09 July 2015

Power and Principles: It's a love-hate relationship

Courtesy www.tribune.com.pk
This is the thirty sixth in a series of articles on rebels and rebellion written for the FREE section of 'The Nation'. Scroll to the end for other articles in this series.  'FREE' is dedicated to youth and youthfulness.

Politics is about power.  All rebels whether they are interested in overthrowing governments, revolutionizing the state or objecting to tyranny of any kind and seeking redress, have to contend with power.  All rebels when they start out talk about principles.  Rebellion is a affirmation of a principle or a set of principles.  It is also about consecrating principles in a context where such are absent.  Power and principles, then, are important elements of rebellion.

Almost by definition the rebel is not advantageously situated within power structures.  If that were the case there would be no need to rebel — you just exercise power to correct flaws, right wrongs and so on.  This is why the achievement of objectives often requires that the power dynamics are overturned or reversed.  This is why rebels seek power.  

Now obtaining power is not easy.  It requires a resolute heart, total focus, constant consideration and review of all relevant factors, the ability to face and learn from setbacks, the strength of mind to deal with lonely times of abandonment and betrayal and so on.  The enemy has everything.  Usually ‘everything’ includes having the law on his/her side, oodles of money, lots of human and other resources to count on if necessary and as a part product of all this, the ability to script the narrative in favorable terms.  Yes, the media.  

The rebel is poor(er) on all counts.  The rebel is constantly reminded of the power differential.  One of the greatest threats to the rebel and rebellion, ironically, is therefore the fascination with power.  It is never too hard to understand how easier things would be if there was power.  And when you are confronted with opportunity to secure bits and pieces of power you start considering cutting bits and pieces of the corners of your Principle Flag.  

‘Just for this,’ you tell yourself.  ‘This is too important to let go on account being bogged down with righteousness,’ you justify action to yourself and your fellow rebels.  ‘They don’t have scruples, we are not saint!’ you exclaim.  

But it is like killing someone.  It is only the first murder that is hard, we are told.  You are haunted by the act, worried by repercussion, dwell on afterlife retribution and so on.  Then you justify the act.  Then it becomes easier to repeat.  It’s the same when the rebel cuts corners.  It becomes easier to do it again.  It becomes easier to cut larger slices of your principle sheet.  Then it ceases to matter.  Then it is about power. Not about principle.  Then you forget what you are fighting for, why you set out on the rebel path in the first place.  Then principles are restricted to paper and reserved for occasional mention just to color the project with a modicum of righteousness.  

This, dear rebel, is the ‘power principle’ then:  the more fascinated you are with power, the easier it is for power to possess you and with these is exorcised from rebel and project that nasty, inconvenient thing called ‘principle’.   

Other articles in this series