is a lot like a drug.
We all have a deep-seated need
to control our lives, to achieve goals,
to accomplish and succeed; that is a healthy
and normal human need. But needs can be corrupted
into unhealthy obsessions. When the power need corrupts
a person, it corrupts them absolutely, overriding common sense
and morality, just like the abuse of alcohol or drugs does. It maximizes
It’s like a drug. There’s a rush. A feeling of euphoria.
Power intoxicates. When a man cherishes the rush of adrenaline from the exercise of power and fancies himself to be powerful, instead of distrusting his own deceptive nature, he succumbs to this ancient addiction. He is drunk with power. A power junkie is born.
And the world takes note of him, begins to size him up, judge him, evaluate his threat level.
[Note to the observant ones from your author: Since the gender of those sitting as kings of these hills is almost universally the masculine one, the pronouns used in this discussion may safely remain in harmony with that unfortunate reality. Disclaimer: I try not to be biased, but I have noticed that the people I trust the most tend to be those of that gender a man once labeled as the “weaker” sex, though experience has shown me that weakness has nothing to do with it].
And many in the world take notes from his success, applaud him, and then target him for destruction (competition, merger, acquisition). Their power addiction is threatened by his power addiction.
Once he’s hooked on it (or maybe it’s got him, like a fishhook in his brain), he’ll do anything to keep it and grow it, to protect his power-supply from those who would deprive him of it. Fortunately (as in good fortune, and Fortune 500) for him, wealth and power reinforce each other. Ever since bullion metal superseded all other measures of nationalistic greatness, power has attracted wealth like iron to a magnet. And conversely, power and influence are for sale to the highest bidder. So with wealth comes power. With power, comes wealth.
If he is very fortunate, the powers-that-be will allow him to climb up the rungs of the ladder, and plug his power/wealth/addiction into their larger network of power-dealers, their marketplace. The more power you have, the easier it is to keep it and to get more of it; the power-addicts’ “drug of choice” has never been illegal. In many places, it’s a social norm, the best measure of success. Even if it was somehow made illegal to accumulate power, the wealth that comes with power can buy a busted power junkie the best lawyers, judges, and legislators, the real version of a get-out-of-jail-free card.
The newly-minted wealthy and the newly-elected powerful attract the attention of those who make it their business to either elevate or exploit and discard these potential usurpers, these threats to what those on top treasure the most: status quo. These super-powerful addict-dealers call themselves “brokers,” a strangely appropriate term when you think about it. Go broke, go for broke, brokerage firms, broken down, broken spirit. The sense of the word, the feel of it, is: “it could go either way for you, and that part is up to me.” Some of these powers-that-be hold government offices, others are in finance, and others own large corporations. Some are found in academic institutions and religious organizations, too. Many of them hold power in multiple arenas. All of them are power-brokers: men who have succumbed to this peculiar addiction and sit as gate-keepers to their own elite, members-only club.
The “Power Corrupts” Axiom
Power is corrupting and insidious, like toxins and additives and harmful drugs are to the body. While it is certainly possible to make use of power in purely good and benevolent ways, that is neither the first nor the usual inclination of most powerful men.
This is because of the genetic material we all carry. It’s called “evolutionary advantage.” People are naturally inclined to look out for themselves, to survive, to compete. Our infantile impatience to get what we need (an infant’s cries, I want, I need, NOW!) is overlooked as strong survival instinct by that other gender, the mother gender, the one with the nurturing, mothering instinct. That self-centered “me-first” orientation which good mothers train out of their children, and societies that value competition and self-interest train back in to them, is enshrined in the hallowed halls (and towers, and foundations, and, that modern shrine, the brand name) capitalize on a universal human trait– selfishness. Evidence of our genetically shaped evolution abounds.
The historical record immortalizes the corruptions of many power junkies who are buried under prominent monuments: dictators, kings, emperors, Caesars, czars, governors, generals, presidents, chief executive officers, and countless other self-important titles with which men have crowned themselves. So many of them guilty of letting the power in their hands go to their heads, and exploit or abuse those under them, those who consented to follow their leadership, or who had no other choice. It happens so often, it seems inevitable. The few exceptions– the benevolent dictator, the good king, and benign business person– prove the potency of power addiction by how rarely they grace our history books with their inspiring stories.
The corruption that accompanies power is evidence of the flaw in man’s inherited natural makeup. Religious movements have attempted to awaken people to this warp in human nature, and give them tools and motivation to deal with it—Hinduism’s karma and dharma and reincarnation; Buddhism’s four noble truths and eight-fold path; Islam’s disciplined fasts and prayer times; Judaism’s Yom Kippur; Catholicism’s sacraments; Protestantism’s new birth conversion. Unfortunately, religious truth is largely obscured from objective examination, buried beneath institutions which start out intending to promote their study, but succumb to the same obsessions that befall the power-addict: self-preservation, elimination of the competition, and world domination.
The Cult of Power
Power-junkies abound in all religions, and some of the most violent and dangerous men shield their toxic addictive behaviors beneath a cloak of self-righteousness. The sacrilegious abuse of spiritual power is all too painfully understood by the victims of corrupted religion. The “cult of power” is a phrase with many shades of meaning, all of them dark.
Not so long ago, power was easy to see and to follow as it collected into the hands of the wealthy and strong. It was simple to see that the guy with the biggest house and healthiest family, the one who was always talking up front and leading people to do things, the one whose name everybody knew—he had the power; he was a member of the most powerful family. Modern society has stratified in complex ways, multiplying and diversifying the institutions which accumulate and bestow power. Intelligent citizenship in a world full of power brokers, all intent on maintaining their hold on society’s mental boundaries, is a challenge. It demands a level of attention to detail and a commitment to learning not required of generations past.
The powerful seek to control academic, legal, and research institutions because no one knows better than power brokers that information is power. “The pen is mightier than the sword!” In the pre-industrial past, it was relatively easy to maintain power if you were on top of the power pyramid (wield the sword); it is trickier now that information flows fast in the global digital commons. It’s trickier still if you live in a society which cherishes freedom of expression, the free exchange of ideas, and democratic values like the rule of law, all of which tend to pull power down from the few at the top of the pyramid, empowering the weak below, who crave equal opportunity. It may be trickier, but modern power-brokers are up to the challenge; they study history and learn from it. The most breath-taking tricksters that ever lived are found in modern political machinery, and the corporate advertising industry; public relations wizardry, and the high priesthood of economists; in the mass media, with their shock-and-awe campaigns, and in trans-national conglomerates soaring above the rule of law, beyond the reach of any single nation’s laws.
The modern war on the drug of power is being won by the power-addicts, not those seeking a cure; the greatest concentrations of wealth and power ever witnessed on planet Earth are re-concentrating at the top of that ancient metaphorical power pyramid. The advantage of numbers belongs to those at the bottom of the pyramid, but the advantage of resources is all at the top. Dissenting citizens are invisible to the power-brokers up at the top, who thrive as long as the multitudes down below– the true source of all power and wealth, according to the economic priesthood– believe that protests and political parties and votes might someday sober up the power junkies in charge of their world. That’s why revolutions rarely change the established order of things.
Related Insights In Other Places
- Inequality.org Your portal for news, data, and statistics on economic inequality, health and inequality, income inequality, social inequality, poverty and inequality, and global inequality.
- Corporate Accountability | The Investigative Fund The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute is dedicated to improving the scope and overall quality of investigative reporting in the independent press and beyond.
- Revealed – the capitalist network that runs the world…[T]he super-entity is unlikely to be the intentional result of a conspiracy to rule the world. “Such structures are common in nature.”