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Dr. Robert Aziz

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Why Power Corrupts and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

Posted: 08/07/11 08:50 PM ET

The option to impose one's will on another is an option that position alone wrongly affords all too many individuals. Indeed this option to impose on, rather than work with, this option to impose on without any regard whatsoever for due process, becomes, in the hands of most, a license to harm, if not destroy the careers and lives of others. People do, after all, inexplicably lose their jobs; careers do get gently nudged onto the rocks; professional marginalization does occur; first-rate organizational, social and political initiatives do encounter untenable resistance, if they are not obstructed altogether; minority oppression does occur; individual whim decimates cultures and destroys countries.

There are some obvious explanations as to why individuals would abuse the authority associated with their formal positions. The existence of an altogether unrelated drive for personal gain would be at the top of that list, such as we saw unleashed through the financial sector before ultimately taking the form of the housing crash, which devastated not only America, but the global economy. I would further imagine that the existence of malice toward others characteristic of economic, social, political, religious, ethnic and racial injustices would be a close second. Now as much as we have just cast a wide net, something else I have observed, based on my work for over two decades as both an executive consultant within the business sector and psychoanalytical therapist, is that the majority of these abuses of position, as they present in their everyday forms within business, professional and political circles, are attributable to something far less sinister, albeit no less destructive. What I have been led to conclude is that managerial or leadership incompetence is a significant factor when it comes to such abuses within business, professional and political circles.

Power is that to which leadership necessarily defaults in the absence of being able to contain and process meaning with others and within oneself. In the absence of functional interpersonal [with others] processing and functional intrapsychic [internal] processing there can only be power. In the absence of functional processing and meaning there can only be the dynamics of imposition, will and power. We should add to this the alarming fact that many individuals, by way of promotion or other circumstances, eventually find themselves holding positions of authority that exceed their leadership/consciousness capabilities to function within meaning rather than power. Looking to current events, even after we allow for the normal restrictions of partisanship politics, does not the pure inanity of the debt ceiling fiasco provide us with more evidence of this point than we care to see? How could we not conclude that those holding positions of authority had exceeded their leadership/consciousness capabilities to function within meaning rather than power? With the stakes so high for the world's foremost economy and by extension yet again the global economy, in light of the leadership/consciousness vacuum, is it any wonder that for the first time in the history of the United States action, in the form of the downgrading of the US credit rating, had to be taken by an outside party to contain the chaos, to contain that which was not being properly processed.

So why does power corrupt? It corrupts because it gives license to unconsciousness and neglect. It corrupts because it licenses individuals to unilaterally, unreflectively and thus arbitrarily impose their will on others. It licenses individuals to impose their will without having properly engaged and processed through the Reality at hand. Power inflates the ego and through it the ego is erroneously led to believe it has the power to make people, ideas and even Reality itself disappear without due process. In the big picture nothing is further from the truth. Power corrupts because it gives license to unconsciousness, and in so doing it not only destroys the growth opportunity of the victim of such imposition, but no less the growth opportunity of the victimizer. Failure to engage another in consciousness, not only does the other individual harm, but it no less does serious harm to oneself, for in both cases the precious opportunity to extend consciousness by way of self-organizing nature is altogether lost, corrupted.

By way of power you corrupt; by way of power you are corrupted. By way of absolute power you absolutely corrupt; by way of absolute power you become absolutely corrupted.