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Chapter 7 Unilateral Power – Power, Value, and Reality. The definition of being is simply power. — Plato, The Sophist. Power, value, and reality.

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chapter 7 unilateral power power value and reality

Chapter 7 Unilateral Power – Power, Value, and Reality

The definition of being is simply power. — Plato, The Sophist

power value and reality
Power, value, and reality
  • Power, value, and reality are tied together in our cultural traditions. That which is most powerful is often seen as the most valuable and also the most real.
  • There is something very important in this relationship,…but process thinkers argue that the relationship is sadly distorted in most religious, political, cultural, and philosophical visions.
  • Concrete examples of “real power” have in common that “power is the ability to affect others without being affected by them.”
real power
“real power”
  • As one political theorist explains, “On the international scene I should define power as the capacity of a political unit to impose its will upon other units. [This entails both] defensive power (or the capacity of a political unit to keep the will of others from being imposed upon it) and offensive power (or the capacity of a political unit to impose its will upon others).”
  • “Unilateral power” is the label applied to this traditional vision by the process philosopher and theologian Bernard Loomer.
it is obvious then why we all want unilateral power
It is obvious, then, why we all want unilateral power.
  • To be unilateral here means to move one way.
  • Orders flow one way—down the ranks. They don’t move upward against the flow of power.
  • If power is unilateral, then it is competitive. If you have more power over me, I must have less power over you. More unilateral power for some means less for others.
  • Those at the bottom of the heap—the poor, the abused child, the battered wife, the chained prisoner, the slave—are most vulnerable to suffering and death. It is obvious, then, why we all want unilateral power. We don’t want to be pushed around, humiliated, fired, beaten up, raped, or murdered.
unilateral power is connected with value and reality
unilateral power is connected with value and reality.
  • We want to be in control of our own lives, and that means that we have to be able to resist the intrusions of others and assert our own will.
  • The world surrounds us with natural power we (also)have very limited power to resist.
  • The first noble truth of Buddhism is that all life involves suffering—and suffering at its root means being affected by the world around us.
  • This powerful human impulse to protect ourselves at the expense of others—or at least to have the power to do so when we choose—is confirmed by a deep philosophical and theological tradition that also connects unilateral power with value and reality.
our western philosophical tradition and the nature of being
Our Western Philosophical Tradition and the nature of “being”
  • Plato wondered about the nature of “being”. What does it mean for anything at all to “be”. He especially wanted to argue that ideas have “being”.
  • “My notion would be that anything that possesses any sort of power to affect another, or to be affected by another, if only for a single moment, however trifling the cause and however slight the effect, has real existence; and I hold that the definition of being is simply power.” - Plato
  • Plato was right. There is no being without power, and power can be understood as both the ability to affect and the ability to be affected. The wrong turn, however, came because Plato and most other thinkers, from philosophers to theologians to kings, have believed thatit is only the ability to affect that really counts, while the ability to be affected is largely a defect or weakness.
objects and actions in this world of change are merely poor copies of those eternal forms
objects and actions in this world of change are merely poor copies of those eternal forms.
  • The impact of Plato’s vision of divine unchangeability on later Christian concepts of God was absolutely foundational.
  • Plato’s divine realities, however, were not gods but the eternal, unchangeable forms.
  • Influenced by the model of mathematics, Plato argued that physical objects and actions in this world of change are merely more or less poor copies of those eternal forms.
being is that which always is and has no becoming
“being” is that which always is and has no becoming
  • These eternal forms…order the world by their very Being. Power, value, and Being are united in them.
  • In contrast, Plato argued, the physical world is a realm of mere shadows, which flicker but have no real “being”. “What is that which always is and has no becoming; and what is that which is always becoming and never is?... is always in a process of becoming and perishing and never really is.”
aristotle s being a more dynamic character but the unmoved mover was unchangeable
Aristotle’s “being” a more dynamic character, but the Unmoved Mover was unchangeable
  • Aristotle challenged Plato’s vision in many important respects, including giving Being a more dynamic character. Nevertheless,… one especially clear example of… unilateral power, value, and reality.
  • Aristotle described his God as the Unmoved Mover. The whole world was affected by God, but God was affected by nothing.
  • Obviously, the divine Unmoved Mover was unchangeable—just as Plato had argued.
  • Aristotle saw that the immutability of the Unmoved Mover meant that God could have no knowledge of this world. The world changes; knowledge of change would create change in God. Besides, the world was not worth thinking about. So Aristotle’s God eternally thought about God.
descartes and locke
Descartes and Locke
  • Obviously, René Descartes shared Plato’s emphasis on unchanging Being by envisioning God and human minds as unchanging substances.
  • Descartes’ substances, including human minds/souls, exist by virtue of their power to remain unaffected by change.
  • John Locke, in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, also reaffirmed the valuation of active power over passive power and pictured reality as a hierarchy of unilateral power.
western philosophical tradition illustrates our commitment to unilateral power
Western philosophical tradition illustrates our commitment to unilateral power
  • “Power thus considered is two-fold, viz. as able to make, or able to receive any change. The one may be called active, and the other passive power. Whether matter be not wholly destitute of active power, as its author, God, is truly above all passive power…” – Locke
  • The Western philosophical tradition illustrates the cultural dominance of our commitment to unilateral power as the ability to affect without being affected.
  • Unilateral power is linked with value and reality. What is unilaterally powerful is what is valuable and real.
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Unilateral power is controlling and dominating. By idolizing it, we shape our entire culture. Whether in war or social oppression…

  • Look at the world around you, and ask yourself where you find the purest examples of unilateral power. Where do you see one person or group of persons exercising the most fully unilateral power over other persons? Would we not find the very peak of unilateral power in torture chambers, slavery, rape, child abuse, murder, and the like?
there is something deeply wrong here we need a new vision
There is something deeply wrong here: we need a new vision
  • There is something deeply wrong here in seeing unilateral power as the essence of value and reality.
  • What is wrong can be seen clearly in the opposition between unilateral power and love. To be fully unilaterally powerful, I must not be affected by people, and that means I must not care about them.
  • we need a new vision of power, a relational vision.