Some Thoughts on Power
Presidential election years are usually an interesting time for any of us. They become even more interesting when one has delved into largely anarchistic libertarian circles. Add Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders to the mix, and you’ve got quite the display. But if you really want to know how fascinating these spectacles are, do a bit of study on the broader subject of power.
Power itself is oft overlooked although it is the subject on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Policy, personality, morals, ethics, laws, freedom, economics, and philosophy all get blurted out with a certain level of incoherence because the topic of discussion is power and very few people actually seem to realize that. We’re all so busy hopping from one foot to the next talking about who should have what power and why, completely unaware that all those conversations are of a higher design.
Anarchists often think themselves above this, though they are in fact usually at the bottom of the food chain. Complaining about power’s existence is quite futile. Power never ceased to exist simply because some number of people found it displeasing. Whatever your thoughts on power, they have little to do with the physics. Nobody with power ever decided to be powerless because powerless people asked them to join their ranks.
The subject of power goes well beyond politics though. It goes well beyond business, or money, or government. It even goes beyond force of arms. Power is everywhere, in our words, our thoughts, our beds, and our interpersonal relationships. Elections are but one of many contests for power that people engage in at every moment of every day, and we ignore it to our detriment.
What is Power?
Broadly defined, let us address power as the ability to get things done. Whatever you accomplish today, be it to feed yourself, to excite your lover to climax, to make a sum of money, or to win some number of people to your way of thinking, was an exercise of power.
At a bare minimum, you require fuel (food) to generate energy (power) for your body to function. You exert energy to obtain this fuel, and unless you are on the path to starvation, you obtain more energy than you exert. We exert influence (power) over others to convince them to act in our interests. Be it to pay us wages, or to work for us in exchange for wages.
Even in love and sex, things we would very much like to think of as something other than contests of power, such a struggle exists. One desires a mate, and attempts to influence that person to reciprocate their desire. Equal sex drives between partners being unlikely, one must influence the other to sex. During sex, especially for men, there is a contest to defer gratification or exhaustion until after the other is satiated.
If you had a conversation of the slightest importance today, you engaged in a contest of power. You used your words to put ideas into someone else’s mind. This person may or may not have wanted those ideas to be there, but they are there nonetheless. Consent has nothing to do with it. How much impact those ideas had was a measurement of your power as a communicator.
Elections are not merely contests to obtain power, they are contests of power. Men compete in displays of power to convince the masses that they are most capable of wielding it. Raising money is one display. Spending money another. Mobilizing other people to campaign is another. Maintaining a steady stream of media attention is another. Rhetoric to win the minds of the masses is another. Alliances, endorsements, insults, power, power, and power.
Especially under a democratic system of government, the exact policy ideas have almost nothing to do with it. One does not gain power because of his policies, quite the contrary. He rather adopts policies in pursuit of power. He makes a calculation based on his assessment of public opinion and his ability to authoritatively articulate a premise, then he wagers resources in an attempt to gain more power based on those ideas.
If you’ve ever noticed, as most people who pay attention have, that politicians rarely keep their promises, this is why. They act in the interests of power, and they cannot be expected to do anything else. They make a promise in furtherance of power. They fulfill or break a promise in furtherance of power. It has nothing to do with any of the things powerless folk would like it to.
Transgression of this law is why Ron Paul lost the Republican primary, and observance is why Barack Obama is President of the United States.
Ethics of Power
There are none. As far as power is concerned, morality and ethics are little more than manipulation tactics. A politician or media personality tells you abortion is awesome or he tells you it is immoral based entirely on what that obtains for him. Redistribution of wealth is either the hallmark of fairness, or a tyrannical exercise of unconstitutional power and economic degradation based entirely on what it does for the power seeker.
When an army stands atop a hill prepared to annihilate a people, it does no good whatsoever to ready one’s argumentation ethics. The fight will be won not by the more ethical, not by the more factually correct, but by the more powerful. The army that fights to defend the scientific method stands no better chance of winning a war than an army which fights to impose the will of a polytheistic religion.
Likewise, a democratic government has no inherent advantage in combat over a dictator, and a dictator no inherent advantage over an anarchist. The stronger group wins, end of discussion. Whatever rhetorical advantages one may have over the other, whatever power those advantages leverage over the opponent, are not unworthy of discussion, but they are not inherent to the form of government, or lack thereof. The only relevant question is the power leveraged.
The Powerless Anarchist
The powerless anarchist decries the use of power. He pleads incessantly for a world where all relations are consensual, completely unaware that consensual relationships are merely exercises of a different variety of power. He insists on a universal standard of morality which, even if correct, has no impact on the physics of power.
This is not to say that anarchists are inherently and eternally powerless by virtue of their anarchism. It is merely an observance of anarchists’ behavior in the present. It is perfectly viable for anarchists to coordinate voluntarily and to raise armies and to fight states. It is perfectly viable for anarchists study and wield power. It just so happens to be that in the present, most anarchists prefer to remain powerless and muse pointlessly to themselves about how morally superior they are to their rulers. It accomplishes nothing, and it never will.
Rather than compete for power and defeat rivals, most anarchists compete with one another for market share of very limited attention spans inside a very small group. They engage in senseless contests of fantasy world ideological purity which have zero bearing on anything besides their tiny social circles.
If one actually wishes to change societies, such contests are meritless. I’m an anarcho-capitalist, yet I couldn’t care less about the opinions of most other self described anarcho-capitalists. They are some of the most useless people on the planet. Their silly games of rhetorical and logical chess and checkers have absolutely zero impact on the world, and are almost entirely devoid of any actual intellect. Very few have read the works of actual intellectuals like Rothbard and Hoppe. They instead utter shallow, empty catch phrases with no understanding of their meaning.
They decry political power and claim themselves to be of a higher moral plane, but in reality engage in the same empty rhetorical nonsense of the State politician. They preach open borders not because a free society would allow unrestricted travel, but because other anarchists will kiss their ass for doing so. They spout off about racial, cultural, gender, and sexual equality not because these things have any basis in reality, but because it grants them market share in a very limited pool of resources.
Like the politician, they play the game of power.
And they do so poorly.
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