Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Is "Power Corrupts" A Mystic Notion?

To a physicist the idea that power can corrupt does not make sense.

That scientist can and does use very precise formulas from within the realm of mathematics so as to show you all you want to know about power.

But none of what is shown will have any thing to do with corruption of the power we are in reference to.

There is a distinction between the power talked about by physics professors and the power talked about by the founders of our nation.

The way they drafted the U.S. Constitution shows that they had experienced the bad effects from concentrated power, and that they believed distribution of power was a better way.

The graphic shows three branches of government sharing various aspects of power, with the written Constitution being the supreme power of the nation.

That is all well and good, but the notion that there is something in power, a toxin if you will, that corrupts those who use the power is a mystical notion it seems to me.

We know that the notion "power corrupts" is true, but we do not really know how it corrupts, or what the toxins that do the corrupting are composed of, or where they exist and come from.

But neither do we really know what gravity is, but we can use formulas that describe what it does, and we can do so very precisely. Gravity is a mystical power that we can't see or feel, yet we know it exists, and we use it in many ways to our advantage.

Likewise, those toxins of power that can warp the mind, emotions, and heart of politicians who are not careful, will not do the same to those who discover and use the antidotes.

Like the formulas for working with gravity, we now have formulas to work with that mysterious something, "toxins in power", too.


Justin Boland said...

I think you're definitely onto something here, and the key is neurology, hormones and our capacity for sustained attention. Saying that "power corrupts" is a moral version of a statement that would sound different through another lens, like "power is too demanding for human nervous systems."

Having grown up on the edge of power elite families, I always get the impression they are "good" people -- as good as any of us. They're also completely overwhelmed by data and responsibility and have long, long since accepted the moral cost of that.

Whether they choose to deny the reality of what their actions cause, or perhaps justify it as necessary and even good, well...that's a psychological study, not biology. Humans have many ways of justifying our actions.

I do think, though, you can build a very solid case for this: as an individual's personal power ramps up, it reaches a threshold point where they cannot keep up with the amount of data and responsibilities they truly have. That threshold point is probably state-level bureaucracy, and Federal Government in a nation of 50 states and 300+ million people is just insane, from a design perspective.

The data load is massive and the processor has been failing for a century now.

Dredd said...


I read some posts at your link and liked this text there:

"Such is Operations Research, in which metallurgic problems are tackled by psychologists and historians but not metallurgists. For the expert knows too much about a problem in advance. He sees why it is impossible. But teams of intelligent non-experts, not seeing the difficulties in advance, have time and again won through, and at high speed. The new pattern in management is small teams of men of varied competencies, not the pyramid of job hierarchies."

This would be the way to solve the need for a new physics IMO.

You might find the ecocosmology blog interesting.

Thanks for your comments.