Saturday, September 17, 2011

In Praise of Power

"Dear Mister Johnson,

You may serve or you may be served. That is how the world is. Now would you rather serve or be served? To ask the question is to answer it, and with that I have responded to your enquiry, I think.

Nonetheless you probably expect more, and I am prepared to give it to you. I would not expect you to understand so simple and yet so powerful a concept without a great deal of explanation. Moreover, I would not expect you to have the courage to understand it unless I gave you a thousand exhortations. You are not getting a thousand, but I will exhort briefly.

Power is everything. Power over others is what makes our own lives easier and more meaningful. Easier because, naturally, power is control over other people, so you can have them make your life more comfortable. More meaningful because you decide what you do, with the freedom from interference, and the scope of opportunity, that having others under your complete control provides.

It is not always the direct effect on our own well-being that is the end sought when exercising power. Control over others provides endless entertainment, as well as allowing us to satisfy our desires and confirm our prejudices. I can make people dance like Dervishes, while their faces contort with pain, uncomprehending horror, and what would be anger if they had enough spirit to feel that emotion. It is enjoyable enough for its own sake, but the knowledge that, if I didn’t do it to them, someone would be doing it to me, is particularly inspiring. As is the fact that both they and I know it to be otherwise pointless.

If I could I would control every single action and feeling of every single person on the planet. I would, of course, allow most of them to do as they wished much of the time, intervening only to my own advantage, or pleasure, or entertainment. They would believe that they had a certain amount of limited freedom. They would not know what to do with it, of course, they would beg to be commanded, but they would believe they had it, and they would value what little they thought they had. In fact they would have none.

Power is taken, not given. The world belongs to those who have the courage to take it. Most people are afraid of themselves. They don’t dare to believe that they could ever do anything. They seem to think they will explode if they try to do something to help themselves.

This is one of the greatest secrets in the world, my young friend. Almost anything is possible. It is merely a matter of doing it. The simple serfs who complain about their condition to each other do not realize that they have chosen to live as they do. Will power is not something you have, it is something you do. If you chose not to do something, it will not be done. If you want it to be done, but do nothing, it will not be done. If you act in such a way as to do it, however, it very probably will be done. Laziness and cowardice are what distinguish the serf from the master. Nothing else.

The prize for showing strength and courage is that the world is yours. You have everything and control everything. The price of their laziness and cowardice (and stupidity) is that they cannot call their soul their own. Which would you rather be, young man?

A common mistake, and a great mistake, is to imagine there is some kind of middle ground, a no-man’s-land where you can live quietly, being left alone, neither ruling nor being ruled. This is quite wrong. The solid middle class that keeps its head down, the aspirational working class that believes it is the salt of the earth, are serfs. Work is good, effort is good, but they are afraid, they have no vision, and they fall far short of even understanding what they have lost. This is good, of course, it keeps them happy and it means fewer people notice their serfdom. Once too many people become aware of it there can be a mass trying to change things, and power can only belong to a few.

There will always be rulers. Always, in any society, nation, group, family, wherever people are gathered together there will rulers. Anarchists and other fools dream their dreams of a society without rulers and without law, where everyone does what they wish and contributes freely for the good of all. Fools they are indeed. Anarchy cannot exist, young man. A state of anarchy is simply not possible in human society. Chaos, yes, briefly. Terror, yes, at times more permanently. But anarchy, no.

Communism cannot exist either, in the form that those happy theorists dream of. How could it? Everyone equal, everyone sharing? No rulers, only organisers? Absurd. Preposterous. Monstruously stupid. Those happy dreamers are culpable in their delusions. And they have been shown to be wrong a hundred times.

You might say that communism creates unrivalled opportunities for the exercise of naked power, and indeed it does, but it is not a satisfactory power. So little is produced in such systems that there is relatively little to control, little to benefit from. Those who have power in such societies are limited in their options and opportunities. They are constantly at each others’ throats. They can’t enjoy it as they should. And the serfs know perfectly well that they are serfs. They know they are the objects of repressive tyranny, they know who their rulers are and they hate them. It’s so much more fun when the poor serf thinks he has a bit of power. The way they look every time they try to exercise it and nothing happens it extremely gratifying.

Of course, in a tyrannical society it is still better to be a ruler than to be a serf, but it is in our interests (I say our, as I hope I can now count you among the converts) to nurture societies that provide wealth for us to enjoy, and apparent freedoms for us to subvert.

It takes a little work, it takes a little practice, but the rewards are such that the exercise of power is the only way to live a proper, fulfilled existence. And it is remarkably easy. If you believe in your right to give orders, no one will question you. That is how these things happen. Elections, standing orders, law, courts, constitutional, are ways for the cowards to try to control themselves. They are not for us. Depending on the role that you have chosen for yourself, or have found, you may be able largely to ignore these matters and let the little people play around with them in the belief that they afford some kind of protection. Nonsense, of course. Most people are indeed safe to lead their dreary lives without suffering more than mild, if constant, annoyance from the state, because they are of so little importance that we will not even notice them unless they get in our way. They think of this as freedom, and take comfort in the minor inconveniences with which we surround them, because they stupidly assume it represents fairness and the rule of law, concepts entirely of their own invention.

As I say, it is possible that you may have to take notice of some of these things, in order to play the games that make power so enjoyable. Many of us are able to ignore it all, and are quite happy to do so.

The human being is exquisitely designed. A great deal of the pleasure of exercising power is the knowledge of what it would be like to suffer as a serf. We are the same breed of creature, broadly speaking, as them, and we can imagine, almost feel if we choose, what it is to live as they do, to experience what they must suffer. I sometimes wonder what God does all dy. He can take no pleasure in torturing his creation, as he cannot understand what he does. We can. We know exactly what they are feeling, and it is magnificently entertaining.

I am disappointed, young man, however, by the end of your letter. You seem to think I can tell you how to obtain power, help you to get it perhaps, give you permission to have it, even. No, no, my young friend. I passionately hope this is due only to a slightly infelicitous phrasing of the remark. I can explain to you the virtues of exercising power, of choosing it over serfdom, and I hope I have done so. What I cannot do is give you power. It is not mine to give. It is yours to take. If you have to ask how to take it, you are already a serf.

Decide what you are, my friend, and join us. We must be few, but there is room for one like you. I truly hope to see you among us.

Sincerely yours,

J. Sunderland Fortescue "


Vincent said...


CIngram said...

I've got a whole series of them I post from to time, about the purpose of life. The next one is about serfdom, just to look at it from the other side. One of the things I like about writing is that I can create characters much nastier than I would dare to be, or want to be, for that matter.

Vincent said...

Yes, this one definitely reminds me of CS Lewis' Screwtape Letters, both in format and intent.

Your label "abject self-promotion" - is this a way to pull out all the items in the series?

CIngram said...

"abject self-promotion" is a tag I use when I post something from my little collection of scribblings, rather than something I wrote as a blog post. In essence, I suppose, it's when it's not me saying things but my literary voice creating an image, telling a story, or putting words in the mouth of a character I've invented. So the tag will pull up this series and some other things as well.

James Higham said...

Power is taken, not given. The world belongs to those who have the courage to take it. Most people are afraid of themselves.

The time is possibly drawing near.

CIngram said...

Well, as I've said before, my pessimism is perhaps not as apocolyptic as yours, but it is increasingly important that people understand the way they are governed, and to what extent their lives are controlled. Many people like it that way, of course, which is part of the problem. (Remember the Epsilons in Brave New World).