The Paradox of Power
by Emily Gallagher
May 09, 2018 | 1994 views | 0 0 comments | 95 95 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Hearing about Eric Schneiderman's secretly violent and misogynistic personal life, I had a flashback to another time.

When I was young, I really looked up to Elliot Spitzer. I met him once in college when he was attorney general and gushed to him about how I admired his anti-corruption work, clasping his hand while he smiled and engaged me in conversation.

Every election season there would be someone trying to unseat him, and the commercials were so frequently played that my father and I had all of the negative ads memorized.

One of them, repeated often, went "Eliot, the law's the law," implying that Elliot Spitzer had his own rules for himself and different rules for everyone else.

Being a progressive who believed in the work that Spitzer was doing, it seemed like a ludicrous and unfounded attack. And at that point, it was.

But eventually it proved to be true. Elliott Spitzer was following a different set of rules for himself than the ones he was enforcing for other people. And that is now despicably obvious with Schneiderman as well.

As my readers know, I am very interested in the subject of violence against women and misogyny, but that is not what I am here to discuss today. It is no surprise anymore to learn that a powerful man seeks to control and abuse women, it seems to be the status quo, at least until we change who is in power.

While discussing this, many of my friends have come to the conclusion that seeking power should be a sign that someone is unhinged. But I really don't believe this to be true.

Seeking information regarding this, I came across the work of sociologist Dacher Keltner, who is a professor at UC Berkeley. He set out to study why so many people in power turn out to be corrupt, beyond the old adage "absolute power corrupts absolutely."

In an article explaining the Power Paradox published in Berkeley's “Greater Good Magazine,” Keltner wrote:

“A new science of power has revealed that power is wielded most effectively when it’s used responsibly by people who are attuned to, and engaged with the needs and interests of others. Years of research suggests that empathy and social intelligence are vastly more important to acquiring and exercising power than are force, deception, or terror.

“This research debunks longstanding myths about what constitutes true power, how people obtain it, and how they should use it. But studies also show that once people assume positions of power, they’re likely to act more selfishly, impulsively, and aggressively, and they have a harder time seeing the world from other people’s points of view. This presents us with the paradox of power: The skills most important to obtaining power and leading effectively are the very skills that deteriorate once we have power."

I suppose I wasn't wrong to admire Spitzer and Schneiderman as upstarts. It's likely that they did once possess all the things I felt in them.

The trouble is that we have difficulty managing people, or even warning people, to watch themselves once they gain power.

Once in power, Kechner writes, empirical studies show leaders becoming more superficially judgmental, more sexually inappropriate, and behave in general like someone who has a damaged frontal lobe of the brain, or the part that controls empathy.

The trouble with our situation is not merely figuring out who in power is abusive, but finding a way to prevent power from corrupting and dementing the leaders to whom we gave power because we admired them.
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