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Beneath the surface: coping with the dark side of power

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

This and my previous essay explain how we can better understand the dangers and benefits of power by combining both secular and esoteric traditions. Part one explored power’s nature, and why power is both necessary and often destructively addictive. It also laid the foundation for an esoteric understanding of power by developing a model of thought forms.  I made the case for their reality once views shared widely within the Pagan community are taken seriously.  This present essay explores Power as a thought form deeply destructive to human well-being – and what we can do about it. 

power and Power

When I refer to Power as a thought form I capitalize it as “Power.” As an individual psychological motivation, capacity, or experience, I will continue to use “power” in lower case.   We all need power, we are all threatened by Power.

Part one argued, image and emotion can give a thought form a kind of independent existence, and when the image and emotion are shared by many people, a thought form can arise dependent on human beings for its existence, but independent of any particular person.  If this form generates strong emotions in people, it will be “fed.” It is our emotions that give it strength, just as focused emotional energy is important in magickal workings. 

Emotions, pleasant and otherwise, are basic forms of psychic energy.  Usually obtaining power is pleasurable, and a person will want to experience it again. Over time seeking and obtaining more power can become a goal in its own right. When this happens what initially began as an effort to over come fear or achieve a goal over time is experienced as fulfilling in itself. When obtaining or exercising power involves a relationship of dominance and subordination a very unpleasant implication arises.

Psychic Parasites

African writer Malidoma Somé writes  

When power comes out of its hiddenness, it shrinks the person who brought it into the open and turns that person into a servant.  The only way that overt power can remain visible is by being fed, and he who knows how to make power visible end up trapped into keeping that power visible. . . .

Somé is describing Power as a psychic parasite. In the physical world parasites are successful life forms and if consciousness exists outside what we normally regard as the physical world, we should expect to encounter similar phenomena in the mental realm. A thought form is a parasite when it is fed at the expense of those providing it energy.

Because parasites flourish at their host’s expense, successful parasites are relatively invisible to their hosts in-order to avoid its defenses. Often they also use a vector as a bridge to infecting their host.

Unlike ideas that exist in a mental ecosystem generated by humans, Power is pure relation. It is a relation of pure domination and subordination.  It carries enormous emotional energy for both the dominator and for the dominated, who in their fear, anger and misery often themselves seek power to dominate, and so both feed Power.

Since our ideas require power to be realized in the world, Power presents itself as the necessary means to achieve the idea in cases where opposition must be overcome.  The vector is the idea, itself possibly a thought form of great attractiveness, like “justice,” to which Power presents itself as desirable companion. Once this happens it is easy to confuse attaining a goal with attaining ever greater power for ultimately attaining that goal.  This confusion can arise as soon as we choose to dominate our opposition in order to prevail.  In secular terms its purest expression is “The end justifies the means.” This line of thought eventually abandons the end and concentrates only on the means, which then become the end.

Any goal is a potential vector for Power and the more abstract it is, the more removed from concrete manifestations of love and care, the more vulnerable it is to serve as a vector. I think this helps explain the long record of great atrocities committed by otherwise reasonably decent people in ‘service’ to ‘God’, ‘country’, ‘justice’, ‘humanity’, and similar abstractions far removed from concrete encounters. The do not serve God or country or justice or humanity. They serve Power.

What is concrete connects us more directly with our richly textured experience of the world and others whereas seeing the world through an abstraction filters that experience through a simplifying idea that distances us from the concrete details of life. As we distance ourselves Thous become Its, subjects become objects, and individuals become classes of traits like Blacks, Muslims, Christians, Pagans, or bourgeoisie.   Acting to aid a friend in need is a very different experience from acting to aid “humanity” or even the less abstract “ebola victims in Africa.” The more concrete our encounter with another the harder it is for obtaining or exercising open-ended power over them or in their name to be equated with helping or serving. Power more easily influences us when no strong emotions or commitments push against it, hence its attraction when we think in big abstractions.

This is why strong political ideologies are so often vehicles for Power. The political, religious, and cultural ‘right’ is more susceptible to this process because its members generally endorse hierarchy as a good in itself and hierarchy is a defining element of Power. The ‘left’ is to some small degree more resistant since it values ‘equality’.  But equality easily becomes an abstraction subordinating the concrete to the abstract, and when it does it is as susceptible to parasitization by Power as any right wing ideology, as the long record of Communist atrocities demonstrates.   When totalizing ideologies contend, winning is eventually  all that matters ‘in the short run’, and Power flourishes.

Power itself does not really care what idea serves as its vector.  It seeks only to manifest itself.  George Orwell captured the reality of Power  as domination better than anyone else I have read.  In Orwell’s novel 1984 O’Brien told Winston Smith

The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. . . . We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.

O'Brien added

The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.

Persecution and torture are direct applications of Power. Torture does not give us truth because the tortured will tell whatever the torturer wants to hear in order to make it stop.  This is no argument against torture from the torturer's point of view. That the record of hundreds of years of religious, racial, and political persecution is so negative is also no argument against it from the persecutor's perspective. O'Brien is describing the mentality of pure Power.

We are seeing a version of this process happen here, although one not as far along as in totalitarian regimes. Our increasingly militarized police forces possess vastly increased power to destroy and dominate. Their military hardware and vehicles shift them towards incorporating military values into their own behavior, and military values are exceptionally vulnerable to the allure of Power. 

Another recent example of this process in America are those who continually urge us to “support our troopswhile equating supporting them with supporting those who send them off to war. Very significantly they have little to no interest in providing assistance to troops re-entering society or dealing with injuries from their service, who are therefore irrelevant to Power. 

A third example would be those ‘pro-life’ advocates who provide little if any aid to pregnant mothers or infants.  As a rule the more ‘pro-life’ states spend the least on prenatal care, aid to newborns, and assistance to new mothers.   Children in states most dominated by ‘pro-life’ forces have worse health and shorter lives than in states where ‘pro-life’ forces are weaker. This is a huge contradiction if they really support life, but completely in keeping with serving Power by dominating women and maintaining steep hierarchies of domination. 

In all these cases what matters is not service to civilians, service men and women, or mothers and children, but rather the exercise of power over them and others.

So how do we minimize our vulnerability to ‘infection’? 

Thinking in Dichotomies

I think we are predisposed to think in dichotomies. We are bilaterally symmetrical and as GeorgeLakoff and Mark Johnson have shown,   much of our thinking is metaphorical, and many of our most basic metaphors are bodily. Binary metaphors, as in “on the one hand and on the other,” can easily become framed in black and white terms when emotional attachment is added to one or revulsion to the other. In Lakoff’s terms we might be less vulnerable to the attractions of Power if we were descended from octopuses, and so had eight arms instead of two. But we are not, and so must guard against it.

Much of my political writing argues the apparent dichotomies that divide us are not really dichotomies. For example, when used as all encompassing labels “Right” and “Left” usually confuse more than they clarify.  The terms have their origins in the French Revolution around 200 years ago, and things have changed a lot since then.  If you want to see someone, especially but not only on the ‘right’, squirm, ask them to define these words with any specificity.  But the problem applies to all dichotomies where many people line up on both sides.

Competing abstract dichotomies are each partially (but not necessarily equally) true, focusing on aspects of our experience ignored or slighted by the other apparent dichotomy.  While correct to a point, both are nearsighted, and blind to the truths recognized by the other.  When this happens they invite alliance with Power because the other side appears perverse. As both sides seek more power to overcome the other, power ceases to be a means to an end and becomes the end in itself, perhaps for both. Power parasitizes the ideas that initially sought power as a means to their fruition.  This has happened to Christians, to Marxists, to liberals and conservatives, and I contend even (and in very interesting ways) to libertarians.

Thinking in terms of opposed dichotomies also encourages the logic of war, and the language of war in turn strengthens dichotomous thinking. The world becomes distorted into those on our side and those on the other. Power is virtually invited in.

As mentioned in part I,George Bush embraced this logic: "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."  echoed by Hillary Clinton: "Every nation has to either be with us, or against us.”  This bipartisan attitude destroyed intelligent discussion of issues involving terrorism and got us involved in the longest and most un-winnable series of conflicts in our history.  One hundred thousand dead Iraqis who did us no harm is one result. George Bush and Hillary Clinton will have blood on their hands the rest of their lives.  Nor are they alone. Many Americans’ intoxication with the power unleashed in “shock and awe” was another effect of dichotomous thinking.  Once this kind of Power becomes embedded within a culture it will seek to grow in every direction, and we are now experiencing the results.

This outcome was predicted at the time of our founding. In The Federalist Papers Alexander Hamilton wrote when war is frequent popular governments must "strengthen the executive arm of government, in doing which their constitutions would acquire a progressive direction towards monarchy. It is of the nature of war to increase the executive at the expense of the legislative authority."  Hamilton argued if these conditions were prolonged "we should, in a little time, see established in every part of this country the same engines of despotism that have been the scourge of the old world."

It is happening today, and the logic of war and fear is used by Power to accelerate the process.  As a consequence we are witnessing decreasing moral and intellectual coherence in our political debates because every value, including truth, is subordinated to Power. “Spin,” sound bites, and a unified message of the day by operatives are America’s form of Newspeak.  Fear, endless fear, was the major theme in the last election.

            The American conservative tradition had degenerated dramatically over the past decade or two, particularly since James Buchanan and Ann Coulter introduced the language of war to describe political disagreements, referring to opponents as enemies. When a person is seen only as an enemy our relationship with them becomes zero sum.  If I win, you lose, if you win, I lose.  When we adopt that logic anything that can be a means for winning becomes desirable, and so more and more of the world becomes made up of things, resources for our use, or enemies or irrelevant. Today liberals are beginning to follow, as they become convinced ‘conservatives’ are enemies rather than opponents. Increasingly both groups live in antagonistic bubbles.

I am not suggesting both groups are equally responsible.  Conservatives clearly started it and have long chosen it as their strategy. But when well established this process takes on a life of its own, in service to Power. No matter who started it.

As the attraction of Power increases and we become increasingly devoted to acquiring more of it, as Malidome Somé observed, we shrink. Probably no human gets as far lost in Power as Orwell’s fictional O’Brien, but some come close.

A Pagan ‘theodicy’

A Pagan perspective holds our world is characterized by sacred immanence, and evil is not a fundamental reality.  If this position is true, where does what we call evil come from?  How can the holocausts that have killed so many millions happen? The theory I am presenting offers a solution to a major theological and philosophical issue

I have shown how the normal and necessary need for power needed for many good things can become an anti-life and anti-human force ensnaring more and more people into its service, existing as a parasite that depends on its victims to survive.  This explanation does not explain all of what is broadly termed ‘evil’, but it explains a large part of human caused suffering to other people. It certainly is superior to monotheistic stories about Satan and a Fall.

Love and Power

To this point I have argued that psychically we live in a kind of ideational ecosystem where we create, are assisted by and potentially controlled by ideas, depending on how we relate to them.  When fed with emotional energy these ideas take on an existence of their own.  Further I suggested ideas exist in a kind of psychic ecosystem, and as such some people can be parasitized by ideas using other ideas as vectors so they can obtain the emotional energy they need to flourish. Power is the ultimate parasite on ideas and people. People open themselves to it through confusing it with the ideas with which they identify too closely, and which they then interpret as needing ever more power to be realized. The results can and often have been enormous human suffering with Power flourishing at many levels from a despotic deity to a despotic state to despotic family and work relations.

So what can we do about it, especially in a society sinking every more deeply into the pathologies wrought by Power?

Love is the appreciation and valuing of another for their existence alone.  Love is the delight in the beloved in all its concreteness. Love need not be uncritical or blind, but sees the beloved’s shortcomings in a context that affirms its overall value.  Love reveals and celebrates beauty’s inner dimension.

Of course we often seek or desire power to help a loved one, but our love is neither enhanced nor diminished by whatever power we have to help.  Love is sufficient in itself, and not a means to something else. Because it seeks no power, love is not susceptible to parasitism by Power.  It frees us from vulnerability to Power, which may be one reason people say love is the most powerful ‘force.’

Although to make the case would take an essay of its own, I would argue love ultimately originates in the physical world of need to enrich other dimensions of reality. Because the physical is also a realm of need, love has a paradoxical relationship to need, rooted in it but transforming it as well.  Love is usually intertwined with our hope the beloved can fulfill some of our needs, for we are all creatures of needs as well as creatures of the heart. At another level, the same tension arises when we seek to help those we love.  But love and the power to meet needs are different qualities, and the tensions between them are a staple of human experience, an ever-present inspiration for much of our finest art and literature.

Love is an end, power is a means.

Unlike love, power begins as something we want as a means to an end. It is not fulfilling except when being exercised, recognized, or increased.  Like money, which is one form of power, in all its forms power is valueless in itself.  The value it enables is that I matter.  I think managing the tensions between power, which serves needs, and love which needs no power because it is self-sufficient but can encourage seeking power to help the beloved’s needs, is one of the central challenges in leading a good life.

If my analysis or something close to it is true, we immunize ourselves to the parasitism of Power by enlarging our hearts. As they encompass more, we reduce our desire for power and so our vulnerability to Power. But this enlarging must take place at concrete levels.  These words are much easier to write than to accomplish.

But difficulty is not impossibility, and what follows outlines a magickal working suitable either alone or in coven or similar group.

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A Magickal working

This working that can be done alone or in coven or other small group.  Doing it alone increases focus, doing it as a group can increase the power, but at the cost of less focus.  I recommend focus as more vital that oomph, so if a group working is done, make sure there is very strong agreement about it.

1. Pick a person, preferably at least at first someone you have personal relations with, but with whom you do not have particularly loving feelings. At first they should not be unfriendly, just not especially warm.

2. Sit comfortably, with good posture. Imagine there is a thread at the top of your head, gently pulling up to straighten out your torso.  But do not strain into your posture. Be gentle.

3. Once comfortable breath quietly, relax, and invoke the presence of the Goddess for help, or send Her a prayer asking for assistance, (or towards some other spiritual power of your choosing).  It will help if you pick entities associated with kindness, healing, and/or love.

4. Breath the qualities of peace, harmony, and love deeply into your heart/center of your chest. I find this easier when I associate them with a color, such as a pure beautiful blue.  But if another color seems easier to you, use it.  What matters is that those qualities be associated with it, and that it be clear.   Exhale from there on your out breath. Relax and repeat.

5. As you continue breathing in this energy concentrate it in your heart/center of your chest.  (If you find this difficult to do, look below at 5a through 5e.)

6. Visualize the person you chose sitting in a chair across from you, facing you.

7. With every exhalation expand your love energy from your heart to fully encompass this person. 

8. As you do so consider that at one time they were small children surrounded by much they did not understand and trying to make the best of their environment.  They wanted to love and be loved by their parents and those around them, a want that may or may not have been fulfilled.  As they grew up psychic wounds increased as well as their individuality.  No matter, incase them in love.

9. Gently disengage and return to your normal awareness.

10. Repeat as desired

5a-5e

5a Visualize someone you love sitting in a chair in front of you. This loving feeling should not be sexual (nor anti-sexual). Sexuality is tied up with our needs and we are seeking to connect with a feeling that is sufficient in itself.

5b Connect with your love for that person. 

5c Breathe this loving energy into your heart and concentrate it there. Then send it out from your heart to surround the beloved.

5d Now envision the person you do not love standing behind the loved one still sitting in the chair.  Make this image as real as you can without straining.

5e  Expand the loving energy you have surrounded the person you love with to include the person standing behind them.

Go to 8.  above.

This working will influence those doing it and can also influence the recipient. It is ethical because it does nothing to influence what the recipient does.

 

 

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Gus diZerega DiZerega combines a formal academic training in Political Science with decades of work in Wicca and shamanic healing. He is a Third Degree Elder in Gardnerian Wicca, studied closely with Timothy White who later founded Shaman’s Drum magazine, and also studied Brazilian Umbanda  for six years under Antonio Costa e Silva.

DiZerega holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from UC Berkeley, has taught and lectured in the US and internationally, and has organized international academic meetings.

His newest book is "Faultlines: the Sixties, the Culture Wars, and the Return of the Divine Feminine (Quest, 2013) received a 'silver' award by the Association of Independent Publishers for 2014. It puts both modern Pagan religion and the current cultural and political crisis in the US into historical context, and shows how they are connected.

His first book on Pagan subjects, "Pagans and Christians: The Personal Spiritual Experience," won the Best Nonfiction of 2001 award from  The Coalition of Visionary Resources. 

His second,"Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and a Christian in Dialogue" is what it sounds like. He coauthored it with Philip Johnson. DiZerega particularly like his discussion of polytheism in Burning Times, which in his view is an advance over the discussion in Pagans and Christians.

His third volume, "Faultlines: The Sixties, the Culture War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine," was published in 2013 and won a Silver award from the Association of Independent Publishers in 2014. The subject is obvious, and places it, and the rise of goddess oriented spiritual movements and our "cold civil war" in historical context.

His pen and ink artwork supported his academic research in graduate school and frequently appeared in Shaman’s Drum, and the ecological journals Wild Earth, and The Trumpeter. It now occasionally appears in this blog.

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