Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Perception of Power

In class we discussed what power is, and how it is exercised. Dr. J was adamant about reminding us that someone can not possess power, but it left me wondering if power is real, or if power is merely a perception. I can understand that power is not like money because one does not physically have power, but I never thought about whether power was real, or merely something we have created in our minds. Using examples such as George W. Bush, our parents, and ever our teachers maybe I can help myself, and others, to understand what power is.

For the last 7 (almost 8) years George W. Bush has been viewed as one of the most powerful men on in the world. However when our country elects a new president, George Bush will no longer be in this position of power. As the president, Mr. Bush has the power to veto a bill and declare a war, among other things. However each individual has the ability to say “veto” or “I declare war upon…” The only difference between us and President Bush is the idea that he has power over us.

Furthermore we have our parents who exercise a great deal of power over us. However my parents are not powerful merely because they are John and Liz Collins, rather because of the position they hold. Even more so, they are not able to exercise power over me because they are my parents, but because I allow them to. They control the household in which I grew up in, what I did on the weekends, what clothes I could wear, and when I could use the computer. As regular people removed from the situation, parents are just regular people, however we as children perceive our parents to be powerful, thus allowing them to exercise power over us.

Finally we have teachers. Our professors are the same as us, on an individual level, however in the classroom they have the ability to assign essays, create deadlines, and give out homework. The only reason they are able to do all these things is because we as students feel as though they are qualified enough and have earned the ability to do so. Although this is true and professors may have earned this ability, their power over us is still based on students allowing them to assign essays, create deadlines, and give out homework. Like we discussed in class, no one has power, however people are able to exercise power.

Thanks to class I came to the realization that no one, be it the president of the United States of America, my parents, or even my college professors have power. The power that they exercise however, comes from the people that give it to them. Citizens of the USA, children, and students all see these individuals as figures who are able to make important decisions, control a household, or assign essays because they have done whatever necessary to earn it. For the president it involves a large amount of work and many years, for a parent it is merely becoming a parent and caring for your child, and a professor has to go through the schooling necessary to educate others. Through all this we can see that power is merely a perception given to an individual, and exercised by creating that perception.


Scarlett D'Anna said...

I find the idea of power merely as perception very intriguing. Your essay really made me think about whether it is purely something “created in our minds.” I think the answer to this is both yes and no.

While power is not a tangible thing that you can hold, throw, or own, I do think it is something that can be given. President Bush doesn’t simply have power over the American people because we perceive him to; he possesses power because the political and legal institutions of the United States give it to him. Similarly, parents have a position of authority over their children, not only because their children allow this, but also because the law grants them certain legal rights over them. Power doesn’t originate from the “authorities,” such as the president or our parents. It comes from the organizations/laws/people that support the “authorities,” and allows them to exercise power over others. Of course, it isn’t as cut and dry as that, because the authority of these organizations/laws/people derives from somewhere else too… which is why I say power is both perceived and “real.”

Further, what about someone who chooses to move outside the sphere of power? For example: a child who becomes legally emancipated from their parents. Have they chosen not to allow their parents to have power over them—in other words, chosen not to perceive it—or have they simply moved from one sphere of power (their parents’) to another (the legal world of an adult)?

lynn s said...

I think that President Bush only has power, because American citizens perceive him to have power. Yes, political and legal institutions of the United States give it to him, but they only give it to him, because the people believe in these institutions. If the people didn't believe in them or perceive them to control power, then the institutions would not exist, because they wouldn't mean anything and thus could not give power to the President.

matt jacobs said...

I agree with most everything you are saying, except for one thing. In your final paragraph, you say, "The power that [the president, parents, and professors] exercise...comes from the people that give it to them". This seems to me to contradict what you are arguing at the beginning of the post.

I understand your argument to be that power is not possessed by the person, but rather by the title. You use George Dubya as an example, saying that he is in a “position of power” until we elect a new president, then he will no longer be in a position to exercise power. I agree.

For me, the problem is when you say later that the power comes from the people, and we give it to him. The reason this is a problem for me is because that implies that we are in a greater position of power that him. Yet, we have no office, no position to “give” power to any one person.

You say that we give people power, and later that we have no authority over the office of the president that we give power to.

Alex C said...

Im sorry I didnt word that very clearly. What I was trying to say was not literally we give the president the power, rather the reason he is seen as such a powerful individual is our perception. No one would be able to exercise power if there were not those willing to have it exercised on them. If we did not believe the president to be powerful then there would be no reason to follow the law or listen to what he has to say. We elect a president and in doing so create the perception that this man is powerful, when in all actuality he is powerful because we voted for him. I hope this helps, I think I am talking myself in a circle right now

Anonymous said...

I think the idea that no one really possesses real power and is merely given power by others is somehow relative and questionable. It is similar to saying that if I do not agree with something, I can always choose something else. It leads me to a conclusion that in a free-will world, there is really no power at all. Let’s just suppose a case in which we had a Supreme Being, possessed real POWER, he/she (no gender discrimination here) could do and created anything that he/she wanted. Finally, he/she decided to create all the students in our philosophy class. He was also nice enough to give us the FREEDOM to choose and do what we wanted. Since created, we followed this Supreme Being; however, it came to one day, when our class realized that we did not have to follow him because we had our freedom and turned away. In this case, the Supreme Being really possessed power, we just did not acknowledge it, so did he/she really have power? Just because we did not acknowledge his/her power over us, does it really mean that he/she does not REALLY have power over us (in this example he/she could take away our freedom or destroy us)? If power is really relative and just the matter of perception, does it mean that power can only exist in a democratic society (or put it in a religious perspective) in a free-will world?