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harvey-weinstein

Lord Acton’s quip that “Power tends to corrupt….and absolute power corrupts absolutely” has passed into our political lexicon seamlessly and without question.  Though a fine sentiment, it misleads; in the common interpretation it suggests that powerful people are corrupt because of their power and not that they assumed power because they were willing at every turn to be corrupt.  The statement as it is does indicate a change in state of power- from “some power” to “absolute power”—but it does not suggest the generative mechanism of corruption, its antecedents, or the process by which it inheres in the actions of powerful people.

No doubt, phrases must be short and powerful in order to be remembered, but with all things that tend to simplify complex matters, they simultaneously clarify and occlude.

While this might seem to be a meaningless philosophical rant, recent events no doubt spur important practical discussions about the kind of people who commit heinous acts and also the kind who remain silent despite their knowledge.  At the heart of both is the “will to power”- some have attained it and others want to attain in; in both cases, fundamental corruption impels behavior.

Take for instance the recent public revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predation.  A good percentage of overheard conversations on this matter end in some incarnation of “…it’s amazing what power does to you…” The implication here is that Weinstein’s predations are both instigated by and reflections of his power.  While these are both likely partially true, they elide the fact that he likely behaved like a boor from day one and used that boorish and arrogant behavior to rise up the ladder-in fact using corruption to gain power and not only using power to be corrupt–possibly wrecking lives along the way.  The will to power itself is both a product and generator of corrupting and corruptive behavior.

Of the people who are “speaking out” after the fact, some are likely real victims of rape and other crimes, and others had “experiences” with him that were sordid, insulting, and frightening but were not as foul as rape.  But why the silence for so long?  What about the body-count left along the way as these people kept quiet in fear of the likely effect on their own “will to power” if they spoke out?  Isn’t that also a form of corruption?  Haven’t we understood by now that silence is both complicity and that silence is violence?  No doubt, some were psychologically broken and unable to act but some of the people who have “come out” are powerful and articulate and could have said something if not for the notion that power is worth preserving, at all costs.  The Carthaginian solution created an even bigger monster in Weinstein.

The people coming out now are no heroines or heroes.  Likely there are some incredible people who actually tried to protest and who we’ve never heard of.   But the Glitterati’s after-the-fact crocodile tears do not indicate any sacrifice; instead they indicate an unfortunate form of complicity.

We are judged by what we do.  We should also be judged by what we overlook.  Being a victim of predation is terrible but it does create responsibility- to help other victims and to act to prevent more people from being hurt.

The symbiosis between corruption and power prevents people from understanding this responsibility and from acting on it.

The will to power is the corrupting force.

Romi Mahajan is an independent writer

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