The Grab for Power

The other day Warren Buffett wrote “OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.”  The rest of the NY Times Op-Ed piece goes on to explain why he and people like him won’t stop investing, either in people or the market, because we close tax loopholes.  I won’t belabor the points here – Mr. Buffett did a wonderful job pointing out the logical fallacies of the post-tea party Republican party.  But for what is a decidedly well thought out expose of the economic fallacies of the far right, the deeper issue really has precious little to do with the outcomes of taxing the .5 percent a little bit more.  They are well aware that 99.5 percent of taxpayers will be unaffected by any policy changes.  This isn’t about improving the economy at all.  It’s about manipulation and power.

Power can be defined in many ways. Most simply, it is the ability to get what you want, or as scholar Kenneth Boulding said, power is “the ability to change the future.”  Boulding said power has three forms: threat, exchange, and love. Threat power is equivalent to “power over.” Exchange power is the power of negotiation, as it requires another party to negotiate with. Love, Boulding argued, is also a form of power. Although not often recognized as power, when people love each other, they do things to help the other person, just because they love them, not for any particular reward or hope of exchange. This gives rise to what Boulding calls “the integrative system,” the structure of bonds, of respect, of legitimacy that holds social groups and whole societies together. This is the form of power that underlies persuasion. People can be persuaded to change their behavior if a convincing argument can be made that corresponds with an opponent’s belief system (or changes that belief system through love or respect). And while there is certainly room to argue details and split hairs, Boulding’s construct is simple and helps illustrate a point.  When arguments from the far right don’t stand up to scrutiny and are still backed by their supports and demagogues (often with more and more outlandish rhetoric), then there must be some motive other than a desire to help God and Country.

Breaking the back of the economy is one sure way to do it, provided you can muster enough brown shirts early on.  When you strip a population of everything and then offer it a bowl of rice, the people are likely to be disproportionately grateful for whatever they get or willing to keep their heads down out of fear of retribution.  And just as the Nazis took advantage of derelicts, psychopaths and the general deranged by placing them in positions of controlled power, creating a kind of perverse hierarchy based on depravity, so to do Tea Party advocates seek to elevate the dregs in order to beat the masses into submission.  Time is the stumbling block, but even that can be overcome.  Step one on the road to creating a society defined by fear begins with shifting the power structure to do away with exchange.

It begins with the simple dismissal of the comments of Mr. Buffett and his cohort. Because the goal is not to actually worry about job creation, rather it is to strip people of a voice, no matter if they are at the top or the bottom of the economic hierarchy. Paint him as being on the fringe, along with other extremely bright, innovative, entrepreneurial folks, and you can continue to grow the level of fear people feel about the economy and their neighbor, thereby doing away with discourse.  The result is that the people consolidating power continue to spread division, which in turn leads to greater reliance on them.  One segment of the population comes to look on the leaders of the far right as saviors, the rest look on in fear but keep their mouths shut.

Of course, they know they have no argument.  When Michelle Bachmann simply scoffs at the man, dismissing him as an unbeliever she knows precisely what she is doing. The base of zealots is already in place.  When Rick Santorum says it’s a plot hatched by homosexuals, he is simply giving people in a growing state of fear something to attack. When Rick Perry says that he doesn’t care what one of the wealthiest men in America says because his own economic policy is guided by God, he does so because he knows that when power is finally consolidated into the hands of a few, he will be able to turn that man – long dead at that point – into a myth of his own devising, a myth that validates the Tea Party agenda.

Because it’s not about freedom, economic or personal.  It’s about establishing the belief that 2+2 = 5. It’s about getting the masses to agree that power and wealth is indeed better off in the hands of a tiny minority.  It is about fear and control, plain and simple.  That Mr. Buffett is right when he lays out his economic argument means nothing.  The goal isn’t about improving the economy.  It never was.



Published by gavinjohnston67

Take an ex-chef who’s now a full-fledge anthropologist and set him free to conduct qualitative research, ethnography, brand positioning, strategy and sociolinguistics studies and you have Gavin. He is committed to understand design and business problems by looking at them through an anthropological lens. He believes deeply in turning research findings into actionable results that provide solid business strategies and design ideas. It's not an insight until you do something with it. With over 18 years of experience in strategy, research, and communications, he has done research worldwide for a diverse set of clients within retail, legal, banking, automotive, telecommunications, health care and consumer products industries.

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1 Comment

  1. Interesting article. I like the link between fear,politics and power. From a distance (of several thousand kilometres…erm…miles that is…), it seems to me that debates in the US hinge often on fear, though I certainly am not saying that Australian politics in immune from this. I wonder whether this is because the US has been largely founded on the ‘ideal nation’ premise, therefore there is a constant underlying fear of what may threaten this ideal. Hence the desire to over-protect itself millitarily, as an example of this fear manifest in international policy (Vietnam, Cuba, Iraq, the Cold War..etc).
    The assumption of making policy for ‘God and Country’ is another example of the manifestation of fear, in my opinion. I’m not saying theism is a problem, but that it’s expression used to justify power is based on one’s own existential fears and the need to compensate by attempting to gain power-over others who are used as scapegoats for these fears eg homosexuals, Moslems, communists etc…

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