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Editorial: Why power corrupts

Hans Lovejoy – Editor

What’s your relationship with power and authority?

It’s worth considering, as all levels of government marshall their forces against the population owing to a bat virus that will likely ricochet around the planet for years.

There’s an immense realignment now unfolding with how the governing class interact and relate to the public.

The world appears awash with those who don’t question authority. In the case of state captured media, that’s no surprise.

Mindless conformists are everywhere! It probably always was this way. Far more interesting are the cracked who let the light in.

But they are the minority and are generally harmless.

It’s those who are in power or seek it that should be treated with suspicion. And studied.

Author and professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, Dacher Keltner, wrote in 2016 an article called Don’t Let Power Corrupt You.

His 20 years of behavioural research identified a ‘disturbing pattern’.

Keltner wrote in the Harvard Business Review (hbr.org), ‘While people usually gain power through traits and actions that advance the interests of others, such as empathy, collaboration, openness, fairness, and sharing; when they start to feel powerful or enjoy a position of privilege, those qualities begin to fade. The powerful are more likely than other people to engage in rude, selfish, and unethical behaviour. The 19th-century historian and politician Lord Acton got it right: Power does tend to corrupt’.

He calls it the ‘power paradox’, where ‘people rise on the basis of their good qualities, but their behaviour grows increasingly worse as they move up the ladder’.

Keltner’s research shows that power puts the powerful in a manic like state, which makes them feel ‘expansive, energised, omnipotent, hungry for rewards, and immune to risk’.  In turn that opens them up to ‘rash, rude, and unethical actions’.

A way to avoid succumbing to the power paradox – if you are in a powerful and influential position – is through self-awareness and action, he writes.

‘[N]ew studies in neuroscience find that by simply reflecting on those thoughts and emotions – “Hey, I’m feeling as if I should rule the world right now” – we can engage regions of our frontal lobes that help us keep our worst impulses in check’.

Everyday mindfulness practice and basic meditation is one key strategy to avoid becoming a unlikeable and destructive sociopath.

Simply put, that can just be, ‘Breathing deeply and concentrating on the feeling of inhaling and exhaling, physical sensations, or sounds or sights in your environment’.

Reflect on your demeanour and actions, he suggests.

Have gratitude, be attentive and compliment good work, that sort of thing. Too easy! How many people in powerful positions pursue such things? One such master was Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (121 to 180AD). It’s always worth asking better from those who govern us.


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6 responses to “Editorial: Why power corrupts”

  1. Margaret Marshall says:

    The relationship of readers with the editor is the “them” and “us” syndrome as the editor governs over all.You write a letter and go in to bat for the team out here in the field in the community and you get the letter knocked back. That is the autonomy of power and authority in the Byron Echo kingdom that spreads like a virus. He asked “What’s your relationship with power and authority?” Well it is like a toilet, all push and no substance.

    • Simon Haslam says:

      HI Margaret, I’m not sure if you realise that the editor of the paper (Hans, who wrote the editorial) does not select and edit the letters. That job’s normally done by our letters editor (Aslan). We try and publish all letters, if not in the paper then online, subject only to length and of course matters like defamation and offensive language. If your letter didn’t make the cut, try shortening it and email to [email protected]. Simon.

  2. Ida Wilson says:

    What an apt article during this time, when our government and it’s minions, through the theatre of the “pandemic”, have truly shown their colours as individuals and what they stand for. Many have jumped on the opportunity to turn democratic rule into despotism, ie: dominance through threat of punishment or even violence. Our prime minister and other ministers for example, have used bribery, blackmail, coercion, and new laws slipped in through the back door, to force compliance with their new lockstep measures, even in the face of much greater harms coming from these enforcements, than the good these measures were allegedly designed for. They have also used censorship, ridicule, and marginalisation of those who dare to logically question any part of their motives and agendas.
    Like sudden movie stars, almost with an air of omnipotence in their arrogance, they bathe in their own self-importance and show little if any understanding or concern for the actual reality or the actual wellbeing of the people they govern.
    I wonder if they realise that they themselves are just minions, marionettes dancing to other masters , who, being further up the narcissistic ladder of power, are even less concerned about their plight, than they are of ours.

  3. Frank Andreas says:

    Don’t let your civil rights and duties be corrupted by a government that want ultimate control over all your private and constitutional secured liberties. If you want to be free and have the power to change things,
    you must engage. Be heard, don’t fret, have questions. Corona or not, this is the question.

  4. Liz L says:

    Hans, this is the second recent ‘editorial’ in which you have written us a book review rather than some sort of substantial deliberation on a current issue as it pertains to your readership. Are you trying to negotiate the tricky minefield of wacko theories out there?

    I find it so amusing that a proportion of our local population see themselves as the only ones who have registered that our governments (state and federal) are introducing some rather extraordinary measures. Like the rest of us are too thick to notice and they are the only ones who have the necessary insight to maintain vigilance of civil liberties.

    Has it not occurred to them that we are in the middle of a rather extraordinary period of history? Oh no that’s right they’re the only ones with the perspicacity to see that the majority of the world’s medical researchers and practitioners, the world media and nearly every national government of whatever political persuasion are in total cooperative unison to pull a giant swifty on us all for some nefarious end. The rare geniuses, ‘the cracked who let the light in’ – talk about arrogance.

    And what wicked end does this coordinated effort have in mind? Take your pick: – a local capitalist autocracy, mind control and surveillance, world government, the micro chipping of the population by Bill Gates, compulsory vaccination or the sneaking in by stealth of 5g to Mullumbimby while the socially committed are all so busy self isolating!

    Many of us, part of the masses who ‘don’t question authority’ started willingly curtailing our movement and interpersonal contacts quite a while before we were required to because we watched what was happening overseas and, even without medical qualifications, have a basic understanding of microbiology and how diseases spread and are contained. We can listen to and make sense of the more science-based findings emerging about this virus.

    I’m just as critical of the sudden conversion our PM went through to put health before the economy (now suddenly taking a bit of a reversal that’s amazingly coinciding with the first payments going out). Many of us thought he should have been more committed earlier and it was probably only at the instigation of the premiers of the two largest states (who were looking at mathematical modelling based on the rather disastrous trajectory of the infection rates within their jurisdictions) that he had to give way.

    Consider the forces behind the carefully orchestrated attacks on Labor’s Dan Andrews and the suggestions that he has let power go to his head. Do you think he has really enjoyed seeing so many livelihoods go down the gurgler?

    Ask yourself who has the most to lose from a situation where the population has the time and motivation to question the values and systems emanating from our steady lurch to unfettered market forces and small government, the constant impetus for growth and consumption. In whose interest is the exposure of its shortcomings and do you think Morrison and co are truly enjoying the need to save capitalism with a good dose of socialism? The IPA are centainly not.

    And Margaret Marshall, I also had a (short) letter rejected recently.

  5. It’s a mite Ayn Rand, don’t you think…
    Objectivism – closed system.

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