The Problem of Power

Bokassa colored

(Jean-Bédel Bokassa, “President for Life” of the Central African Republic)

Recently on the UK’s newspaper, the Guardian, I found a fascinating article about a woman’s traumatic experience with the far-left Socialist Workers Party in the UK, and how the power-structure there contributed to the sexual abuse of women. It’s a pretty interesting article to read, but it made me think about power in general.

This paragraph really struck me as true:

The hierarchical party always has the potential to become a rapist’s playground. Consider the predator’s opportunities. The rank and file has to obey the party line without question. The leaders of political cults, like their religious counterparts, increase their power by fostering paranoia. Members can trust no one outside the party, especially the police and judiciary….The parallels with the Catholic church are too obvious for me to labour.

But it’s not just limited to Marxists and Catholics. It happens anywhere where too much power is concentrated in one person, or a small group of people, and there’s no independent oversight.

One of the reasons why I shy away from Tibetan Buddhism, or any Buddhist group that has a “charismatic” leader is this very reason. I am not comfortable with any Buddhist “masters” whom people venerate.1 Sure, the teacher or leader might be really good, but power draws lots of bad people, who want more power. I remember reading Rev. Brad Warner’s article about meeting the famous “Hugging Saint”, but the experience was a disappointment because her staff treated people very cold and rudely.

But also if the teacher or leader is not perfect, power will corrupt them sooner or later. This seems to happen a lot with Buddhist teachers who come to the West, and get involved in sex-scandals with their students over time. In other cases, teachers were severe alcoholics, or just had too much ego and wanted more and more attention.

The problem isn’t that such people are “evil”. Instead, such people have personality flaws or “blind spots” which they can’t see, but affect how they interact with others. Normally, such people are regulated by society, culture, etc, but if you give them power, those hidden personality flaws can cause much greater harm and will keep feeding on themselves.

So, with political and religious organization, you need some kind of oversight, some kind of balance of power to keep people’s personality flaws in check. If given enough power, any one of us is capable of becoming a dictator or a cult-leader under the right conditions.

P.S. Credit goes to Twitter user FenlandGreen for finding that article.

1 Kind of ironic, but I try to have a balanced view about it. 😛


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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