Every time I hear about a man abusing their power, I wonder something. It may be an autistic thing. When the first man (we can safely assume it was a man) stood up and said ‘OK, I am the King now’ and stuck a makeshift crown on his head, and took control of everyone’s cattle, or crops, or whatever they had any control or collective ownership of (Probably because that man had managed to amass himself more cattle or crops in the first place, and that made him more important) that seemingly everyone just said ‘Oh, OK, ’ and went along with it. We don’t mention that the first King-man had amassed more cattle or crops by stealing them in the first place. Just having them was enough for the power to be the thing.
I know that’s not really how things happened, exactly, but I think that as a
comedy synopsis, it’s pretty good. I am not a historian – clearly – but I do
know that there is a long and complex and culturally sinuous history of power, status, privilege and ownership – of land and people – which hasn’t gone away. Over the millennia, whatever those cultural events were that created Kings, it became normal. So utterly, deeply, culturally entrenched and normal, that male power – and the systems of power modelled on it – became just the way things are!
Countries – like the one I live in – who, embarrassingly still have actual monarchies might serve as a powerful anachronistic reminder to us of
our imperialist and colonialist shame, if only we weren’t still wielding it.
And we can’t pretend that republics are off the hook either- the King doesn’t
need a crown. Countries, states, counties, parishes, councils, school boards,
committees, companies and organisations large and small, most of them – to a greater or larger extent – are structured according to the kind of power where someone is more important than someone else and someone is in charge. Often the more important, and in charge aspects are accompanied by more money, but not always. Often the importance itself is enough.
When someone is more important than someone else I can’t see how this
isn’t seen as wholly and fundamentally problematic.
Naive? Simplistic? Perhaps. Autistic? Most definitely. You see, whilst not entirely outside of this system of power, I have never really benefitted from
it. I have never understood how to navigate it, or get myself anywhere on one of the (relatively) higher rungs of the ladder. Because I am not valuable.
Despite being a (sort of) expert in the field I work in, I don’t generally get favoured, or selected, or asked to do things, or held up as any example of someone who is more important that someone else. Quite the opposite. And I know it’s because I don’t know how to do that. I don’t play the game. This has been perceived as a failure on my part, by others and -more shamefully – by me. An inadequacy. In some cases, a belligerent refusal to learn the rules.
The truth is, it isn’t a refusal so much as I don’t actually know what the game is, never mind what the rules are. And if you forgive me for extending the game metaphor further, from this side of neurodiversity, the game doesn’t actually look like very much fun. Also, from this angle, I get a good view of all the other folks who don’t get to play. But unlike a playground game, where not participating means we just don’t get to join in, this particular game of power actively and wilfully targets, exploits and fundamentally abuses our vulnerabilities. Indeed, it could be said that is actually what the game is!
There was a time when I tried to be an enthusiastic side-line participant in the game of power. Meaning that I participated in the shoring up of someone else’s position of power, and therefore their ability to exploit it (and me) By my own argument, I actively participated in my own exploitation, and the exploitation of others. And the truth is, we all do. All the time.
Positional power is such an unhealthy and imbalanced state for a human being that, without the most generous balances of humility, insight and grace – imposed by self, community and society – it is inevitably abused. How can it not be? It’s an old argument, and a bit of a joke to say that anyone actively seeking power should automatically be excluded from having any, but it does rather make sense.
The joke is on all of us though. It needs to change.