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Power without Morality is Poison

It was in his power to be the saviour of their lives. The statesman could have easily devolved the social security payments to the needy, only if corruption had not embroiled him. The farmer’s suicide would then have had not become a poison for his family !

“But the relationship of morality and power is a very subtle one. Because ultimately power without morality is no longer power.”        —James Baldwin

Does might make right, as the old saying goes ? Or are people in power largely governed by the better angels of their nature ? It would be difficult to argue that power is not immoral if one considers, in the same breath, the Turkish genocide of Armenians during and just after World War I; the genocide of six millions Jews during World War II as part of the Nazi’s final solution; the millions of Russians and Chinese killed by Stalin and Mao, respectively, as they consolidated power and the killing fields in Cambodia. And that these atrocities occurred just in the past one hundred years of human history.

Morality is the judgement to distinguish right and wrong, vision to see the truth, courage to act upon it, dedication to that which is good, integrity to stand by the good at any price. Immanuel Kant has said that morality is not a doctrine of how we make ourselves happy but how we make ourselves worthy of happiness.

Morality of an individual is tested when accompanied with power. Human well-being is not a random phenomenon. It depends on many factors ranging from genetics and neurology to sociology and economics. But, clearly, there are scientific truths to be known about how can one flourish in this world. Wherever one can have an impact on the well-being of others, questions of morality apply.

Observers from all cultures and political persuasions have understood the corrupting nature of power and the potential for abuse if power is concentrated in too few hands with too few checks and balances. And the potential for abuse stems not only from political power but from every kind of power. The beatific view of human nature inherent in the Golden Rule is either distorted or corrected, depending on one’s degree of cynicism, by the more perverse version of this rule : “He who has the gold, makes the rules.”

This seems to be the case in the so called Refugee Crisis. In Britain, many of those MPs who voted against admitting a few thousand refugees are also campaigning to unravel a mechanism—the European Union that was created, at least in part, to heal the divisions that tore apart the continents during the two world wars. History may not necessarily repeat itself, but it does echo and it does remind one of the consequences of ethical failure. By turning a blind eye to reality and by tearing up the post war settlement, Europe risks an ethical catastrophe that would return them to the moral collapse of the 1938, when the Jewish refugees fleeing persecution were left stranded. Though it has been argued that deporting refugees back to places will save the continent from relapsing into the extremism of the interwar years, it makes many wonder if it would take them to creating the same poison as before.

While the refugee crisis suits as an example of power abuse of one community against the other, the ongoing climate change and environmental crisis is that of power abuse of one against the other silent fellow living creatures. The process of evolution has disillusioned humans to consider themselves the superior beings. This power in addition to their greed and lack of sensitivity to their surroundings has resulted in the long drawn issue of climate change and global warming. In addition to creation of the problem, the sheer taking of a backseat in mitigating the same also highlights the abuse by those in power.

While the above cited examples highlight a collective immoral action, there are examples world over that serve as those of individual power misuse. For example, Kim Jongun of North Korea turning the country into a land of unspeakable atrocities as per UN Charter Report which highlights the human rights abuses in addition to its nuclear weapon program.

Also in India, various scams have surfaced to highlight the power abuse that has eventually resulted in the socioeconomic discrimination evidently. The black money deposited in Swiss Banks and the various scandals like the Telecom Scandal, the Commonwealth Games Scandal are events of recent times that bring to light ill use by authority. If history has to be brought in, then the atrocities against shudras by the upper classes could also be cited as power abuse.

In the new age, the slackish attitude of the social media giants like Facebook and Twitter towards controlling the spread of hate speeches and misleading rumours also highlight the power of social media being misused to make poison. The same does apply to the worldwide mainstream media and press that forms the Fourth Estate.

When such power misuse and abuse are taking place day in and day out, there arises a high need to constrain the same. Transparency, accountability and responsibility of actions are the virtues that need to be incorporated in the system world-over. This can be done by creation of political institutions like Ombudsman or a watchdog as seen in Sweden. In India, these virtues can flourish by creation of stringent Lokpals and Lokayuktas.

In addition to the creation of such institutions, appropriate legislative actions must accompany to provide teeth to these institutions. The Right to Information Act, 2005 of India and inclusion of same as a fundamental right proved a step in the right direction. Thus absolute power can be curbed, as it is said that while power corrupts absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Studies abroad have provided another means to check power abuse. To inhibit the recklessness either by the bureaucrats or by the politicians the focus needs to be more on procedure rather than results. For example, if powerful people are judged by their results (like, number of terror attacks prevented) they will behave more self servingly more often than if judged by their procedures (whether this is actually constitutional)

Voluntary involvement of organisations is needed world over like Greenpeace International with a viewpoint that if corporations have the ability to destroy the world’s forests, they also have the power to save them. The result has been that many multinational corporations have changed their practices transforming the poison to elixir.

Ultimately one has to remember that power doesn’t corrupt people, but people corrupt power. Individual morality should be in resonance with universal morality. For this a sense of brotherhood and belonging towards each other and other living creatures needs to be imparted right from the beginning. Value education and moral science are the key here.

“Those who have true power share it, while those who hunger for power, abuse it, turning power into poison for many.”

Power in and of itself, is as immoral as a gun is guilty of homicide. It may be the instrument of evil but not the agent. Nonetheless, power can distort the power holder, especially when that power is absolute and unchecked, and it can lead him or her to justify acts which, seen in the clear light of history and unbiased observation, are clearly immoral.

\Left-leaning American journalist Lincoln Steffins argued that, “Power is what men seek and any group that gets it will abuse it.” At the other end, James Madison, one of the founding Fathers of the United States said, that, “The essence of government is power, and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” And Edmund Burke, British statesman and philosopher, warned that, “The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.”

But ultimately it all boils down to the point wherein though the formula of poison is ready in front of the powerful how morally strong can they be to transform it into an elixir much useful ! Because nothing unmasks a man like his use of power !

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