Essays2008 Essays2009 Essays2010













..:: Authority ::..


Alan Schneider


              Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The truth of this famous observation has been demonstrated repeatedly throughout history.  How, then, can authority be wielded wisely and auspiciously?  Rethinking the ancient concept of a balance of power is the subject of this Searchlight article. 

            Why do some among us exhibit the will to power? Certainly, the ego is naturally addicted to power and control in consequence of its primary function of the preservation of the organism. Both accumulated power and accumulated control tend to improve the overall likelihood of survival for the individual, in turn improving the likelihood of successful reproduction and transmission of those characteristics that garnered that power and control to the next generation. But, certain individuals demonstrate and abnormally acute instance of power addiction even beyond what is customary for our species. These people seek out positions of influence in society and culture with focused and determined intent. Let us attempt to surmise what internal dynamics motivate this behavior. 

            In the case of those lamentably few persons who had their developmental needs adequately met through the course of childhood into maturity, a demonstrated balance of characterological traits can be observed. The adequate nurturance they received allowed them to develop psychologically without carrying forward significant trauma or fixations into adulthood. They neither excessively seek nor pathologically avoid social power and influence over others. And it must be emphasized here that this is true without regard to the literal social roles they play. There are business people, executives, politicians, military officers, and police officers who are constructively adjusted to their roles in society and do not display significant abusive pathology. So the occurrence of abusive, maladptive behavior must stem from the presence of unresolved trauma, probably occurring in childhood, that drives the behavior forward. What can this trauma be? What are the underlying root causes of power abuse?  

            One factor that is very probably involved is personal insecurity.  Children are frequently confronted with many types of frightening phenomena, both real and imagined. To the child, there may be little distinction in the two – the child may not yet know one from the other – all threats are as real as all injuries. If the adult significant others present do not adequately respond to the child’s fears and injuries, a condition of background uncertainty and insecurity will begin to develop within the child. This is the first root of the pathological will to power – the fear of loss of control as demonstrated by lack of adequate intervention by the adult agents of control in the environment. The child has little or no control of its own – this must be provided externally by adults. If such provision does not take place, the child can become obsessed with personal security issues and seek to resolve this obsession by resorting to manipulation of the adult social system. If that social system is itself fundamentally flawed or otherwise imbalanced, the child’s manipulations may be successful, and the embryo power addict has been created! Once established, this fear-driven psychological imbalance can be very difficult to restore into valid, manipulation-free behavior, particularly in the presence of dysfunctional adult environments. 

            When this pathological tendency to manipulate is coupled with what amounts to genetically predisposed sadistic inclinations, another dimension of power addiction is created. Many so-called experts in the field of human behavior do not believe that this inherent sadism exists in human nature, but claim that it is itself the result of childhood pathology. This is a difficult question to resolve – to my knowledge, the “sadism” gene has not yet been isolated in the human genome. But history’s evidence of conquest, and conqueror’s behavior toward the vanquished, points to an inherent barbarism in many cases. The Assyrians, Huns, Mongols, Romans, and Nazis (to name a few, but certainly not all, specific cases) were notably excessive in their brutal treatment of subordinated populations. It would seem that natural selection has clearly had some role in the development of cruel tendencies in the human species. 

            The combination of latent insecurity and inherent sadism is almost certain to produce an individual prone to power-seeking, and the abuse of power once it has been attained. Since there is some reason to believe that evolutionary precedents have influenced this situation, it is therefore doubtful that much can be done, apart from a yet theoretical permanent world-wide reeducation campaign, to prevent this phenomenon from manifesting. We must seek other means of preventing the onset of power imbalance and abuse in the world. 

            One methodology known to be effective in controlling power abuse is the structuring of the socio-political mechanism into competing branches. Even though the migration of power and influence addicts into positions of authority may still take place in a given branch, and across all branches, the net effect will tend to be the cancellation of the negative effects present in any one branch through inter-branch competition. Since this approach has demonstrated effective results in government, it should, in theory, also work in any other area of society, including business, educational, religious, and recreational organizations. The concept here is the establishment of inter-competitive groups within the organization in a system of checks and balances much like the original American government. Again, in theory, such a modified organizational structure would at least prevent the emergence of careening corporate and governmental autocratic juggernauts propounding large-scale social injustice around the world.  Focused social pressure originating in the most enlightened, progressive sectors of society, coupled with political activism, has the best chance of succeeding in the attainment of the proposed restructuring, but the desired result is still far from large-scale achievement! As the battle of life goes on, and we can but struggle forward with love and hope in our hearts.  

            There are, of course, also long-term stability and promotional issues present here. It can be extremely difficult to convince an incumbent power addict to abdicate even a small amount of influence over a constituent population.  And once this is accomplished, the question of recurrence arises, as new, ascendant power addicts begin to vie for position in what they perceive as a power vacuum. The old phrase “Nature abhors a vacuum” is nowhere as relevant as the political arena! Furthermore, following the introduction of the competitive system advocated here, the problem of long-term viability rears its ugly head. We are essentially advocating the establishment of a democratic system of checks and balances, and the life span of the average democracy is known to be approximately two hundred years, based on historical examples, with or without elected representation included as a feature.  The establishment of elected representation and term limits are additional effective measures for the control of power abuse, but I have not advocated this here because I simply felt that the creation of the suggested competitive group structure was, by itself, a quite sufficient challenge, given the current world situation!  

            The world of today is a turbulent place filled with discontents and injustices of every kind and degree.  In the Post-Modern condition today, the tendency for the Law of the Jungle to predominate has become ever more prevalent, pitting nation against nation in the political sphere, corporation against corporation in the economic arena, institution against institution in the social environment, and groups and individuals against each other at the grass roots level of cultures and societies everywhere.  It might seem paradoxical to suggest that more competition would constructively influence this situation, but what I have advocated in this article is the introduction of a balanced, organized competitive structure to offset chaotic power addiction and subsequent abusive behavior. As the world population continues to expand, it will become critical to create some form of social counter measures to combat the rising tide of corruption that is already proliferating around the world. Since we have evolved to be an aggressive, combative species, the intelligent structuring of society to create fair fights may be our only real option for survival in the twenty first century.


                                          - With Love, Alan -

                                  (CR2008, Alan Schneider)


                                              Return to Top