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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 19-Sep-07


Wednesday 19-September-07

Power, rights and slippery slopes

The world we're in is a slippery seesaw of wealth, poverty and power. At one end are the super-rich and at the other are people on the streets, dying of hunger. And as one steps over the other a slippery slope wobbles beneath them.

Economic imbalance is a natural order where some, by dint of diligence or fortune find, themselves more comfortably off. In the reversed situation, misfortune and a limited motivation moves others down the economic scale. And so imbalance occurs.

But what of duty and rights? Do the wealthy have a duty to share their relative fortune? Do those who have less have a right to more?

The lessons of the world point to imbalance as the natural order. Even in socialist countries there is a powerful elite. Paradoxically, it takes capitalism to give a voice to minorities and those in the lower echelons.

Barry Oshry, in his book 'Leading Systems' describes his 'Power Lab' experiments where he took a group of volunteers and put them into a hierarchical power structure. Across many experiments everything happened, from revolution to egalitarian inclusion, yet the result was always the same. Some people worked harder and thought more whilst others felt they deserved more and put in less effort. The result was always a ruling elite and a grumbling proletariat. This balance was not static, however, as sometimes the elite took too much and sometimes the lower group wanted too much and revolution occurred, yet before long another hierarchy would arise. The greatest stability and contentment was in a system of controlled rights, much as the modern capitalist democracy, where sharp differences were still seen, but revolution was staved off by limited sharing.

A perplexing question today is where people are given and expect more rights than is perhaps healthy, demanding support and disproportionate reparation for random slights, whilst the wealthy both flaunt their celebrity and live increasingly fearful and guarded lives. Power is the hand of social control, whether capitalist or socialist. When it slips from a central, accountable government then it tears at the fabric of society. When the media bosses manage public opinion and inflate celebrity envy, when global companies serve greedy shareholders as they plunder the planet, it is perhaps not surprising that individuals manipulate the law for Machiavellian ends and social trust spirals down a slippery slope towards revolution or worse.

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