Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Absolute Power And Invincibility

I'd better get some thoughts from my first political philosophy class down before I go for my next one tomorrow to smother them into oblivion.

As Brian Mooney went on about universal symbols of the divine popping up whenever we analyze political systems, the discussion eventually led on to the concept of a ring of invincibility. The question he posed the class was, "if there ever was an invincibility ring, where the wearer will be free to do as he pleases and not suffer any repercussions whatsoever, and you had the chance to wear it, would you wear it?"

He needed the simple layman reply of generally "yes" in order to lead on to his next point, but I'll come to that later. Meanwhile, his solicitation of an answer didn't generate much response, save for about 10% of the class raising their hands. I kept my hands firmly down - I had a conviction as to why I wouldn't want to have an invincibility ring. Dissatisfied, for some reason he fixated on me and pressed me as to why I wouldn't wear the ring of invincibility. In a stroke of inspiration I managed to articulate to some extent what I felt about the non-social consequences of wearing such a ring and stubbornly refused to believe that I would succumb to such an endowment of power. While that wasn't quite the answer he was looking for in order to prove his point later on, my response turned out to be part of his explanation why such a ring philosophically doesn't exist.

The idea is very interesting, and it goes something like this. On my part, I wouldn't accept the ring even though I would no longer be accountable to anybody because there is something quite intuitively scary about absolute power. I may no longer be indebted to anybody around me, but the fact that I have lived 23 years of my life dealing with people and knowing how people are and that they can be harmed is enough to generate a conscience that makes me feel guilty and thus accountable, if not to anyone, then to myself. I would only accept the ring if I suddenly existed without knowledge of anything about people, but was still intelligent enough to make decisions, because only then I am freed of the burden of a conscience. It is in fact the self to which the conscience is accountable which is the most important point. With consciousness of people from past experience, I will be unable to contain the monster that comes with unaccountable absolute power even if I no longer need to bother about people any more in a real and present sense. The conscience, to me, is the key: the ring will lead to a non-social consequence where my conscience makes me accountable to myself and therefore the decay of the soul becomes possible. Furthermore, because of the unlimited nature of such a power, there is no end in sight - the neverending decadence of the soul becomes a living hell. I would refuse the ring for the reason of conscience alone.

Brian Mooney went on to further state that this is why such a ring doesn't exist, because realistically we are a species bounded by human interactions. Our nature demands it, and the fact that we are indebted whether we want to or not to other humans makes us conscientious. For those who contend that power is all that matters, is everything or is the only currency in this world are choosing to detach people from their very nature. And we see this unfolding in history, as we observe how people such as McNamara and Hitler have committed atrocious war crimes in the pursuit of power - they have practically detached themselves from the fabric of reality in which human connections are essential in order to execute war plans that are devoid of humanity.

But he also goes on to say that the ring of invincibility is an important construct in political philosophy because it is what every idealistic sociopolitical system that has been conjectured is structured around: how to keep tabs on a society whose men are expected to desire such a powerful ring. That was the 'statistical evidence' he needed from the class response to show that such a desire generally does exist and that it should be a consideration for anyone trying to develop a theory for utopia.

I get goosebumps just anticipating my next political philosophy class.

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