It's been an uneventful and meditative weekend. I spent a good part of the weekend grading papers and reading A People's History of the United States. I highly recommend this book. It tells the history of the United States from the perspective of the poor and disenfranchised, and offers a refreshing alternative to the standard history-textbook accounts of politicians as liberator-heroes, and explains in sobering detail the disconnect that people have been feeling between politics as represented in the media and the average person's everyday experience of socio-political reality.
All this makes me think about human nature. They say that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Which implies that the more power one has, the more likely one is to become corrupt and out of touch with the everyday sufferings of everyday people. Which is interesting, because many of the most powerful figures in history started out as everyday people. Such persons often possess a keen understanding of the situation around them, which enables them to inspire others to gather around them and bring about substantial social change. However, once they become powerful themselves, they seem to forget the sufferings of the people who brought them to power, and put in place laws and policies that inflict violence upon and add to their sufferings. What is it about having a lot of power that changes people in this way? Or maybe it is not the having of power per se which changes people; perhaps it is the process of getting that power that changes people's motivations?
All of this gives rise to one thought: Is it possible for a human being to become powerful without becoming corrupt? This question is relevant not just to the powerful in society, but to each one of us. Most of us, I take it, are not absolutely powerful. But we do have some power, whether it is over our loved ones, our subordinates at work, our students, or somebody else. Which means that there is a possibility that we may use this power in a way that benefits ourselves at the expense of those over whom we have power. In a word, we have the potential to become corrupt (maybe I already am). Is there a way to enjoy (is this the right word? I don't know) this power without becoming corrupt?
Of course, one might resort to the standard yogic answer to this quandary, which would be something along the lines of, "Power is only power when you perceive it to be power. If you choose to love your fellow beings unconditionally, and try to act from this choice, then you are not exercising power over them." Well, fair enough. But we know that too many abuses have been carried out in the name of love ("I love you, so I don't want you to do x, y, or z", or "I love you, so I don't want you to be x, y, or z, and if you love me, you should listen to me, and not be x, y, or z"). So perhaps love (or at least, what counts as love for many people) does not prevent abuse of power and corruption.
What can I do about any of this? I don't know. Hmm... maybe I shouldn't read such depressing books and think such depressing thoughts. Maybe I should just go pick up a copy of Yoga Journal or something.