What image do you conjure when you imagine the idea of power? If modern media serves as your guide, you might think of a dictator such as Saddam Hussein. You might think of a greedy business mogul such as Gordon Gekko. Whatever the specific images, chances are they’re of dictatorial, corrupt people. And chances are they’re abusing the power they’ve gained.
That this image of power prevails comes as no surprise. Entertainment sources portray the horrible, power-hungry tyrant. In the news we constantly see people who abused the power afforded them: the financiers who caused the financial crisis, or even Joe Paterno covering up Jerry Sandusky’s heinous acts. All around us power is portrayed as evil.
In his book The Image, Daniel Boorstin explains how modern media and entertainment have created images in place of ideals. Instead of striving towards an ideal, we instead live within an image. Given how the media has portrayed power, it’s no wonder it has acquired negative connotations. In reality, though, the accumulation of power is quite essential — and it’s true more now than ever.
My grandfather worked for a single company his entire post-military life. That company moved him and his family around the country. Many in his generation experienced something similar. They showed loyalty to the company, and the company showed loyalty to them. Those days were over long ago, though. We are all free agents to some extent or another.
In order to stay ahead of the game, in order to ensure that we can maintain lifestyles we desire, we must accumulate power. It might appear an unseemly prospect, due to the image of power that media has created. But if we separate the image of power from the idealistic concept of power, reality becomes clearer. We can see the benefits and necessities of power.
Even as we look at the realistic ideal of power, it still might seem unappetizing. It does mean playing a role and acting a part. It requires a level of manipulation. In order to acquire and grow power you might have to say and do things you wouldn’t think to normally. Because of that reality, some people might opt out. But they’re only hurting themselves. Robert Greene lays it out clearly in the preface to The 48 Laws of Power:
If the world is like a giant scheming court and we are trapped inside it, there is no use in trying to opt out of the game. That will only render you powerless, and powerlessness will make you misterable. Instead of struggling against the inevitable, instead of arguing and whining and feeling guilty, it is far better to excel at power…If the game of power is inescapable, better to be an artist than a denier or a bungler.
The more power you have, the more control you have over the rules. In the modern world, where we need to fight for a control of the market, control and power have become essential. Opt out of the game at your own risk.