19

Power as a Virtue

“Those who desire power are usually unfit to wield it”
– Plato

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.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 19 comments
Andrew B. Watt

May I add something to this? It’s important to practice taking and using power, and organizations like Toastmasters, the Freemasons, the Grange, the Rotary Club, Kiwanis, and so on, are great places to practice and work on the necessary skills (Toastmasters is a double-whammy because you also get practice at speaking and interacting with groups of people). These volunteer organizations are all locally-based in a specific club in a specific town; and all of them need help and money to do what they do.

I’m currently serving as one of the vice presidents of my Toastmasters club, in charge of public relations. This means that I run our website, manage our Facebook page, run our Twitter feed, and talk up our club on Meetup.com; I also send press releases to the local newspaper and penny press circulars. When a guest shows up, I try to figure out how they found us, and keep records on who came, how they reached us, and which methods work for recruiting new members (and which of my words intrigued them enough to come). All of this, I have to do within the bounds of our organization’s constitution and by-laws, and the brand guidelines of Toastmasters International.

In other words, all of this is great training in learning how to work with power — how to build a network and a mailing list, how to talk to people, how to write press releases and talk to people on the phone or in person, and how to get a group of people enthused and interested in a given plan of action. I could raise all kinds of power through sigils and ceremonial work on behalf of my club, but it turns out that footwork and flyering the community count for a lot more.

Reply
Sandy

Jason, thanks for this. I teach students specifically about reclaiming power and its always a messy class, let alone process.

The thing that stood out to me, though, in reading your opening quote (which we’ve all heard before) was that perhaps it never was a call to avoid power but instead, a call to to do the work to make ourselves fit so that when we wield it we do so with integrity.

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Larry Forde

Money is good.

Reply
    Ivy

    Money is neither good nor bad. Money is NECESSARY for living in the modern world. Just like electricity (insert electric light / chair metaphor here). The questions to be asking are: how much? and what for?

    Reply
Iago

It must be said that Occupy and similar radical left movements with anarchist inspiration purposefully REJECT taking state power as a means of social change (and I can see why, just by looking at history).
They envision something more like the Zappatists (or now the Kurds) are doing, ie., bottom-to-top self-management, and many are willing even to physically fight and risk their lives to destroy structures of power.
Of course you’re free to disagree with their political views, but it’s nonsense to blame them for not following your recipe for social change.
This touches another discussion, regarding the difference between power (which is Control) and potence (which is Creativity). The real revolution begins and ends with Potency. Reformists want to make power structures serve human beings, and not the other way round; anarchism-inspired revolutionaries want to end power structures and so liberate body-mind potence so each one can be self-sovereign. This is because Control is always less potent than Creativity, though often, we need to use Control to defend ourselves (and what’s left of our Potency) the from the assaults of Control.
In the end day, both revolutionaries and reformists are necessary. There must be someone willing to occupy power positions, so as to achieve the lesser harm; there must be someone willing to total rejection of power, so as to never let us forget what is life really about, and guide mankind outside this maze we’ve built ourselves.

Reply
    inominandum

    It’s not nonsense to criticize them for their methods. Their methods are not having much of an impact. Other than making the term 1% a common term, they have not had much impact.

    I understand their thinking, but again, I think that its utopian bluster that will amount to nothing. The willingness to fight and die is not power if there is not a plan to make it effect something. Every Occupier could take up arms tomorrow to destroy the structures of power in America and that whole thing would be over before you can blink.

    Snowden has had more impact on policy than Occupy has, and he is just one guy – but he was a guy with a plan to take power and use it.

    Anarchism inspired revolutionaries do not impress me, and I have known many from my days in Philadelphia and the communities around Wooden Shoe and the A-Space. People are not at a level where lifting the structure will suddenly liberate everyone. People cannot even manage to drive politely for fucks sake 🙂

    I also disagree about Creativity being more potent than control. Time and time again we see creators of ideas who have had little to no impact until someone who has Control comes along and makes it useful. But that is a conversation for another day.

    Reply
      Matt

      Well said.

      Reply
      Iago

      Well, Civilization, that proud offspring of Control, is screwing the world badly, and crumbling in the proccess. Control is now going to find balance through forceful re-equilibration. Another way of saying this is that we’ll reap the reward of thousands of years forcefully “controlling” 1-woman, and everyone’s so called “feminine” faculties, 2-our animal, emotional, impulsive, agressive and creative natures, 2-the non-white people and third world countries. So all the Robot-Powered Control of Nature can’t handle the balanced delicacy of the web of life, and is grossly stepping over it.
      All this to say there’s good reason to search outside state policy. Statecraft! The State is Control at social level, so it’s akin by nature to the very “cultural” interventions on our bodies through moral that makes us oblivious to the insanity of our civilization (c’mon, everyone was walking blindly through the XX century). Maybe little dosages of poison can be helpful to counteract the harsher effects of poisoning, but what we really, really, would benefit, was from actual antidotes.
      I mean, you toopple state. You didn’t end patriarchy. You can’t end patriarchy by decree. People are just as greedy and violent as before. Other states pop up. It’s just look at history. And at anthropology, if we’re to ask what can be found outside statecraft (or even hints of saner places partly outside the “emotional plague”).
      ps. I’ve said Creativity, but for the sake of balance, it’s just to mention that Potency can also be expressed as Agressivity.

      Reply
Inox

As I was saying to a friend earlier:

Because it all comes down to power, whether power over myself or power over others. When you limit the ability of others to overtly or covertly direct your energies and actions, you have then the freedom to walk the resonant paths.

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simon tomasi

I think that your point about the differences in influencing via speech and action is in my opinion a very important one. Words themselves do not have lasting effect unless people act on those words. This us why I think #hashtag campaigns are a waste of time. Power is acquired through the exercise of power in a controlled manner.

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Norene

One thing I’ve frequently noticed is that sometimes people don’t know where their true power lies. For instance, the comment about Snowden being one person as compared to the Occupy movement – he was in touch with and knew what his power was and how to wield it for change. I also see those with power in perfect positions to affect change, who are either to timid to pick it up, afraid of it, or convince themselves in some way that it is not the right way to go. [shaking my head].

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Andy

Thank you, this has definitely been on my mind lately as I move farther down my Path.

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