Power (sketch)

Power (sketch)

A neutral observer looks at human interaction between A and B. In order to understand this interaction, the decisions involved have to be explained. Let’s say agent A is in control of a resource (we will call this “in power”) that agent B wants. If we want to understand this interaction, we need to understand agent A’s decision.

Such an explanation is always in terms of reasons (“rationalization”).

Because agent A is in power, it suffices for a rational reconstruction of the interaction to rationalize his reasons. The notion that agent B, who undergoes the decision, could have reasons to resist the decision, is irrelevant, because not needed for the rationalization of the interaction. This is called the “aura of power”.

If a banker decides to extend a loan to a borrower, the observer rationalizes that decision. The reason is that the borrower is credit-worthy. That borrower of course has his reasons to get a loan, but these are irrelevant for the understanding of the interaction. If the banker denied the loan, he would also have his reasons to do so, and the borrower might have better reasons to resist the decision. Because we don’t need to know them in order to understand the interaction, the observer has a strong bias in favor of the agent in power.

This narrative bias in favor of the agent in power is itself the modus operanti of power.

What about a scenario in which the decision is taken by the person who is not in power, the person who uses a lesser amount of power against a larger amount of power? In this case the less powerful assumes power over a resource that can be overruled by the larger power.

The observer can still reconstruct reasons, but the rationalization is different. It is not about the resource at stake, but about the person or “character” of the less powerful who took a decision against the aura of power. Such rationalization will project the real weakness of the less powerful agent onto her person. This is the “aura of the powerless”, the disenfranchized. Their reasons, as the observer reconstructs them, are personal rather than material. It is impossible to rationalize their decision in another way.

The agent in control of the resource is always right – this is what control means.

Confusion arises when it is not clear who wields the power. In transactions between “equals”. The reconstruction then goes in iterations until it is clear which side has the most power.