Saturday, July 31, 2010

WHO Wants Power?

I quoted this a few days ago:

“[T]he majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.”

– Harold Pinter, Nobel Lecture (Literature), 2005

Mostly as a throwaway, because "we feed on tapestries" line just struck me as yet another one of those "Poignant, until you think about it. Then actually somewhat silly." moments.

But there's an additional problem I have with the quote now. Rather, something it implies.

The majority of politicians are interested in power and the maintenance of that power rather than truth? Sure, I can get behind that.

What I can't get behind is two things I see it as implying.

First is the idea that politicians have access to "the truth". I suppose they do in certain senses - there are coverups, there are backroom deals, and so on. To call that a problem is an understatement.

But suggesting that politicians and those in power are privy to "the truth", such that they consciously keep the public away from "the truth" at all times? I'm skeptical of that. I think there is this tendency to assume that those in power have direct and certain access to The Truth of matters in order to make their excesses seem that much more sinister and blameworthy. Why can't it be that those in power are just plain deluded? Perhaps even more deluded than normal in virtue of their commitments to power, among other things? Is a person who spreads ignorance or deception always doing so knowingly and willingly?

The second problem is the implied idea that "the people" don't value power and maintaining their power, even at the expense of truth. As if it's only billionaires and senators who are frantic about acquiring and keeping power. They just happen to have more of it. But many people frantically pursue even tiny scraps of power - or, put another way, absolutely any power they are capable of getting.

Power doesn't only come in the form of bought votes on a senate floor, or billion dollar bailouts or government contracts. It also comes in tiny, meager amounts: Unemployment checks, government subsidized health care visits, a bonus at work. Rewards and entitlements, public and private. Find a person who thinks they deserve and should get a given entitlement, and they really don't care who pays for it or even if it can be paid for, and you've found yourself someone pursuing power without concern for truth.

I suppose what I'm getting at here is that the quote, while stirring, is actually far more optimistic than I think is warranted in a way. Having a clear dividing line between the good guys and the bad guys, the ruling class and the oppressed, the corrupt and the honest. No, it doesn't seem so clear cut. The sicknesses that afflict us are everywhere. They are in all three branches of government, at all three levels of government, on TV channel after TV channel, website after website. It is a very cultural corruption.

And in spite of it all, I think there are ways - God willing, of course - to combat it, to soldier on, to improve. But part of that improvement is realizing the sheer scope of what we're dealing with, and what it means for change to start at the individual level.