Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Limit of My Power

I feel my throat swelling. It's getting painful to talk. I would gladly trade this for the fever of a few nights ago; at least a sweaty night of chills and broiling brains gives me a sense of inner comfort. I can deal with discomfort if I feel like my body's fighting back. Right now I feel I'm losing. I hate not being able to deal with this shit on my own.

It's an interesting realization of a grim thought that I had last night, a thought that accompanied a pain that defied all behind-the-counter painkillers. I thought that I should cut my tongue out for all its use to me, if I can't find a way to persuade a mild, curious adolescent to find some other path than to take money in exchange for training and being placed in a position to murder other human beings.

I can't even say it straight. As I rolled under the sheets, wishing I'd opted for nice green noxious NyQuil-D, I wished I could call him a victim, wished I could take his agency away so I didn't have to call him what he's willing to become: a mercenary. Are those the choices? Victim or villain? For me, right now anyway, there's no other way to see it. I refuse to play the polite game of the liberal working classes and imagine some war in which the whole structure would be justified. The need is not there. The danger is not there. And a man who murders human beings for coin is not made more sympathetic for lack of options... At least whores only poison themselves.

What power do I have here? I know the myth of control is foolish and destructive. I know I don't make others' minds up for them. I know the limit of my power... Then why act at all? And why do I seem to only have power when it doesn't matter to me? Are the Christians and Buddhists somehow actually right about something? Is this some nihilist universe in which the most empty acts are the only ones that succeed? Why is it that I can help some people see what's inside them and now I can say nothing that matters, point out no conflict worth settling? Have I ever really changed anyone's mind? Are the mechanics just hidden from my eye and it's been arrogance all along that gave me credit?

Maybe he hungers for war. I sure as hell do. I just never fooled myself that the war for which I wait was the one I'd be fighting if I took their money and their kit and their orders.

But if I'm so smart, why can't I use the man's pacifism to challenge his desire to belong, his desire to get away from the hassle of family.... If I'm so smart, why can't I do a goddamned thing? Not the right type of relationship? A little bit too old to be sympathetic? I'm smart enough not to push, smart enough to be an older friend but never an authority, never a Because I Said So, but I'm not smart enough, or something enough, to do anything more than watch.

Going down to work with his aunt for a few weeks, I believe he said. Coming back up and going back to the fucking Marine recruiter. He knows they lie. He knows it's a one-sided contract. He says he doesn't even agree with the course of these occupations, laid down when he was a boy. But none of it matters. I think he's trying to impress some girl. I think he wants a family not of his birth. I think he's made up his mind. And that's stronger than anything anyone else can provide. His parents say they accept it. I think they've reached the point where they acknowledge the limit of their power. So why am I bothered by this?

The personal side of it troubles me more, but there's nothing to do but mourn it. The personal side of it's mine to worry about. But isn't this a philosophical issue, too?--and it reinforces the personal sense of impotence, shame, and futility, which is all the better--doesn't it mean that there's no fucking point to any of this, to all the soapboxing and deliberation and scribbling and pondering and debating and "proving" and considering and theorizing, if I can't persuade even one kind-hearted young man who doesn't support the wars to turn down their money and refuse to kill those who have no conflict with him or his loved ones? If I cannot speak to the willing and sympathetic about the greatest human rights issue of our age, then what good am I?


  1. There's too much here. In a good way. But, I wonder, is "power" the right word? Are you discussing something more akin to strength, which does not need to have object over which it governs?

  2. It's more akin to "ability;" power to rather than power over, but in an interpersonal sense, the two blur together more than one may like to admit.

  3. I don't really experience this blurring effect, Cuneyt. If you have a minute or two, could you expand on the concept?

  4. Sure thing. I see a blur between power-to-influence in a number of benign, helpful, or positive senses and the power-of-influence, power-over-by-means-of-influence, and so on. This can happen in family settings, work, culture, religion, really any setting where intimacy or familiarity exist. Where we value others opinions, where we open ourselves up to be aided by others, so too is there openness for abuse. Influence and its ambiguity is part of the reason I see power as so broad a concept. I can neither dismiss it as utterly evil nor embrace it wholly.

  5. But wouldn't it be more accurate simply to call it influence or persuasion, than to qualify it with a term which - especially socially - almost invariably carries tones of domination?

    When my wife influences me to shut up about anarchism, for example, there is no power she possesses over me which could actually make me do it. Power doesn't blur into her influence at all.

  6. ,i've come by to read a bit in the last few weeks .. (along with questions to karl on his biking habits and of walking birds in his lovely yard.. .. and of tee vee's header ..) ..because i'm puzzled by something of your writing .. ., i found your use of the word p. (look i can't even say it ) threw me off .. as it has jack in some way .. /.. and if this is a real person that you are speaking of ..what options have you put to him about where to go..of direction ..to fill his needs..

  7. When my wife influences me to shut up about anarchism, for example, there is no power she possesses over me which could actually make me do it.

    This is only false when you believe it to be, whatever the circumstances.

  8. Anne, it's definitely a real person. I lacked the strength of my true convictions, or maybe I've become an odd, unwilling creature who doesn't feel the need--or ability--to push.

    I asked him about his values. Sought inconsistency. I never told him what I thought was wrong. He'd know if he wanted to ask, or if he knows me well. I just tried to investigate his reasons why.

    And Jack, I don't speak for Justin, but I'd say your wife has more power over you than that of coercion. Then again, maybe not.

  9. Persuasion is not power, Cuneyt. That's why the words "power" and "persuasion" are different. They don't even have a remotely common root. Even stretching the the taffy to its tearing point, assuming a potency of effect, because I love and respect her, from her proximity - still not power.

    In any human relation where the word "power" can actually apply, there's more than a "doer" and a "done to"; without obedience/submission, no power.

  10. jack ,since you seem to have a similar reaction in some way to the word p. ..as i do .. .. what comes to mind with the phrasing .. ..of..powerful effect ..intense .. ?.. others have described something about me that way ..now that i think about it a bit .. i'd rather that they would say ..just intense .. of effect.. not using the p. word.. / ..it may be a bit before you hear back from justin on what he was on about there ..he said when he wrote a few days ago.. that he was in the ..on the road ..part of what he was doing ..now ..i guess that means taking his paintings to others .. that's why he hasn't written anything in several days ..

  11. cuneyt,..is that your real name ..are you turkish ,or whatever that is ..of ..or are you using it for some ..i'm a boy ..reason . ? part of why i'm asking is ..is english your only language ?/ of what has puzzled me in your writing .. one thing here ..is your start with the throat like a metaphor.. . / there are other things ..of your writing from before this post ..of my saying puzzled .. i'll try to say when i can ..if you want .. they are good ..so you may like to hear them . ..

  12. Why all the fuss about power? I've come to love that word. It's what we have at our disposal in all its brutish respects. (And the average human being has precious little of it, by the way). To have power, even to use power, does not entail coercion, in my opinion.

  13. Anne,

    In past digressions into this unresolvable dispute, I've noted that the French and German languages each divide potency from coercion, as well as taking that division of meaning into the words used to cover human-to-human exercises of power.


    Of course it does. Try having any power in relation to another person. It is always power over. And, when used, that always - literally, always - means coercion.

    I'm not going to expend words and risk misunderstanding spelling it out again. This is my clearer articulation:

  14. Or not.

    Seems the "ahref" function didn't work.