Power: An Enduring Concept

Death Note Wallpaper (3)

We define “justice” as a more equitable distribution of access points to power, and in doing so, I think we’re missing the broader point — which is that any individual or group of people having more than their modest share of influence over other individuals or groups of people, is the problem itself. The temptation to rob someone else of their agency is something that every human can be fallible to, given the proper tools and improper motives.

As Ta-Nehisi Coates warns, white people are not as much the problem as “whiteness”. (I would add to that, “maleness”.) “Whiteness” is a malleable concept — it can expand and shift to invite different individuals to the group. But the enduring concept isn’t who gets to be white, but rather that there will always be a “white” (the righteously powerful) and there will always be a “black” (the rightfully persecuted). There will always be a “man” (the righteous owner) and a “woman” (the rightful property). Society has a way of redefining who belongs in each of those groups — and who sits between. But our institution is not premised upon any individual or group of individuals. Our institution is premised upon the sustained belief that such groups should exist. So, when we talk about “access”, make no mistake that we are talking about shuffling the deck without changing the game. Someone is supposed to win (we like that!), and someone is supposed to lose (we neglect to mention).

The victor of western civilization is the enduring concept of power. No matter what happens — no matter who gets called out, or who gets called in — few question the notion of power itself. We have built centuries of social infrastructure to justify that power is not the problem — that we need only to make sure the “right” people have power. Whatever that means. And good luck finding them.

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