Power corrupts?

Agreed. IMO, humans aren’t a great example of the selfishness of life. Compared with other creatures, we’re born pretty helpless. It takes us a very long time to become self-sufficient. That there is so much misogyny in the world seems like a very poor payback for all that went into getting people to the point of self-awareness.


I’m arguing that’s an active choice they’ve made, in part due to the surrounding culture which actively encourages that.

I don’t think our natural state is selfishness, as we would never had gotten further than being a nice meal for a lion if we were ultimately selfish.


and one could also point out hymenoptera societies, vampire bat feeding altruism, etc… they all exist because there’s a reciprocal resource sharing or “altruistic” sharing of resources with related individuals that carry the same genetics.

In this case, the transfer of elements like carbon to below canopy plants and other elements up (like nitrogen) just means that this is an interesting mutually beneficial (but still selfish) multi-organism symbiosis.

The topic isn’t biology, it’s people making active choices to exploit others. Can we get it back on topic, perhaps?


You are reminding me about all the times people (including in some cases actual therapists) have said to me that my parents couldn’t have been all that bad, because look how well I turned out.

That’s insulting.

Of course, one’s childhood has an effect on one’s development. But people are more than the sum of their parents. Bad parents shouldn’t get credit if their child grows up to be a good person, despite their bad influence, nor should good parents be blamed if their child grows up to be someone who exhibits worse values than the ones modeled in their childhood.


I’m not sure that would test out experimentally. There are siblings who received the same upbringing; identical twins, even; who are completely different adults. And I’m including major criminal activity in there.

Moreover, people who are raised well can become abusers, while people who were abused often break the cycle. It can’t just be boiled down to parenting.

It doesn’t have to be A or B. They can be self-aware, and not give a shit. They can be selfish and know it’s wrong. I’d argue that’s a pretty common occurrence


It doesn’t.

Nature AND Nurture greatly shape and impact the kind of people that we become, not to mention all the manufactured societal constructs like race and class.


Wikipedia claims that this is the letter that originally contained the epigram.



I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility [that is, the later judgment of historians] has to make up for the want of legal responsibility [that is, legal consequences during the rulers’ lifetimes]. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which . . . the end learns to justify the means. You would hang a man of no position, . . . but if what one hears is true, then Elizabeth asked the gaoler to murder Mary, and William III ordered his Scots minister to extirpate a clan. Here are the greater names coupled with the greater crimes. You would spare these criminals, for some mysterious reason. I would hang them, higher than Haman, for reasons of quite obvious justice; still more, still higher, for the sake of historical science. . . .

Someone here (wish I could recall who to provide attribution) - pointed out; in one of the police brutality threads - that it isn’t necessarily power which corrupts, rather it’s the absence of consequences for bad behavior. Thought that was a very insightful observation and seems applicable in this case as well.


Yeah, but the statement was that power doesn’t corrupt. Im arguing that it absolutely does, and that there are deep seated reasons why the base corruption happens.

Culture exists to supplant or surpass the biological basis for things, and as such represents a step beyond base biology. The fact that some people can’t rise above their base urges is the problem.

One could argue that there seems to be a point where, if you’ve hoarded enough resources, you don’t have to play by the same cultural rules as everyone else. That’s a problem from my point of view…

I would argue that the root cause of the problem is the dominance paradigm. The very fact that we frame leadership as power over instead of responsibility for other people reflects that. To be clear, I’m not saying changing how we frame the issue fixes it - though it’s not insubstantial - but that there’s a direct line between abuse of power and the very fact that we build our cultures on a foundation of domination reinforced by the exploitative way in which we engage in the control and management of capital, financial and otherwise.

Indeed, and the desire to boil it down to a farcically simplistic model of human behavior is a false comfort.

“Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” ~ Lord Acton [emphasis mine]

Humans aren’t automatons, and we’re not the authors of our own repression through the investiture of trust in leaders. People are responsible for their own choices.


While I think The Selfish Gene was a groundbreaking book, it propagated a truly unfortunate human tendency to anthropomorphize the external natural world of which we’re a part. And by erroneously projecting human values beyond us, it’s all too easy to mistake the behavior of the external world for an absolute validation of certain values. Dawkins was by no means the progenitor of this fallacy, nor despite his own character flaws do I think he intended the metaphor as an endorsement of human selfishness. But it can be seen since the earliest sloppy science of social “Darwinism” and has a more sinister aspect is racist pseudoscience.


It has been some time, but how do you anthropomorphize a sequence of DNA?

By readers mistaking a metaphor about the emergent properties of evolutionary forces for not-a-metaphor. To be clear, while I have many criticisms of Dawkins, I don’t blame him for that, but it was an unintended consequence.


The more power you get, the more the rule of unintended consequences comes into play. Even the best, most well-intentioned person has to make choices. Even if you see yourself as a leader with responsibilities, you are going to make choices that have unintended consequences and the more power you have, the farther reaching they will be. It actually changes your thinking.

This is why I would rather win 1 million dollars than 100 million. One million would keep me well comfortable for the rest of my life (with housingprices around here, I do mean “comfortable” and not “extravagant”), and I could support people. 100 million and now I am either hoarding as part of the problem, or I am favouring one set of causes far more than another because it’s near impossible to give that much away equitably. I don’t even want to think about a billion. And yes, in our society, $ = power. It’s not the sole measure, but it’s good for demonstration purposes.


That should be a rule a la Murphy’s Law and Poe’s Law. Malevolent’s Law?

Not joking; I think it’s that relevant.

Yep, and I think it works on two fronts. It changes the way you model reality, but it also furthers the extent to which your leverage exceeds your awareness, including empathetic awareness.


That really threw me, as I’m doing some animated assets to explain genetics, and the client insists on using the analogies from that book, but I couldn’t recall having mentioned that here.

I don’t know that I completely subscribe to his interpretation, but it is a fascinating way to frame things.

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I don’t think anyone argued that? Just that people can make choices.

They make the choice NOT to do so.

Again, no one here has argued against that.


Nah, the original post I responded to posited that power didn’t corrupt, that’s what I disagreed with.

I think we’re on the same page here. I’m definitely not arguing that people can’t or shouldn’t make choices to resist the corrupting influence of power.

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