Re: Power <debate> <long>

Michael Cahill (MCBlueline@AOL.COM)
Sat, 9 Mar 1996 18:17:00 -0500

In a message dated 96-03-08 21:40:52 EST, JLM@TWICS.COM (John McCreery)

>influence can be usefully conceived as Adams'
>'skill authority," and suggest, too, that the exercise of this kind of
>power is much underestimated by intellectuals, including
>anthropologists, who attribute too much efficacy to ideas per se.
>My immersion in the business world has convinced me that the
>ideological path from definitions of situations to prescriptions for
>action in them is rarely as smooth as logic suggests it should be.
>Two kinds of skills are needed to negotiate the gap between them:
>(1) skill at casuistry, the intellectual art of adjusting principles to
>particulars, and (2) the social skill to align interests and motivate
>people to work together. Those obsessed with authority, either
>abasing themselves or overreacting against it, are blind to how big
>a role these skills have played in history as well as in everyday life.

In my experience, the truly powerful hardly resemble policy wonks, may lack
titles, and often avoid anything resembling close encounters with "ideas."
They do, however, possess a surprisingly clear view of the big picture as
well as the resolve to use "people with ideas" in shifting strategic and
tactical maneuvers the way generals use soldiers. It's the single-minded
resolve, the capacity to do this, that most fascinates me. I think it did
Machievelli, as well.

Casuistry is a key concept. I find that, for powerful people, the merits of
arguments are generally subordinate to the role they play in a calculus of
interests. The instrumental assessment comes first; only then is the
appropriate spin applied to the "point." Powerful people do not generally
"die" for principles; they are simply outflanked by more perceptive, or
better positioned, efforts to deploy arguments so as to align interests.

I agree that anthropology ought to focus more on power and its impacts on
culture and social organization. One of the difficulties is that it's hard
to get close enough to power to really study its ways. It may be dangerous
even to try, as Mike Salovesh has already pointed out. There's something
else, too. A "natural" reluctance to face the resolve of power. In my view,
no one has plumbed the nature of this resolve better than Dostoyevsky in "The
Grand Inquisitor."

Mike Cahill