, within a larger context and over greater time frames, no attempt to achieve mastery through zero-sum Power has ever succeeded in its objectives. The corollary is equally true. This is not a Paradox or attributable to any outside agency promoting the good and punishing evil. Though I make no claims on the existence or lack of any such entity. It simply fits the conditions.
The crux lies in competing views of self-interest. Striving for the aggregation of force as a desirable form of Power can only be maintained if we have a limited view of our self-interest. Usually this is as a result of confusing desire and will for true self-interest. To maintain this misplaced identification we must begin to close off from reality, denying internal realities. Then, once firmly falling down this slope, ignoring ever greater external realities. Until a point is reached where our attempt fails of its own weight. We tend to see this defeat as a sign that the other side has won. A deeper view will show the defeat was internal. Whatever the external agency, the “last straw” might have been. Why else do they call it tragedy? All such cases fail. The small ones quietly. The large ones spectacularly.
Power that grows the more it is shared works because its practitioners are constantly testing their realities, their sense of where their true self-interest lies. When this is done using all our faculties, with growing Faith bolstered by demonstrable results, it leads us to a convergence between an ever sharper sense of the effects of externalities, as they are coupled with an ever more nuanced sense of one’s true self-interest. Such a path is open ended. It has trends, not destinations, in mind. It is open to the unexpected in ways that let us reach goals beyond our imaginings. Not as wish fulfillment, but as tangible, actual results.
In an effort to limit the imposition of constraints into how we see the terms in this conceptual equation, let’s just say that what is meant by Faith, has an open ended, non-limiting definition. The one essential, that we not confuse, wishes, fantasies, even hopes; for Faith. The nature, the end, and the embodiment of one’s Faith; are open to wherever one’s striving for authenticity will take them. So long as there is a striving to differentiate Faith from its easy simulacra. There is no magic in this, no dogma. These are pragmatic suggestions. Unless one is operating under conditions of a living Faith that is tested, and kept vibrantly in mind. The equation breaks down. The challenges of maintaining a stance vis-a-vis Power and Control will corrode. Corrupting us without the protection such a Faith provides as a corrective. It is only through such Faith that we are able to maintain a posture conducive to letting non-zero-sum Power take hold.
To round out our definitions, let’s look briefly at Control. As with Faith, when we allow an easy simulacra of what Control can mean to take hold, the result is a striving for zero-sum Power. When we clearly see the limits and place of Control. we are open to non-zero-sum Power. The key difference is in the relationship between one’s conception of Control and the place of Will. At the risk of defining yet another term…. Briefly, if we see the results of Control as being identified with the desires of unadulterated Will, then we are on the slope to zero-sum. The corollary is in seeing that this kind of Control does not exist. Only a fluid approach to influencing externals, while steering and guiding one’s desires to maintain a relationship within some wider sphere, can work.
This attitude can be seen as the underlying commonality between the possibilities of Faith. A Faith that relies on maintaining a relationship with what is. While guiding our expectations/desires along paths that lead to a wider fulfillment of what can be found within a radically considered exploration of true self-interest.
One final condition. These matters cannot be understood as, or reduced to, any linearity of thought or action. Any attempt to do so will short-circuit the complex dynamics this conceptual equation is meant to symbolize. This thinking cannot be brought down to any one case or set of contingencies, it must be held loosely in mind as the flow of events moves on. It provides no single place to stand for all time. Just a crucible in which the catalytic actions of the day can be discovered and acted upon in preparation for the next set of operations. Without developing a comfort, and even a Faith, in a multi-focal reality, and our ability to navigate it. There is no escape from the zero-sum.
As we are surrounded by an ever-increasing awareness – whether sought, or just run into, as conditions evolve out from under our preconceptions – of our limitations. As we find more and more areas where we individually or collectively have less and less power to make changes, there are beginnings, whispered affirmations, that within each of us lies a resource of power that has no limits if it is pursued honestly. There is a power to transform reality through the actions of the human mind, starting with individuals and spreading and rippling throughout networks of individuals – communities – that can lead us to make such far-reaching alterations in how we see and interact with the world in ways that can achieve profound changes in our lives, in our world.
Those who are impatient, always looking for short-cuts, ways to “game” reality, have lost touch with what it means to live. In their rush to some preconceived result, they scoff and be-little the effort required to actually engage in life. They have their rationalizations. Their abbreviations go so far as to abbreviate the importance of life itself. We see this in any ultimatum: “Better Dead than Red!…” or any call for Martyrdom. Whether they put some narrow value into supreme priority over all the others, or whether they are so impatient with this life that they can only see value in some wished for after-life, they continue to jump to the conclusions that their way works, against all evidence. Even as their way destroys us all, everything worth caring about, all in the name of saving it.
This is not the old argument for pacifism, though there was much truth in it. We need ways to deal with emergent situations that may require overt, physical action against others. But such an option has to be seen for what it really is. Not a reach for the most powerful option, but an admission that we have already gone far towards losing the fight. There is an entire discipline held within this change in perspective. Enough to employ at least one Pentagon worth of people in its realization. But, in such an organization, there will be a striving towards the positive, instead of the pursuit of a petulant destruction of everything. Carried out in the name of the will of the few.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.