Empower

The question of power gets to the root of civilization. To my mind, civilization is marked by the elimination of suffering through communication, planning, and a preference for actions contributing to the common good over those for oneself. Power has complex roles in these dynamics.

The challenge in distributing power is the need to ensure both fair representation and human rights. The founders of America were wary of mob rule, that it would endanger the nation, and established a variety of structures to distance governance from the people. There are times when this seems wise, when the will of the people seems self-destructive, bent on diminishing human rights, and technocracy seems a sensible alternative. At other times it seems that any point of adjudication is an opportunity for corruption and the perpetuation of the status quo.

In his journal, the 18th century Abolitionist Quaker John Woolman notes the importance of a skepticism in the Quaker perspective toward certainty in the single perspective. Even an opinion based on careful study and empirical analysis is less valuable on its own than in conversation with more visceral perspectives. Thus a broad engagement is more fair and, from Woolman’s perspective, more valuable.

Power is where events take dangerous turns. It’s where drama happens, where society struggles or fails, if only in our ineptitude to communicate, to ask for what we want in a way that ensures we receive it. We are born in frustration, limited in our power, dependent. To pretend that we ever overcome that struggle is to court inhumanity. In Woolman’s view, we must treat others with care, to seek out what others want and help them achieve it, then ask what others remain to whose care we can attend.

 

 

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