Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Powerless Are Not Necessarily Pure

by Miki Kashtan

I am not so keen on the idea that power corrupts, and have already discussed this to some extent in an earlier post. My difficulty with this framing is multiple. For one thing, this saying maintains the pervasive belief that power is bad in and of itself, a belief that can only result in perpetuating itself, since it will keep many people away from taking power lest they oppress others.

As I see it, coming into power does not create the fundamental desire to have things be our way; it only provides access to resources that make it possible to do so. In the process, extraordinary harm can be done to others, sometimes millions of others. Whatever our sphere of influence, and whatever our vision or personal goals, our power gives us access to extra resources, and thus can multiply both our benefit and our harm. There is no substitute for meticulous attention to the effects of our actions. I see it as an enormous challenge to come into power and live its attendant responsibility without creating harm. I am concerned, in part, that less of this work will happen for as long as we continue to believe that the issue is power rather than what we do with it. My hope remains that that we can all recognize that we can have power and still not use it over others.

Another difficulty that I see stemming from associating power with badness is the corollary move of associating powerlessness with purity. I cannot imagine finding a way to say it any clearer than MLK: