The Power of Groups (part I) – Scaffold Definition

Much has been written on the subject of power. This is my honest attempt to form a philosophical construct before reading this extensive body of literature.

The necessary beginning before discussing group power is the subject of individual power. My starting place is that of basic physics. Power is the ability to do work; to mold the world around us to our liking. This is a type of boundless freedom that I would like to refer to as “freewhim”. Which combines freedom, whim or desire, and the means to fulfill this desire.

Breaking down power in reverse order we can begin with what power affords, then the means or levers of achieving this and then finally the foundation, or fulcrum upon which such levers are applied.

What does power afford? The ability to exert “freewhim” in various dimensions, political, economic, and physical (labour, environment, violence). Let’s work through these in order from basic to most complex, but it is at this point that we must transcend from the individual to the group.

Each of these dimensions of power can be applied from the perspective of the individual or the group. The reach of a single human being can only be extended so far, unless they hold power over a group, or in fact a group can form around a single person (there is a subtle difference here that we can revisit).

The basic distinguishing factor is that individual power is the ability to “do”, group power is the ability to coordinate the behavior of others.

1) Physical

  • Environment: thing of chopping wood or shoveling dirt. This is a physical power over the environment, or at least to understand and predict its action.
  • Labour: This can be other forms of work or action not necessarily environmental, but to create tools and products.
  • Violence: The threat of physical harm is an embodiment of physical power.

2) Economic:

  • Purchasing: The ability to buy goods and services
  • Employing: A form of power over other people. Offering wages is actually a form of coercion but perhaps a more friendly means than threat of physical violence.
  • Leverage: I’m not quite sure what to call this, but there is a way in which indirect economic forces and be used to coerce someone. This can be through debt or the threat of economic action. For example, “if you don’t do what i want, i’ll buy your land and kick you off of it.”

3) Political: By far the most powerful because it involves the spread of ideas to control groups.

  • Influence: The ability to convince others how to use their powers (as listed above)
  • Legal: This is the power to decide the boundaries of the group to understand how status is afforded to members, who is let in and who is expelled, who is rewarded and who is punished.
  • Social Exclusion: Counted here would be banishment, as well as incarceration. These are punishments for violating legal boundaries. There is a heavy social component here though.
  • Group level versions of all other forms of power can be wielded politically as well. This includes economic forms such as taxation, and of physical forms such as incarceration or other physical methods of punishment.

Keep in mind here that i do not mean these idea to be explicitly applied to governance systems, but to “any” group from the level of family all the way up to multinational alliances.

As an addendum there is an important subtlety that each form of power where humans are involved can be exerted through coercion or persuasion. Coercion being through use of force or incentive, and persuasion being a method by which people believe that they are acting out of their own interests.


About livingthememe

engineer and armchair philosopher
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