Power Doctrines II: The Problem With Power Doctrines

TL;DR: Power doctrines are deeply flawed in a number of ways. They inherently obscure reality through the collectivism. The most negative aspect of power doctrines, however, is that they have a high probability of hampering intellectual discussion by silencing critics of the power doctrine as vulgar defenders of the oppressive class. In effect, power doctrines can turn political discussion into ad hominem arguments by making identity far more important than facts about real world problems and their solutions. Additionally, power doctrines make liberal societies appear far more brutal than they really are and take away from an individualistic conception of ethics and personal responsibility.

Image result for power to the people

If we accept the claim made previously-that power analysis is not central to a belief, but separable from it-then we have come close to rejecting power doctrines out of hand. If power analysis is unimportant to a claim then it can be done away with easily. It is of little relevance if group A is exploiting group B. Instead, what is important, assuming our goal is how to bring group B up to the standing of group A, is how we achieve this. There is no need to presume guilt or negativity on behalf of the group with “power” in order to advocate for the benefit of those without power. Any members of group A or B who oppose good solutions are either misinformed or actively malicious. This then means that power doctrines have the potential to actually turn us away from what is valuable. Instead of looking at problems and trying to find solutions, we are suddenly bogged down in a whole new layer of rhetoric, which, as we shall see below, is quite confusing.

As an analogy, imagine if a scientist proposing a new hypothesis. Now imagine that instead of simply relying upon the evidence and research that the scientist had done, he claims that the dominant hypothesis in the scientific community was “oppressive” to those without “institutional power”. Instead of focusing upon the established scientific methods to show that he was right, the scientist would introduce a new and confusing element to the discussion that has nothing to do with its validity. This in turn diverts discussion from the actual validity of what is being discussed. It is accusatory to those who disagree, and suggests a malicious and direct design to the system that may be entirely inaccurate. In this way the introduction of power analysis does nothing but obscure and take away from the actual debate. Power doctrines move us away from what is most directly relevant, and instead add a dubious, conspiratorial, and antagonistic element to discussion.


Image result for protestsPower doctrines have other central problems, however. One key flaw is that power doctrines are obscenely collectivistic. It is in the nature of power doctrines to lump individuals into huge monolithic groups based upon a single characteristic, rather than taking a nuanced look at social conditions first. It doesn’t matter whether this group is based on gender, race, or height. One could divide up the world any which way one wants and proceed to apply power analysis to it. This inevitably excludes huge swaths of people and overlooks many different social conditions. For instance there is no “one” condition of African Americans living in the United States. While large portions of the population do live in similar conditions, the experience of middle class African Americans outside of urban areas is going to be dramatically different than their poor inner city counterparts. Nevertheless, by using power analysis, these many differences are entirely phased out or at least partly obscured. It has made a more nuanced understanding of these issues more difficult while adding nothing of substance to the discussion. This is inevitable with any way of looking at society that groups people in the way that Power Doctrines do.

Power doctrines also have a strong element of moral collectivism in which we view the “oppressed” as something fundamentally less than human. Since oppressed individuals are denied full autonomy or humanity, they get at least a partial pass on behavior we would consider bad. We cannot fault the oppressed for any negative action that they perform, we can provide only a mild reprimand. They are indeed, just tiny cogs within their group that we cannot hold accountable for their actions. If taken seriously, this has absolutely horrendous consequences. The most immediate determinant of one’s own success and happiness in almost all cases is the effort put forward by an individual to better their own life. To demean this factor, and label an individual primarily as a victim whose efforts are secondary to the box that society has put them in is incredibly dangerous to that person’s welfare.

Image result for violent protest

Much of the influence power doctrines wield in discussion is through the very framing of one group as oppressive, and the other as oppressed. What can the actions of the oppressor against the oppressed be other than to attempt to reinforce their own privilege? One cannot ignore the moral charge of the language being used here. We leave the realm of balanced political discussion, where we primarily attempt to deal with ideas, rather than the people advocating them, and suddenly we are thrust into a discussion where what matters most is who we are talking to and that they are opposing us at all. One side is engaging in the glorious fight against oppression and inequality. The other side is engaging in an attempt to maintain their own privilege and power over the other group. Given their superfluous intellectual nature, it can be said that power doctrines are partially ad hominem attacks entrenched into language. Attack the person, rather than what they are saying.  

Power Analysis is effectively a method to enshrine any belief in highly moralistic language and in doing so turn any challenge into an ad hominem attack that looks at presumed motivations rather than the ideas themselves.

Power doctrines play to some of the lowest and basest tendencies of human beings. It frames our understanding of an issue in terms of an “us” vs. “them” narrative. Either you are with our glorious cause, or you are a threat and you are attacking us. This has little place in modern discussion, however. Ideas are either right or wrong, and they either favor groups that we wish to favor based on our values, or they do not. Utilizing power doctrines only pushes away the possibility of true political discussion and an exchange of ideas.

Yet perhaps the most nonsensical aspect of power doctrines is precisely that they paint the world in a way that is often highly inaccurate. The entire structure of these arguments are almost conspiratorial in the way they frame the world. The dominant group is portrayed as actively “oppressing” the disadvantaged group for its own evil ends. It is repressive, murderous, and exploitative. Even if this worldview explicitly stated within a power doctrine, it is very hard not to think in this way when using a power doctrine. Yet this is very different from how society actually functions.

Image result for chainsWhen we think of oppression for instance, we think of chains, violence, slaughter, complete disenfranchisement, and the suppression of any dissident voices. Yet this is extremely different from the system that we currently live in. Most of the actual discrimination that is explicitly promoted by the system is minor and often times benefits the “oppressed” group. Secondly, at least in the West, dissidents of all forms are allowed an open platform for their ideas. Freedom of speech, congregation, and protest are notoriously well protected in the West, where it is actually rather unusual for a significant protest NOT to be going on for some significant length of time. Additionally, in most cases these groups can vote to attempt to enact their will upon the system. This is a far cry from a system that is oppressive in any traditional sense. The problem with the language and framing of a power doctrine is that it brings to mind a system very different than our own, one which is far more actively violent and heavy-handed. This is another way in which power doctrines generally obscure reality.

Thus, the problems with power doctrines are manifold. Power doctrines represent the pinnacle of a collectivist moral system and perspective that hampers individual welfare. They are without intellectual merit and imply a very inaccurate view of the world. At best power analysis is a hyperbolic political tool that is added onto legitimate analysis to make it appear more compelling. At worst, however, it corrupts much of what is actually positive about a worldview by advancing a false view of reality, all while promoting collectivism and dogmatism. I believe the latter to be far more common in the modern day.

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