How to Have Power Over Power – Part II: The Psychology of Power and Prestige
Z, Contributing Writer
The Psychology of Power:
In order to understand the nature of power we must first understand the power of nature.
As a culture we are grossly unaware of the powers (nature: both inner and outer) that control us to an almost infinite degree. We believe that we have conquered nature and her demons, but we have only suppressed them into an unconscious state and, as a result, they have developed into even more of a menace to us. They are disguised in an impressive array of neuroses, dissociation and psychological confusion. So much so that we have become psychologically debilitated in regards to the power dynamic playing out between our inner nature and nature itself.
The general principle of the psyche is that the deeper we understand ourselves the more of the world we will be able to identify with. As ecologist Gregory Bateson asserts, psyche is not a separate entity from nature, it is a part of nature. The natural world acts like a mirror for our psyches, a screen on which we project our fears and anxieties. Raised as most of us are, in this egocentric, inert culture, we are unable to recognize the connection between cosmos and psyche. This is usually because of years and years of nature deprivation. But alienating nature is alienating psyche. When we deprive ourselves of nature we also deprive ourselves of psyche, and this deprivation creates an unhealthy schism between the two, where psyche becomes psychosis, and nature becomes anti-nature. And so our vision of ourselves and our reality becomes warped, and the dissociation between human nature and “the other” inevitably occurs.
The good news is that only superficially can we ever separate cosmos from psyche. The bad news is that we have given into this superficiality. Modern man, slaving away in his monetary-based economic system, has escaped the anguish of his freedom only to fall into a state of preoccupation and paranoia. This can be an extremely addictive and confusing state; as Denise Linn gleaned, “As we hurtle into the future, the trappings of modern life isolate us from the earth and leave little room for the inward journey.”
If that weren’t enough there is the hyper-reality (that is, reality by proxy) of popular culture to contend with, which acts as a kind of psychosomatic second skin, blanketing actual reality and preventing us from penetrating the truth of nature and the cosmos. Tearing ourselves away from this hyper-reality is no easy task, so completely does it consume the spirit of our times. Beneath its veil of ignorance we are free to be blissful and carefree, relishing in our luxuries. Lifting the veil, however, is the psychological equivalent to ripping one’s skin off. But once the pain has been endured, once the “wounds” have healed into “scars,” the Great Mystery of our life is revealed, and then we are free to discover the reconnection of cosmos and psyche.
By shedding incongruous inertia from congruent action, by lifting the veil, we reveal what has been hidden from us: the Great Mystery. And we are suddenly empowered. This unveiling is like a magic trick on our soul, where instead of pulling a rabbit out of a hat, we are the rabbit, ascending “the hole” into a new adventure: an adventure so numinous and arresting that we are at first taken aback, in awe, over the uncanny suffusion of sacredness suddenly spilling into our lives. This sacredness is nothing less than us reconnecting with our true powers: our psyches; our cosmos; our souls. It is only after this that we are able to understand that the nature of power is founded in the concept of prestige. How one gets power over power begins with understanding that money is the current mode of human power, but that prestige, regardless of money, is the truer power.
The Psychology of Prestige:
In a gift-giving society, an individual gains prestige and satisfaction by receiving, then adding to what has been received and passing it on. In a consumer society, prestige and satisfaction are gained through accumulation and acquisition. Nothing is given. Nothing is passed on. –Lewis Hyde
We live in a consumerist society, and our culture reflects that. Unfortunately the reflection is ugly. It shows us an image of greed and excessive wastefulness camouflaged by an outlandish hyper-reality. If we were to peel back this hyper-reality we would reveal the throbbing hunger of our animal nature: the need to be recognized. When we really break down the human condition we have a creature that is in more need of its own kind than any other creature to have ever existed. This means we are social creatures. We need each other. More so than any other ape. More so than any other creature. We need each other to be reflections of each other. We are Mirror! And the very crux of the human condition, guilt, is a direct result of our being “mirrors” for each other.
Guilt is founded upon our empathy system and our mirror neurons. When we see another person suffering, we can feel their suffering as if it is our own. This constitutes our powerful system of empathy, which leads to our thinking that we should do something to relieve the suffering of others. If we cannot help another, or fail in our efforts, we experience feelings of guilt. For the most part with “civilized” people, it seems, this emotion has been suppressed and disassociated from its source (in no small part due to cultural conditioning, brainwashing, and nature deprivation), which creates an even more profoundly dynamic social neurosis: narcissism. When guilt is unfounded, narcissism flowers in all its exaggerated grandiosity.
When guilt has no mode of expiation within a society it becomes rampant narcissism. There must be a cultural mechanism in place for the expiation of guilt, for fear that people will become nothing more than shadow-puppets of an aggrandized hyper-reality. As it stands we have no such mechanism. Our culture is a false stage filled with over-actors, with inadequate props and pseudo backdrops, all of which are not in accord with the show of the greater cosmos. Like Alexander Lowen wrote, “When wealth occupies a higher position than wisdom, when notoriety is admired more than dignity, when success is more important than self-respect, the culture itself over-values “image” and must be regarded as narcissistic.”
In order to get back in accord with reality we must be able to unite wisdom and acumen with foolishness and enchantment. Fear and shame must be properly oriented with honor and humor. In order to truly get power over power it is not enough to simply be, we must will ourselves into a disclosure of being. The Greek word Thumos is the desire for prestige. It is the dream of the perfect recognition, when all that is great within oneself has synergized with all that is eternal in the cosmos in perfect synchronicity. A hero is a courageous person who taps into this sacred energy, in abundance. There is so much of it, in fact, that the hero must distribute it. But it is only upon realizing this need for distribution that a hero becomes what I call a New-Hero.
A typical, modern-day hero is someone who has conquered, reigned, and monopolized a particular domain or field, in the sense that they have “bested the opposition”. A New-hero, on the other hand, is a person who has accomplished all that the typical hero has accomplished but who also recognizes the need for expiation, for giving back, for completing the natural cycle of life. In this way they are able to relieve the physical burden of immoderate wealth, as well as the psychological guilt that comes from it, and they become a hero over power as opposed to simply a hero with power. This is Thumos. This is true power. Compassion, moderation, and balance with nature are the key here. A New-hero is aware of this, and they are able to overcome their “want” for things in order to give back to the community they have conquered.
A new hero counsels a goodness, an egoistic altruism, that exceeds the ego and self-interest, radiating outward in an enveloping energy that empowers the world. A new hero intermittently, and almost magically, improves themselves while selflessly giving to others. Their kindness is seen as neither selfish nor selfless, but holistic in nature, having no agenda or need but for healthy ambiance and cultural stability; a spiritus mundi: unanimous heart.
A New-hero is a symbol for natural order. They are the personification of the life/death cycle in action. They celebrate life through the redistribution of their wealth. They celebrate death through their open mockery of immoderate wealth. They become the circle. They complete the cycle. They honor infinite growth through their mutual recognition and respect for the marriage between chaos and order. They trump the power of money through their own power to use it as they see fit, knowing that money is pseudo-power and prestige is the truer power. They claim, out-loud to the cosmos, that money is nothing more than a tool. They play with the limits of their power and mock unjust claims of immortality, seeking instead for eternal rebirth.
About the Author
Z, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world. His recent works can also be found at Z’s Hub.