Monday, March 29, 2010

242: An introduction to Power

When you do a search on "political power" in the Stanford encyclopedia of Philosophy ( you get al least 1029 hits. So we may conclude that is was not only Machiavelli who had ideas about political power.

It is historically an interesting moment to use his ideas on power and authority in politics as a starting point for our elaborating on this subject.

We have seen the small scale democratic Greek cities, the development of a huge Roman empire, its collapse and a return to small scale (city)states,

again the move to larger states under control of the church and for instance Charlemagne (died 814). Today he is regarded not only as the founding father of both French and German monarchies, but also as the father of Europe.

The church became the binding force in the years after and then we have Machiavelli who puts the generally accepted assumptions about political power to the test and comes up with a sobering picture: political power only is enforced by arms and is authorized by the fear for these arms.

No virtues, no positive belief in human nature. This is a breaking point and we have a whole history ahead of us. A time of individualization, the decapitation of kings, revolutions of the people ending up in our present situation.

This brings us down to the most fundamental question in political philosophy: how can we justify the right, which is claimed by one person, to rule over another person?

If you compare two persons you see differences.That is the biology of nature, but one of the differences can be physical strength. I cannot deduce any right from that difference, but the stronger person nevertheless can say: if you don't obey I'll kick your ass.

Thus you create or take that right by physical force and the obedience is the product of fear. Machiavelli might have liked this reasoning. But we could approach the situation from another perspective.

You then may be the strongest, but it forces you to a constant state of vigilance. There is no way to prevent that the weaker will sneak up on you and stab you in the back.

Therefore you decide to choose another strategy: you make a deal with the weaker, a contract. I wont kick your ass, if you promise not to stab me in the back. Thus we can both work the field safely to supply for food.

But again something nasty creeps in. The weaker promises not to stab the other in the back. What is a promise? That the weaker controls himself and forbids himself not to stab the stronger?

Why should he. With this deal he was smarter than the stronger. Now he never got kicked in the ass and when harvest is done he still can stab the stronger and have it all for himself. Clever thinking!

And again here we are at the heart of political philosophy. Keeping a promise is an ethical issue. Thence political philosophy has its beginnings in ethics: in questions such as what kind of life is the good life for human beings.

Since people are by nature sociable – there being few proper anchorites who turn from society to live alone – the question follows as to what kind of life is proper for a person amongst people.

A fundamental assumption is that the human being is a social being. What can that mean? Let's begin with the thesis: the human being is destined by nature to live in groups.

An interesting thought is, that you don't need to live in a group for survival. So there is more to the group than just survival. A group implies co-operation, exchange of goods.

Based on individual qualities, differences in strength and intelligence for instance, members of the group will produce different things.

To produce something by your own hands means private ownership. Also an interesting assumption, because communism denies this logic.

As you see we have hit on the central nerve of our own social existence. We accept --- we don't call it power, but authority every day of our life. We are willing to obey all kinds of laws and regulations.

There is a power that makes us act like that. To understand political philosophy we will have to understand what power is and where it comes from.

Oh, and last but not least, it is not just a discussion over a phenomenon called power. We definitely have to pay attention to the feminist interpretation of power.

The Discussion

[13:25] Rhiannon Dragoone's ear perk up
[13:25] herman Bergson: Thank you ㋡
[13:25] herman Bergson: If you have any questions or remarks..feel free. ㋡
[13:26] Rhiannon Dragoone: I think the feminist interpretation is really a variation on the outsiders view of power
[13:26] herman Bergson:I took a picture of the class..
[13:26] herman Bergson: I hope you dont mind if I publish it in the blog?!
[13:26] Repose Lionheart: ㋡
[13:27] Rhiannon Dragoone: go right ahead, herman
[13:27] Kiki Walpanheim: sure, which means, no, i dont mind
[13:27] Rhiannon Dragoone: did you get me in it? Since i'm behind u?
[13:27] darx Taurus: sure you can publish
[13:27] Liza Deischer: np
[13:27] herman Bergson: yes especially you Rhiannon ㋡
[13:27] herman Bergson: But back to our issue at stake here..
[13:27] Rhiannon Dragoone giggles
[13:28] herman Bergson: POWER is the main concept...
[13:28] Rhiannon Dragoone: I'm influenced in my notions by Simone D'Beauvoir
[13:28] Rhiannon Dragoone: And her notion that women are the ultimate aliens, the outsider
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: she is so interesting
[13:28] herman Bergson: Just close your eyes helps
[13:28] Rhiannon Dragoone: how is that addressed in ur power analysis?
[13:29] herman Bergson: The important thing is that this not a matter of power but of psychology
[13:29] herman Bergson: We are all beings that obey....
[13:29] herman Bergson: and you all take it for granted
[13:29] Gemma Cleanslate: true
[13:29] Quizzle Mode nods
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: Psychologizing power is preliminary to the creation of a politics of virtue?
[13:29] herman Bergson: and that is philosophically of course a remarkable observation
[13:30] Kiki Walpanheim: yes the ethics is not as sacred as imagined
[13:30] herman Bergson: indeed kiki
[13:30] Rhiannon Dragoone: Well, then the outsider view would be crucial, if we're talking psychology
[13:30] herman Bergson: Is it a matter of psychology..or in other words a matter of human nature
[13:31] herman Bergson: Ialready mentioned it
[13:31] Rhiannon Dragoone: human nature? Or masculine nature?
[13:31] herman Bergson: but does being a social being justify or explain power
[13:31] Rhiannon Dragoone: it doesn't justify power or explain it by itself, herman
[13:32] herman Bergson: thnx Rhiannon...
[13:32] Rhiannon Dragoone: I'm thinking of the Marxian dialective which roots power relations in historical context
[13:32] herman Bergson: for now we know what we have to investigate...
[13:32] Rhiannon Dragoone: *dialectic
[13:32] Liza Deischer: it depends; you said: you don't need to live in a group for survival. I'm not so sure about that
[13:32] Rhiannon Dragoone: ur welcome, herman
[13:32] Quizzle Mode: Can we look to nature, other social spiecies who do or do not have power systems?
[13:32] herman Bergson: Yes for instance..historical contexts
[13:33] herman Bergson: Well Quizzle that is an interesting point...
[13:33] herman Bergson: we are inclined to look at nature...and social animals..wolves, chimps etc
[13:33] herman Bergson: But in that same nature there are as many solitaire living animals...they dont need a group to survive
[13:34] herman Bergson: so that isnt of much help, I guess
[13:34] Kiki Walpanheim: it's the subtle control that really counts.... without threatening, chains... we sometimes are much more helpless
[13:34] herman Bergson: YEs Kiki..that is what I am looking at too...when it is about political power
[13:34] Kiki Walpanheim nods
[13:35] Repose Lionheart: language is a social form without which our brains don't fully develop...we are dependent on the group from the earliest age...
[13:35] herman Bergson: may be a little at a loss at the moment
[13:35] herman Bergson: but it proves that we definitely have to analyze the concept of political power
[13:35] herman Bergson: where does it come from, how is it justified
[13:35] Rhiannon Dragoone: political power isn't the only kind of power, and is secondary to other forms of power, imo
[13:36] Repose Lionheart: like what?
[13:36] herman Bergson: In a way true Rhiannon, on the other hand could be a matter of the definition of political...
[13:36] Gemma Cleanslate: political power varies so from place to place and time to time
[13:36] herman Bergson: but ture...economic power that controls societies...
[13:36] herman Bergson: for instance
[13:36] Gemma Cleanslate: oh yes
[13:37] herman Bergson: religious power..take islam
[13:37] Quizzle Mode: The essence of political power is always the same though, to have "power over a group".
[13:37] Rhiannon Dragoone: herman, if we go that root, we can expand any kind of power to include any other kind of power, but then we lose clarity
[13:37] herman Bergson: RODNEY!
[13:37] herman Bergson: Welcome!
[13:37] Rodney Handrick: Hi Herman
[13:37] herman Bergson: Dont tickle the is calm now...
[13:37] Rhiannon Dragoone: It seems to me that political power is about the same everywhere; its just a question of which group *is* in power
[13:37] Quizzle Mode waves a tentacle in greeting to Rodney
[13:38] Rhiannon Dragoone: hi Rodney
[13:38] herman Bergson: ok...we also could define it as the power of one group over the other...
[13:38] Rodney Handrick: Hi Rhiannon
[13:38] Kiki Walpanheim: for me wherever there are ppl, there is politics... maybe it is an expanded version , my way to interpret politics
[13:38] herman Bergson: maybe that is a way in
[13:39] Repose Lionheart: "power" is the control of one person by another?
[13:39] herman Bergson: maybe politics can be easily defined as the conflict of interests
[13:39] herman Bergson: and power is the force that gets your interests satisfied
[13:40] Repose Lionheart: hmmm....
[13:40] herman Bergson: yes Repose...a mindckacker ㋡
[13:40] herman Bergson: cracker
[13:40] Liza Deischer: but if there is a conflict of interest and we don't depend on each other, why should we cooperate
[13:41] Rhiannon Dragoone: herman, one group over another is the way it manifests--men over women, the rick over the poor, European nations over the 3rd world
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: decreases conflict
[13:41] Quizzle Mode: Because life/living is easier and more pleasant if we cooperate?
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: makes regards more certain
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: rewards*
[13:41] herman Bergson: that is a bit paradoxal Liza....if there is a conflict of interests...we have to resolve it, not necessarily by cooperation
[13:41] herman Bergson: war is an option too ㋡
[13:42] Liza Deischer: true, but what I mean is, we are social beings, why? if we don't depend on each other
[13:42] herman Bergson: Yes Quizzle....there has to be some truth in your observation
[13:42] Liza Deischer: or survival
[13:42] Repose Lionheart: oh, good point, Liza
[13:42] herman Bergson: that might drive us indeed
[13:42] Kiki Walpanheim: propaganda, mind control too. and sometimes it is not only you do things to control, but you dont do things you are supposed to do... to control..
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: makes sense
[13:43] oola Neruda: can it date back to fighting over food, shelter, etc.... and got more complicated from there
[13:43] herman Bergson: That is a bit contradictory being and not depending on eachother
[13:44] Liza Deischer: that is exactly what I mean
[13:44] Repose Lionheart: yep
[13:44] Liza Deischer: but you stated: you don't need to live in a group for survival
[13:44] herman Bergson: welll...the being social means that the stronger finds food for the weaker for instance...
[13:44] herman Bergson: while the weaker produces kids
[13:45] Kiki Walpanheim: even Henry David Thoreau admitted he couldn't live in solitude for too long
[13:45] Liza Deischer: then there is a dependency
[13:45] herman Bergson: Yes LIza...there are plenty of organisms that dont need to live in groups
[13:45] Liza Deischer: true
[13:45] Quizzle Mode: survival is grey, cooperating and compromising offers humans a life like a rainbow, humans reach out to that and willingly submit to power (within reason) for the rainbow rather than the grey?
[13:45] herman Bergson: But as I said...we are destined to that fate by nature
[13:45] Liza Deischer: (i'm just a bi confused)
[13:45] Rhiannon Dragoone: I think we often surrender our power when there is no need to
[13:46] Kiki Walpanheim: nods at rhi
[13:46] Liza Deischer: so, depency means, it is easier to live together
[13:46] Rhiannon Dragoone: I mean, look at the Soviet Union. People just had to stop supporting it and it collapsed
[13:46] Liza Deischer: that makes us social beings?
[13:46] herman Bergson: Well..Rhiannon..that is the hot issue now in the US for instance between Democrats and Republicans
[13:47] Rhiannon Dragoone: herman a good example, as Democrats and Republicans only differ from one another in their social psychology--which groups they identify with
[13:47] herman Bergson: Cant believe that Jerome is coming from the Buddha Center
[13:47] Liza Deischer: :-)
[13:47] Kiki Walpanheim: yes we are weird creatures, annoyed when being too close and lonely when we dont get social
[13:47] Avatar ejected.
[13:47] Rhiannon Dragoone: kiki, horses aren't like that
[13:48] herman Bergson: I am sorry..had to use my power to eject
[13:48] Kiki Walpanheim: oh
[13:48] Kiki Walpanheim: who was ejected?
[13:48] herman Bergson: The dancing Jerome
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: oh?
[13:48] Quizzle Mode: The starman
[13:48] Liza Deischer: Jerome was
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: ah
[13:48] Rhiannon Dragoone: herman, u ejecte Jerome?
[13:48] herman Bergson: I am sorry ..I had to
[13:48] Kiki Walpanheim: not sure if he was the one i knew, the one who annoyed me before...
[13:48] herman Bergson: no offense
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: that is fine
[13:49] Rhiannon Dragoone: Well, i had to once 2, herman
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: has to be done sometimes
[13:49] Rhiannon Dragoone: he defriended me
[13:49] Kiki Walpanheim: is he the one in PI, if so then that was him
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:49] Liza Deischer: watch out Herman, you don't want to get in a fight with a horse :_)
[13:49] herman Bergson: Let's concentrate on our subject
[13:49] Jerome Ronzales shouts: i cant believe you have a horse in there
[13:49] Quizzle Mode listens to the Teacher
[13:50] herman Bergson: ok...
[13:50] herman Bergson: I think we have tons of interesting material here in our discussion to spend a lifetime on
[13:50] Kiki Walpanheim: ahh, yes it is.... ((yes , gets back to the lecture....))
[13:50] Rhiannon Dragoone: i seem to cause controversy where ever i go. sorry
[13:50] oola Neruda: i find that what you said last week... self any means... to be really unsettling
[13:50] herman Bergson: I must say..I am fascinated by this concept of power...
[13:51] herman Bergson: You dont Rhiannon..not at all
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: it has always been fascinating
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: power
[13:51] oola Neruda: particularly with what has just been happening in the us
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: oh yes
[13:51] oola Neruda: by any means
[13:51] Rhiannon Dragoone: thanks, Herman
[13:51] herman Bergson: So, I want to thank you for your participation today and be prepared for some more hot debates and lectures on this subject
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: next week the time will be all back
[13:52] Qwark Allen: thank you herman
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:52] Sartre Placebo: thx herman
[13:52] Kiki Walpanheim: Thank you Herman,
[13:52] lin Anton: thank you herman:)
[13:52] Liza Deischer: thx Herman
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:52] herman Bergson: Unless you still have a question, class dismissed ㋡
[13:52] Quizzle Mode doesn't want the class to be over
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: see you tuesday then quizzle
[13:52] Kiki Walpanheim: me neither
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:52] darx Taurus: thank you
[13:53] herman Bergson: Thank you Quizzle, but it is my power to set this rule ㋡
[13:53] Quizzle Mode wonders if this dynamic of power is hard-wired into humans and other animals
[13:53] Qwark Allen: l ☺ ☻ ☺ l
[13:53] Qwark Allen: lol
[13:53] herman Bergson: there always is a next class!
[13:53] Kiki Walpanheim: i'd rather call this as right than power
[13:53] Quizzle Mode jiggles tentacles happily hoping the be here next week
[13:53] herman Bergson: THAT is what we gonna try to find out Quizzle ㋡
[13:54] Qwark Allen: rodddnneeey
[13:54] herman Bergson: Nice you could come Rodney
[13:54] Rodney Handrick: Hi Qwark
[13:54] Quizzle Mode thanks the Teacher and all the participants today
[13:54] Qwark Allen: how are you my friend?
[13:54] Rodney Handrick: thanks Herman
[13:54] Qwark Allen: paarty at relaxation after class
[13:54] Qwark Allen: :-)
[13:54] Rodney Handrick: good qwark
[13:55] Qwark Allen: ˜*•. ˜”*°•.˜”*°• Bye ! •°*”˜.•°*”˜ .•*˜ ㋡
[13:55] Rodney Handrick: bye
[13:55] Liza Deischer: cu all
[13:55] herman Bergson: Lin..are you still awake?
[13:55] lin Anton: yeah:)
[13:55] Rhiannon Dragoone: thanks herman for a good lecture
[13:55] herman Bergson: Cool!
[13:55] lin Anton: good lecture
[13:55] lin Anton: hmm..
[13:55] herman Bergson: thank you Lin
[13:56] lin Anton: how's phenomenology define power?
[13:56] Kiki Walpanheim: btw, the remark on madness from alice in wonderland seems popular these days, i saw another person in sl with that in the profile yesterday...
[13:56] lin Anton: alice in wonderland is good:)
[13:56] herman Bergson: is a copy/paste text Kiki ㋡
[13:56] herman Bergson: sheer madness
[13:56] Kiki Walpanheim: ;-)
[13:57] Rhiannon Dragoone: lin, phenomeonlogy defines power phenomenologically, of course
[13:57] herman Bergson: do you know the name of that person Kiki?
[13:57] lin Anton: :)
[13:57] lin Anton: sure
[13:57] Rhiannon Dragoone: Less flip, it does so by its appearance, not by what might lie behind it
[13:57] lin Anton: chiense
[13:57] Kiki Walpanheim: harm
[13:57] lin Anton: yeah
[13:57] Kiki Walpanheim: i dont remember her full name, but she is in PI
[13:57] lin Anton: oh
[13:57] Kiki Walpanheim: she is there often, harm is the shorter version
[13:57] lin Anton: not the chiense one?
[13:57] herman Bergson: I have been there too several times
[13:57] Kiki Walpanheim: i see
[13:58] herman Bergson: Maybe the word spreads in SL ㋡
[13:58] Kiki Walpanheim: ;-)
[13:58] Kiki Walpanheim: and it really is exellent;-)
[13:59] herman Bergson: they did?
[13:59] Kiki Walpanheim: yes
[13:59] herman Bergson: wow..thank you
[13:59] Kiki Walpanheim: ;-)
[13:59] Kiki Walpanheim: ty#

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