WHAT IS POWER?

http://ghandchi.com/56-What_is_Power.htm

 

 

 (An explanation of actions of Police Force in countries like Iran.  In this article, I have drawn a lot from John Kenneth Galbraith’s Anatomy of Power)

 

One may notice that even in a Modern state like the U.S., the Los Angels police is different from the Berkeley police.  The difference is not in separation of power.  When comparing the two cities, with regards to the structure of power, there is hardly any difference between the two.

 

The beating of Rodney King brought the issue of police brutality to the attention of Los Angeles residents, so much that the chief of police was changed, and a whole overhaul of the LA police followed it.  Can one say LA's judicial branch is so much different from Berkeley?

 

One may wonder why there is such a difference in the actions of the police force, when the checks and balances and the separation of power and judicial system is identical in the two cities.  Is this reality just related to the issue of racism and the inner city problems of large urban centers in the U.S.?

 

Is it because some areas like Berkeley have had a longer liberal tradition and their police force acts differently?  Is there really a fundamental difference between these two cities that explains this difference?

 

To answer the above questions, I think one should ask the question that "What is Power" and the reasons for "how power is exercised" in a certain way, even if the model used for how to exercise power is the Lockean model, which in the U.S., one can find it in its purest form. 

 

Even with a Lockean  separation of power in the U.S., I believe, still the question of what power is, needs to be answered, to find out why there is such a drastic difference in the exercise of power.  Thus explain the actions of police force, in two places, that are identical as far as the government system and separation of power is concerned.

 

What is power?  Well, power can be three things.  First kind of power is CONDIGN POWER.  That means power thru physical force.  For example, if a teacher uses a stick to get the student to listen, s/he is using a condign power.  In more backward societies and more backward areas of advanced societies, this kind of power has been the most commonplace.  The ones who had more swords or guns were more powerful.

 

Second kind of power is COMPENSATORY POWER.  For example, when parents tell their kid that if they do not finish their homework on time, they will get 10 percent of their allowance, they are using a compensatory kind of power.  This kind of power is the way power has been exercised in the more modern societies.

 

Third kind of power is ORGANIZATIONAL POWER.  For example, when a manager gets to lay-off employees when not having business, his power is resulting from his position in that company’s organization.  The organizational status gives him that authority.  The same can be said about status of grandparents in a traditional society.  Their power to make some decisions for the family results from their status in the family clan.

 

If the kind of power used in a particular society has been mostly condign power, the society by its history knows this form of power more.  Now even if it is a democratic government with division of power, and checks and balances, it still would mostly gravitate towards condign force, than using compensatory or organizational approach when policing itself.

 

I think this is how one can say why the police in Tien-An Men square of China acted the way it did, or this is how one can explain why the police in Germany during the rise of fascism acted the way they did.

 

In countries that had more history of compensatory kind of power, like United Kingdom and the United States, fascists had a harder time to use the police apparatus, although the separation of state was almost the same and "how power was exercised" was not much different between Germany and U.S.

 

Of course, this is not the only reason for growth or lack of growth of fascism in different societies, but I am just noting this factor for this particular discussion.

 

Sam Ghandchi

December 1998

 

RELATED ARTICLES:

http://www.ghandchi.com/383-Galbraith-plus.htm

http://www.ghandchi.com/206-OpenSociety.htm

http://www.ghandchi.com/236-PowerDemocracy.htm

http://www.ghandchi.com/500-FuturistIran.htm
http://www.ghandchi.com/index-Page6.html

 

 

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* The above article was first posted on SCI (soc.culture.iranian) Usenet newsgroup in December 1998.

 

 

P.S.1 [Feb 2002]- Let me note that Galbraith’s model is a bit different from my model above.  He calls the third form of power CONDITIONED POWER (which for him means more like *conditioning power*) and he includes power thru media and public opinion in this form of power, which has grown in modern communications.  For him CONDITIONED power is more like Memes in the works of authors like Richard Dawkins which controls the social psyche and is mostly hidden in contrast to CONDIGN and COMPENSATORY power.  And he sees the close relation of sources of power which he defines as Personality, Property, and Organization; with the forms or instruments of power, which he defines as Condign, Compensatory, and Conditioned Power. In my opinion, one can say (like Sun Tsu) that “knowledge is power” and even regard it higher than Personality and Property.  But I think at the end of the day, Personality, Property, Knowledge, and the work of Public Relations will have to be effective in a condign or compensatory or organizational form, to effect the result intended by the one exercising power and this is why I consider the three kinds of power as CONDIGN, COMPENSATORY, and ORGANIZATIONAL and I think this fully explains the anatomy of power.  The authors like Max Weber noted by Galbraith himself had defined power as "the possibility of imposing one’s will upon the behavior of others”.  I believe what is new in Galraith, is in separating power into categories, which helps one to analyze the difference in the  type of power used in different societies and this is what I have drawn from his book.

 

P.S.2 [Feb 2002]- Some monarchists claim condign power was basically absent in Iran of the Shah and they claim all power of Islamic Republic now is conditioned power!!! Actually this latter statement, which I doubt if they understand, is even justifying the Islamic Republic. Sigh!!!  And as far as the former claim, one should just remember Shah’s Savak to know how much condign power was used by Shah’s regime.

And the reality of Islamic Republic is that it started with what Galbraith calls *conditioned power*, which means more like *conditioning power*, as some authors have noted, and it is similar to the concept of memes in authors like Dawkins, where one can say the cult-type repetition of Khomeini's tapes in mosques, had a strong significance in Khomeini winning power. I would also add that people believed in Khomeini, as the alternative of unity for Iran, and this is why he did not need condign power at the beginning.  But as time passed, the Islamic Republic has been staying in power more and more by condign power (beh zaboon sAdeh tar iinhA bA sarneyzeh hokoomat mikonanad). To say that they are ruling by conditioned power *today*, is to give them a lot of credit!!

But of course they are using conditioned power today, just as Shah used TV and radio, but again contrary to what some monarchists claim, it is now with *less* effect.  This is another thing they not do understand, which happens to be the key to discussion of this tpic as relates to Iran. The tapes of Khomeini smuggled, going from hand to hand, at the time of the Shah, had more effect on Iranian people, than all the TV and radio that IRI has at its disposal now, at the time of Islamic Republic.  Why? Because in Iran, nobody believes anything the state radio says, and this is what they do not understand,  when just reading Galbraith and not understanding the big difference of the view of American people about their media, and their state, and that of the Iranians, and our view of Iranian government media, and mistrusting it.  Iranians in Iran listen to so many foreign radios every night for real news.  How many Americans would one see listening to news broadcasts of other countries to decipher news?  Almost none.

Moreover, as I noted in my article, the power in Iran has been more condign power, both before and after Khomeini, although Khomeini used conditioned power of his smuggled tapes very well and in fact Khomeini relied more on conditioned power at the start when he did not even need Savamma and people were catching the opposition and handing them to him out of their belief.  But as time has passed, Islamic Republic has relied more and more on its Vevak,  just like its predecessor, the Shah's regime, which used the Savak, and some monarchists do not see this fact.

Finally both Khomeini and the Shah used Compensatory power too. In fact, Iran's clergy had khoms and zakAt and moghoofAt as its strong financial resources (property) which high-level clergy  used for their own private guards.  RoohAniat of Iran has had its own tavalAii and tabarAiis long long before the Islamic Republic, at the time of Safavis, and the were paid by khoms and zakAt and the clergy continued to have these military arms in one form or the other in different eras, long before IRI. The vaghf of AstAn-e ghods-e Razavi of Imam Reza in Mashhad has always been very significant in supporting this form of clergy power and I hope more to be written on this topic by our historians.


So the whole complex of power in Iran has existed with condign power at the top, with torture and murder of Foruhars and writers.  The threats outside of Iran to people like Salman Rushdie is another vivid example of the strong presence of condign force in the Iranian state.  A threat which was and is to scare nonbelievers of the consequences, including losing their life, if they drop the state religion. Why Khomeini did the fatwa is now clear, because it was when he no longer could rely on conditioned power, and as we have seen, since then, IRI has been relying more and more on *condign power*, with the police and vigilantes running the show ,and although increasing its propaganda in TV and radio, but the conditioned power of IRI has become less and less effective and the condign brute force is the main source of IRI rule in Iran.

 

 

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