Saturday, August 25, 2012

Power Corrupts Whom?

The Christian historian John Acton is best known today for his axiom:

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

Doubtless his choice of wording was patriarchal, reflecting the male power structure of his own day.  Or is it patriarchal of me, to think women are as liable to corruption as men?  (I was just reading an Amazon thread by a poster who said he was taught in his Catholic Sunday School that more women will be in heaven than men, because they are more moral.  I've heard that from men, too, incredibly enough.) 

But the question I would like to ask in this blog is, if Acton is right, as I believe he is, then who is most susceptible to corruption in modern society?  Who has the most power over others? 

I realize not everyone who reads this blog belongs to the same society, or runs in the same circles within whichever society they belong to.  Nor need the degree of power be the only or main variable that determines how corrupt a person becomes -- maybe some people are born corrupt, and just want the chance to prove it, and I believe there were one or two saints who were also kings or queens. And it may be hard to compare different kinds of power, over different kinds of people.  The question just occurred to me, and I am just beginning to think it through.  Perhaps you can help me. 

Here are some choices, to get the ball rolling:

(a) Parents, with almost absolute power over a few, tempered by natural love, with the power (and sometimes the love) decreasing as time goes by.

(b) School teachers, with 30 kids an hour to indoctrine, and the power of grades to hold over their charges.

(c) The president of the United States.

(d) Bureaucrats at the Building Department.

(e) One percenters.

(f) Prison guards.

(g) Congressmen and women.

(h) Marine platoon leaders in the outback of Afghanistan.

(i) The CEO of Coca Cola. 

(j) The CEO of Apple Computer.

(k) A Family Court divorce judge. 

(l) A beat cop in Watts. 

(m) A traffic cop in Naperville, Illinois. 

(n) A Psychology Professor at Central Florida University.

(o) A lawyer for the AFL-CIO. 

(p) A doctor who works for Planned Parenthood. 

(q) PZ Myers. 

(r) Tom Hanks. 

Which of these is most powerful?   Which position of power is most liable to corruption?  Why?  Corruption in which institution is most dangerous to those under the authority of the corrupted individual? 


waseeley said...

I'll skip your 1st three questions and jump straight to the 4th. My answer would be "those institutions with the most influence over the most people". My top two choices for these are both technologies: disembodied fragments of the souls of numerous technocrats that have coalesced into the two most powerful institutions in history: (a) TV (I'm afraid I have to agree with Newton Minnow on that one) and (b) the Internet (despite its manifold contributions to our society (including this blog!) I would give it a Minnow rating of at least x10, maybe x100).


p.s. Is it a coincidence that your mention of "Kings who were saints" was posted on the Feast of St. Louis King of France?

David B Marshall said...

Waseeley: It actually is a coincidence, though he was one of the kings I had vaguely in mind. Is there anything in particular one is supposed to eat on his feast day?

TV I see as a form of top-down power. The Internet, so far, seems a bit more democratic, since anyone can open up shop and compete with the big boys; though no doubt there are nexi of power here, too, and it certainly does seem to have gone to some heads, as one can witness at, say, Pharyngula.

Meanwhile, Tom Wilson just cited an instance of the same thing from a school in Florida: an e-mail rant by a psych prof who takes himself way too seriously, and at the same time un-self-critically:

"Students in my class who openly proclaimed that Christianity is the most valid religion, as some of you did last class, portrayed precisely what religious bigotry is. Bigots—racial bigot or religious bigots—never question their prejudices and bigotry. They are convinced their beliefs are correct. For the Christians in my class who argued the validity of Christianity last week, I suppose I should thank you for demonstrating to the rest of the class what religious arrogance and bigotry looks like. It seems to have not even occurred to you (I’m directing this comment to those students who manifested such bigotry), as I tried to point out in class tonight, how such bigotry is perceived and experienced by the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the non-believers, and so on, in class, to have to sit and endure the tyranny of the masses (the dominant group, that is, which in this case, are Christians)."

How would you like to be in that guy's class, and not share his worldview?

waseeley said...

"Real food ... and real drink" (John 6:53-69) are always good to eat on any feast day.

I'd love to be in one of this guy's classes. If he's teaching that there is no Truth, then what is the point of listening to him? Why should I pay him money to teach me that, when I can get the real Truth for free (Isaiah 55:1-12) .

Academia is one of those power centers you refer to in your post, and it is currently among the most corrupt.