Friday, 25 November 2011

Applied Spider-Man Theory

'With power comes responsibility' is Spiderman motto and a well observed rule that we can observe sometimes in our society throughout history. There are maybe though exceptions and to find these exceptions, I would like to explore to what extent is that motto true. If it was entirely true, would the Green Goblin really go on rampages like he does ? Well, that might not be the best of examples, since he is held responsible for his actions by Spiderman, and punish, maybe not accordingly in a fair way ( a lot of times Spider-man would be too nice to the different people who impersonated the Green Goblin, from my point of view).
Anyway, first we have to start with a definition of power, and I will use classic sociological theories to do so. First of all, any power is characterized by an inter-dependent relationship. You do need two people for one to exert power over another one and there must be a need for these two to be in such a relation. For example, it could be two lovers, in which case they are dependent on each other for their feelings to be kept alive.

First question that arises then is that most relations are asymmetrical at a given time, meaning that someone will always make a decision that the other(s) will have to follow. There is nowadays a view that power is unfair, but it is bound to exist in the sense that if two persons try to exert power on the other, they would nullify each others decision and nothing would move. That's why that in the example of two lovers, the decisions would have to be balanced, either in time or in the theme of what has to be decided.

Now that we know that every inter-dependent relations will have a power relation, we have to observe in which way the power goes. One has power over another one, if he controls some uncertainty to come. I hold a gun to your face, I'm dependent on you because I want your wallet, you are dependent of me because I'm holding some uncertainty about your future ( life or death). It does not have to be a threat but the uncertainty control can be a reward. I ask you to clean my shoes and you'll get a big fat check, I get to decide the quality of the cleaning.

The third element of power we need to find, if we want to see the verstehen, it is the will to make someone do something. It does not have to be conscious, but it has to be accepted. Back to lovers: I want new shoes and someone in love with me offers them to me. I can accept them and offer back gratitude or more or I can refuse them and reject the person courting me. Have I exerted power in both cases ? In the first one, I would say that I did, as I have accepted that I hold a way to make someone do something for me, in the other one, even though I made someone do something I have reacted in such a way that it will not ( hopefully) happen again. In the second case, I have not exerted power, but the image the other had of me did and as such, he forced himself.

Now, what are the different types of power we can observe in society?
The first one is the power of Coalition. Meaning that many can form peer pressure, or threats to make someone do something. Unions are a good example, though it has to be noticed that they are trying to counter another form of power. They do though exert a form of pressure to act in a certain way in an inter-dependent relationship by holding cards over the future.

The second one is Hierarchical Authority. I have a boss, I have to obey him. We both work for the same institution, but this institution has given this guy the power to tell me what I have to do otherwise he will ask that some sanctions will be applied to me. He represents the power of the institution into which I am a part of, and as such, it is not directly the person who has power.

The third one is the power of the person holding an Information. In social sciences, informations ( and it is slightly similar in physics) can represent anything. So someone holding money for example, holds information that will make anyone do something. A better example might be, in theory, the University professor ( in a perfect world) who can ask his audience to be quiet, otherwise he won't share what he knows.

The fourth one is the Mastery of a process. Imagine that a prisoner is given the right to serve whoever he wants in a prison, well, people will have, to some extent, obey him otherwise they won't be sure what they will be served. He is not an authority, as he was not given power, but is one in practice.

The fifth one is the power of the Expert. Everybody knows this power: the doctor who can prescribe you a good drug or tell you everything is alright and you should go to work. The lawyer who tells you you'd better settle or loose in court, even though in your mind you are totally right. The architect who tells you that another floor will really not fit the general symmetry of the building.

The sixth one is the power of the Network. It is a vicious power that everybody to some extent uses. You know a guy who knows a guy so you can do something that someone else, who knows no one, can't do. The person with the network, does not have a power of coalition, because it is not a fixed group, he does not have to be an expert or an authority, but he is just a pal with the person who has some power.

Finally, there is the Manipulation. It is all the form of power that are based on simple manipulation of the pathos of the other. The other one is in love with you, well you don't have to go and get your coffee anymore. The other one is stupid and get enraged easily, well you have heard that this guy you hate told something against him in his back and he better get his ass slapped. Someone you never met does not know you're bluffing when you say your his boss's son, he will also get your coffee.

Now, all these powers have limits and consequences. To have limits and consequences, the power relation has to be observed, felt and understood. If I went to see ' Eat, pray, love' 5 times with my girlfriend because I'm telling myself I love that film, the power my girlfriend has over me is probably limitless. If I suddenly become a pure existentialist in front of man holding a gun in front of my face and decide I might as well die here, he can shoot, but he won't have made me handed in my wallet.

The thing is that sometimes, we see the power and dislike it, but without observing what gives this power its limits. The limits of power are a lot of times set by the responsibility this power has in an inter-dependent relationship. For example, a King of France has an almost absolute power over his kingdom. He has so only though as long as he can hold his kingdom together. Now if he starts going crazy on spending and taxation and people do not recognize their country anymore, they will find a way to fight this power. The opposite is kind of true, someone who has a lot of power, but use it in such a way that everybody in the relationship is happy, will hold to this power very long. If women are portrayed as the weaker gender, men will have to be polite and courteous because they are the protectors. If now women want to be seen as equal, men do not want to hold the responsibility anymore.

With the loss of power therefore might also come the loss of responsibility, which might be the vicious side of this story. Imagine the owner of a company. He gets to decide who works where and what salary they'll have, and if he abuses of that power, like the king, he would be in trouble. But now, a CEO, who does not own his company, is not responsible for anything, as he would point at the shareholders and say that they hold control over future uncertainties. These shareholders though, will point at the market and consumers to say that they hold the control over the future uncertainties of the company. Everybody has some power, meaning that everybody is responsible, meaning that nobody is.

We can find this disappearance of power and responsibilities in a lot of strata of society I think. Certainly in politics, in economy, in class inequalities. The best way to avoid the costs of power is obviously the tendency for synopticon. The synopticon is the process of everybody looking at one person. This person will look as holding a lot of power, and yet it is only because everybody looks at him that he will look as being responsible. A National football trainer would look responsible for his team, but it is just because he is the one put up front by the team and the owners of the club. Mubarak is also good example of someone who looks like he is in power of a country and held responsible for the inequalities in this country, but he was just a front figure for a whole clique.

People are afraid to look powerful, because they do not like the cost of power, the responsibilities. They prefer to put up masks. If you want to make something positive for the world though, you do need to have power over what goes wrong. I don't know on this one if I really prefer Spider-man over Superman.
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