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Rory Miller's Blog - Sun, 2015-04-19 20:53
Just...wow. Off a plane, home for 26 hours, on the road, home for twelve hours and on a plane, then home for less than nine and on a plane again. And something is happening to my internal wiring, because (so far) I don't appear to be burning out on people. This is more exhilarating than exhausting. We'll see if that keeps up.

And the to-do list is somewhere between ambitious and overwhelming. Especially the writing section. And it's imperative to fight the paralysis that comes with having an excess of worthy goals. Things to do, things to do...

So let's make this quick.

Very few things are zero sum games. Outside of artificially imposed stuff (like the rules in a game. There are only sixteen chess pieces per side, only so many pieces of property in Monopoly) the only truly non-zero sums I can think of are space (literally the surface of the earth) and chemical elements, like Fe, iron. And exposed to human creativity, even those can be tweaked. There are only so many acres in Manhattan, but a skyscraper vastly increases the useable acreage by thinking in three dimensions. Money may have been a zero-sum game when we were on the gold or silver standard (although even then, it was never limited to one metal) but it certainly isn't now, and wealth never has been zero-sum.

Power, absolutely is not zero-sum. Increasing your intelligence does not decrease mine. Becoming more creative will not make me less creative. Your reps in the gym do not prevent me from doing my own reps (ooooh, though-- waiting in line for a squat rack is a zero-sum game. Limited resource of a specific object...until you apply human creativity and go outside and lift rocks.)

Power does have the effect of making other people who want to use power to coerce think. Coercion over powerless people has zero consequences. Coercion over powerful people is always risky. And thus evil people want to be surrounded by all the weak people possible. And they will claim that others getting strong is weakening them.

And look at the mechanics of that one very carefully. Because te other side is to claim that weakening the strong somehow, magically, strengthens the weak.

From a conversation with Anna Valdisseri when we talked in Sheffield. (I like the way she thinks, that's one of my highest compliments.) She had a unique way of looking at it. As best I can paraphrase:
Humans live in groups. We're social animals. When we see ourselves as pack animals we know that becoming more powerful as individuals makes the pack stronger. It's better for everyone. When we see ourselves as herd animals, we want all the other members to be weak because it increases our chances. If everyone is weak, the wolf will get someone else.

When something bad happens and hits the news, is your instinct to learn more and train harder so that you have options if it should ever happen around you? I started carrying regularly after the Luby's shooting in Texas because I realized I could not have contributed unarmed. If your instinct is to randomly disempower the people around you when bad things happen, that's a herd mentality.


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Actually wrote this three weeks ago but stumbled on an internal monkey brain problem in the middle. Took a while to work it out.

On Power

Rory Miller's Blog - Wed, 2015-03-18 00:33
Maija asked the right question. Always best to define your terms. I think "strong" and 'weak" are false sorts, and forgive me for not being clear.

This whole line of thought got launched because Dr. Tammy Yard-McCracken started a dialogue about power dynamics in teaching-- and the can of worms got a whole lot bigger than either of us expected. I really don't know where that project is going. It could be a book or a class or something unexpected. But so far, just in the questions, the collaboration looks promising.

Power isn't an endstate. There are no weak or strong people, just people at different places on a given continuum. And power is not linear. I am stronger than K, but she is smarter and more artistic than I am. R has more money, but J has more skills. Q can access a deep level of viciousness, but W can access an equally deep level of empathy. Power is not a scale but a net of ever-interconnecting methods of affecting the world. And in each strand of the net, you have attributes and skills that both affect the strength.

But in the end, it is about ability to affect the world and, at least equally and maybe more: an ability to have choice in how much the world affects you.

And so when I say "strong" or "weak" in this case, it has nothing to do with where you are on this scale. It has everything to do with which direction you are moving in. Because you are either getting better, or you are getting worse. If you don't get stronger, you will stagnate and get weaker. You can't rest on this. And that "can't' isn't meant as an admonition, but as a simple statement of fact.

If you are getting better, you are strong. Maybe not as strong as you want or you could be. Certainly not the strongest in the world. But the very act of seeking to be better, to be able to affect the world more, is strength.
And, conversely, if you are not striving to be better, you have accepted entropy and you are weak. Doesn't matter if you have the genetics to be a world power lifter. Doesn't matter if you inherited wealth and political power. Doesn't matter what you tell yourself so that you can sleep at night. If you aren't striving to be better you are, by my definition weak. Sorry.

And there's another dynamic here, because power is only a small part of it. You are already powerful. You have a brain bigger than our ancient ancestors. If you have a decent diet you are likely much bigger. You have better communication skills. You have access to information your ancestors could never dream. And your ancestors conquered the world. With half of your gifts, with nothing much beyond rudimentary communication skills and opposable thumbs, your ancestors became the apex predator of this planet. Do you get that? You are fucking mighty.

That is your birthright. That is who you are. And no animal naturally weakens itself. Tigers never starve themselves to look better to other tigers. Snakes don't slither over coals to show their bravery.

So the second dimension is not just power, but comfort with power. If you have a working brain and a decent amount of mobility, anyone on this planet could assassinate anyone else. I may be stronger than K, but she is comfortable enough with the strength and skill that she has that she has no doubt she could make me pay. People who are comfortable with power have to be respected.

There's a huge amount here that Tammy and I are slowly working on-- the ethical element, toxic relationships to power, whether power can be given or must be taken-- a ton of stuff. But I think the bones lie in these two things:
Power is about growth or stagnation.
Comfort with power is required to use it.

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