Saturday, September 26, 2020


494. Power, people and things

 Earlier, I adopted the definition of power as the ability to affect the choices of others, and I distinguished between the negative power of reducing choice and the positive power of increasing it. People mostly think of the negative form. Why is that? Here is a speculation.

 The distinction is relevant only when there is choice. A stone does not have it. Neither has a plant. An animal has instinct, automated behavior. In the debate on freedom of the will, some people hold that people have no conscious choice. Much choice is instinctive or routinised.

 Elsewhere in this blog I conjectured that people suffer from an ‘object bias’. An imperative for survival of Man, in the long period of evolution as a hunter-gatherer, was the ability to deal with things moving or located in time and space, such as plants, prey, ennemies and hide-aways, to the extent that thought came to be dominated by that, and later abstactions came to be conceived in analogy, metaphor to it. A telling example was that of the ‘container metaphor’ where we see things as contained in smething larger, as a boat, or home. Even where that does not apply, such as meaning in a word.

 Part of this, perhaps, is the predilection towards negative power, since that is what applies to things, since they do not have choice, and can only be handled, and we see that as a guiding metaphor for dealing with people as well. In fact, people do have a choice and one can give precedence tot their will, and giving options to choose from, in other words positive power.

 This connects with the idea, for example with Karl Marx, of alienation as people being handled as objects without autonomy or freedom. This is associated with capitalism as the rule of capital, seen as indicating how to operate.

 I have been pleading for the view of multiple, Aristotelian causality, for human activity, recognising not only the efficient cause, but also the motivation of the final cause, and the availability of material and formal causes and environmental, conditional causes of nature and institutions, and the exemplary cause of paradigms or role models. That gives an alternative approach to management. This is in fact known in the business literature as magement by giving, the material, the knowledge and technology, the motivation, and the leading example for work. Here, capital is not what leads labour but enables it, provides the nmeans and conditions for it.

 This can still slide into manipulation, by indoctrination or nudging, discussed elsewhere in this blog, preying on or utilizing the fact that much choice is driven by subconscious impulse. But one can never be completely free of that, since the individual is constituted, in his thought and feeling, in society, in interaction with others, imbuing ideology and unreflected custom in the process.


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