Sunday, June 30, 2013

On heroes and power

We've been talking a lot about heroes lately. The conversation actually started when, the day after he published the first leak by Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald instructed us about who fits in that category (namely: Snowden and other whistleblowers leakers).
The people who do this are heroes. They are the embodiment of heroism. 
But a lot of that talk went silent after Snowden's stint in Hong Kong followed by his suggestion that he was prepared to leak more documents to foreign journalists and then a trip to Russia.

All of this calls into question the whole idea of how we go about anointing heroes. That's why I found this statement by Greenwald to be fascinating.
“My grandfather...taught me that whatever skills you have should be devoted toward undermining the people who are the strongest and most powerful,” Greenwald said.
Based on what I've seen from Greenwald over the years, that statement is a pretty clear reflection of his approach. But I think it also reflects a key problem for too many on the aversion to power. Anyone with power is automatically suspect (ie, for Greenwald they are always liars). And anyone who attacks them is a hero.

That - in a nutshell - is what sparked the battle that became known in some quarters as the Obamasux vs the Obamarocks groups following the 2008 election. The latter saw Barack Obama's election as an opportunity for progressive change now that an imperfect but dedicated champion had gained power via a broad coalition of the electorate. To the former - he immediately became suspect as the wielder of that power.

The truth is that until the Obamasux crowd can reconcile themselves to the reality that power is needed to actually make the changes they seek, they will be confined to the privilege of cynicism. No matter who has gained political power (or how they got it), their heroes will be those who challenge that power. In doing so, they relegate themselves to perpetual victim status - always the underdogs in a battle against those who have the means to change things.

I've written before about how this reaction to power by many on the left is - at heart - rooted in the notion that power is always about dominance (power over) and a blindness to the power of partnership (power with). As liberals we have no need to fear the power of partnership. As a matter of fact, it is the fuel that has ignited every accomplishment the left has made in this country.  My heroes tend to be those who recognize that kind of power and find ways to use it.


  1. Excellent! Absolutely smashing! Power over v power with. From the day Obama started campaigning, he made clear that he saw democracy as OUR business, not just his. He threw up a challenge to become engaged instead of armchair passive - and many of us took that up and ran with it. Others just whined because, yes, if Obama was "in power" he must therefore be bad.

    This clarity that you have brought to the massive difference between the GOP and Obama, between the elitists and those adhering to principles of participation is just wonderful. Thank you!

  2. Ms Smartypants may I ask whatever happened to section 213 of the USA Patriot Act (sneak and peek)?

    I ask because no one is talking about it. It was far worse than the data mining that the NSA was doing.

  3. Brilliant and spot on!We often think the people on the far right are unable to deal with nuance, but it's true for some on the left too. They define themselves on what they are against, rather than what they are for.

  4. With Obama, it was always be the change YOU want to see, not be the change HE wants to see; and Yes WE can, not Yes HE can, ya know.

    I suspect many have no idea what they are poutraged about, except their friends are.

  5. your second to last graf misses the point: the left WANTS their victim status. no high quite so heady as always being the victim - with its rush-y feeling of moral superiority.

    that brand of nihilism isn't a punishment for them - it's their GOAL.

    1. I think I've mentioned before that I was trained as a family therapist. During my studies I came across a book with my most favorite title ever - "The Situation is Hopeless, But Not Serious." Its basically about how people (and systems) fear and avoid change - even when they say they want it.

  6. "True power is when governments exist to serve their people not the other way around"

    President Barack Obama: June 30, 2013 Capetown South Africa

  7. "...I think it also reflects a key problem for too many on the aversion to power. Anyone with power is automatically suspect (ie, for Greenwald they are always liars). And anyone who attacks them is a hero."

    You really have nailed the attitude. I was reminded of this when I read Chris Hedges' "Death of the Liberal Class". The essential argument of his book was that anyone who didn't try to change power was a coward, but anyone who actually gained the power to change things was automatically corrupted by that power.

    So you were corrupt if you did nothing and you were corrupt if you thought you could do anything.

    No wonder some on the left are so frustrated.

  8. It's funny you wrote this on a day when a couple million Egyptians just spat on every single one of your philosophical and theological arguments. We'll see how it works out for them.

    1. You are quite wrong. The Egyptians are perfectly demonstrating the power of partnership.

      But I am really curious about something...where did I make a theological argument?

    2. The informal definition of the term, not the godly one.

      ...And no, there is most assuredly not any interest in sharing or partnership on the Nile. Islamism will survive or it will be undemocratically rejected as the street revolution roils on. It is absolutely zero sum and the people in that country are quite clear on the subject.

      The current situation in Egypt is a big experiment in what happens when a bunch of people decide to call an impromptu "do-over" after legitimately losing an election to an insular, majoritarian rival. As I said, it basically challenges every single theory you posited on liberal institutions, the will to power and leadership.

    3. The power of partnership defined:

      The current situation in Egypt is a big experiment in what happens when a bunch of people decide to call an impromptu "do-over" after legitimately losing an election to an insular, majoritarian rival.

    4. Does "power with" usually come with threats of military coups?

      Tamarod are people who lost and/or boycotted a series of elections, waited for the situation to deteriorate, and then resorted to good ol' fashioned street radicalism. Which is cool, it's the Muslim Brotherhood after all. But nullifying the first free election in a country's history is a rather suspect path to power.

    5. Perhaps where you're missing the point is that I never said that "power with" was always a positive force for good. Watching the tea baggers in the summer of 2010 would disabuse anyone of that notion.

      I'd be interested in your notions about power. Do you agree with Greenwald that it is always something to be undermined? Or do you recognize that it is a critical tool the left must grapple with if we ever want to get anything accomplished?

  9. Smartypants, you didn't make a theological argument. But you were right on. What a perfect post. Thank you Thank you Thank you.

  10. Greenwald may talk about undermining the strongest and most powerful but his behavior towards anyone who disagrees or even questions him is that of a bully. His standard response to any criticism is to accuse his critic of bad faith and incite his followers to harass his critic. I've always suspected that the left's current aversion to power and fear of partnership are rooted in the 1960's and in particular being forced to break with perhaps the most domestically progressive president ever over Vietnam. But Greenwald strikes me as somebody not interested in power with. I think he wants power over and if he can't have it, he doesn't want anybody else to either.


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