Saturday, July 03, 2010

on power and freedom

"And after your glorious coup, what then? You take your five thousand and... leave? " - Gladiator

world has seen many who wouldn't. the allure of power is just too much for most mortals to resist. the problem has never been that the corrupt find a way to be powerful, but its that the powerful have always become corrupt.

i understand this urge to seek power, it can be logically traced back to that primal instinct of survival (greater your power, greater are your chances of thrashing the opposition). so the most powerful naturally got to be the leaders and rulers. even today, be it the khadi clad national politician, the gutka spewing local MLA or our good old household patriarch, they all will be extremely uncomfortable without access to total submission from those whom they supposedly serve.

power is fine if it comes alone. but invariably, when someone gains power, someone else (possibly of a different caste, class or sex) loses some of their legitimate freedom. history has seen numerous examples where unabashed power has not only restricted but crushed even the very basic freedoms of those it subdued. really, is there _anyone_ that you would trust with absolute power? the person next to you? the person you adore, love the most in this world? how about yourself? who is qualified to be the most powerful? (the answer is no one. we all are imperfect, we all are fallible)

so there is good news and bad news (actually its the same news, just 2 ways of looking at it :P). whenever these excesses of power have become unbearable, though it took hundreds of years and millions of lives, we have ultimately found ways of curbing them. kingdoms were too person specific (good king, fun. bad king, well not so fun), so we shifted to a more reliable religion backed nation states model. when religion became oppressive we decoupled it from the State. we split the State into legislature, executive and judiciary, all independent (in theory atleast) with the hope that no one person or institution can wield absolute power.

the good way to look at it is that we have firmly established, after centuries of blood and gore, that no human or human institution can be trusted with supreme power. bad news is that we haven't figured out the alternative. everytime a powerful institution is disbanded, some other takes its place. when will this end? is it even possible?

i guess the only time we will be truly free is when the basic needs of every man (food, health, education and property rights) are guaranteed, but his prosperity and progress is left to the free market, unhindered.

the closest i have seen anyone come to this idea are the Libertarians. been following this funny word for some time now, so more about it soon. (btw i have heard they don't consider you a true libertarian unless you can pronounce "Libertarianism" quickly. three times.) 

while i loosen my tongue on that one, here is an excellent post by Amit Verma to get you started.