A Meditation on power

Find a comfortable place to sit. Be aware of your posture. Is your back straight, are your knees below your waist? Breathe in calmly and deeply. Focus on the phenomenon of power. When have you experienced power over another living being or another living being exercising power over you? How did it feel? Is the power something more than this experience? How would you know? Keep breathing. Let us define power as the experience of power. All the power that affects us happens in our mind. Yes, let’s think of a ‘powerful’ person who hits you on the head with a club. It hurts. But is it an exercise of power? What is the likely motivation of the person bludgeoning you? He doesn’t get what he wants. He fails in exercising his power. Violence is a sign of impotence, we often hear say. But we cannot be sure. We were guessing at the person’s motive. He might have any motive imaginable, for all we know. He might want to try to trick you into believing he is impotent. He might be playing a game with you.

It is possible. Still, this consideration happens <i>inside your mind</i>. Power happens in our mind. Political power happens in many minds simultaneously. Focus on your breathing. We are nowhere yet. What is this experience of power and how does it differ from other experiences, like love, hate, fear, shame, pride, greed, thrift. Or are they the same thing? Is power the more general term of experiences of what we assume are the effects of other minds? Everything is the will to power. There is the will to power – und nichts außerdem, and nothing else, Nietzsche said. Come back again to your breath.

What do all these power-emotions have in common? They are types of expectations. Are they, really? Go through them, one by one. Is there always an expectation involved in love, hate, fear, shame, pride, greed, thrift? What kind of action do we expect from the other person or persons our emotion is directed at? Does the action benefit us or the other person? What do we fear? What are we ashamed of, proud of, greedy about? Focus on the power as it happens inside your mind. Whose power is it? We don’t know? Experience the power as such, don’t try to disentangle the complex expectations involved. Widen your understanding of power. Breathe more deeply.

Think about the narrow definition of power as “making somebody else expect negative consequences” and go through examples of such power. The power of the general over his army. The power of the armed robber over his hostages. The power of an abusive father over his children. The power of a rapist over his victim. The power of a frog over a fly. Focus. Distinguish conscious and subconscious power. Are we aware of the negative consequences? Go through some situations of power that you know from your own experience. Choose experiences in which you are exercising that power and also experiences in which you are undergoing that power. Find words for the expectation you have in each case. You are not making the power relation itself conscious but pretending it is conscious. And return to your breathing again.

Power is relational. There is no ‘seat’ of power other than your own mind. Pretend you control your mind fully. Breathe deeply. Keep your eyes closed. Observe the power as it happens in your mind. Enjoy the struggle that takes place before your mind’s eye. You can pretend you are an independent observer of this power struggle. You possess a kind of ultimate power as a host of all these power vectors. Forget in which direction the power vectors point, toward you or toward others. It is irrelevant now. Now. Breathe calmly and observe. Are you smiling inwardly? You can pretend to smile outwardly if you wish. Or actually smile. It is up to you.

A Meditation on power was originally published on Meandering home


An artist is a sort of emotional or spiritual historian [whose] role is to make you realize the doom and glory of knowing who you are and what you are – James Baldwin

was originally published on Meandering home

In Defense Of The Philosophy Faculty

When I began studying philosophy in 1997 some people called it navel-gazing. It is no different in 2017, as calls for austerity affect everything that doesn’t generate a direct cash return. The reputation of philosophy, because it has no (and cannot have) direct practical value, is that of a complex game of words that refuses to surrender to the regime of utility.

If philosophy doesn’t demand absolute independence from cultural, economical or religious influences, it ceases to be the love of wisdom and becomes the worship of the power structure that embeds it. Of course it is always embedded in such a power structure (as a faculty with a budget, staffed by people with salaries and affinities); hence a philosophy faculty cannot exist without a permanent struggle to evade canonization as a useful, rational underpinning of the real thing: the worldly sciences.

The idea that such struggle is prima facie, and not only after its effects have been measured, beneficial (to avoid the word useful) with respect to something like truth, is difficult to accept, precisely because it evades the framework of economical usefulness in the most fundamental way: it indefinitely postpones the ‘cashing in’ on its usefulness, something that is anachronistic in an era that is obsessed with realizing the idea of future today.

Is this the cultural bias against the benefits of a strange discipline that appears to force itself to be contrarian? Every time a philosophical theory becomes ‘fixed’ as a useful tool for a particular science, it loses her philosophical essence. At their heart, the theories of Marx, Darwin, Freud and their twentieth-century successors are philosophical new ways of asking questions. Sure, these theories have been refined (or: overcome) but that is not the point. Such theories ask the foundational questions of disciplines. They might have a ‘return on investment’ only in useful applications, but the kind of thinking that gives rise to them can be organized in a properly philosophical environment.

So there are these two lines of argument in favor of the philosophy faculty:
1) The irreducible value of the unique ‘flight forward’ to ever new perspectives due to the proper intention of philosophy to ‘leave nothing unthought’ (which can be read as ‘thinking totality’, or not). The value of philosophy exists in opposition to the cultural context that embeds it. It always has to think this opposition and can therefor never be contained. This restless ‘spirit’ of philosophy is directed towards truth, with which it coincides at the end of days. In a certain way it is the secularized Jewish or Christian (idealist) eschatology.
Giving this philosophical drive a formal place in socity is an existential choice that is and should be presented to the sovereign (the electorate). Personal note: This ride (or rite, in a wink to Derrida’s différance) of truth is invaluable to me.
2) The ability of the philosophy faculty to nurture and disseminate theories that can later be borrowed by other sciences that can make them useful (if and only if they deprive these theories of their philosophical spirit).

The more practical issue is whether the creation and teaching of fundamental and foundational theories should be relegated to a faculty that specializes in them. Of course individual philosophers could be integrated in other faculties, such as physics, anthropology, or law and still be prolific researchers and great teachers. However, this misses one great opportunity of philosophy gives us: mingling between faculties. If students of law, economics, biology and architecture take the very same logic and ethics classes, there is the unique opportunity of cross-pollination, of interesting debates between the students (and who knows, their tutors) that will ultimately sharpen the intellectual contours of society.

I think such classes are best organized by a distinct faculty in order to avoid the possibility of bias. But more importantly, a philosophy faculty should be something like the dedicated and sacred ground of Reason.

In Defense Of The Philosophy Faculty was originally published on Meandering home