Power and Freedom

Power and freedom.  When people hear those words they think they mean to be able to do what you want whenever you want.  In a sense that is true, but those rudimentary definitions miss the fact that those two concepts are dangerous at best when they aren’t combined with an understanding the responsibility both entail.  The responsibilities are related but slightly different.

Power comes with the responsibility of knowing when and how to wield it.  The first rule of power in this case is, if you have constantly have to show or tell people you have power, you really have none.  Flashy shows of power come about for two reasons.  First the knowledge that you really have no power and second the knowledge that what power you did have is quickly disappearing. 

On one hand watching people and organizations run amok as they try to prove or hold on to power is fascinating.  They cast about wildly striking at anything and everything they see as a threat and thy think the more they do or say is strengthening their argument when it in fact is only hurting it.  On the other hand, as they swing about they are at their most dangerous and sad. The sadness is primarily because someone will be hurt for no good reason it is usually the people on whom this power is being exercised. 

In a perverse way, having the power to crush someone and not using it can actually give you more power.  The ones you don’t crush when you could have will be grateful and feel they are in some kind of partnership with you and give you a benefit of the doubt when you use your power. 

Freedom carries with it the same type of knowing when to use it.  With the freedom of being able to do what you want comes to responsibility of knowing when not to do something.  Freedom is a little trickier then power because the over use of freedom is not governed by fear as much as it is by a self-confidence that you can handle anything and an ignorance of your own limitations.  That ignorance is not only of your own limitations but of the power of things outside of you. Part of adolescence is the discovery of your limitations and the power of the things around you.  Part of life is the constant recalibration of both of those things. 

An important question is, how does one exercise this responsibility collectively in the public sphere, particularly when it bumps up against power. 

In a free society, when one group feels that another group is using its power in an adverse manner, how does one exercise their freedom to protest?  Protests are either nonviolent or violent. I use nonviolent instead of peaceful because protesters can be non-violent, but those they are protesting do not have to respond in kind and often do not.  That is actually the beauty of nonviolent protest.  It both shames those being protested and those who are “neutral” into correct action.  The nonviolent civil rights movement of the 1960s worked because it shamed moderate whites who up that point ignored what was happening into working to eliminate the inequality and violence being perpetrated. 

That’s the thin line.  When power is challenged it reacts violently.  To hold the moral high ground necessary to win eventually the challengers should not strike back with violence.  However, the fact that violence against a foe that is entrenched in power and has all the advantages that entails is a viable option for protestors should say a great deal about how dire they feel their circumstances are. 

With the granting of power and/or freedom comes the responsibility to use both for the greater good.  Only by functioning in concert through the judicious use of power and the responsible use of freedom does society function. 

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