News media reports the arbitrary use of power against innocent targets with increasing frequency. Why? Why do we hear of and see so many senseless expressions of power used to harm the least reasonable targets? Because such expressions of power are symptomatic of an underlying social condition of perceived powerlessness. Individuals who used to comfort themselves by associating in their minds with being part of a powerful group, team or nation no longer find comfort there because those opportunities for vicarious “power by association” are disappearing. Traditions of parasitically drawing a sense of power by belonging to an unassailable, always winning group are crumbling. In the absence of traditional temporary relief from secret (often unconscious) feelings of personal powerlessness and resulting frustrations about lack of control over one’s own destiny, individuals who are vulnerable to such feelings of powerlessness for whatever reason are popping to the surface with their frustrations in both planned and spontaneous acts of reactionary violence.
The USA population includes many frustrated people who no longer believe that they have power to influence the course of their lives and cause any improvement in their lives or the lives of others they care about. The mythical American Dream of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps and single-handedly achieving success on some terms valued by the achiever is a bubble that has burst. Like the housing bubble, .com bubble and so many other illusions of permanent prosperity based on constant growth, the American Dream of continuously improving prosperity based on continuous expansion of the economy and of dominance by the USA empire around the world has burst. We’d like to pretend to blame that bubble’s bursting in air on current leaders or even upon past leaders and comfort ourselves with renewed bombs bursting in air, but that’s another illusion. The truth is that illusions are illusions and don’t last forever.
If an individual feels powerless, one way of compensating for his or her sense of powerlessness is to find convenient targets of sufficient weakness to inflict harm and pain upon in some way dramatically obvious that the “power to cause pain” flows from the individual according to his or her arbitrary willfulness. “See how powerful I am?” is the message. If the individual feels frustrated about not having his or her way in other areas of life, at least in this one area he or she is can assert unchallengeable dominance. The more arbitrary the expression of power in relationship to any true justification for that expression of power, the more powerful the person feels temporarily. It’s like a “fix” for that person. Arbitrary use of power is addictive, a drug upon which the powerless person depends for relief. Plus the more publicly the person gets away with his or her abuse of power, the more thrilling the expression of power becomes. Targeting senseless victims for abuse becomes not only an addictive habit but a destructively meaningless hobby, sadistically amusing to the person who expresses power in this manner. “Getting away with it” adds to the thrill of arbitrary power. “Getting away with it in the open with no one being able to stop me” is the greatest thrill of all. “Recruiting others to protect me while I am openly abusing power by harming innocent victims” also adds to the person’s false sense of power.
The emotional and mental inner workings of people who senselessly use power to harm or cause pain to others is not as much of a mystery to humans as we’d like to claim. Most if not all of us have had occasion to be at least tempted to engage in such power dynamics as a way of compensating for the frustrations of our lives. “Kicking the dog” in private is a minor expression of power for this purpose. Punishing weak members of society for their acting out their own frustrations in public upon arbitrary victims is another expression of this power.
We much prefer to accuse others of doing what we’d likely do ourselves when the shoe is on the other foot and then inflict pain upon them as if to flagellate ourselves vicariously for participating in such a weakness. The temptation is strong to point the finger at others and declare ourselves free of any related habits and hobbies. It would be better for all of us if we’d spend at least as much time pointing the finger towards ourselves and confessing our own misunderstanding about power and how power to cause pain and harm to others is never a true expression of power. It’s a game our egos play to express how undeserving of love we secretly believe we are and to convince us how much we are powerless to do anything about improving the condition of the society in which we live. The ego lies. True power is the power to help another person recover from having been the victim of arbitrary power or any other form of pain and find his or her path to freedom from otherwise, in turning the table, becoming an abuser of power too. We must get up from that table and take no side of it. Instead we need to fashion campfires and other circles of reconciliation around which to gather as one village. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes this kind of transformed village to raise us all up to envision and share true power from another perspective.
If our nation is ever to stop abusing its power by subjecting weaker nations to pain and harm, we as individual citizens of our nation must undertake personally to adopt a different understanding of power and participate with wisdom in the alternative vision of power as a capacity to heal rather than to harm.
© Art Nicol 2016