The Nine Applications of Power

The Modern Survival Guide #74

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  1. The power of authority
  2. The power of will
  3. The power of fear
  4. The power of force
  5. The power of respect
  6. The power of organization
  7. The power of tradition
  8. The power of incentive

#1: The Power of Money

We’re starting with money, and we’re starting here for a reason. There is a term that we have to get out of the way for the rest of this article to make sense, and that term is: fungible. There’s your SAT word of the day. “Fungible” means that you can turn one thing into another on a relatively equal exchange. And we’re starting with money because money is the most fungible form of power — you can turn it into most of the others.

#2: The Power of Authority

If you have authority, you have power. Authority implies that you are in a social, political, or economic position where you have a title, you often tell other people what to do, and they do it. If your orders aren’t followed, you don’t have authority. You may be in an authority position, but you don’t have authority. Those are different things.

#3: The Power of Will

In other places you might see this described as the “will to power” or the “will to act,” and all this really means is that in order to make a choice you have to have the strength of will to follow through on that choice. If you want to start a company, you have to actually fill out the paperwork, hire the employees, find the vision, etc. If you want to make a purchase, you have to pay out the money. If you want to fall in love, you have to get out there and meet your match.

#4: The Power of Fear

Oooh, now we’re going to the Dark Side of the Force. The power of fear is the power to force someone out of their comfort zone and trigger their fight or flight reflexes. People who are afraid often act in predictable patterns that someone with a knowledge of their position can exploit.

#5: The Power of Force

Using force is, in many ways, a defining form of power. In this case, “force” means the application of physical interventions to influence the choices of another person. Sometimes that force can take the form of legal actions, such as arrest or asset seizure. Sometimes that force can take the form of violence, in all the ways violence is used. Force has a wide range of applications, and is available to anyone with a sharp stick. This makes force the second most fungible source of power, after money, which probably explains why it’s used so often.

#6: The Power of Respect

Exercising respect-based power allows you to make significant choices based solely on the fact that other people like you, or think you’re the best qualified person. R E S P E C T is insanely important in any job, any relationship, any enterprise that you undertake, and unlike many of the other forms of power on this list, anyone can have it.

#7: The Power of Organization

Ultimately, the key part of making a meaningful change is that something gets done as a result. Therefore there is great power in organization, because without some degree of organized action trying to manage people is a bit like herding cats. With organization, on the other hand, you get companies, armies, bureaucracies, religions, volunteer groups… basically all the organized groups that make up society.

#8: The Power of Tradition

How often have you heard someone say, “That’s the way we’ve always done things?” And how often have you participated in a ritual of one form or another that marked a change? These are both examples of tradition, and traditions have enormous power because they represent stability and certainty. Name two things people want more in life. I’ll wait. It’ll be short list.

#9: The Power of Incentive

Now we’re getting meta. Incentives may cross any of the other categories, but I put them on their own for a reason: if you control something that someone else wants, you have power over them. It’s that simple. Incentives are among the most fungible sources of power as a result — you can turn them into almost anything.

Nine Applications, One Goal

To summarize, I think there are at least nine primary application of power — nine ways in which most of us make or influence meaningful choices in our lives or in other people’s lives. Each has their strengths and weaknesses. and some are more morally pure than others.

Searching for truth in a world focused on belief.

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