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Posts Tagged ‘power’

Symbol Drain

July 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Just as Nixon drained the symbolic power of the two-finger peace salute, figures who embrace the symbols crafted to criticize them quickly drain symbolic power. Symbols are, by definition, an object that represents something else. They are stand-ins for bigger ideas. The peace salute, the red ribbon or the complicated matrix of patriotic emblems all work to represent a larger idea or cause. Groups utilize symbols to simplify a message and create a stamp from which to mark their work. Need to make a statement quickly or refute some absurd state? The symbol is the best bet.

And while symbols hold great meaning, their power is easily drained and erased by imitation. Embraced by one who misrepresents the cause creates a static of understanding. Dilute the message and the message is defeated. For groups who seek to eliminate their opposition the keenest tactic is to not parody the other sides imagery but instead embrace it and redefine it for their own.

Herein lies the danger of the symbol’s simplicity. While powerful and direct, the symbol’s power comes only from its lack of complicated detail. By removing detail and nuance the audience does not fully receive the ideas behind the idea. It is far easier to simply stick the decal on the car or wave the random banner. Strength in numbers, yes, but once a symbol becomes common fare its power is depleted. View the countless decals of the numbers 13.1 and one begins to be less impressed by one’s bragging of athletic prowess. One must be careful when using symbols: powerful when limited but easily depleted, our symbols are less our greatest bullets and more a sharpened jab to the brain. We may strike with solid fervor but with every continued strike the punch becomes better known and the opposition’s ability to counterattack or even disregard becomes all the more easy.

Consensus Conversations

June 20, 2014 Leave a comment

While cultural values vary from community to community, it is society’s role to facilitate discussion and enforcement. Varied and wide-ranging, the perspectives we hold stem from numerous sources.

Perhaps a religious group believes in varied rights between the genders, or another feels that certain foods should not be eaten. These are real examples from our society that we allow to exist and often celebrate as unique features of the group. Of the Amish or other orthodox communities we recognize a unique way of living and see their existence as a sign that we live in a rational and fair society. Only tyrants squash any sense of “other.”

Who is to say that one group’s ideas are better than another? As a society we collectively discuss the varied ideas and come to a consensus about ideal rules. Such “universal values” come as products of consensus. We allow for massive differences and yet work to make sense of the diversity. What is best for the group is not decided by a specific person; instead it is a concept determined by a massive conversation. One of our greatest accomplishment as a society is this allowance for diversity.

Of “Nostalgic Spasms”

May 21, 2014 Leave a comment

In Taming Lust, a brief study of the prosecution of bestiality in early America, Doron S. Ben-Atar uses the phrase “nostalgic spasm” to refer to a sudden shift in social norms that looks back in light of changes. Such “spasms” come in times of social change, he suggests, and demonstrates with his book how in moments of social change an older generation can grasp its power in a last-ditch attempt to stop oncoming change. It is a process we see repeated throughout history: moments of social shift occurring but only after actions of incredible bigotry and cruelty. With each change in social perspective an old view is tossed away.

Critical to these shifts are the individuals involved in making new ideas reality. Too often we look only at the actors involved with the winning side. History is, they say, written by the victors and such limited consideration is evidence of its truth. Who creates the change? Both the actors whose new ideas become enacted and the losers whose old, out-dated ideas are discarded.

In changing our social norms we look away from old ideas. In transitioning to new ideas we discard old views and shift power from those who held these views to those with new ideas. Abstraction may lead us to only view these changes from the perspective of the idea: the women’s right to vote became enacted or civil rights were extended to African-Americans. Changes, yes, but abstract ideas that only become reality when people work (and often die) to make them reality. Human beings move ideas from abstract ideas to actual policy.

Often people claim an “evolution” of thought with new ideas. The right for same-sex couples to marry is a contemporary issue where people often cite an “evolution of perspective” in explaining their delay in drawing conclusions. President Obama is one individual who has cited such evolutions. Herein is the older generation gradually coming to terms with new ideas. For some this evolution is difficult, but for others its simply too much. For those whose perspectives cannot accommodate a change in norms the “nostalgic spasm” might seem critical. Rapid action to block a social change often occur in areas where values are deeply embedded in the community. Severe punishments for crimes typically treated less severely or the creation of new, more strict rules and punishments reveal the spasm in action. Moral panic might explain their actions, but in their works we see both reaction and change. Though their fight to keep things the same hurts many, time cannot control the change. Unfortunately our greatest social changes come with painful baggage. Before we have great change we have the panic of the powerful whose last grasp for power provides them with the ability to instill a brief, painful period of suffering. Such actions are dual symbols: the older power fading and the dawning of the new ideas to come.

 

 

Narrative Nets

March 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Given unknown circumstances there is often a need to create details. Observe an individual standing by the side of the road with a sign requesting help. What are the details of this person’s story? Why are we not in this sad position, asking the anonymous public for assistance. One might wonder why its this person and not himself in this position? What actions or factors of my existence have delivered me to a place where such humiliations are avoidable?

To fill in missing details strings both from curiosity and panic. Charged with the countless questions born from these observations, one must wonder both why it exists and what protects himself from this existence. We are fearful of such calamities and seek out reasons to justify our sense of security. How close are we to such a life? Are we so secure that begging for money by the side of the road is above us? Who am I to feel its tragic? Could I handle such a deed if my children were in need?

One calming source of answers is delusion. Create the details for the person: make a back story and justify the differences. Did the person commit a crime? Is it a scam that they are playing? Creating these lies is less about the individual observed and more about us as the observer. A certain sense of safety comes from thinking their plight comes from action. If they’ve done something wrong we can feel that by acting correctly and protecting ourselves we’ll never live their life. Of course these are just lies and we cannot know what protects us from the tragedy. From what source do our privileges stem? Mere resources that can disappear by whims. Nothing is for certain and the resources from which we build a life are profoundly vulnerable. Are we merely our paycheck? Does our life come less from who we are and more from what our income does allow? Are our dreams framed in income brackets? For many the difference between luxury and destitution are but weeks without a paycheck.

Title Tales

January 26, 2014 Leave a comment

Legitimacy is a difficult nut to crack. “Too legit to quit”? Then your skills should go unquestioned and success always assumed. To be “successful” is a relative state. In those whose dreams have been accomplished and whose goals achieved it’s easy to assume it was guaranteed. Far harder to consider those whose dreams went unrealized. The successful don’t dream more accurately.

One’s dreams are not another. In the accomplishment of one exists a source of shame for another. Cook a great meal and your status as a chef is established. Lose the butler and the home and the service known for ages and successful meals are more reminders than indulgences.

For many the battle to achieve legitimacy is difficult. Our terms for certain roles in society are vague. What is a musician? Can one be called a writer if he simply scrolls some sentences? Must a writer be published to be considered a writer? These minor details must be defined by the individual. For some the act of writing is enough, while for others publication is foundation. Ultimately each individual must come to define life’s titles as he or she sees fit. Language fails us…again.

Commerical Box of Soap

December 13, 2013 Leave a comment

The image of a speaker on a soap box is one of the most profound images of democracy. The rugged individual, determined to be heard, climbs a box and uses it to better address the crowd. This image of a “platform” now expands to include social media sites like Facebook where individuals use the site to share ideas. Create a game on Facebook’s platform and one has access to a user base of billions. Many see this as a definite benefit: it’s where the users are and the most efficient way to reach an audience. And while this is true, it is important to distinguish Facebook’s platform from the classic image from which the term “platform” derived.

Facebook is a commercial medium. It exists to make money for its creators and strives constantly to expand its use to as-yet unknown streams of revenue. New apps are new opportunities: both for creators and for Facebook who use its giant network to distribute and collect. Herein lies the power imbalance at the heart of the relationship. For while Facebook provides access to the user base, maintains its existence and popularity, the user engaged on Facebook retains minimal rights in his or her creation. Agree to distribute your ideas on Facebook and you engaged in a trade: significant details of ownership for access to a massive user base.

When one publishes on Facebook, or any social media sites, he or she forfeits significant rights of ownership. What do these platforms say for potential intellectual endeavors? If great creations must utilize corporate platforms to gain access is something lost? In essence we have a system where, in another domain, a chef must launch his own restaurant inside McDonald’s. Yes, he’ll have access to a massive user-base and a popular platform to launch, but what is lost for what is gained?

Learning Leaders Learning

November 25, 2013 Leave a comment

At its very least, effective leadership is a clarity of communication. Great leaders simply express their ideas clearly. It’s a matter of presenting distinct possibilities when they exist. Rare are the situations that possess such distinct choices; though, and it is also the role of the leader to both perceive and take advantage of them. Take, for example, the statement often linked to Benjamin Franklin: “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” Whether he actually said this or was capable of such poor use of grammatical parallelism is debatable, but my issue here is this application of distinct choice. Though the situation was complicated, Franklin curated the moment to possess these two choices. “It’s either privacy or security, people. So which one do you want?”

One such moment now arrives in contemporary society. Recent revelations of privacy violations by government agencies has led many to question whether “too much” spying is taking place. What was once thought (and claimed) as an action focused on terrorists and criminals has now been revealed to include trusted allies, celebrities and even the Pope. John Q. Public’s records have also been revealed as material worth saving, but with this collection further excuses regarding the anonymity of supposed metadata work to quash some concerns.

Would you rather trade your personal security for your right to privacy? Are you more comfortable facing the possibility of a terrorist attack than having the data of your private life collected and saved? Ultimately this is the question of our time. As shocking as it may seem, some people would rather have their data kept private and take the risk of being killed in a terrorist attack. We’ve reached this point in a post 9/11 world where our initial actions were inspired in part by our emotional reaction to the attacks. We’re older now, more removed from the initial shock, and capable of re-assessing just how much protection we want.

A great leader will recognize this critical question and pose it to the public. Though posed, we’ll also need extensive time to consider a response. Great leadership plays a role here as well: facilitating communication and creating a community of thinkers will be essential in reaching a response. Perhaps our sense of “great leadership” has changed in our contemporary society. Has technology altered what we need from leaders? Tech has certainly changed our day-to-day existence so why might its effects also extend to those we choose to lead? Perhaps our future is one where our leadership is less a figurehead and more a conduit of thinking. Maybe leadership is less the “out in front” and more the “learning side by side”.

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