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20220918 – The Power Paradox

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MAIN IDEA:

The author wrote this book in a very clear and concise way. Here is how the author defines the central proposition of this book: “The power paradox is this: we rise in power and make a difference in the world due to what is best about human nature, but we fall from power due to what is worst. We gain the capacity to make a difference in the world by enhancing the lives of others. Still, the very experience of having power and privilege leads us to behave, in our worst moments, like impulsive, out-of-control sociopaths.”

The author then defines 20 principles of power, groups them into five chapters, and discusses them in detail. Here they are:

CONTENT:

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a nice try, and while I could agree with some of these principles, others look somewhat unrealistic. So let me go through them one by one:

PRINCIPLE #1 Power is about altering the states of others.

I think it is only partially correct: as much power is sometimes required, not allow others to change one’s state by others.

PRINCIPLE #2 Power is part of every relationship and interaction.

PRINCIPLE #3 Power is found in everyday actions.

The whole area of competitive market interactions contradicts these two statements. Neither buyer nor seller has the power to change the state of other, and the vast majority of potential transactions just never occur, consequently not changing the state of the potential buyer or seller

PRINCIPLE #4 Power comes from empowering others in social networks.

This idea would be a huge surprise for countless dictators, criminals, and dominant chimpanzees who changed the state of others without empowering anybody.

PRINCIPLE #5 Groups give power to those who advance the greater good.

PRINCIPLE #6 Groups construct reputations that determine the capacity to influence.

PRINCIPLE #7 Groups reward those who advance the greater good with status and esteem.

PRINCIPLE #8 Groups punish those who undermine the greater good with gossip.

The groups actually do not exist as thinking or acting entities. They are just a shortcut for designating more or less synchronized actions of many people, with some having more influence than others. The greater or smaller good has nothing to do with possession or lack of such influence. Instead, the objectives of individuals in possession of such influence define the actions of these people.

PRINCIPLE #9 Enduring power comes from empathy.

PRINCIPLE #10 Enduring power comes from giving.

PRINCIPLE #11 Enduring power comes from expressing gratitude.

PRINCIPLE #12 Enduring power comes from telling stories that unite.

Enduring power comes from all above only in the environment of voluntary interactions between people, which is not necessarily the most frequent form of interaction.

PRINCIPLE #13 Power leads to empathy deficits and diminished moral sentiments. PRINCIPLE #14 Power leads to self-serving impulsivity.

PRINCIPLE #15 Power leads to incivility and disrespect.

PRINCIPLE #16 Power leads to narratives of exceptionalism.

All these “leads” are highly dependent on the personality of individuals possessing power and their objectives in life. Generally, the very process of power acquisition causes the selection of individuals with the propensity of resorting to all the above.

PRINCIPLE #17 Powerlessness involves facing environments of continual threat. PRINCIPLE #18 Stress defines the experience of powerlessness.

PRINCIPLE #19 Powerlessness undermines the ability to contribute to society. PRINCIPLE #20 Powerlessness causes poor health.

People very seldom, if ever, are powerless. It is more of a choice that people make. Even a slave has a choice: to comply with the demand of a master or take the punishment for non-compliance. In the worst-case scenario, it could be a choice between life and death, but one could hardly call powerless a soldier rising from the trenches to attack the enemy.  


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