“Power Corrupts – Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely”. This quotation by Lord Acton in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887 remains a telling observation about our species. Throughout time it has been the defining moment in the collapse of each civilization, from China, through Greece, Rome and beyond.
If we look at the latter days of the Roman Empire we see the manipulation of the masses, through the increasing debauchery of the Games deflecting attention away from the wholesale corruption within government, by those intent upon holding power at any cost.
Endemic within this condition is the direct correlation between the accumulation of power and an increasing lack of accountability by those exerting the power – one feeds the other.
If we look back at our species, each civilisation has grown to occupy an increasing proportion of the known world, culminating with the British Empire who occupied an area “upon which the sun never set”. Within the confines of this dynamic lay the seeds of destruction. Growth reaches a saturation point beyond which individual human comprehension or ability seem to fade and leadership ceases to pursue meaningful development – decadence.
The higher ideals of human endeavour grow weak and are replaced by indulgence, as achievement is measured by narrowing definitions of greed and power, superseding the original desire to benefit mankind. Blame cannot be placed at any individual’s door when it manifests, the desire for power is an intrinsic part of the human condition.
In this 21st century we are faced, for the first time in our history, with the ability to occupy and “manage” the complete known world – Globalisation – and additionally we are now making sorties into the new frontiers of space. This situation contains the seeds of our destruction or liberation as a species, depending upon how we continue to perceive and manage the fundamental aspects of who and what we are.
I offer a personal perspective on where we are at for consideration:
Corporate activity – The financial markets have enjoyed unprecedented growth with little accountability as to how that growth is achieved. The sub-prime market in America, the collapse of a bank for the first time in 150 years in the UK and the largest negative trading position in financial history by an employee of a French Bank, have all occurred within a space of just six months.
The loss of trust between banks themselves and the public at large over the last six months has yet to be quantified, but we are seeing a financial crisis of unprecedented proportions. It was the late Robert Maxwell who declared (with an element of possible déjà vu) that trust is like virginity - once lost it can never be retrieved.
Globally the levels of personal debt worry even the most cavalier of bankers, as they try to grapple with something they have created which operates completely against the human condition. As a species we are designed to strive for reward, and credit works against this by providing the reward first and the striving to pay for it second.
The scale of the financial problem facing us now reflects the scale of operation in a global market, and reflects our inability to police and manage responsibly the technology and human emotions that operate in this new climate.
Over the last 50 years power has shifted from the religious to the corporate sector, with politics remaining constant as the voice and instrument of interpretation and delivery. This shift in emphasis, to an increasingly monetary and corporate philosophy, has dramatically narrowed our perspective on life, working against our best interests as a species.
Profit is a financial measurement, and as such incapable of providing us with the means to live a full and fulfilled life. This narrow definition of success continually fails to motivate and stretch us in every direction to find the limits of our personal ability – the core essence of what our lives are all about. We have substituted “Love” of our fellow man/woman with “Political Correctness” in an endeavour to interact in this new climate – and what a mess we have got into.
What we identify, when we narrow success to just profit, are those few members of our species who can operate within this sphere. We are all different and to apply just one criterion to success is neither rational nor effective to mankind as a whole. Succumbing to the power instinct within us is the only means by which this imbalance can be maintained by the few, with the resultant knock on effect to other areas of life.
Political activity – We are seeing a time of social unrest around the globe that has an unprecedented uniformity of purpose – to address the abuse and corruption by the political elite within the “democratic” process. From Eastern European states to Africa, Pakistan and Latin America the unrest stems from a sense of injustice – that the “democracy” on offer controls the people rather than empowering them.
The realisation of this common experience, irrespective of race colour or creed, has been ignited by the increasing ability to travel and the advent of modern communication. For the first time in our history people around the globe are able to communicate directly with each other in a manner never before possible in our history.