Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Politics in Four Short Lessons

Political power is the ability to make viable claims on resources.

Political power is an extremely perishable commodity.

Extinction of political power is prevented ONLY by the continuous exercise of that power.

The only way to increase political power is to invent conflicts and use those conflicts to make preemptive claims.


We were late for a 7:15 AM meeting this morning.  That event triggered this cascade of thoughts.

Being late was an easy-to-predict outcome.

Both of my at-home kids compete to see:
  • Who can use the most bathroom time
  • Who can be last person in the vehicle
I swear, the only way they could move any slower would be if they walked backwards.

I have a sister-in-law who has 5 sisters.  Her dad was an engineer and thought he solved the problem when he built his house.  He put the wash basins/make-up application stations outside the shower/throne portion of the bathrooms.  He had 6 basins!

And they were still late.

Because the wash basin/mirror/make-application station was merely the agreed upon field of battle.

It was about the maintenance of relative power positions via the exercise of there-of.

Funny?  Really, it is cut-throat business.  Who can guarantee that we will never be confronted with Sophie's Choice? 

Children's continuous demands erode well-worn paths, ruts, in our value landscape.  The children are preparing for the day when we must choose who gets the last morsel of food, or who we will drag into our life-boats.


I had a boss who talked too much about his private life.  He was married to "Muffy".

Muffy came from a wealthy family and Bossman was very proud of the fact that he could continue to support her in that fashion.

Every three years the credit cards would be maxed out.  Bossman went to the bank and took out  another home equity loan which was always enough (it was a very large house in an elite neighborhood, of course) to zero out the credit card balances.

Then it happened that he went into the bank.  He was shuffled to a side office.  "Mr Bossman, you now owe more on your house that it is worth.  We cannot extend you a home equity loan.  So sorry."

Bossman went home and told Muffy that they needed to economize.

Muffy, not the sharpest pencil in the box, decided that Bossman had a piece of fluff on the side and divorced him.  In her universe, the only way there could "not be enough" was if there was competition.

Bossman shook his head.  100% was not enough for seven.  Somehow, in her mind, she was sure that she and the five children would have more with only 50%.

Diminishing prospects creates its own mathematics.



The exercise of power does not change as we get older and political horizons become bigger than the family.  It is still about access to resources.  It is still about avoiding the extinction of political power via continuous exercise.

Those of us who flatter ourselves by thinking of ourselves as "Productive members of society" instinctively fear those who practice the exercise of power.  We know that we are rookies at the game.  We know that they are the predators and we are the meat.  Becoming one of them would make us non-productive.

This is not a recent phenomena.  The following was written almost two thousand years ago.
First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers,
petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone,
for kings and for all in authority,
that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life
in all devotion and dignity.  1-Timothy 2:1 



Author Marvin Harris defines technology as "science which results in the definition of new resources."

Case in point:  Prior to 1765, the year that James Watt is credited with inventing a steam engine that represented a quantum leap in efficiency, coal was mostly considered a very inferior stone.  It was not strong.  It was rapidly degraded by the weather.  And God forbid you should think to build a chimney from coal.

Technology elevated coal.   No longer was it a piss-poor example of masonry.  It because a source of energy and made it very valuable.

Before Watt coal was not a valued resource.  After Watt it was.


My strategy, much to my children's dismay, is to divide my "wealth".

I have a utility portion of my wealth.  I have minimal risk of others coveting my house (1400 square feet, 40 years old), or my vehicles, or my clothes or my bling (flip phone and wedding ring).  I have what I need and I wear it out.

I have a vaporous portion.  It is real to me but it is fog or smoke to any who would try to make a viable claim on it.  My faith.  My skills.  My character.  I lump all these under "Character Equity".

The last portion I don't count because I expect the spasms of diminishing prospects to smash it.

My gut feel is that opportunity exists to use technology to morph the last portion into items that are like polarized light.  That wealth will be visible to me but not visible to those wearing the lenses of kings and authoritarians.

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