About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Three Dimensions of Power


The application of power by the stronger on the weaker has been a prevailing condition throughout history.  Its application was very thoroughly documented by John Gaventa in his book “Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley.”  In that book he discussed why Appalachian coal miners were so unwilling to complain about their horrific working environments.
He detailed what he termed the “Three Dimensions of Power,” and explained that the application of these dimensions was what kept the miners from rebellion.  Briefly, the three dimensions are as follows:

The First Dimension is the direct application of Power on another, the powerful forcing the powerless to do something against their will, with threat or implied threat backing up the exercise of power.  For the purpose of this discussion, I will term this “elimination of choice.”  Refusal to comply brings significant consequences.

The Second Dimension is the creation of a situation where it looks like the powerless are willingly complying, but in actuality, the powerful have eliminated all other options except compliance, and limited the discussion in such a way the other options cannot be even discussed.  I will call this “illusion of choice.”  In this scenario, it may seem that there is a choice, to someone on the outside, but in actuality, there are no more options than presented in the First Dimension.

The Third Dimension is far more insidious.  When this dimension is applied, the powerful create an internal regulation system in the powerless that makes them think they are doing what they are doing because they want to do it.  In other words, the powerless are imbued with what Foucault terms an “Internalized Sense of Discipline.”  In its most extreme expressions are found brainwashing and the Stockholm Syndrome.  I can define this as the “realignment of choice.”  Properly applied, the Third Dimension of Power makes someone do something, all the while thinking it is their own idea and free will driving their decision.

Now that I have outlined the Three Dimensions of Power, I would like to examine how the Republican Party is applying them upon their supporters and on the United States.  To be fair, the Democrats do use these techniques as well, but given the fact that that party attracts fewer megalomaniacs, it isn’t as pervasive on that side of the spectrum.  But it does exist, for example in P.E.T.A., which is an expert in the use of the three dimensions.

Back to the how the Republicans are asserting the three dimension in America.  You can see the elimination of choice applied in the post 9/11 world of “you’re either with us or against us.”  This is the power structure of the Dick Cheney’s of the world, who ram draconian measures down our collective throats, with the potential of water boarding for those who disagree.  (And that is the implied threat of Guantanamo and “enhanced interrogation,” that anyone who disagrees could fall victim to them.  Remember the man arrested in Aspen for telling Cheney off.)  The Cheney wing of the Republican party is addicted to the use of the First Dimension of Power, possibly because it is the easiest to employ.

The Second Dimension of Power is being overtly applied to the Republican candidates themselves, which implies that they have masters higher than themselves, and has implications for a puppet presidency.  The candidates who refuse to comply with the party’s litmus test on various issues have no chance of being elected.  Grover Norquist is the master of the Illusion of Choice.  He presents Republicans with his tax pledge, and they seem to chose to sign it, but the reality is, in the current environment, if they don’t sign it, they don’t get elected.  They have no actual choice in that matter, or in many others, such as abortion, gay marriage, etc.  Anyone who does not toe the line is finished in the party, but there is still the illusion that they have chosen these beliefs.  And in this case, that illusion is critical because you cannot see the man behind the curtain, or even know that there is a curtain there.

The Third Dimension can be seen in the Tea Party, and in the millions of people who voted Republican in the last election.  The power brokers funding the Right Wing in America have gotten a significant portion of the population to believe that universal health care is evil, that we shouldn’t take care of the unemployed, and that the best way to stimulate the economy is to cut taxes for the wealthy.  The Republicans have gotten Americans to vote against their own self interest; they vote for people who’s policies will actually harm them.  George Lakoff details this in his book “The Political Mind.”  It seems a large segment of America has Stockholm Syndrome, and have fallen in love with their tormentors.

So how do we fight the three dimensions take back the power for ourselves? 

First, refuse to be bullied.  Understand there may be consequences for this, but stand your ground, just like you would on the playground when you were nine.  When bullies realize they can’t force you to do something, they may beat you up once or twice, but they will move on to a new target when they realize that you won’t bow to them.

Second, take back the discussion.  The second dimension loses its power when people realize there are other viable options.  Don’t let the power brokers limit the talk to what they want it to be.  Most importantly, shift the conversation back to the left.  By today’s standard, Regan would be a centrist at best, and possibly a liberal.  That is how far the Republicans have shifted the center.  Stop allowing this to happen; show that there are other options.

Third, and this is the most difficult, expose them to the truth, get them to turn off Fox, or at least listen to other news sources.  Talk to them about what is going on.  Show them that they are voting against their own interests.  It’s hard to do, and must be done slowly and delicately, but it can be done.  Inspire them to believe again in the values that made this country great.

Finally, recognize the application of the Three Dimensions of Power, and be aware how they are being used.

Knowledge is the beast weapon against tyranny. 

 As a first test, see how many Dimensions you can identify in the above cartoon.

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