Power as a Virtue
“Those who desire power are usually unfit to wield it”
You have probably heard some version of that quote many times. I know I have. I used to say it all the time. Its a good explanation of why things seem are messed up, and if you are a person who is not particularly interested in accumulating power, assures you that you are not part of the problem. It’s those people, not us.
People who follow this line of thinking often feel that the virtuous do not and should not seek power. I see examples of it all the time and at all levels.
- I have students come to me all the time for help with their sorcery, and the first thing that they feel the need to assure me is that they are not seeking money for themselves, this is for some virtuous purpose. Or if they are seeing a new job or promotion, are worried about being “selfish”. Some even feel that this will effect the magic. Strangely at least two confirmed left-hand-path practitioners came to me with these concerns.
- I have counseled people that make less than 30 thousand a year, but are actually afraid to make much more because “how can I live with myself making six figures, when there are so many suffering”.
- I know a lot of people involved in the occupy movement and other various left-of-center activism, but not a single one of them has ever or would ever consider running for office. People that feel just and right pointing out the obvious problems of the world, tend not to do so well when it comes to proposing solutions that are actually actionable.*
- I have even witnessed people in the Thelemic and Pagan community afraid to guide their own children for fear of undo influence on their “Will”. As if letting them grow up in a world with no boundaries is somehow a comfort, when in fact it is terrifying, and totally unrepresentative of the world that they will enter as adults.
In fact, what got me thinking about this post was a story on NPR about how protesters in Egypt tend to feel that it is not their place to take power, and that the military has done everything it can to foster this attitude.
THE CALL TO TAKE POWER
Look at the quote again though: “Those who desire power are usually unfit to wield it”. Instead of avoiding power to show that you are a good person,shouldn’t it instead be a call for good people to take power?
Since it is not likely that we are going to wake up one day soon in a perfect egalitarian utopia, there are going to be people in positions of varying degrees of power. If we good people, whose first desire is not to control others, do not take up these positions then they will be filled by those who are unfit to hold them. Police, Politicians, CEO, or just affluent and influential person: if you don’t like the way those people are exercising their power you need to take it for yourself.
And make no mistake, power is not given, it is taken. Gloria Steinem wisely wrote that “Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowerment in itself. ” Often power is taken from someone else who already has it, or at least from someone else that also wants it. This is the way the world works. It’s not utopia but there ya have it.
The point of this post is this: you are a Sorcerer, a Magician, a Witch – you should not be timid about power.
THE ETHICS OF TAKING POWER
So am I saying that we should all become power obsessed, and willing to achieve our ends at any means? Not at all. Though I love House of Cards, I would not recommend anyone become Frank Underwood, who kills and cajoles for power with no concern for anyone but his own ascension.
There is however a wide space between the ruthlessness of Frank Underwood, and someone who is afraid to fight for a promotion at work because they don’t want to “harm” the other people that want it.
The world is messy and there is very little you can do that does not inconvenience someone else. The success of your online business is contributing to the decline of brick and mortar businesses. The woman that fell in love with you and your charms, has someone else in her life that is also after her heart. The contract that you just got for your company, means the bankruptcy of a smaller company that you were in competition with. This is life.
ON WIELDING POWER
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
– Abraham Lincoln
If taking power involves some areas that are ethically gray, just wait until you actually wield some. As I have mentioned before, governance, be it of a country, a business, or just your own life; if more often than not a choice between bad options. It’s not a matter of choosing whether to screw someone over or not, its a matter of who you are going to screw and what the outcome is.
If you a politician and you raise the minimum wage, you will make life much more better for millions of people, but you will also probably eliminate thousands of jobs and possibly destroy hundreds of small businesses. If you don’t, then you consign millions of people to existing on a pay rate that is does not pay a living wage**.
If you own a business that is not doing well you may have to choose between laying off employees that have worked for you for decades or cutting your own salary and reducing your families standard of living.
POWER IS NOT ALL NEGATIVE
“Generosity is its own form of power”
– Frank Underwood
With Power comes the ability to make change. The more power, the greater change you can make. A parent who is wise in the exercise of their power has the ability to be of incredible benefit to their children – leading them to success and their own power. A corporate CEO has the ability to effect thousands of lives through wise application of power – Craig Jelinek comes to mind. An entrepreneur can change the world with a new business or technology. A politician can make the lives of millions of people better with good policy.
Almost every decision that brings these benefits will also have some harm, sometimes for the same people. That’s life.
STOP BEING A WUSS
So power is messy, and often has negative consequences for others – some foreseen and some unforeseen – yet I am still saying that you should take it.
Anthropologists define power as the ability to control or influence peoples actions. Magicians tend to value freedom and personal will, so the idea of controlling and influencing people is not something we are often comfortable with – but its not something that you can avoid, because even avoiding it has consequences.
Our lives are already intertwined, you do not exist in a bubble.
You are already influencing people, even inaction is an influence.
I am simply saying that is you are a Sorcerer or a Sorceress, you should not be afraid to take the power that you deem necessary or simply desirable.
If you learn to exercise your power in ways that accord with your values. If you are able to not be corrupted by the power you hold. It can be a virtue.
*While I despise most of what the Tea Party movement stands for, and agree with some of what the Occupy movement represents, the former movement gets a lot of my respect for putting up candidates in elections and actually attempting to translate their views into policy.
** If the minimum wage was linked to the cost of living when it was first passed, the federal minimum wage would now be over $21 per hour.
NOTE: I do not want to discuss any of the specific policies that I gave examples of in the comments section. If you want to talk about taking power – through magic or without magic – thats fine, but any comments purely about Obamacare, Minimum Wage, Tea Party, Occupy or whatever will be deleted.