Axioms Of Power

All of us who care about reality in this time are archaeologists and explorers. We dig up the past, come up with the best theories we can, and then wander off to see how correct we are and what that will enable us to learn further.

The Lord of the Rings made a simple point that The Odyssey and The Republic also did: people become drunk with power (and obsessed with death) when they are separated from the hierarchy that unites man, nature, and gods. Democracy makes them crazed for personal power and status, a form of hubris analogous to what happened in the Garden of Eden: a lawyerly serpent offered to make Adam & Eve more than what they were, in other words, giving them power which they could then use to rise above their station in life.

If you wonder who Sauron symbolizes, it is this addictive and pathological lure for power as a means of changing what is real. In reality, Sauron is not a deity; he wants to be like one, however, following in the steps of Genghis Khan, Robespierre, and Stalin. He symbolizes the lust for power in all of us that makes us see ourselves as more important than the structure and rules of the real world, and demonstrates how this becomes more important than life itself. And the Hobbits? The Hobbits are our animal nature and sense of enjoyment of life itself that could care less how important we are because we recognize that in contrast to eternity, we are nothing and never will be. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

In the same way, Odysseus presents us with the archetypal white person: highly competent, brave, resourceful, clever, and yet unbelievably snarky. The gods let Odysseus be an egoist among his fellow Greeks because he was indeed the best of men, but when he lets his sense of self-importance over-ride his reverence for the ways of nature and gods, he is punished by exile from what he loves more than himself. As he eventually comes to desire home and stable civilization more than being dominant, he appreciates the gods and through this piety, finds reverence for the order of the home and nation and so is lifted from his exile.

We dance around a secret at the heart of humanity: our oppressive regimes arise through the pursuit of personal power by our people, and this in turn obliterates the ability to have cooperative power, which paradoxically needs to be entrusted to leaders because leadership is a skill like any other ability, mostly of genetic origin and heritable but requiring a massive investment of social capital to condition. We rage against The System,™ but forget that this system arises automatically from the pursuit of power by individuals, who then bind themselves into herd behavior because they share the same goal with others. This is why systems like ours arise across centuries and continents; they represent a fundamental human failing in the understanding of power.

Amazingly, realist thinkers like Malthus and Machiavelli remain demonized in our time for showing us the skeleton of humanity beneath the skin. We fear recognition of actual power because it will displace our sense of personal power and the Sauron-like obsession that is corrupting our world. For that reason, it makes sense to explore some axioms of power.

  • What you tolerate increases. Whatever you tolerate, you will get more of it over time, for the same reason that in natural selection, whatever genes survive will persist in a population. For this reason tolerance is not a value, but a method: if you tolerate what is good, you get more good; if you tolerate what is bad, you get more bad. This is why “good to the good, and bad to the bad” (tolerate the good, punish the bad) is the best method.
  • Everyone acts in self interest. This axiom applies especially to those who claim to be selfless; they have merely found a way to conceal their self-interest while advertising to those who are afraid of the conditions of life itself. Weak people, neurotics, children, and foreigners in a strange land are drawn to the merchants who promise an end to the rule of self-interest, but the rule of self-interest is the only consistent behavior that applies in all situations.
  • Those who are naturally talented as leaders do not seek office. Talent is inborn and can be developed to a maximum with a sensible support structure; leadership is a talent like playing an instrument, athleticism, or wizardry with finance. Very few have it, and they tend to avoid assuming the role of leader because they know that to lead is a life sentence where one is judged harshly by long-term effects that are difficult to see. It seems like the easiest job, but is the hardest.
  • Those with the least skill agitate for power the most. Society is formed of a pyramid with a few who are very capable at top, a slightly larger group of slightly less capable in the middle, and a massive group of those who are inept at leadership and other high-end skills at the bottom. This bottom group is always pushing against the natural leaders because it cannot understand them. Either the best oppress the rest, or the rest oppress the best.
  • Respect requires admiration and fear. Those who rule do so by either delivering what people want to hear or being respected such that others want to emulate them. Delivering what people want to hear makes the leader a follower who requires constant new appeals to popularity, and therefore, gets far off-track from what is required of leadership. Respect requires that you have traits that others wish they had, but also enough natural power that they fear being on your bad side.
  • Control versus cooperation. Control refers to micromanagement, or insisting that people use only specific methods to accomplish their aims because those limited methods exclude any thought process that could lead them away from compliance to the will of the controller. Control means people are equal in standing but are limited in choice to preserve that one-dimensional order. Cooperation means that instead of regulating methods, leaders regulate goals, and allow people to achieve those goals by whatever unequal methods they can use to whatever degree is appropriate for their social status, a combination of duty and privilege. Cooperation can co-exist with strong leadership with a sense of purpose, but for control, the purpose and method are both the perpetuation of control. Cooperation is also Darwinian in that people know the goal, and attempt it, and those that succeed win and the others either lose or gain nothing.
  • Control produces people who require control. Manipulation shapes people so that they lose a sense of individual agency and become accustomed to deferring to control for a basic understanding of life and what they should do. A population subjected to control quickly becomes directionless because those that succeed are the obedient, and obedience is the opposite of strong attraction to formulation and execution of goals. This leaves them with only personal habits in which to indulge their choice, so they become increasingly perverse and selfish. Almost all third world populations behave this way, suggesting that they are the remnants of once-great empires which turned toward control.
  • Sanctity motivates toward two extremes. For cooperative societies, sanctity or the sacralization of certain principles, aesthetics, and behaviors is required. Sanctity means that in order to respect the ideal, that which upholds it must be vastly praised and that which opposes it must be destroyed. For example, sanctity of life protects the unborn, but judges harshly those who — having been born and grown — choose to take lives. It sees nothing paradoxical in killing killers.
  • The strongest power is both realistic and aspirational. People live by ideals because those give them something to aim for and a way of explaining their attempts as something the group will praise even if those attempts have failed. Ideals alone can only motivate people for so far; there must also be improvement, acquisition, and a gain in personal status for having done the right thing. When societies motivate by ideals alone, people compensate for their lack of personal gain by becoming corrupt over time. When they are rewarded for doing right, they see that what is right is also practical, and so incorporate that tendency into their personalities.
  • Control is a universal human failing. Time after time, human societies are destroyed by herd behavior, which consists of the least successful uniting themselves into a mob which demands equality. This mob proves unable to rule well because it has nothing to reward people with except approval, at which point people emulate their leaders and become manipulative. That in turn creates a chaotic society which invites control, at which point people must be micromanaged, and are unable to form institutions or even a clear vision of what the society should be, so it implodes into internal conflict ruled over by cynical leaders for whom the chaos is welcome because it cements their power.

Like any other resource, power must be managed carefully. In good times it goes to those who can wield it; in bad times, it goes to the herd, and they abuse it, at which point they create instability and go down the path to civilization collapse.

When power is not organized in a hierarchy, every person views themselves as competing for power, at which point society begins to resemble a monkey troupe instead of an orderly cooperation toward a goal, even one as simple as having a functional civilization.

This makes people fear power, but they further they attempt to remove it through pacifism and equality, the more it becomes prevalent in the daily lives of everyone. This makes power the only concern of the individuals in that society, and the purpose of power — making goodness — becomes forgotten.

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