Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Passionate intensity

I am quite a structuralist when it comes to power: in my view elites don’t use power, power uses elites. The common theme of human history has been a struggle for power based on our atavistic, primal fear, almost panic and the concequent craving for instant, short-term security. These actions create organizations and structures that in turn shape the individual actions and interact chaotically and unpredictably with each other. That’s how at the core of any human institution are the impulses of a permanently scared animal. Reason and enlightenment have had some limited effect towards rational, measured behaviour, but so far any real progress has been minimal.

So, power is structural and behaves structurally but depends on primal human impulses. On the individual level we concequently see how it continually keeps ending up in the wrong hands. The best do lack much conviction, as they are rational and base their actions on doubt and probability. The worst instead are full of passionate intensity and act accordingly: decisively and aggressively. And end up with the short term perceived security, short term power. Some institutions do curb this pattern and let reason prevail to an extent at least (rarely, if ever, fully). Most don’t. And so we stagger on.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Although I am at the very edge of my linguistic capabilities here, I have to confess, that your piece of writing was fascinatingly intresting.

First I decided not to agree with your premise but then, after a considerable time mulling it over, I really couldn't come up with the leader, past or present, who would have been an exception to what you stated. Maybe I have a little issue with the suggestion that power gained is for a short time only. Everything being relative, we could agree though, that the long departed dear leader, aka. the Father Sun, Josef Stalin stuck around more years than most of us care to remember. The form of the political system might have something to do with it.

This is the first time that I realize why the national leaders are the way they are and who they are. Thanks for the lesson, professor!

stockholm slender said...

Said in better English than mine... The time scale depends on what we think about: Stalin and his bloody power structures are now history - in the long perspective it was a brief moment and history has moved on, blindly and uncontrollably. The rationality and the degree of enlightenment of different organizations and institutions vary also - Stalin would not have won out in the British parliamentary system, but within those systems and structures it is very rarely that the most rational and least aggressive personalities would end up on top. And this is replicated basically on all levels of the hierarchy.

helsinkian said...

But didn't our President Kekkonen use power? The power structure where everything revolved around the President was created by him and it disappeared with him. The Paasikivi and Koivisto presidencies were essentially parliamentary presidencies. Now Kekkonen of course did not use that power in a repressive way - he kept Finland a democracy and in some ways he even encouraged the development of civil society.

What was Kekkonen's biggest accomplishment? I think staying in power for a quarter of a century and even getting the parliament to cancel presidential elections once for no reason at all. He created his own system for his own needs without even bothering to institutionalize that system of power, so that it was very easy to unravel after he was gone. But still I think it was he who used power (and the tendency of everybody else to be power hungry and self serving) in order to get all his rivals to disappear as if by pushing a magic button without ever physically hurting them or encroaching on their human rights.