Powerlessness

Image via This is Guyana

by Dale Bisnauth

Lord Acton’s dictum runs: “All power tends to be an aphrodisiac and absolute power leaves you feeling rotten by Wednesday.” This has come to be stated: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” However, the truth is probably more: “Powerlessness corrupts and impotence corrupts absolutely.”

Power is the ability to effect or prevent change. At the personal level the experience of a sense of power is a necessary function of existence. To be a person is to experience at an adequate level the capacity to determine one’s life, or, at least to believe that one has the potential to make choices regarding one’s life – all of this, of course, within the limits imposed by living within society.

Whatever deprives someone of this power deprives him of the status of personhood. Whatever is perceived to have this power to deprive is perceived to be threatening.

It is the reduction of persons to a state of varying degrees of impotence that makes them susceptible to all forms of corruption in their effort to survive, whatever they perceive survival will be.

It is the experience of threatening impotence, whatever is perceived to be the cause, and however justified or irrational the experience, that leads to bribery, sycophancy, pimping, officiousness, and all those forms of corruption that are, in fact, subtle neurotic expressions of “power” on the part of the powerless to cope with the wielders of real power to ingratiate themselves on them.

It is the desire to be rid of powerlessness that partly results in emigration and the manic desire for promotion whatever one’s qualification for promotion.

Where the scope for the legitimate expression of the “posse” (power) of the self is denied, scope is thereby created for the neurotic expressions of that power in forms of violence which range from abusive language to senseless homicide.

What is desirable is not that we should denigrate power, particularly in its relation to persons, but that we should curb the plunge of persons into the slough of powerlessness.

(Catholic Standard, January 17, 1982)

About the author

The Rev. Dr. Bisnauth was Minister of Labour, Human Services & Social Security and, prior to that, Minister of Education. At the time he contributed pieces to the Catholic Standard, he was representative of the Guyana Presbyterian Church on the Guyana Council of Churches and the Director of the Guyana Extension Seminary. He contributed over eighty pieces to the Catholic Standard between 1980 and 1985. Most are written in a satirical style dictated, he states, by necessity for “to criticize the political directorate openly was to court trouble”.

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