Saturday, September 4, 2021

Power is Useful

In my post about giving up ideological purism, I talked about how it felt like activism was weak resistance, and not something powerful. I still hadn't discovered an answer as to how to engage with and change the system powerfully. I have an answer now.


To make powerful change, one has to have power. Thinking about power as an anathema is not helpful.

The first place I saw this articulated unambiguously is in a tweet thread by Jonathan Smucker. Jonathan talks in no uncertain terms about how "Knowledge of what is wrong with a social system and knowledge of how to change the system are two completely different categories of knowledge."

That's true. And that's where I was wrong too.

What's wrong with the system (from my perspective) is concentration of power in the hands of a few. My naive solution to this was to fight power itself. To not pick up power. To disown and discredit power. But it was indeed naive. One can't defeat power structures by shying away from power.

The rest of Jonathan's thread is about how to organize politically and gain power. There was an article linked by someone else in reply about how to use words like "Power" and "Money" with transformational meaning.

From the little I know, Ambedkar also was a proponent of this method. Ambedkar asked people to "educate, agitate, organize". Ambedkar was essentially laying down the blueprint on how to change the system.

Today I had a chat with Prashanth on these same topics. Through many examples, daktre articulated the same idea, although daktre used the words "legitimacy" and spoke through the field of academics and the power that academic work lends you.

Daktre could also identify what was holding me back. The ambition of wanting to make large impact AND be perfect at the same time. The desire to make huge changes to the world (savior complex, but in an extreme scale) is fine. But the desire to be perfect while doing so is what causes problems. What if one is willing to let go of the want to be perfect? What if one is ready to make compromises in return of accomplishing a larger goal? One might personally become "blemished", might get called out for being a hypocrite. But in the larger picture, one might be able to accomplish more.

Yesterday Swathi and I were having a conversation over our lives and Swathi mentioned how it is screwed up to think that we can make large impact, that we can accomplish all we want. I was resisting by saying that we can indeed make large impact, we just have to find a way.

I think the path in front of me is clear. Embrace pragmatism. Gain power. Wield it carefully. Be willing to make compromises (and be called out by others for it). Helpful to keep a group of close friends who can call out quickly. Don't think of myself as the complete and perfect solution. Think of myself only as a piece of a larger solution.

Now I know why Anivar was asking me to get a PhD. I think I won't take the academic route to power. I'm looking towards the entrepreneurial route. Let us see where we reach.

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