Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Reflections on Power

I wanted to share with folks a few of my personal reflections on the nature of power. To start with, it's important to understand what specifically I mean by the word power. Of course Wikipedia is our best friend when it comes questions like that. If you look there to help understand what power is, you'll see that it says "Power has many meanings, most of which imply (a capacity for) control or force." At the time of this writing, there was also a very powerful message at the top of the page, "You can help Wikimedia change the world!" Indeed! It is on this sociological aspect of power that I'd like to focus because it has interesting implications for open communities as well for the individuals in them. Of course power is definitely about control and force; even in the sociological sense, power is both something that constrains (i.e., controls the results of an action) as well as something that enables (i.e., forces the results of an action in particular direction). In the exercise of power there is a balance between coercion and influence, with the ultimate purpose being to bring about change (or perhaps to prevent it).

A particularly powerful analogy for me is to think of power as flame that is fed by the force of living things. As introspective conscious entities, we're in a unique position to contemplate power in this pure form. I visualize power as a flame into which I feed my thoughts and from that a manifest entity with a life of its own takes shape. That entity can and does exist independently of me, but I feed it and without anyone like me, it would vanish in the blink of an eye, just as would a flame without its fuel, the oxygen to consume that fuel, and the conditions in which to renew and drive the process. And just as a flame has power over its environment, so too, power has power over us. It's an extremely important principle to keep in mind that the extent to which one tries to coerce power, it will take control.

So I see power as a flame that should be held forth with a gently cupped hand both as something to carefully nurture and protect and as something with a life of its own to be kept separate and at a distance lest it consume more than one might intend. It's is not something to be clutched with a greedy fist and held close, for surely it will consume the holder and then it will escape entirely or cease to exist. Like the old saying "If you love something, set it free; if it comes back it's yours; if it doesn't it never was." When you share your power freely with other like minded people, the power grows in unexpected ways. Beware of those who will clutch and grab for power, and be most wary of that person being yourself. Greed is a basic human failing, don't ever assume you are above it. As the saying goes, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I believe the Eclipse community specifically, the open source movement in general, and the internet as a whole, are incredibly powerful forces that will do more to change our global society than perhaps any political force ever has. The internet has brought down barriers to the flow of information and to the spread of ideas. It's ignited a new type of flame, the open community, that we all feed. We cannot help but influence it and we should be particularly wary of those who will coerce it for the gains of a small few. Rest assured that those who are too enamored by power will be consumed by it. A global force manifested in the internet is sweeping the planet and it empowers us all. The flow of information is no longer controlled by the editor of a journal , the publisher of a book, or the CEO of a corporation. We all have direct control over the information that flows around the globe, often within milliseconds of when we produce it. Others can rapidly build on these ideas and of course in the end, the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.

So nurture power, exercise it transparently, and share it wisely. Individuals control the world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"The internet has...ignited a new type of flame..."

Pun intended? ;-)