In the Spirit of Collegial Inquiry...

updated: 12 Oct 98

Politics, Power, and Hormonal Drives

Original Discussion from January '98:

JP:   ... A more immediate and controversial topic: what is going on with Pres. Clinton and all these women who keep popping up in the media? Is it all a political plot? Or is the man a modern-day Casanova? And if some of it is true, why doesn't Hillary divorce him? Or should we care about his private life at all? Comments?

JCC:   On Clinton, I wonder why anyone makes such a big deal of it all! Politicians have a lot in common with televangelists and other leader figures in the theories of Michael Hutchison, who wrote Anatomy of Sex and Power. Uncertain whether I spelled the author's name correctly, but his social insight was impressive. This is a personality issue, fueled by hormones in powerful men (and women) and the tendency to get into some kind of sordid trouble seems to go with the drives and territory. From Caesar to Kennedy, it seems much the same, with little owed to political sympathies, ideals, or whatever ... more than just power as an aphrodisiac, a comment attributed to Mr Kissinger, it seems the addiction of those infected with the drive toward power and prestige, even as a moth to flame.

DM:   My guess is that there was something between Lewinsky and Clinton. One could read between the lines during Jim Lehrer's interview with the president. When Lehrer asked Clinton: "You had no sexual relationship with this young woman?" Clinton replied, "There is not a sexual relationship." An excellent example of doublespeak -- language designed to mislead and deceive.

One of the pressures exerted upon close bystanders such as Hillary to remain close-lipped is undoubtedly the idea that the country would be hurt by its inability to move beyond this issue if the unvarnished truth about her husband's extra-marital life were to be revealed. Even if Clinton were to be forced from office, there would still be considerable pressure on both people to not divorce -- even in that disgraced situation, he and Hillary would remain powerful symbols of America.

While I do not believe Clinton's 'denial,' I am more disturbed that this situation has evolved out of secret tapings of conversations that at least one person (Lewinsky) believed to be private, concerning private matters. It seems to me that Linda Tripp's actions, while perhaps not illegal, were at least ethically questionable. It should not have come to this; but now that it has, Clinton should be subject to the consequences of his incredibly poor judgment.

CW:   I know what you mean. She's either his dominatrix or has the constitution of a saint. But I think it would be more interesting if she did divorce him. It would be a first for American politics. They could sell the White house to Adnan Khashoggi. It is interesting that the leader having affairs is considered to be so shocking given that it has been the norm throughout history. I mainly just wish the women weren't so goofy looking. Maybe he thinks he's just being polite?

CML:   Sell the White House to Adnan Cash-Hoggy? Spoken like a true Canadian! The situation regarding the Clintons has always been clear: Bill thinks he's Elvis Kennedy, Hillary is Lady Macbeth, and neither poses a threat to Albert Einstein ...

The Forms of Power

by Eric McKeever

from the Baltimore Freethinker Journal, June '93.

presented in Colloquy: 5 Oct '98

Images of power spring to mind: a volcano exploding, a detonating nuclear bomb, speeding racing cars, asinine and tiresome dictators haranguing vast crowds of sheeplike humans. I suspect power is a much more pervasive influence in the everyday life of humans far more than they realize, or would care to think about if they did. Power takes an endless variety of forms. There are the obvious hierarchies; political, military, business, industrial, religious, educational and social, to note but a few. Power may be expressed in the most trivial or petty relationships. One thinks of the government clerk whose brother-in-law is the department head in which he/she works. One learns quickly not to tread on this mouse's tail. There is the power of physical strength and size, there is power of youthful beauty. There is power of fearsome reputation, as well as power of noble reputation, or lineage. There is power in intelligence, as well as power in stupidity. Power may be lost, gained, bartered, assigned, usurped, stolen, given away, or thrown away.

The same individual may be immensely powerful in one aspect of life and powerless in another. The tyrannical business tycoon in fear of his vile-tempered wife is a cliché ancient and legendary. Socrates and Xanthippe. To the extent that the behavior of human beings influences the behavior of other human beings, whether for good or ill, power is the principle controlling the transaction and relationship. In any social interaction, humans quickly and quietly assess one another; who is superior, equal, or subordinate? The result of this assessment will govern subsequent interactions.

From the most subtle and intimate relations of husband and wife to the grandest philosophical leaps of conjecture about the universe, or the purpose, if any, of humankind, the concept of power is integral. Youth may bestow power in one aspect of life, withhold it in another. Thus, too, with age. Physical strength conveys one sort of power, helplessness another. Humans greatly dislike being, or being regarded, as without power. They will form groups, associations, even armies, in an effort to assert power.

In modern society, to be without power is to be held in low social esteem, to hold power is to be held in high esteem. There are myriad groups, of definable segments of society, joined together in advocacy of a characteristic or idea held in common. The members of these groups may well be amazingly diverse in all other aspects of their lives. There are advocacy groups for the young, the aged, all forms of mental and physical disability, all minorities, many religions and the irreligious, the economically deprived, the incarcerated, almost any characteristic that sets the group apart from the larger society. The purpose of these groups is, of course, the enhancement of power. In a general sense, it is reasonable to say that any group, consciously arranged by its members, is for the enhancement of power.

The existence of a group to advocate for any principle or idea almost inevitably leads to the development of an opposing group. Each group then vies for power in compelling conformity to its ideas on the part of the larger society. If persuasion is ineffective or too protracted, violence is always an option and possibility. Those holding power rarely relinquish it voluntarily or happily, those desiring it are unceasing in their efforts to obtain it.

The nature of power, who possesses it, and how it is deployed, in essence governs the structure of any society or social organization. Issues that are customarily regarded as social problems, will upon extended examination be found to be inherent within the social structure of the totality of society. These problems cannot be resolved without a complete restructuring of society, an idea of no appeal to anyone, particularly those most in control of the society. The reality and influence of power in the conduct of human affairs is as secure as the reality of sun and rain, and just as inevitable.

A few comments from the group, October '98:

JCC:   From the standpoint of the physical sciences, power is defined as quantity of work done per unit time, and quite possibly this equation has meaning in the political / historical context as well. Consider the potential to effect a major social change (for good or ill) in the span of a few years. Widespread impact or influence measured against the flow of time ... is this not really what meaningful power is?

EM:   Power in a mechanical sense lends itself to quantification, one horsepower has a precise definition. About a century ago, when steam power was dominant, it was found that an ounce of anthracite (hard) coal, could transport one ton of goods one mile when fueling a locomotive of that time.

My examination of power was in a general social sense, having to do with the stratification of any society as much as anything else. Reduced to most simplistic terms, power in this sense has to do with who tells who what to do in any social pyramid, and who is obliged to follow the orders. The mechanics of this sort of stratification are unequal or disproportionate rewards and allocation of resources. The child born to a wealthy and/or noble family will have the good things of that society showered upon him or her. The child born to the lowliest subsistence peasant (by whatever term designated) will struggle for every bite of food. This is determined by the accident of birth, quite apart from merit, talent, intelligence or any other definable human quality. Even more, this placement is determined before any children are born at all. In the Inca society, maintaining the roads through the Andes was an assignment of the male children who were born into families living along the road. Before even they were born, their place and function in society was predetermined. In Tibet, there is a family that has provided the prostitutes for centuries, with the males conducting the business. In Germany for some decades, the name Bach was used for musicians as Rockefeller has often been used for a person of wealth in this country. At least one Bach musician took his life because his talent was not up to expectations.

Somewhere I read that 80% of the people being born at present are into subsistence level economies. I do not think that this augurs well for the future of humankind. For those who disagree with my comments or figures, please, do not ask me to prove anything. I once spent two years of occasional research to prove a contention I made to a member of ISPE. My reward? "Oh, I didn't know that." I knew he didn't know it when he took issue with me, and it certainly was not worth the effort to document my contention. When I produced the Freethinker Journal no letters of disagreement were ever published. The writer was advised to write his or her own article as rebuttal. If this was done, it was then published.

JCC:   I always liked that approach because it provides the opportunity for a general expansion of knowledge as well as giving a chance to consider another viewpoint. It seems to me that there are typically many sides to a question worthy of discussion, not just two ... and even when approached as a weighing of two sides, the weight of argument is often not so uneven. Where arguments are based on incorrect or wholly inadequate premises, the matter is usually dispensed with conclusively in little time.

The interesting debates are those which reveal more intriguing questions and the gaps which exist in assumptions of collective knowledge.

That discussion of power sheds light on how the world of human relations is , quite apart from political rhetoric and social myths. It prompts questions as to whether there are better possibilities of social order, more just, more equitable, more conducive to progress ...

Sadly I wonder if the social realities do not in fact fit us entirely well, because these have evolved through dynamic process. In other words, what is, is largely a result of human nature, for good or for ill, and quite difficult to change through idealistic vision. Was it Alexander Pope who phrased it as "...whatever is, is right..."? Please convince me otherwise, or at least rectify the quotation. {smile}

EM:   Several evenings ago I watched an extended disagreement on AOL political chat. The chat room host(s) were not present, which meant that there was almost unlimited freedom for invective. The persons engaged in the dispute were bright, articulate, and well-informed. As the argument progressed, it went from dispute on the issues at hand, to personal characteristics, to loathsome personal characteristics, and to the vilest castigation in the most commonplace terms. It was a male-female contest, and I viewed with alarm and amazement the progression and deterioration of the verbal exchanges. At the end, I thought the episode deplorable and pitiful, though I played no part in any of it. I have seen this occur in Mensa more than once over the years, and I will not ever be drawn into such exchanges if I can see them developing.

JN:   I find that the situation Eric found himself in is good for a case study.

I have yet to see a discussion become debate become vitriolic smear campaign with anything approaching the speed that they do on the internet.

Chat rooms have two big strikes against them for having serious discussions:

1. Sound bites
The chat-room situation (as opposed to E-mail) requires rapid, short exchanges rather than lengthy, well-thought-out ones. This allows, and it could be argued requires, that the heart rule the head and that the keyboard are engaged without the brain in gear.

2. Anonymity
In a society where saying what you really think is increasingly restricted (in the name of Political Correctness, Social Consciousness, Diversity, Sensitivity, avoiding lawsuits, or insert your current favorite shiny-happy-world phrase here), people have found that the freedom from consequence makes the net a great place to vent their frustrations.

Political discussions have two more:

3. Rhetoric
Oh, the joys of rhetoric. In a discussion area where there are so few real facts, and there is so very much spin and disinformation, people can spout off at will with absolutely nothing backing them up. This doesn't make it easy to have a civil discussion.

4. In Defense of Indefensibility
Well, not really, but I thought it made a neat title. There are few areas where people are as willing to defend an indefensible position as they are in politics. (religion, maybe. :) ) Facts, when they exist, are cast aside with the rest of the overspun chaff in a political argument.

My three pfennigs.

JCC:   With homage to Kurt Weill, at least drei groschen!

Yes, it is difficult to imagine newsgroup participants conversing in the typical living room devoid of assault weaponry. I gather that's part of the game, and perhaps people are so angry because they perceive many inequities and feel quite powerless otherwise to effect changes.

EM:   Since Julia has unwittingly introduced the topic of Kurt Weill, I will extend upon it a bit. The Three-Penny Opera is on video, available at Blockbuster. It's in German with English sub-titles. I thought it would be enjoyable several years ago to invite Inga and her mother to come to visit, and see the film. I did, they did, we did, and it was delightful. To return again to the topic of power. Inga does not mention in her book about the fall of Berlin that Field Marshall Zhukov commandeered her house, remaining in it for several months. It was not particularly luxurious, and there was some bomb damage, but it was located on a prominence with a sweeping view of the river and the city. Zhukov insisted that Inga's mother , Frau Läu (pronounced Loy in English) remain as housekeeper. She was in his presence on a daily basis for several months. Field Marshall Zhukov at this time was the equivalent rank of General Eisenhower, only with far more troops at his disposal. The Americans had perhaps a million and a half, the Russians had 3 million or more, with 8 million more coming up fast in reserve from Siberia.

Those misguided souls who hold forth that Gen. Patton should have crushed right on past Berlin to Moscow are not well informed. The U.S. had but a paltry few atomic weapons at the time, and they would have been of no value anyhow against the Russian armies. One of Inga's German friends, Marge, was in Stuttgart at this time and knew my father to see him, she was never close to him, or permitted to be, most likely. He was the military commander of Stuttgart after the war and through the Berlin Airlift.

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