by Ajani Mgo
This philosophical essay explores the history of power and the ideas of it.
|In the folksongs of human communities and in the omnipresent march of history, does one entity ever stay immortalized in the eyes of mortal man. Yet despite of the many forms and guises this mystical fascination may take, few actually can understand its true nature, which, fortunately or unfortunately, has led to this entity - Power to have slipped away from the hands of those who would have held it once, to those who would dare not dream of having it before it finally came down to them.
A distant past separates us from the time when pagan gods once possessed the power to lord over all of life, preside over all events, and even rob away all free will. Men, servants to such gods, lived their life in strict adherence to the rules of the god’s cult. These gods, through their proxy of worshipers, battled and outshone each other, as they would strive to gain as many converts for themselves as they could. Like the biblical story of the Jewish God Yahweh and that of the idolized deity Baal, such gods sought the power that would justify their jealousies. If they could manage to procure such might by the faith of their believers, then indeed, such believers would become witnesses of their prowess. This power, by the hands of desert gods and tribal patrons, came solely by the faith and the strength of the number of believers, and promised in return was the god’s protection over the latter. However, pitifully, it was all too early for the people to recognize where the true source of power came from actually.
When primitive societies grew into huge civilizations, Man seemed, naively, to reflect on where they had came from, and thought of a stunning idea, which, if introduced too late in time, would become blasphemous to hear. We can imagine Egyptian pharaohs in their war-chariots as they emerge victorious after unifying all of Egypt; Chinese emperors in their golden throne as they look upon their subjects bowed down before them; and even Arab tribe-chieftains long before the coming of Muhammad as they led their men in the search for new pasture, all having a common thought come to them, amidst their wildest imaginations.
They realized they were great men.
They were the ones who had been at the forefront, against all odds physical, mental or psychological, bringing their people from a backward existence to become a strong nation among Man, surpassing all others of their time in all areas of civilization. Were they too not the ones who had improved all of the people’s living conditions and strengthened their pride? Who else, in the history of Man, could even offer to do this all - alone?
The gods, of course. As a clear result of this mindset, the first rulers of Egypt and China aligned themselves as gods and the son of God respectively, allowing them an unprecedented level of control over their people - as one on par with the gods, wielding the power to life, living, events and choice. The Arab nomads, who believed in becoming legends and heroes after death, had their tribal chieftains exclusively becoming a personification of ultimate power and skill, even long after their bodies were all dead and dust.
This was the time when we first witnessed this mysterious Power seeming to just slip into the hands of one elite individual from the hand of one God. An insignificant change, which yet would still show that indeed, Power now was not in the control of unknowable deities, but in the command of mortals who had a clear form and vision for the people, in which power served to be of use in fulfilling their ultimate vision.
The world was to change rapidly as such afore-mentioned civilizations fell with time, proving that perhaps such “mortal gods” were after all, merely mortal, subject to human doom. Some imploded with inner conflict, some learned by experience to be less arrogant, while some others were converted to a new faith. Monotheistic religions moved into the scene, with Christianity and Islam at the center, to create new institutions of power to replace the old. While China was not as much affected as the rest of the world, through failure it soon too discovered the importance of centralized, yet fair systems to control power. With this change we now realize the blasphemy of the ancient rulers to claim sole power in a god-like manner. This is now impossible. In Egypt and Arabia came Islam which took away power from the gods and the legends to the One God, in real world whose Law was represented by the syariah, the Islamic courts. In China the emperor had to give up his ego, on par with a god, for something lesser, as he absolutely had to listen to his advisers, who could plot a coup against him almost at will. In less extreme cases, at least now a meritocratic imperial service was in session, whose power he could not deny. The rest of the civilized world, under the rule of Christ, became witnesses of the power of the Church.
Now all these institutions did not, and could not, claim themselves to be gods.However despite of this, Power still managed to go down the hierarchy into the hands of humans. Humans and humans only - without laying a single claim to even be any god. Did such power, though, see a decrease in a degree of control?
No. Instead, it remained as steady as it had been. Yet here still one ounce of the past remained, as such institutions claimed to simply act in the will of God, or in the name of the emperor who was still a demi-god. The notorious Inquisition launched in the Middle Ages by the Church maintained its control over life, events and choice just like before, although in less intensity. Warning of hefty fines the syariahs advocated the dominance of the adobe of peace and the advisers could decapitate civilians who did not agree with their views. This breakdown of power saw the formation of today’s government structures, most notably democracy.
We may observe now that each new wielder of power does not very much look all the way back, but instead just to its predecessor, which we would have to remember later to predict the future of Man.
Democracy matured from its humble beginnings from ancient Greek politics because of this “downward flow” of power - from the most immortal and unknowable, to the most mortal and knowable. When the time was right, people rebelled against their institutions of power, as we would most obviously see in Western societies, due to the long-past suppression and abuse of power by the latter. This was a movement to move power down to each, and every single individual, which according to the “downward flow” seemed only logical. Everyone now could officially profess ownership over their life, their life events, and also their priceless free will.
What may be more unique, is that now, Man no longer sees the need to even relate to a god, as compared to when they first started as Man! Indeed, we can see atheists everywhere, some even criticizing the ideal of an existent god, with the many sufferings of the world to back their argument. A far cry from the past, where the gods or the God was or were “the Provider”, essential to the very sustenance of life.
What matters now to Man, is that Power is accessible, tangible and perhaps, as radical as it sounds - measurable by cost?
Below Man in the hierarchy of the “downward flow” of Power is money. In the past, we had rulers below gods, then institutions below rulers, then people below institutions, all existing in a master-servant type of relationship. Now what is the servant of man, whose quantity and value alone give a man his power, and which Man will cling onto and protect till death?
Is it not money?
Indeed, we may fall to become servants of money soon. Money is already a symbol of power to the materialistic in the world. Soon money will no longer serve us, but enslave us. We will be joining a meaningless hunt for this lifeless money, whose worth is given by the human who owns it. This may be the future of Power, in our desire for Power.
Look around you. Has this Power already slipped past the fingers of some of us present today, into our wallets?
Perhaps, as we learn from history, Power always slips away when one tries to really own it. The actual nature of Power - evasive, and mysterious indeed, perhaps really cause it to truly belong, to the one who does not seek it to belong.