From a sociological perspective, I hate how much I can’t really show you what power is.
Thanks to James Watt, physics has a cool definition with some sweet formuli.
But when I look to social or political science, the definition is so ambiguous.
The ability of an individual or group to achieve their own goals or aims when others are trying to prevent them from realising them.
How the hell do I measure that?
I’d have to ask everyone their goal. Then I’d have to ask them at a later point in time whether they achieved that goal. And if they didn’t, I’d have to figure out the why of it all. But is that too micro? How do I measure structural influences?
But what’s the goal? Is it as simple as whether you’re able to get your work done at your job, or not posting something you want to say on Facebook out of fear? Or is it bigger? Like missing out on higher education, or being able to get that big job?
Likely, it’s all of those things. It’s big and it’s small.
When I think of power, the only semi-relevant quote that comes to mind is from the Jackson native justice Potter Stewart when he talked about porn.
“I shall not attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…”
I know power plays when I see them. I see them play out and I feel them deep inside my body. And they are larger forces playing out in small moments.
They are those moments when another person says or does something to make me feel small.
And how old are you? I only hear that phrase used when someone wants me to know they’re older than me. Age being used to establish dominance.
They are those quips and phrases meant to keep me in my place. When someone says a woman is a “bitch” because she disagrees – that is power meant to keep a person down. What if I just want to disagree?
“I have the same ________ as a woman!” What? Do you realize what you’re saying here? You’re saying your job, or talent, or body part, or whatever is bad because a woman might have it. What is that saying about women?
Bible passages thrown on Facebook stories. I HATE this. People use The Word to beat people up.
Number of degrees. Number of articles read on a topic. Number of years worked at a job. Well some of these are helpful for understanding background and establishing credibility, I usually hear them used as a way to establish dominance. “Well I have a Ph.D. in X, so whatever your critique may be….”
But they are also more than words. They are body language. My old boss use to sit on my desk with his crotch facing me. He was using his body to make me feel, well, just icky.
But they are also larger than that. They are laws that seek to restrict my personal freedom. They are corporations and lobbyist groups that use their power to limit what people can do.
Science has proven that school integration is the best way to reduce test gap scores. But do we integrate? No, because there is power there. But what does that even mean?
Ask my husband how I experience the world, and you’ll likely get stunned silence. “She is overwhelmed a lot,” he will likely say.
I can’t shop at Meijer without having a panic attack. I have a hard time attending concerts, or theme parks, or stores, or meetings, or anything. Just being still is impossible.
I go into a room, and everything is there. I see every color on every wall. I hear every sound. I remember what people say, and feel what they feel, and notice what they imply. And I feel overwhelmed all of the time. So to subsist, I default to thinking over feeling and spending a lot of time alone.
And when I’m alone, I reflect back on my interactions throughout the day.
And in those interactions I see a complex world full of people. And some of those people are struggling to establish their power over other people. And for those people, my heart sinks.
Because the need to establish power doesn’t come from confidence or skills or ability, it comes from inferiority. A deep insecurity where you feel like you aren’t listened to or just aren’t good enough. Real individual power comes from knowing within yourself that you are good enough, because you simply are.
And it has to come from that, because the reality is that the world is stratified. And no matter how much we love ourselves, external forces exist to try to limit our choices. They’re big, and they’re small. And some have bad hair, and some don’t know how servers work. But they are real.
But because it’s so damn hard to define them, it’s hard to see them. And when it’s hard to see them, it’s hard to stop them. And that’s probably what they all really want. Because you can’t stop what you can’t see.