Power Accumulates Power

One of the foundations of anarchist thinking is that power accumulates power. Think of it as entropy, or perhaps a group of magnets in a backpack. As the backpack jolts and shakes, the magnets rattle around and snap onto each other, and once attached it’s a real bastard to get them to let go. That’s how power works. If you’ve got a little power your natural instinct is to use it to get more – after all, every goal you have requires power to accomplish – and it’s easy to blur the lines between power over yourself and power over other people.

It’s easy to see how this works in the case of wealth (one of the most obvious sources and markers of power). Income gaps breed income gaps as the rich use their resource advantage to cement their privileged position. The poor, by contrast, are disadvantaged. Their only advantage is numbers, and technology – see: machine gun – can level that field quickly. The best weapon of the worker is the union and the ability to strike. How awful is that, that the worker’s only tool is withholding the labor he needs to live? And yet it’s undeniably the natural state of things.

Obviously this applies to all of us. Privilege accumulates privilege: if you’re a white man, it’s much easier for you to become wealthy, for instance. Wealthy men have much better time getting and using education. This is one power dynamic that doesn’t require the State – although it helps – to enforce. We’re all doing it, every day we refuse to critically examine and relinquish our own social power. How can we expect the State to give up its power if we won’t give up ours?

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