Power corrupts

The mechanics of power and morality

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Re: Power corrupts

#21  Postby TMB » Jan 22, 2014 6:25 am

Tuco,

Your initial post assumes that "power corrupts" is a moral statement.

You are correct. The original quote is attributed to John Dalberg-Acton who said this
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.

The use of the word ‘bad’ tells me this is a moral statement and thats how I positioned it in my OP. The fact that I do not believe in absolute or objective morality is not changed by me using the statement the way it was originally intended.
My example demonstrates several aspects of the so called human nature without resorting to value based judgement - moral statements. In other words, I was not making moral assumptions, I was describing how humans tend to be.

You noted Animal Farm, and I took the view that it was a vehicle to criticise the morality of the behaviour of Stalin in Russia post WW2, you made no caveats around the lack of morality, but I agree your story of the two children has no explicit moral assumption, however I assumed your use of Animal Farm implied a moral assumption.

You went to define power while labeling corruption as immoral.

Not quite, I am using the initial quote that specifies corrupt men are bad men, and I would say this is the general moral assumption people infer from this statement.
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Re: Power corrupts

#22  Postby TMB » Jan 22, 2014 7:41 am

Tuco,

Your initial post assumes that "power corrupts" is a moral statement.

You are correct. The original quote is attributed to John Dalberg-Acton who said this
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.

The use of the word ‘bad’ tells me this is a moral statement and thats how I positioned it in my OP. The fact that I do not believe in absolute or objective morality is not changed by me using the statement the way it was originally intended.
My example demonstrates several aspects of the so called human nature without resorting to value based judgement - moral statements. In other words, I was not making moral assumptions, I was describing how humans tend to be.

You noted Animal Farm, and I took the view that it was a vehicle to criticise the morality of the behaviour of Stalin in Russia post WW2, you made no caveats around the lack of morality, but I agree your story of the two children has no explicit moral assumption, however I assumed your use of Animal Farm implied a moral assumption.

You went to define power while labeling corruption as immoral.

Not quite, I am using the initial quote that specifies corrupt men are bad men, and I would say this is the general moral assumption people infer from this statement.
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Re: Power corrupts

#23  Postby tuco » Jan 22, 2014 8:29 am

TMB wrote:Tuco,

Your initial post assumes that "power corrupts" is a moral statement.

You are correct. The original quote is attributed to John Dalberg-Acton who said this
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.

The use of the word ‘bad’ tells me this is a moral statement and thats how I positioned it in my OP. The fact that I do not believe in absolute or objective morality is not changed by me using the statement the way it was originally intended.
My example demonstrates several aspects of the so called human nature without resorting to value based judgement - moral statements. In other words, I was not making moral assumptions, I was describing how humans tend to be.

You noted Animal Farm, and I took the view that it was a vehicle to criticise the morality of the behaviour of Stalin in Russia post WW2, you made no caveats around the lack of morality, but I agree your story of the two children has no explicit moral assumption, however I assumed your use of Animal Farm implied a moral assumption.

You went to define power while labeling corruption as immoral.

Not quite, I am using the initial quote that specifies corrupt men are bad men, and I would say this is the general moral assumption people infer from this statement.


I do understand that "corruption" is usually seen as "bad". I was under impression, however, that we debate whether and how the statement "power corrupt" is, in broad and general sense, close to reality rather than why its seen as "bad". In other words, its not "power" which is "bad" but "corruption", therefore, how come "power" makes us "corrupt"?
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Re: Power corrupts

#24  Postby Pebble » Jan 22, 2014 2:16 pm

TMB wrote:
I do not agree that morality is directly reliant upon equality.



Our sense of fairness has little to do with equity. Studies demonstrate that somewhat unequal sharing is tolerated by both sides - those with the power taking somewhat more than those in the weaker position (e.g. money given to one for sharing, where all can be kept if the reciepient so wishes).

TMB wrote:
I do not understand this logic. We only want others to share and reflect6 our impressions where they have enough power to make a difference to our benefits/disbenefits.


Nope - the church and religious leaders have not spent the last few millinea worrying only about those with power.

TMB wrote:
Does this work in practice? The idea of consensus is knowledge between the players and deception is dressed up as the truth. This means that you cannot demonstrate something to be false that those responsible for the falsehood will not admit to and those subject to it thinks its the truth.


Nope consensus is briken where trust is lost - Unfairness is only demonstrated when a pattern of bias is established - hence the two can easily separate. Equally one can have consensus in manifestly unfair relationships.

TMB wrote:
Brainwashed people are not doing odd things, they are doing normal things,


Correction noted - makes no difference to the point being made.

TMB wrote:
This is a tricky one, I did not suggest that gullibility was immoral, just true. When one is not aware of being deprived of something, yet it is not missed, does that mean actual disadvantage. At the end of the day perception is reality, and if someone can be thoroughly disenfranchised of advantage, yet not perceive it and so live in the illusion of plenty – have they in fact lost anything?


Objectively yes - but may be perfectly content with the situation.


TMB wrote:
This contradicts your earlier comments about brainwashing being odd behaviour rather than the norm.


Can't see that myself. Behaviour may seem odd because of the degree of unfairness that is tolerated, the numbers involved do not change the fact. Oddness is not just a statistical statement.


The attached article (to my mind) compares the human conformist mindset with that of chimps. Note how complaint these children are even when faced with the obvious dis-utility in the behaviour, whilst the chimps show more autonomous behaviour.

TMB wrote: Thats REAL power, to my mind Barrack is just the fall guy.


That is one opinion.
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Re: Power corrupts

#25  Postby TMB » Jan 23, 2014 9:29 am

Pebble,
Our sense of fairness has little to do with equity. Studies demonstrate that somewhat unequal sharing is tolerated by both sides - those with the power taking somewhat more than those in the weaker position (e.g. money given to one for sharing, where all can be kept if the reciepient so wishes).

If I understand you correctly you are saying that things do not have to be equal to be considered fair, however many definitions describe these terms as interchangeable – you then say this is because of studies where inequity is tolerated, but tolerance is very different to peoples perception of what is fair. As you note those with more power are able to extract more simply because this is what it means to have power. Since you are proposing a counter intuitive definition of these terms, please give me links to the studies you mention.

Nope - the church and religious leaders have not spent the last few millinea worrying only about those with power.

Are you suggesting that because religion has gone after Joe Public to follow their doctrine that this means Joe Public in large numbers has no power? If so, I disagree, getting masses to follow your bidding, especially as blindly as they do in religion, is harnessing and directing the power of the mob and masses to advance your cause. Religious leaders are then able to use these citizens and voters to leverage positions of formal power and responsibility.
This means that I stand by my statement that even religious leaders do want their disciples to share and reflect impressions and beliefs because a religion is empowered by numbers of followers.

Nope consensus is briken where trust is lost - Unfairness is only demonstrated when a pattern of bias is established - hence the two can easily separate. Equally one can have consensus in manifestly unfair relationships.

If you are saying that if deception is uncovered, trust is lost and breaks consensus - then I agree, however I do not see the jump to saying that unfairness is only demonstrated when there is a pattern of bias, there are plenty of single events that are unfair and might never be repeated.

That is one opinion.

Is it the only one?
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Re: Power corrupts

#26  Postby Nicko » Jan 23, 2014 12:39 pm

TMB wrote:To look at this in more detail, we need to be clear about the meaning of power. I am aware of many definitions, however I suggest that power is that which allows us to achieve selfish outcomes and influence outcomes for other people. This mechanism has no intrinsic moral content, however the definition implies that it is morally wrong for us to do things that serve selfish needs at the possible expense of others, or do things that affect outcomes for other people.


I would tend to define power as the ability to influence the behaviour of people. As Robert Dahl put it (my italics), "A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do." Key to Dahl's definition is the italicised bit. If I order you to continue breathing, your continued respiration is not evidence of my having power; you were going to do that anyway. If I order you to send me money, your compliance would be evidence of my power.

One of the most influential works on the subject of power is Steven Lukes' Power: a Radical View (1974). A relatively short work, it lays out what Lukes called a "three dimensional" view of power. I'll attempt to summarise:

Dimension One: "Decision Making"

This form of power is the one we observe most easily. Two or more policies are proposed, one is adopted. We say that the person or group whose policy was adopted had more power in that situation. A key characteristic of this form of power is that it is visible, "above board". We know who has the power because we saw them use it. It is the way that power is "supposed" to work in a liberal democracy. One characteristic of this use of power is that it carries with it accountability. Due to the fact that the party that made the decision is clearly identifiable, they can be held responsible for its consequences.

Dimension Two: "Nondecision Making"

This form of power lies in taking policies that are undesirable or unacceptable to the person or group wielding this power off the table before the observable struggle begins. The only policies discussed are those that are desirable - or at least tolerable - to the person or group wielding power. More difficult to empirically verify than the first dimension, it is also a less-accountable form of power.

Dimension Three: "Manipulation of Desire"

This form of power lies in the wielder being able to affect the perceived interests of their target. This is the hardest use of power to empirically verify, but the very existence of an advertising industry would seem to indicate that at least attempts to use it are ubiquitous. This is the hardest use of power to empirically verify - essentially, one is claiming that a person or group should not want what they say they want - but those who use it are almost totally insulated from the repercussions of its use.

Where does this leave us as regards the corrupting influence of power though?

Fucked if I know.

It seems pretty clear to me that the second dimension inherently skirts the edges of corruption, while the third is manipulative by it's very nature. Can we say then that we find refuge from corruption in the first dimension?

Well, no. Any number of dictators and despots throughout history have been corrupt as fuck whilst wielding first-dimensional decision-making power. But that was of course power backed up by brute force.

Perhaps that's the whole point of a liberal democracy. The ability to "win" arguments with violence or threats is - at least in theory - taken off the table. This allows at least the first dimension of power the opportunity to rise above corruption.

That's the idea, anyway.
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Re: Power corrupts

#27  Postby igorfrankensteen » Jan 23, 2014 12:56 pm

I am still convinced that the reason why the quote is so well known, isn't because it is obviously true. "Wise sayings" and other oft repeated phrases are very much like pop music: their popularity has more to do with how kicky they sound, or how much fun they are to say, than with how factually accurate they are.

The "absolute power corrupts absolutely" phrase has "pop" appeal because of the clever reversal of word orders in it, which also makes it easy to remember (another key element to songs becoming popular); and because the message it delivers, however inaccurate, is pleasing to the majority of people...because the majority are NOT absolutely powerful.

The timing of it's message is important as well. Had it been written back when those who had the power to spread ideas were still sold on the wonder of majesty, and on the notion that humankind required a firm hand at all times (in the form of a god, or a god-related king), it quite probably would have been forgotten. Who knows, it may have been said many times back then, but no one took note of it.

The fact as well that many absolutely powerful people DO commit horrible acts of corruption lends more weight and appeal to the idea. The fact that in order to achieve anything close to absolute power over others, a person usually has to already BE corrupt in many ways, needs to be taken into account.

What I'm getting at, is that trying to use this old phrase is used as a starting point to figure out WHY absolute power corrupts absolutely is a mistaken mission. So is trying to prove that absolute power is inherently "bad". Because this old phrase cannot be proved true. It's just fun, and occasionally useful to manipulate others with.
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Re: Power corrupts

#28  Postby Nicko » Jan 23, 2014 1:23 pm

igorfrankensteen wrote:I am still convinced that the reason why the quote is so well known, isn't because it is obviously true. "Wise sayings" and other oft repeated phrases are very much like pop music: their popularity has more to do with how kicky they sound, or how much fun they are to say, than with how factually accurate they are.

The "absolute power corrupts absolutely" phrase has "pop" appeal because of the clever reversal of word orders in it, which also makes it easy to remember (another key element to songs becoming popular); and because the message it delivers, however inaccurate, is pleasing to the majority of people...because the majority are NOT absolutely powerful.

The timing of it's message is important as well. Had it been written back when those who had the power to spread ideas were still sold on the wonder of majesty, and on the notion that humankind required a firm hand at all times (in the form of a god, or a god-related king), it quite probably would have been forgotten. Who knows, it may have been said many times back then, but no one took note of it.

The fact as well that many absolutely powerful people DO commit horrible acts of corruption lends more weight and appeal to the idea. The fact that in order to achieve anything close to absolute power over others, a person usually has to already BE corrupt in many ways, needs to be taken into account.

What I'm getting at, is that trying to use this old phrase is used as a starting point to figure out WHY absolute power corrupts absolutely is a mistaken mission. So is trying to prove that absolute power is inherently "bad". Because this old phrase cannot be proved true. It's just fun, and occasionally useful to manipulate others with.


I'd tend to agree with the central point you're making. It really is a particularly clever phrase, structurally speaking. It's just beautifully balanced.

Something more nuanced like, "Possession of power creates the opportunity to abuse it. The greater the power, the more frequent the opportunity. Absent any countervailing institutional pressures, concentrations of power will tend to produce concentrations of corruption, merely by dint of statistics. Unless of course ..." just isn't going to have that impact. It's just not as catchy. Doesn't make a good soundbite.
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Re: Power corrupts

#29  Postby TMB » Jan 24, 2014 7:26 am

Nico, you said


I would tend to define power as the ability to influence the behaviour of people.


 I agree this is part of this however seeing it this narrowly might lead us to invalid conclusions. I believe that underlying motivations need to be considered to question why one entity would try to influence the behavior of others. I also think that  power dynamics in the non human world helps us understand and shows motivations of the players. This is why I suggest that power meets selfish needs through the process of influencing others or trying to manage the physical world.

As Robert Dahl put it (my italics), "A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do." Key to Dahl's definition is the italicised bit. If I order you to continue breathing, your continued respiration is not evidence of my having power; you were going to do that anyway. If I order you to send me money, your compliance would be evidence of my power.


To get the full picture, what motivates these interactions. What purpose does it serve for A to control B? Self interest motivates these scenarios, and the relative power of the players dictates the outcomes.

Dimension One: "Decision Making"

This form of power is the one we observe most easily. Two or more policies are proposed, one is adopted. We say that the person or group whose policy was adopted had more power in that situation. A key characteristic of this form of power is that it is visible, "above board". We know who has the power because we saw them use it. It is the way that power is "supposed" to work in a liberal democracy. One characteristic of this use of power is that it carries with it accountability. Due to the fact that the party that made the decision is clearly identifiable, they can be held responsible for its consequences.


I would seperate accountability from power, as they say here, being held responsible dilutes the power. In formal positions in democracies this means power is mitigated by accountability. This is why there is often more power behind the throne, as there is less accountability.

Dimension Two: "Nondecision Making"

This form of power lies in taking policies that are undesirable or unacceptable to the person or group wielding this power off the table before the observable struggle begins. The only policies discussed are those that are desirable - or at least tolerable - to the person or group wielding power. More difficult to empirically verify than the first dimension, it is also a less-accountable form of power.


This is why I consider power and accountability to be different things rather than the way he blends the two. This works OK because his scenario is very narrow.

Dimension Three: "Manipulation of Desire"

This form of power lies in the wielder being able to affect the perceived interests of their target. This is the hardest use of power to empirically verify, but the very existence of an advertising industry would seem to indicate that at least attempts to use it are ubiquitous. This is the hardest use of power to empirically verify - essentially, one is claiming that a person or group should not want what they say they want - but those who use it are almost totally insulated from the repercussions of its use.


I agree with this but still think he would be better off defining the mechanism of power at a lower level and then using his 3 types as just being examples of how power works in human society, instead he is trying to define different types of power and this approach is of limited use to answer the OP.

Where does this leave us as regards the corrupting influence of power though?


Power mechanisms have existed at least since life began, as competition for resources meant that a trait that allows an entity to survive (possibly at the expense of the life of others) will prevail and if it is heritable, then offspring will continue survive and through natural selection exhibit very evolved mechanisms to wield power.

It seems pretty clear to me that the second dimension inherently skirts the edges of corruption, while the third is manipulative by it's very nature. Can we say then that we find refuge from corruption in the first dimension?


Humans invented the concept morality to manage the complexities of human social life, however they use the same basis that exists in other animals, and is essentially just an extension of our striving to survive and replicate. Morality is designed to maintain the integrity of a human institution. Laws, morals and rules are all designed to protect a country, golf club, society etc. if one can impose morals as religion has done it makes enforcement easier as mechanism like judgement day are analogous to civil justice systems - all designed to make people good obedient productive citizens. The challenge arises because of competing individuals and groups who want more advantage and so violate the morals and laws and seek to impose their own.

Well, no. Any number of dictators and despots throughout history have been corrupt as fuck whilst wielding first-dimensional decision-making power. But that was of course power backed up by brute force.


This is why it easier not to mix power up with formal positions and accountability, and just deal with it a simple concept. In this case, these dictators indeed get their power through their military, coercion, money, intimidation etc and can afford to be public about this. Even so they still publicly deny the abuse of power and violation of democratic principles. It is possible they even believe their own bullshit, however it's easily seen by external parties.

Perhaps that's the whole point of a liberal democracy. The ability to "win" arguments with violence or threats is - at least in theory - taken off the table. This allows at least the first dimension of power the opportunity to rise above corruption.

That's the idea, anyway.


Except we live in a very inequitable world, and power is exerted in many ways, through business, intellect, technology etc and I do not think the absence of physical force changes the morality of these actions. If a citizen is disenfranchised because he has a gun held to his head, equally the same outcome can be achieved through the lack of force. The GFC is a good example where peoples  lives were profoundly influenced through financial systems and no use of violence - that is power and once again the morality is whatever we choose  to define for the groups involved.
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Re: Power corrupts

#30  Postby TMB » Jan 24, 2014 8:27 am

I am still convinced that the reason why the quote is so well known, isn't because it is obviously true. "Wise sayings" and other oft repeated phrases are very much like pop music: their popularity has more to do with how kicky they sound, or how much fun they are to say, than with how factually accurate they are.


I agree with you. Slogans are ways that people manipulate others, ie. just another mechanism to exert power. In order for quotes to sustain they use grammatical tricks and are unlikely to stand up to scrutiny.

The "absolute power corrupts absolutely" phrase has "pop" appeal because of the clever reversal of word orders in it, which also makes it easy to remember (another key element to songs becoming popular); and because the message it delivers, however inaccurate, is pleasing to the majority of people...because the majority are NOT absolutely powerful.


The reason it appeals to the masses is not due to their lack of power, as this is a relative thing, it is due to their inability to validate reality accurately. Most people take quotes at face value because they are gullible and unable to unravel the truth from the untruth.

The timing of it's message is important as well. Had it been written back when those who had the power to spread ideas were still sold on the wonder of majesty, and on the notion that humankind required a firm hand at all times (in the form of a god, or a god-related king), it quite probably would have been forgotten. Who knows, it may have been said many times back then, but no one took note of it.


It is attributed back to the 1700 and 1800's, I assume in those times God and gods were influential, just as things like the Gettysburg address captured the imagination of the great unwashed, who were unable to look deeper.

The fact as well that many absolutely powerful people DO commit horrible acts of corruption lends more weight and appeal to the idea. The fact that in order to achieve anything close to absolute power over others, a person usually has to already BE corrupt in many ways, needs to be taken into account.


Carnivorous animals eat other animals if they are powerful enough, herbivorous animals have enough power to eat plants. Humans exploit domestic and wild animals for food and other advantages because they the power to do so. This has been happening since life began with no moral content until man arrived n the scene and designed morality to improve the chances of society surviving and thriving. Animals and people must then all be inherently corrupt because we all try to influence others for our own benefit, however power is relative and we are only powerful relative to others around us.

What I'm getting at, is that trying to use this old phrase is used as a starting point to figure out WHY absolute power corrupts absolutely is a mistaken mission.

If you thought i was trying to do that, you misunderstood the OP

So is trying to prove that absolute power is inherently "bad".


Once again is did not say this in the OP, badness is a social construct although it does have a logical origin in biology and physics. By this I mean that anything that threatens the survival of an individual or group is 'bad' from the viewpoint of the individual or group.

Because this old phrase cannot be proved true. It's just fun, and occasionally useful to manipulate others with.


My OP was not trying to prove it true, just trying to unravel it and see how it works.
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Re: Power corrupts

#31  Postby igorfrankensteen » Jan 25, 2014 1:32 pm

Most people take quotes at face value because they are gullible and unable to unravel the truth from the untruth.


Yeah, that, AND the fact that most of us have quotes shoved at us as "education" very early on. Among the most basic of a number of common accidental lessons people get, is the idea that if someone famous says something, it's like a rule or a law.

Early level teachers are trying to get us to learn how to read and write, and how to do research. That means their goal is to get us to look stuff up, and join what we find together in a fairly logical way. Since they are teaching PROCESS, and not CONTENT, lots of us get the idea early on, that if we recite a quote from someone famous enough to get into print, which seems to support our claims, that we will win our argument. It's only very late in education, past where most people run out of money for university level stuff, that it gets taught that half of all famous quotes are B.S.
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Re: Power corrupts

#32  Postby Nicko » Jan 25, 2014 2:04 pm

@ TMB:

Check out the link to the original text that I posted. PRV is not a long read. My summary is not as nuanced as Lukes' thesis.

Yes, there are many ways in which power can be concealed. As I said, Lukes looks at how it may be exercised in ways that are not obviously apparent, and how those ways might be subjected to empirical analysis. Your objections are actually what he dude was on about.
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Re: Power corrupts

#33  Postby TMB » Jan 26, 2014 3:27 pm

Nicko wrote:@ TMB:

Check out the link to the original text that I posted. PRV is not a long read. My summary is not as nuanced as Lukes' thesis.

Yes, there are many ways in which power can be concealed. As I said, Lukes looks at how it may be exercised in ways that are not obviously apparent, and how those ways might be subjected to empirical analysis. Your objections are actually what he dude was on about.


I do not disagree with the detail in the linked text, however it gets lost in detail before addressing the fundamentals of power, and embarks upon detailed analysis of human politics. The basics of power are simple and once examined the details fall into place. To my mind the basics are found in every life form, humans just apply their own flavor. It's an evolved adaption that embodies the basis of existence. Life only exists thanks to its ability to prevail against its environment, both living and non. Human differences are of degree only not type.
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Re: Power corrupts

#34  Postby igorfrankensteen » Jan 26, 2014 8:35 pm

Animals and people must then all be inherently corrupt because we all try to influence others for our own benefit,


? How does "trying to influence others for our own benefit" qualify as being "inherently corrupt?"
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Re: Power corrupts

#35  Postby tuco » Jan 27, 2014 7:18 am

"Power corrupts" is what is sometimes being called a meme. While details and absolutes can be debated, it survived (and to me it seems quite likely that the same or similar saying existed long before John Dalberg-Acton "invented" it) because people found it "true" (close to reality). How do I prove this? I do not.
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Re: Power corrupts

#36  Postby TMB » Jan 27, 2014 10:25 am

igorfrankensteen wrote:
Animals and people must then all be inherently corrupt because we all try to influence others for our own benefit,


? How does "trying to influence others for our own benefit" qualify as being "inherently corrupt?"


It does not qualify in an absolute or objective sense as morality is a relative thing, we have decided as a society that manipulating others for our own ends is a bad thing. You posted earlier about how corrupt some powerful people were, presumably you did not feel that you had to qualify the behavior as some behaviors are self evidently bad and corrupt, and in doing so illustrate how morality works.
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Re: Power corrupts

#37  Postby TMB » Jan 27, 2014 10:32 am

tuco wrote:"Power corrupts" is what is sometimes being called a meme. While details and absolutes can be debated, it survived (and to me it seems quite likely that the same or similar saying existed long before John Dalberg-Acton "invented" it) because people found it "true" (close to reality). How do I prove this? I do not.


I agree, however it depends upon what we think the moral content of the word "corrupt" is. In general people will feel aggrieved when power is used to their disadvantage, because they are usually being deprived of something they want. A previous poster said that people did tolerate inequity or were OK with being deprived of their fair share - I disagree with this.
However, it means that the saying has probably resonated in various forms because it describes the way people feel when power deprives them of things. It would however be a mistake to assume that the expressions objectively right, since morality is relative in the absence of a god.
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Re: Power corrupts

#38  Postby Panderos » Jan 27, 2014 2:00 pm

tuco wrote:"Power corrupts" is what is sometimes being called a meme. While details and absolutes can be debated, it survived (and to me it seems quite likely that the same or similar saying existed long before John Dalberg-Acton "invented" it) because people found it "true" (close to reality). How do I prove this? I do not.

I don't think this is necessarily true. 'Power corrupts' could only be true say 10% of the time, which would make it pretty bloody inaccurate, but because it could still happen, and because when it does happen the consequences can be very bad for everyone, we would benefit from keeping it going in the meme pool as a useful warning. A reminder what can happen if we give someone too much power. We say it, we are reminded, and we are mindful of of granting too much power.

I'm not suggesting 10% is accurate, only that the saying itself need not necessarily have a high accuracy in order to survive.
"A witty saying proves nothing." - Voltaire
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Re: Power corrupts

#39  Postby tuco » Jan 28, 2014 9:40 pm

Panderos wrote:
tuco wrote:"Power corrupts" is what is sometimes being called a meme. While details and absolutes can be debated, it survived (and to me it seems quite likely that the same or similar saying existed long before John Dalberg-Acton "invented" it) because people found it "true" (close to reality). How do I prove this? I do not.

I don't think this is necessarily true. 'Power corrupts' could only be true say 10% of the time, which would make it pretty bloody inaccurate, but because it could still happen, and because when it does happen the consequences can be very bad for everyone, we would benefit from keeping it going in the meme pool as a useful warning. A reminder what can happen if we give someone too much power. We say it, we are reminded, and we are mindful of of granting too much power.

I'm not suggesting 10% is accurate, only that the saying itself need not necessarily have a high accuracy in order to survive.


I tend to agree and in this sense "close to reality" does not refer to statistics necessarily but could refer to expectations based on historical knowledge, respectively probabilities.

As it seems, societies around the world follow similar patterns. Not all and not always but some elements of globalization seems inevitable in today's world. General pattern, concerning the topic we debate, is not to strengthen power of individuals/institutions but rather the opposite: to strengthen democratic principles essentially preventing those in power to become corrupt. Of course there are conflicts of interests, class conflicts, cultural conflicts, etc and not everyone struggles for equality. Majority is enough to set a trend.

I would not dare to enumerate how accurate the saying is. Probably as accurate as other folk wisdom proven by time?
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Re: Power corrupts

#40  Postby igorfrankensteen » Jan 30, 2014 10:49 am

it depends upon what we think the moral content of the word "corrupt" is.


Always important to include definition of terms in such discussions.

When I see power as "corrupting" people, is when having it allows them to ignore, or go against the very principles that they gained that power in order to support, or when they use the power in situations wherein it was not supposed to be used.

When an Absolute ruler uses their power to stop what the bulk of their society agrees is criminality, that is not corruption at all. If they then go further, and use the same power to ignore the welfare of the society itself as a whole, and act ONLY to provide immediate pleasures for themselves, then they have become corrupt. We've seen this many many times, even in our own lives.

One of the most common examples, is where an otherwise good leader uses their power (positively) to get terrorists off the street, and isolate them from the rest of us, without necessarily crossing every T and dotting every I first. But when they use that same power to hide the fact that they are stealing from the National Treasury, or to help their friends get rich on the side, at unnecessary cost to the rest of us, or to hide their dalliances with other peoples mates and so forth...then they have MIS used the power they have, to the detriment of the society.

The thing is, that what is good for everyone is usually good for the individual as well, and that's why I wouldn't say that the measure of corruption is simply a matter of the powerful person doing things that help themselves.
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