Of late, I have been mentally chewing on the idea of power and its corollary, helplessness. Power, and its perception, establish the hierarchies of business, education, religion, etc. Your boss is your boss because you both perceive him/her to have power over you. The simplest description of power I’ve ever heard was by the centurion in the Bible. “I say to that man go and he goes. I say to another come and he comes.” Power, in human terms, is the ability to make someone do or endure what they might not have chosen to do or endure on their own.
Which opens the door to abuse. It is power, I would maintain, that distinguishes sexual harassment from flirting. Flirting, the giving and taking of sexual innuendoes, verbal, visual and tactile, makes us equal. Whatever our nominal relationships, we allow ourselves to be on the same plane, titillating and being titillated.
Sexual harassment happens when one person is able, through an exercise of power, to inflict sexual innuendoes, verbal, visual or tactile on an unwilling other.
Equally, power underlies rape. While I would certainly agree that rape is about violence, I disagree with those who would maintain it is not about sex. Rape is about power and the sexual stimulation that some sick individuals find in impersonally ripping the power and dignity from another.
That peculiar, visceral rage we feel when we encounter or hear about child pornography or child abuse stems in large part from our recognition of the innocent powerlessness of the victims and the twisted exploitation of that fact by the victimizers.
Street crimes, turf wars, drive-by shootings, all the evils we have dumped into our living rooms every night, have a power dynamic that scares the hell out of us. Some group that finds itself powerless, believes itself powerless, is endlessly told by its leaders of its powerlessness, coalesces itself into a defensive alliance whose sole defense is offense.
The movies love to show us the sheer horror of this. They have pat scenes of ordinary, isolated, weak people (i.e. us) being terrorized by some heavily armed, heavily muscled conscienceless group of young thugs. Fairly often they then uplift us by showing this alien enemy being variously blown up, eviscerated and generally splattered (screaming in their own impotent fear) all over the neighborhood.
It is not the fact that these people have guns that makes them dangerous. It is the fact that they exist that makes them dangerous. I would be unwilling to meet any of these folks on the street if they were armed with knives, clubs or just their naked hatred. For make no mistake about it. With weaponry, numbers, training or sheer physical size, these people will always find some way to confront you where they have overwhelming power.
Our society has reached and exceeded that critical density of predators where each of us are statistically fated to meet them one day. The police, or any other protective body, cannot be everywhere at once. The sad truth is that when we finally find ourself facing them, we will probably be alone, or with only our defenseless loved ones near us.
That event, I submit, makes all the current sturm und drang about gun control something of a smoke and mirrors game. Because I think our leaders have (once again) gotten the problem backwards. Having gotten to the point where the population of thugs has gotten out of control, it is not a question of how we can disarm them, for that alone would not solve the problem. Disarmed or not, they will still be here. The question is how do we so empower the citizen relative to the barbarian as to improve the odds in favor of the citizen.
Let me suggest that government is the last place you will find a solution based upon increasing the power of the citizenry. This seems a contradiction, as it is a prime tenet of our Paine-based democracy that rulership begins with the people, who surrender some measure of it in return for the benefits an organized society con confer. For most of us, good government is defined as that which leaves us as much of our own power as possible while providing us with the services we need. We feel the country is strongest when it consists of the largest possible number of powerful, independent people.
Unfortunately, governments of our time are organized as bureaucracies, which are not based on the same logic. The bureaucracy owes its existence to the fact that it performs actions that the citizens cannot. As such, the less that the citizens can do for themselves, the more the bureaucrats are needed. From that point of view, the strongest government comes from having the largest number of helpless, dependent people. This explains the apparently irrepressible urge (no matter which party is nominally in charge) for the government to do more and more FOR us. Government/political “solutions” to problems naturally tend to reduce the power of the individual citizen.
The odd result is that the thugs and the politicians share a common goal: Both want to reduce the power and independence of the individual citizen. One acts from malevolence and the other from benevolence, but the effects are the same. Politics does indeed make for some strange bedfellows.