Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Power Plays

Power is both wonderful and terrible. The guy who said that "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" had it right. What isn't usually discussed about power and its corrupting influence is that you don't have to be "powerful" in the usual conception of it to lust after it and cultivate it.

Look at the school-yard bully. Lord knows, I had to deal with enough of them in grade school; they may have come from blue-collar or white-collar families, but it didn't make any difference. If they thought they could have power over you, by intimidation, sheer physicality or, even worse, mental ability, your life could be miserable.

I found it to be even worse in religion, simply because you could almost never argue against it; who wants to argue with God (or his appointed minions)? If you try to tell one of the guys or gals in charge that they're wrong, they often as not whip out a Bible and say, "See, the Bible says I'm appointed by God, therefore, I cannot be wrong and therefore you MUST be!". I had that pulled on me for years in my old sorta-cult. The littlest, weaseliest guy or gal would kiss up to the preachers or other so-called "leaders" so as to curry favor, then when they were "anointed" as one of the "leaders", they tended to look down on the "lesser" in the flock (and there were many, many different ways to determine who was "lesser"). Some of the nicest people I ever met on the OUTSIDE of the church became some of the meanest, cruelest "leaders of the faithful" you'd ever have the misfortune to meet. My last roommate in undergraduate school was that way. When I met him, he was an ex-football jock from the panhandle with a big, curly 'fro. He was very friendly in a New Age kinda way; he'd been involved in some Eastern stuff for a while, as well as some of the old 'weed before he got pulled to the other side. He and his roommate, another football jock, were fairly nice to me during my first year as a convert and he decided to ask me to be his roommate over in a freshman dorm on the other side of campus the next year. Big mistake on my part. Nothing went right that year and 'Fro-man disappointed the BMIC (Big Man in Church) with his "lack of growth" and "lack of converts" during our time together, so I naturally, as one of the "lesser" guys, got the blame for it. We had some big blowout before taking leave of each other, but it came back to haunt me. I'd moved into an apartment with some other roommates (from the church, 'natch) during the summer and found out, to some amazement, that I wasn't going to be living there in the fall (despite my name being on the lease). 'Fro-man had decided to move in there and, without telling me, had culled together his own band of up-and-comers who would help him scale the heights of glory. So, I had to find another place real quick.

Maybe you think I'm hitting hard on religion in this Blog. Nah, like I said yesterday, there are all sorts of people over the years that I've respected in the religion biz, but nowadays the potential for abuse is so great (just ask the average altar boy!) and people are putting all their eggs in one basket, willing to literally sell their souls and even kill others in the name of the Big Guy (or Gal, Multi-Armed Diety or Indescribable Thing, depending on one's point of view), that I worry a lot about we're going as a species.

If you want to look at Power Plays, just look at politics. The last refuge of scoundrels. The Big Arena where power is the ultimate addiction. The longer I've been around politicos, the more depressed I get. Democracy is a great idea, don't get me wrong. Maybe one of these days we'll actually get to experience one, once money and influence quit being the main goal of those who aspire to high office. I used to hang around our local Legislature every year, thinking that I was actually influencing things, until I got my knees cut out from under me by the lobbyist organization that was supposed to be in my corner. That wasn't a lot of fun, but it did open my eyes as to what was going on. Truth, justice and the American Way tended to get shoved aside for the money and the little bit of power someone cultivated for themselves.

Now, am I so blind as to tell you that I don't enjoy the little bit of power I get to wield in my job? Nahhh; I do get to make decisions that affect peoples' lives in substantial ways and I have to admit, it is a bit addictive. Don't know what it'll be like when I retire or get fired and lose it; kinda like Lt. Drebbin of "Police Force" when he was canned for being incompetent and he said something like "It's strange to think that the next time I shoot someone, I could be prosecuted". I've tried to remember that power over others is ephemeral, it doesn't last because someone is always exercising their power over you and your power will lessen as a result. It helps to think back to all the folks who treated me badly over the years and try NOT to be like them. I doubt I've succeeded in every situation, but I like to think that maybe I've been a nice guy most of the time. It's the rare individual who isn't affected by power to some degree; the ones who can wield power over other in a truly compassionate and unselfish manner are rarer still.

I also get to wield a little bit of power as a parent, though as the years go by, I think my influence is waning, like Superman's powers in the presence of Kryptonite. Newborns are fun, if a bit smelly and a lot of work; at least they look at you with total need and devotion. As they get older, your hand in directing their lives gets less influential. They've decided they know better, as all children do, and the best you can hope for is to moderate some of their worse choices. It's a two-edged sword: you don't want them to be Stepford Children, with no ability to think and reason for themselves, but you also don't want to lose that power, that control that you had earlier in their lives, because you just KNOW they're gonna screw-up, the only question being how BIG a screw-up it'll be. All you can do is the best you can, hope that the power you wielded for a short time in their upbringing will be remembered fondly and they'll develop some practical wisdom. At least maybe my kids will put me in a NICE nursing home...

1 comment:

Merry Mama said...

What was the name of your cult?