Active Thinking Topic 74  - True or False: Everyone Wants Power?

23 January 2024

Any replies to the organizer -

Venue: Zoom online


Recommended Viewing: Eric Liu (Nov 5, 2014) "How to understand power - Every day, we move and operate within systems of power that other people have constructed. But we’re often uncomfortable talking about power. Why? Eric Liu describes the six sources of power and explains how understanding them is key to being an effective citizen." TED-Ed @  [19.4M subscribers]

Talking Points

1. What, in your view, makes a person powerful?

2. What kind of power do you want? Why? What price will you pay for it?

3. Status offers a kind of power. The struggle to acquire status also extracts a price, where there are always losers. What gives status in Australia? What kind of player are you in the status game?

4. Most cultures assume that men want power over women. Many religions argue that this is proper. Educated women tend to revolt, and women with an independent income tend to revolt. Why has this apparent power imbalance existed? What kinds of power have women traditionally exercised? What kind of balance, if any, do you see emerging in gender power relationships?

5. What are some advantages of NOT being powerful?

6. Literature, film, human fantasy of all kinds has always catered to common dreams of power. Does this actually mean that everyone wants to exercise real power, or just to dream about power without responsibility and consequences?

7. Power is often described as a narcotic which few can resist, but once imbibed destroys the character of those who partake. This is often described in literature, such as in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The phenomenon is true. Living examples? What is the antidote? Could you exercise great power without being morally destroyed?

8. A thief typically assumes that everyone else is a thief. A liar typically assumes that everyone else is a liar. Imagine (for example) that you are an entry level recruit to a company, with a dream to one day be the CEO. You crave the power that you imagine a CEO has. If you imagine that all of your colleagues have the same lust for power, will that help or hinder your program? By the way, what would you do with power?

9. Governments worldwide are usually not overthrown by the oppressed, who feel helpless, but by an ambitious middle class which feel locked out of power sharing. How true is this? Examples? What happens when a populist leader pretends to give the oppressed lower classes hope? Examples?

10. What are the risks and rewards of rule by the very intelligent? In modern complex societies, the power of higher intelligence automatically creates an elite. This powerful elite of the intelligent is resented by the majority and cannot be overthrown (contrast to power from weapons or money). Intelligence here defined as an ability to adapt and thrive on complexity (rather than technical IQ or formal qualifications).

Extra Reading & Viewing

Eric Liu (Nov 5, 2014) "How to understand power - Every day, we move and operate within systems of power that other people have constructed. But we’re often uncomfortable talking about power. Why? Eric Liu describes the six sources of power and explains how understanding them is key to being an effective citizen." TED-Ed @  [19.4M subscribers]

Dacher Keltner (Feb 2, 2018) "The Psychology of Power - How does power affect behaviour and the brain? Psychologist Dacher Keltner has spent almost two decades answering that question. He joins The Agenda to discuss the psychology of power and how it may shed some light on the recent deluge of sexual assault allegations against men in positions of power". TVO Today @  [30 minutes]

EPM (Expert Program Management website) (2018) "The 5 Types of Power ... When we look at a leader within an organization we may think their power comes from their direct responsibility for others. Whilst this is obviously true, it is also a very superficial way to understand power. In a study conducted by two social psychologists, John R. P. French and Bertram Raven in 1959, they identified 5 Types of Power." @ 

Maria Popova (September 28, 2016 ) "The Surprising and Sobering Science of How We Gain and Lose Influence - We rise in power and make a difference in the world due to what is best about human nature, but we fall from power due to what is worst.” Brain Pickings 

David Niose (Dec 04, 2016) "Why Are We So Powerless? It explains Trump's rise—is it also the key to a reversal?". Psychology Today @ 

Steve Lovelace (March 14, 2012) "Corporate Feudalism: The End of Nation States" @ 

Dominic Rushe (9 Feb 2020) "‘The system is broken’: the billionaire investor who fears a return to the 1930s - Ray Dalio, who has a near $19bn fortune, is one of a handful of the 0.01% to go public with concerns about the system that created that wealth." The Guardian @ 

Thor May (2016) "Politics and Politicians : a volatile mix?" The Passionate Skeptic @ [Quote: "Politics is like medicine: sometimes useful, even necessary, in small amounts, but fatal if taken in an overdose. Politicians can be a useful species but are prone to going feral. Democracies often elect either mediocrities or confidence tricksters because large numbers of electors share similar qualities. In practical terms, is there a better way to manage national affairs? "]

Thor May (2015) "The Unexpected Power of Stupidity" The Passionate Skeptic @  [Quote: "It turns out that stupidity is complicated. Your stupid act or mine may be boringly simple, but the whole mass of human stupidity acted out on a daily basis is a Gordian knot which may be beyond human comprehension let alone resolution, even as it strangles the life out of the planet. In fact I know it is insoluble because your simple minded stupidity, and yours, and yours … is beyond my comprehension. If we all understood each other perfectly 100% of the time, our judgements of other people’s stupidity would probably reduce by about 95%. We never understand each other perfectly ... "]

Thor May (2014) "What will be the dominant ideologies of the 21st Century?". The Passionate Skeptic @  [Quote: "The 20 th Century revolved politically around competing interpretations of Capitalism, Communism, Socialism and Fascism. These are all ways to organize the lives of people on a large scale. Are real alternatives or new interpretations likely to emerge in the challenging years ahead? What might they look like?"]

Nick Cohen (Sun 6 Mar 2022) "Far right and far left alike admired Putin. Now we’ve all turned against strongmen ... After the Ukraine invasion, his former defenders are rushing to distance themselves". The Guardian @ 

John Kamensky (September 7, 2017) "When are managers willing to take risks? Managers in both high-performing and low-performing organizations tend to be risk takers." Govloop @ 

Dean Burnett (6 January 2017) "Could Paris Syndrome explain Theresa May’s campaign meltdowns? The Guardian @  [Quote: Evidence suggests (although it’s a controversial area) that an authoritarian personality is “characterized by belief in absolute obedience or submission to one’s own authority, as well as the administration of that belief through the oppression of one’s subordinates .."]

Barbara Jacquelyn Sahakian & Christelle Langley June 24, 2021) "IQ tests can’t measure it, but ‘cognitive flexibility’ is key to learning and creativity". The Conversation @ 

Digging to China (28 December 2023) "Xi's Cultural Revolution 2.0: Unpacking the Ominous Resurgence of the Fengqiao Experience in China". [18 minutes]  [Note: the Fengqiao Experience in China was the theory and practice behind the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76. It was mob rule (they called it democratic dictatorship) which had children incited to betray parents, destroying families, killed the most capable people in China, destroyed most cultural heritage, and left the country impoverished both economically and socially.]

So what makes a country "powerful"? Here's a rather scathing answer:  [2 minute video]


True or False: Everyone Wants Power? (c) Thor May 2024

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