Thursday, August 21, 2008

Triune II

I am really missing my library. What follows is from memory, so don't get too upset if I get the names/quotes/sources wrong. I'm happy to fix them when I can.

I think it was in Desmond Morris' Manwatching that he put forth the triune theory of power. He postulated that there are three basic types of power:

The Power to Get Things Done: This is money and connections and political power. The movers and the shakers, the force behind all large change.

The Power to Decide Who is Cool: This is really social power, the power to make something a fad or to declare it passe. To decide who is "in" and who isn't. To decide what matters.

Atavistic Power: The ability to apply violence. Thug power.

He said (and I can think of a few exceptions, but remarkably few) that no one can hold more than one of these types of power. Political players and money men sometimes court Hollywood and are sometimes endorsed by Hollywood, but they never become part of that group. Hollywood could declare Bill Clinton "cool", but Bill couldn't declare anyone else "cool".

Conversely, for all of the actors pretending to know enough about world affairs to express an opinion and the various aid concerts and consciousness-raising events the social power group never seems to actually change anything. Maybe because they miss the fact that feeling about something is not the same as doing something. Hmmmm- and this may be the core concept here: action versus emotion, doing versus feeling. One type of power influences human assessments, the other influences actions.

"Atavist" means "throwback" and atavistic power is a throwback to more primal, violent times and emotions. Thugs, by themselves, don't change anything (Hitler had other people do his thuggery for him) [but this is one of the places I find a few exceptions. Saddam Hussein did change things and wielded enough power to cow an entire nation. He did a lot of that through informants and secret police and torture and rape camps. But he also enjoyed, sometimes very publicly, killing people himself. He was training his sons in the same vein. Vlad Tepisch was another.]

Atavistic power is generally incompatible with the other two types because it is a power to prevent others from doing, not a power to do yourself. Atavistic power controlled by a political animal can clear the way for some major change- but it usually (in our culture) triggers a very bad reaction from the "cool choosers."

Just thinking out loud, here. It's a model I have found useful- it sometimes explains some things. Like all models it may be useful but it is not a pure truth. Play with it.


Anonymous said...

From your definition, I get the impression that atavistic power is pretty much another way of saying "evil". Unless one used this power to prevent someone else from abusing this power?

Anonymous said...

Where would MLK, Ghandi, and the pen is mightier than the sword tribe fit into this triangle. Would it be the power to decide who is cool?

Anonymous said...

5d: I think that MLK and Ghandi fall into the "The Power to Get Things Done" category.
They both had the intestinal fortitude to create audacious goals, take action in the name of acheiving them and, by the dint of their actions, created the connections that allowed true change to occur.

Anonymous said...

Well, I thought about this as I went to bed, and one of the ways I try to visualize a social power structure when it isn't working for me -- that there are two types of social power: the power to say 'yes' and the power to say 'no.'

I suppose the Political power roughly maps onto 'yes' (because it gets things done) and the Approval power maps onto 'no' (because approval typically denies more than it admits). As for the atavistic power. . . violence can't get you everything you want.

The difference is that the 'yes/no' model tells us that the 'yes' power typically sits higher on the hierarchy. It's easy to delegate 'no.' Who hasn't been stymied by a secretary when trying to see the boss? We're unnerved when someone lower in the hierarchy has the power to say yes (watch a board room turn to the 23 year old tech guy for approval of that computer purchase), and truly annoyed when the higher-ups will only say no.

Does political power outrank cool?