It’s a straightforward exercise to divide any free society into those who have power, those who held power, those who are enthralled by power, and those who are merely obedient. Each segment presents a certain type of danger to free society. Today our focus will be on the power enthralled.
You’ve met them
The power enthralled are typically those who have never actually held power, but are terribly desperate to hold it. And, it matters not what kind of power they often seek to hold so long as they hold some power over some dynamic of human life. In interacting with them, you may often find them percolating in the mid sections of society unable to rise from their mediocre squalor and unwilling to pave the way for those more deserving rising from below. You’ve met them at non-creative positions within startup firms, large corporations. You’ve met them in bureaucratic positions in all of the world’s governments. You’ve met them in positions close to the top of minuscule and irrelevant non-profits organizations straining community resources. And, you’ve even met them running for election to lead (but impotent) roles of your locality or neighborhood association seeking to maximize the misery of non-sensical regulations over a local populace.
But nothing draws the power enthralled more than organizations or systems where significant resources can be accumulated. In today’s world that means that you’ll find them at fast-growing firms in technology startups, oligarchical governments and academic institutions. A venerable recipe that applies universally to all of them has the following ingredients and you should be aware of the recipe that often makes up the core of those who seek to gain power by any means necessary.
What makes them who they are
The first indication is that they tend to be quite unremarkable people who have often gained much of their success by being the last person in the room to leave an organization or group. It is the case that they will often refrain from making any real economic, political, technological, scientific, or even organizational contributions to any group or institution unfortunate enough to have hosted them. The key to identifying them is through their contribution and not their background. You see, they may have degrees from Harvard, Stanford, and MIT. They may come from important families and brand name companies. They may have even accumulated wealth in large amounts. Yet, when you look at their literal contributions you will find nothing of any note or significance. And, there is a good reason for that: to contribute could mean that the power-enthralled shall receive power commensurate with their contributions and that, according to them, can never be allowed.
Another key indicator is how the power-enthralled guard their intended possessions so as to remove any potential for competition in their environment. Clinging to their roles in life and work and building insurmountable gates to lock in and surround themselves. This is not something you expect the “obedient” or the “formerly powerful” to engage in. In the case of the Obedient, they must first receive an order to build these gates, and in the case of the formerly powerful, having previously held power, they understand its governing dynamics – that it comes and goes and that it can be created with new and positive contributions. As a consequence the previously powerful understand the true nature of power, are no longer enthralled by it, and thus do not seek it at any cost.
Power attracts them, and those with power recruit them
Those of us who have held power understand that at every level of power-society – even the top levels – there are those who lead and those who follow. This is a dynamic created by those who have power over those who have lesser power. Aftercall, how can you power be admired without a community who have power that is similar in nature but less of it, without a sufficiently intelligent group of followers who in their right also possess power, but still prostrate in admiration of such grander power. How would anyone ever know your greatness if there is no one that understands and as a consequence sings your praise?
And so, naturally, those who create more (power) will tend to allow those who do not create into their ranks in order to compound their efforts and provide the necessary optics to spread the knowledge of their greatness. As a consequence, those who hold power will attract, recruit, and retain the power-enthralled in order to keep a large following that will sing their praise long after they’re gone, and in exchange these hungry followers will get to spend their time near the power that they so desire, the power that they would sell their own mothers just to taste for moment. This is how the power-enthralled wreathe into the mix by the very approval and acquiescence of those who hold power. As an ancillary result, this very dynamic creates a jungle-like atmosphere where the Obedient receive the worst policies, conditions, and life possible the power-enthralled can muster thereby turning many of the Obedient into power-enthralled members of society themselves.
Enthrallment can only end positively through the attainment of appropriate power to match the individual’s hunger for that power and even then the short-term negative outcomes are exchanged for long-term negative outcomes with lower intensity. In other words, satiation is the only way to end the destructive behavior that leads to power-enthrallment if society does not desire destructive consequences to the denial of desired power. But ultimately, undesirable consequences occur nonetheless.
It has always been known that some who desire power but cannot attain it will turn to less-than-acceptable methods of scorched-earth destruction justified by the principle of “if i can’t have it, then no one will” and therein lies the greatest danger to any given system: The power-enthralled – having never possessed power and having never determined why they desire it in the first place will then act as an agent of subterfuge destroying healthy organizations from within. And the tools available to them from within that structural position of the organization do not require much intellect, experience, or collaboration with others – a low barrier to entry enabling more opportune independent action. Their scorched earth strategy will generally target anyone with or without power, but no group will receive a greater focus of these sycophants than those who are about to retain a measure of power — the up-and-coming — whoever they may be. It could be a job candidate about to be hired, a worker receiving a raise, a captain about to be promoted, or a president on the eve of a sure election. For the power-enthralled, those who are about to gain power commensurate with their contributions draw them like a moth to a flame. To prevent the ascendance of others they will use those with power, those who have held power in the past, and the Obedient, to achieve their insurgent ends.
The nature of power is not understood by them
What the power-enthralled seem to never understand as their natural obsession blinds them is that power is freely available to anyone that desires it. Power is available for creation if one can develop capability. It is not a requirement that it be siphoned from anyone or any thing. It is not a zero-sum quantity. Many understand this but most do not.
The power-enthralled are often those who have never been exhaustively trained nor have they sought the knowledge and abilities that they can themselves develop into power of their own, and thus rather than birth new power, they focus their efforts on theft of power from others or from the governing system. In the process of seizing that which they did not create, the power-enthralled undermine the natural progression of systems they co-habit and create a tension that can only lead to decline of the system as-a-whole.
Seeking power is not by itself a sinful or detrimental cause. Power can be used for good and moral ends. It can protect, enhance, and advance free civilization and liberty of the individual. But like any double-edged sword it can be dangerous and must be sought and used with care. An obsessive enthrallment of it is those of us who have or had power must pau closer attention to.