The Power of Human Race
Power relations come in all forms and intensities but they all target the same thing, to win. It is easier to observe the works of power relations in competitive situations, such as during political elections, marketing strategies or sport events. There is always some contextual advantage one side or both will exploit to win the competition. And nowadays the tricks competing parties use don’t even need to be based on truth (to what extent an “objective” truth/perspective exists is a topic for another blog article); they are rather based on the speed and impact on the emotions of those directly or indirectly involved in the competition.
However, power relations govern all types of human interactions, such as the meeting with your tax officer, the 15 minute drive with the policeman assessing you on your driving exam or the relationship between non-romantic friends or between spouses. Social psychology recognises the role of power relations have on individual and group behaviours and decision-making. And what is more interesting is that in many cases we unconsciously position ourselves in a role/function of power in order to influence the opinion or decision of other(s) while perpetuating models of behaviour and thinking which favour stereotyping, discrimination or even abuse. Without realising the contextual privileges we enjoy (sometime by mere chance), we (mis)/(ab)use them by converting them into power while believing they are the very reasons for our success, hence, they must have an intrinsic value of our excellence. For example, as a white person in an increasingly culturally and racially diverse society, one may miss to realise how much of their own achievements are due to one’s superior effort (compared to everyone around them) and how much due to the privileges granted to them by default, thanks to their white skin. With so many white persons succeeding around one, one may start to believe white skin makes one a better person, that the white race is superior to other races and one will prefer to cooperate and grant chances to succeed to other white individuals. In this way, a privilege is transformed into power and becomes instrumental in perpetuating the “white race superiority” stereotype.
Another example of power relations is when, in a friendship, the parties have expectations about who should call first (it may be a trivial situation, yet, it eloquently makes the point). Conceptually, friendship implies we welcome each other as we are, we do not put ourselves above our friends on any criteria because it would alter the emotional and trusting bond between us as friends. Reality is, as we all learn at some point in life, a derivation of the concept, usually simplifying it to accommodate life dynamics. Thus, who calls first, or who should initiate the communication in a friendship becomes the result of power relations on various subjective criteria. We are all the same in that we are unique, but our uniqueness is not a reason for feeling more special than the next guy. Going back to my example, we may start expecting that they should call first as we are busier. Or, they should call first as we have a better social status or a better degree, which makes us more desirable friends so they should show they recognise our higher status in our friendship by calling first. Power reveals itself even in such trivial and, apparently, non-threatening thoughts and expectations.
We can find examples everywhere, in our personal and work life. The role of power relations in our decisions could be favourable if we could ensure that the criteria used to position oneself as more powerful are fair to everyone. For example, objectively measured competence and ethical behaviour would be a fair criterion as it would favour everyone by granting executive power to those who can make competent and ethical decisions/contributions, benefiting unselfishly the entire population. Power is not to be paraded in front of the less powerful, it is to be used to help the world grow healthily.
However, when we justify our power by social status or wealth, nationality, ethnicity, race or gender, we perpetuate a game which leaves the unfavoured groups open to continuous discrimination and abuse. And it doesn’t have to start at the top. The top plays the same game at a different level, true, but the process starts with what each person believes the society should be based on. When that belief is “equality, empathy and respect” (and I don’t mean equality in the socialist view), regardless of the context of each person, given by nature and nurture, the individual and group goals no longer compete and cooperation emerges spontaneously for any sound, well-intended and ethical purpose.
It may sound (read) like a utopia in terms of human psychology, but I believe it is evolution. Technology made possible for many people to see its dark side and of power relations at a higher scale. It also made possible for people to reveal their opinions about the power games around all of us and to refrain from applying them in their lives as much as possible. More than in any generation, children believe in a clean planet, in equal rights and obligations and in being themselves, authentic. Therefore, provided we survive the current climate change problems and no state leader decides to start a (nuclear) war, while we decide to use technology to learn more about human race and not estrange ourselves from human contact, evolution should prevail and the society will become rooted in respect for human diversity, compassion and cooperation for the progress of the human race.
Note to reader: I have not touched the political developments in the USA and the UK, Syria or Russia since 2016 onwards, among many, which may show a huge and risky detour from the emphasised evolutionary itinerary. I am very mindful of their potential impact on the life of current and future generations. My point is made on a large time scale, it expresses what I see human kind can achieve with their potential and will, in order to change the world in which young generations will live. I am also very aware that everything is relative and perspectives matter and also that it is impossible to make a relative statement without a statement resembling an absolute one. These are shortcomings of language and I will try to compensate them as much as possible through an eloquent wording of the points I wish to make.