PAGE IN PROGRESS What you see here is a page of my hypertext book POWER of meanings // MEANINGS of power. Initially empty, this page will slowly be filled with thoughts, notes, and quotes. One day, I will use them to write a coherent entry, similar to these completed pages. Thank you for your interest and patience!
But wait. Aren’t there numerous examples of some people hurting others and creating all sorts of problems? Ruthless bullies, cruel slave owners, power-abusing dictators, profit-above-all business(wo)men? Blaming them people for society’s ills is definitely very appealing. Blaming them means arguing that (a) they have power to change things or to do things differently and (b) that these people use this power to keep the way things are because they benefit from the status quo.
The solution is for people to understand who they are, what it means to be human, acknowledge limits of our knowledge, mistakes we make, and ways he hurt each other and ourselves. This does not mean not fighting back when someone is hurting us.
Imagine: you are trying to do a project that is meant to help someone in need. Then you find out that some other people are not letting you do what you are trying to do. They are saying that it is not necessary, impossible to accomplish, waste of resources, or misguided. Can you push towards your cause while leaving in your mind space to wonder what other reasons can prompt your adversaries to create obstacles for you (beyond them being bad guys)? For many activists, this is no-brainer: the real waste of resources is this
I define media as people communicating with each other through technology. In my opinion, media does not create new problems. Instead, it amplifies existing issues, in the process making them more visible. For example, certain social media platforms allow people to hurt each other in seemingly new ways — for example, through cyberbullying, cancel culture, and fake news. These phenomena might look different from anything humanity has known before. But if we take a closer look, we will discover that they are, unfortunately, nothing new. I titled the book Media Is Us because it was meant to explain how the problems we associate with media can actually be traced back to human nature. This nature reveals itself not only through ways people use technologies, but also through the technologies themselves (think about algorithms that reflect biases of their creators).
Just to clarify: in my exploration, there is a place for discussing unearned privileges and unequally distributed resources. But I see those as related to just one dimension of power. I believe that, if we focus only on this dimension, we limit our ability to fully comprehend how society works, with all its nuances.
I believe that awareness about problems associated with power imbalances is crucial. Thanks to modern communication technologies, we know about these problems more than we have ever been before, which is a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, awareness prompts us to look for solutions. However, it also overwhelms us with emotions that push us to look for easy fixes inspired by the good guys vs. bad guys binary (prominently featured in all sorts of media narratives). Prevalent explanation goes like this: bad things happen because bad people do bad stuff. And since each one of us seldom sees themselves as a villain, we spend our efforts arguing who has caused the harm: “It’s you!” — “No, it’s you!” This shouting contest does not make for a very productive problem-solving.
I decided to do something very tricky: (1) discuss why sometimes people don’t have power (=freedom to choose) even when it seems that they do, and (2) at the same time investigate roots of power imbalances. The task has been challenging because I do not want to sound like I am excusing bad behavior by suggesting that people who abuse power do not necessarily have it.
If we look only at one dimension of power — the one that critical theories focus on — things look pretty straightforward: some people have power while others don’t. In this view, there is no place for empathy. But what if most or — crazy thought! — all people are actually is some ways like Sarah? It seems that they have power over their choices. But what if they don’t? This is how I stumbled upon paradoxes of power. I did not discover anything new, really. What I refer to as paradoxes of power has been a subject of centuries-long debate in philosophy and religion. Only instead of “power” numerous thinkers have been puzzling over what they call free will. Are our choices and desires behind them predetermined by circumstances outside of our control? (If so, blaming anybody — even the most villainous villain — for their actions does not make much sense.) Or do we have free will and can make choices of our own? (In this case, people have to be accountable for their actions.)
Recognize the complexity of social problems. E.g., bureaucracy is supposed to make things more efficient, to help many people work on doing things together, but it often creates problems that are outside of control of individuals that are part of the bureaucratic system (universities, healthcare system, police force) Dealing with bureaucracy
All the “flaws” of human nature are actually evolutionary accomplishments essential for survival of the species. For example, it is known that our behavior is largely controlled by the oldest parts of our brain. (That’s where all the cognitive biases are rooted— and your inability to stop eating those cookies when you are stressed!)
We should not see the world divided into villains and victims or oppressors and oppressed not because some people do not hurt others not not because there are no patterns in who is hurt and who does the hurting. The problem is that we essentialize these categories and start seeing specific people who oppress as oppressors by definition or even representatives of oppressive groups. Once an oppressor always an oppressor. But if we look at the human history, we will see that these categories are not absolute. Somebody who is oppressed can be at the same time be oppressing another one. Someone who is oppressed can later become an oppressor in a different situation. Examples throughout history — Christians were oppressed but then became a major oppressive force. Protestants were oppressed (Huguenots in France) then came to the US and now they are considered oppressors. This does not mean that someone who was oppressed will always become an oppressor, same as someone who was abused will not necessarily become an abuser. But we should be careful with our definitions and assumptions.
I am never satisfied with the explanation «he/she is just a jerk». I think that there are always complex reasons for people’s behavior. We might not want to explore those reasons (no time, or we get too emotional) but this does not mean that those reasons aren’t there. Knowing these reasons won’t necessarily help us get through to a person but it might change how we text to them, and that’s a big deal. Sometimes knowing the reasons can actually help us restore a connection or save a relationship.
"The appeal of the Stanford prison experiment seems to go deeper than its scientific validity, perhaps because it tells us a story about ourselves that we desperately want to believe: that we, as individuals, cannot really be held accountable for the sometimes reprehensible things we do. As troubling as it might seem to accept Zimbardo’s fallen vision of human nature, it is also profoundly liberating. It means we’re off the hook. Our actions are determined by circumstance. Our fallibility is situational. Just as the Gospel promised to absolve us of our sins if we would only believe, the SPE offered a form of redemption tailor-made for a scientific era, and we embraced it."
"A few years later, after deciding to write a book about Alex’s story, I discovered evidence that he hadn’t told the whole truth about his involvement. When I confronted him, he confessed to me that his choice to participate in the bank robbery was freer and more informed than he had ever let on before. Accepting responsibility was transformative for him. It freed him from the aggrieved victim mindset in which he had been trapped for years. Zimbardo’s “situational forces” excuse had once appeared to give my cousin a way to believe in his fundamental goodness despite his egregious crime, but seeing the personal growth that came with deeper moral reckoning, I began to wonder if it had really done him a service."
"Zimbardo has spent much of the last fifty years answering questions about the darkest six days of his life, in some ways a prisoner of his own experiment’s success. "
When we blame, the unspoken assumption is that somebody has power but is not using it. We need to understand the difference between having and using power.
Our actions are always a result of a combination of micropower and macropower, which means that there is a combination of power and powerlessness.
How can we hold anybody accountable for their actions if there is a degree of powerlessness? How can be blame? How can we punish? This should connect to a discussion about prisons. Literature on why, when prisons function as punishment, they are ineffective (and even harmful). The idea of consequences - what we try to apply with our children. Actions should have consequences so that we learn from them and grow. But they should not lead to punishment.
understanding how power works leads to a different mindset: instead of thinking prof other people as trying to trick you, hurt you, blaming them for the problems you experience, you can think about all of you together being caught in the same systems that is beyond control or even full understanding of any specific individuals empathy and curiosity
Arguing about responsibility: what one cannot or can do. Can you resist propaganda? We don’t know what the other person can or cannot do but we all the time make assumptions
Problems come when people don’t recognize their power, because it means they don’t recognize their responsibility (but the other way around as well, if you think you have power over what you done, it will drive you crazy; if you think someone has power over what he/does not, you will be barking on the wrong tree, trying to make this person chance things that they cannot change)
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