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Bullying (Part 9): Power

  • Posted on November 16, 2010 at 1:41 AM

Power is everything.

At least, that’s what some would have us believe. 

They believe it.  To them, power is above morality, above duty, above right and wrong.  What is moral, but what the people in power claim it to be?  What is duty, but what the people in power say it to be?  What is right and wrong, but that they tell us it is so?  And, because they are the ones with power those things—morality, duty, right and wrong—don’t really apply to them, unless there is someone with more power to declare that it does.

I believe in truth.  I believe right and wrong are absolutes, but that we—being finite and subjective—cannot always perceive them accurately.  I believe morality is our imperfect pursuit to perceive right and wrong.  And I believe our sense of duty is derived from our morality.  I do not believe the absolute versions of these things are subject to human power.  But our perceptions of them are.  And, in our finite and subjective existence, our perceptions are all we really have.

Power is abstract—it is not seen, but it is experienced.  It is derived from both influence and force.  Ideally, power is exercised through influence—we persuade one another, changing each other’s perceptions until common ground is found and a common effort is exerted.  This is the power of advocacy. 

Often, power is exercised through force.  On the national and international level, we make laws and we enforce them.  We go to war.  We enforce treaties.  We withhold trade.  On an individual level, we sue.  We fight.  We argue.  We pick up our disobedient child and carry them away—away to bed, away from the busy street, away from the candy aisle.

Force is not the ideal.  It may not be right, in an absolute sense.  But, sometimes it is necessary.  Sometimes, in our finite and subjective existences, it is the best we can manage, and our reasons for using force are worth the costs.  Because we’re not perfect.  Because our systems are not perfect.  Because, however much we should be able to persuade our children not to run into the street, however much we should be able to persuade nations not to bomb the hell out of each other, however much we should be able to persuade people not to kill each other—sometimes we can’t, sometimes we fail, and so we resort to force.

To exert force, there must be power.  For our societies and our systems to function, there must be power.  We don’t know another way—at least not one that is widely effective.

But power corrupts.

Corrupted power leads to influence and force being exerted, not for the sake of the good, but for the sake of the people in power.  For those who believe power is everything, being the one in power is the goal.  Whether they began as corrupted individuals or were corrupted by the power they exercised, they corrupt the power they use.  They exercise what power they have to maintain that power, and to get more.

Bullying is one form of corrupted power exercised through force.  Bullying, as exercised in the adult world, is often—if not always—an abuse of power.