Friday, February 20, 2009

What Do These Things Have in Common?

1. The Taliban imposing strict Islamic law, then Taliban leaders privately indulging in many of the same activities Islamic law forbids and/or enjoying shockingly superior living conditions.

2. A U.S. legislator creating laws while taking bribes and misusing taxpayer dollars for personal gain.

3. A business owner asking employees to put the good of the company first, then surfing pornography for hours on the internet in violation of his own policy and internet controls.

4. A parent becoming increasingly annoyed by a child who doesn't turn out how the parent wished, then criticizing or withholding approval of the child.

Do you see a connection? Although widely differing in degree, there is a single human trait rearing its ugly head in these examples. A universal desire having roots in every one of us.


People love the power to control. And once they have it, they wield it to force the world around them to suit or benefit themselves.

And the more power of control a person has, the greater the danger he or she will use it to satisfy the person's every little whim.

How do we control others? We can do it with raw force--physical or mental intimidation. But raw force requires one-on-one contact, so it's not terribly efficient. Even if you're a dictator, your soldiers need to have face-to-face contact with the controlled population to be effective.

But raw force is easy to spot. I'm more concerned about the delicate tools of control. Control that is clothed in false morality. Cultural mores fit into this category. Whenever a culture imposes rules and expectations which limit one group's freedom, there will always be another side to the equation. There will always be those who benefit from someone else's loss.

Take, for example, cultures where women are treated as inferiors. What do men gain? Control over where women go or not go. Who they can interact with. How they can dress. The power is capped by taking away the means for women to break away. Forbid the ownership of property. Forbid education. The bottom line--men enjoy the knowledge that their whims will be satisfied without the limiting and frustrating work of respecting another's autonomy.

Organized religion can be another delicate tool of control. Even things that on their face look innocuous can have questionable motives, like dietary restrictions. Can't eat meat on Friday? Can't eat pork? Why? Perhaps one group is asserting influence over another group's most basic life functions. Even when you eat, you are reminded of the message and created influence of the clergy. If you step back and look objectively, can you find things taken with this power? In the history of the world, religions have demanded attention, time, labor, money, bloodshed, and special treatment for its clergy. How many times has one group destroyed another under the guise of religious righteousness?

Maybe on some level, humans as a species want to be controlled. It provides comfort. It provides order. But maybe there are better, more lofty goals than comfort and order. Don't be fooled into sacrificing yourself for another's gain. Look for control and those who attempt to wield it. Although it can be a tantalizing prospect, one person never has the right to thrive at the expense of another. Fight it when you see it. Stand up and say no!

Don't let yourself get hosed.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree. Control is the worst issue. From a female perspective, I would rather live alone than be under the control of a male. They are the worst offenders. Women tend to work co-operatively together whereas men try to dominate and outdo each other and those they think they own.
Time for humans to evolve out of this pattern of mayhem.

SzélsőFa said...

While I agree with you and Aggie as well, I did not find women as cooperative as she said. Perhaps I sought the wrong places :)))

I too, think that it is important to look for the signs of unjustified control and stand up and help those who need help - I think there is emphasis on 'those who need help.
Because some people, or certain type(s) of people do not mind or even are not aware of being in a situation that seems unfortunate and depressed.

Let me explain: in the feminist group I frequent for my friends, not for feminism, there is a strong will to 'liberate' all women. Let them go to work and achieve a career in the 'outer wolrd' for example.
Even if said women are quite happy being at home and 'just' caring for the household and their kids.
If those women are happy, and truly happy with that, why 'liberate' them?
Telling them they should feel depressed for not working as much as a man does would mean we wish to gain control over them - which is just we want to avoid, don't we?

I hope I was not unclear :S

Catvibe said...

When I first saw the picture, I thought 'someone is getting hosed' so the last line was a delight.

I hear both of the above points. I agree that woman can be horrifying sources of control, and I also think that the process of liberating women must also include liberating men. Everything needs to be tipped on its edge for the balance to change. This is especially obvious in male dominated countries.

As far as whether women should stay home or not has nothing to do with liberation or power. Women should be able to feel they are an equal partner and still feel they are living up to their potentials and are highly acknowledged for the hard work of running a family. Revered for the choice, in fact.

Interesting post Jason. There are times when control is needed in order to keep things 'in control', to run organizations and governments and so on. Control is not always bad. It's the lack of basic moral value (and not religious morals I'm talking about) and the level of corruption of that control that gives it the stuff of nightmares.

the walking man said...

I adapt, not control, and in so doing I am free from the control of others. I can be persuaded after argument that strikes me as logical but not by force, or rules, trends and laws that make no sense to that logic.

This is freedom.

Whirlochre said...

When the rules regarding dissent are numerous and detailed, you know you're under the wing of some unecessarily controlling influence.

SzélsőFa said...

As far as whether women should stay home or not has nothing to do with liberation or power. Women should be able to feel they are an equal partner and still feel they are living up to their potentials and are highly acknowledged for the hard work of running a family. Revered for the choice, in fact.

Of course that should be so.
What I tried to say was that it is a woman's right to live up to her will.
Not ours.
Anyone might have the preference to a certain lifestyle but if I intervene and say 'no you can't stay at home b/c you are being abused' - see?
If she feels fine as she is...?
I don't have the right to force her to a paid, non-home job, I don't have the right to control her own will, that's all I wanted to say, not really clearly, I'm afraid.

Sorry if I was off topic :(

SzélsőFa said...

take *abused* not as in the usual sense, rather, it was meant to be ironic.

Missy said...

I've had a lot of discussions in my circles related to these issues of feeling controlled and how to stop it, having boundaries - and this is the best exhortation by far.

On the flip-side, I try very hard not to be one who must control others. It is enough to have some kind of control of myself! I think your post, showing some less obvious examples of control, can be convicting for those of us who over-use control as well.

I hope you don't mind if I link to this and send others your way?

Anonymous said...

We have a great discussion going here. Thank you everyone!!

I can see how Szelsofa's concerns about feminism can show how purportedly fighting against control can itself bleed into improper control situations. The key is not grinding down others to suit ourselves. Feminists who want to forcibly "liberate" all women are simply hording power themselves. Using arguments and hatred and hurts to push other women to act in a certain way makes these feminists feel powerful and energized. But the goal should not be to feed one person's power trip.

Aggie is correct that men are often outwardly competitive and aggressive, but I would argue that women are also the architects of elaborate control schemes. I like Whilorche's measure or warning system for control. The more friction and dissent you hear, the more power plays are present.

Catvibe's point that control for protection is good is well taken. We want to "control" the negative impulses of people. But I would argue that those forms of control are more about creating consequences for destructive behavior. I believe in only one morality. The golden rule. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. It's self protective. Like a social contract. Laws which punish deliver the consequences for violating that rule.

I like Walking Man's freedom. We vote with our feet. If someone is trying to exert control over us, we can walk away and distance ourselves. Refuse to comply.

Missy's exhortation is a vital point. As much as we hate to be controlled, we must admit to ourselves that we have tendencies to want to control others. We must fight that as much as we fight against our own oppression.

And yes, Missy, I'd be very honored if you link to this post and send others over!!

Sarah Hina said...

The Golden Rule is a good one. Perhaps that's why some incarnation of it is written into every religion. Some elemental truth there rises above the factions and sense of exceptionalism. Now if we would all just follow it.

Though not a believer, I will say that I imagine many followers of a particular faith enjoy honoring these small sacrifices (such as the dietary restrictions) as a testament to their own belief. It likely makes them feel more connected to their God.

There's always a slippery slope, though. Not eating meat on Friday is a different matter than not being allowed to use contraception. But the root reason is the same. That's why fundamentalist adherents to any faith or belief system are always the most dangerous. They're not willing to pick and choose. They have plucked away the notion of free will entirely, supposedly for the honoring of God's infinite will (control), but it very often suits their egos and ends, too.

Of course, even in love, we want to control. That's probably the most difficult thread to cut, because it's also the most precious.

Meghan said...

I wonder if people want control because there's so much in life they CAN'T control. Sometimes we all feel helpless in the face of disaster and control is a way of protecting ourselves from some unforseen threat. I think it's important to recognize that. Once we realize that, for humans, control and fear are closely linked we can take steps to eradicate that fear and realize working together is the best thing for everyone.

Just thinking out loud here...

Anonymous said...

Both Sarah and Meghan raise the important element of fear. For all the wonders and highs that love brings, for example, love also brings the fear of loss and rejection. These dark vulnerabilities and weaknesses are not part of love itself, but are quite happy to tag along with such a powerful force. Control is especially seductive in this arena. If we drill down on our fears and grow, our tendency to turn to control will diminish.

Geraldine said...

This was such a fitting post for me to read today. Long story....Suffice to say, I hear you Jason and I couldn't agree more.

Hugs, G

Linda S. Socha said...

Well Jason
I am new to your blog and I am wondering how I have missed it. We have some similiar thoughts and we may be kindred spirits.

Love the discussion.I tend to see control issues on a personal up close and in my face manner

I would add to the discussion only my personal observation. The issues of control or be controlled raises its collective fused head very early on in family of origin constellations.

It can create emotional havoc for the person in relationship experiences indefinitely and infinitely if there is not a conscious decision to allow awareness, create acceptance and regroup for different actions.

I could go on and on about our sometimes dysfunctional family systems that sometimes rule more that the immediate family constellation. I will not run you off so early on.

Suffice it to say. I like your blog. I would like to follow here and I enjoy exchanging following links if you have an interest. Stop by Psyche Connections and say hello. Tea is on and wine in the frig.

Anonymous said...

"Do you see a connection? Although widely differing in degree, there is a single human trait rearing its ugly head in these examples. A universal desire having roots in every one of us.

Control."--Sterling point. It is a Machiavellian game when you learn to turn control into a dance--an art form--brilliant post.

Barbara Martin said...

It's nice to see others are finally seeing the light. My sentiments on control are similar, though I've been resisting since childhood. The problem with stepping up to say no or to make a fuss is to become a pariah. If enough step up then the stigma will lessen.

Nothingman said...

There will always be control, from one kind of authority or another, if not we are controlling ourselves.

There is no total freedom, we all are getting hosed one way or the other.

A very good post, made me think...

cheers :)


Karen said...

I vote for self control. If we had that, we wouldn't need the other.

Catvibe said...

Just to clarify, I don't think control for protection was my point. I'm thinking control for the purpose of having everyone be able to do their part. Like cogs in a machine, if everyone was allowed to run willy nilly around in their 'free will' choices, this could make getting things done very difficult. I am talking about strategy and organizational control, order vs. chaos. The job of the teacher in the classroom, the speaker of the house, the CEO of the organization. That kind of control that allows for growth and participation, and ends when class is over. Structure is often needed, and there are natural personality types that can manifest this order without being 'control freaks'. I'm not one of them. In my mind I am, but in reality, I'll freak out and sound like someone you don't want to know in short order, blowing my altruism out the door with an 8 gauge shotgun. I'm far better off being a participator with a natural E/J type at the helm.

Aniket Thakkar said...

This post has really sparked a thread of discussions! I couldn't agree more with you Jason!

Everyone seeks something to hold on to on trying times... someone to trust their faith onto... And various religious sects bank on this act of faith to enforce their self created norms to control others! Its a shame!

How many wars and riots will people go through before realizing that they are being played? They keep dividing humanity based on their rules and rituals!

Anonymous said...

Geraldine, I'm glad you found meaning in it!

Linda, welcome! I agree that relationship control and perceived control roots in our psyche during childhood. I can certainly trace my challenges back to the dynamics with my parents. **I look forward to exploring Psyche Connections! Yes, I'd very much like to exchange links. (I've added you.)

Clay, the fact that it can be so hard to see is a testament to how deeply it is woven into our nature.

Barbara, yes, there can be definite consequences for breaking out of subtle controls, especially cultural ones. Perhaps in time, a culture of non-culture will help us reduce some of the conflicts in the world.

Nothingman, if "controlling" ourselves means not allowing ourselves to control others, then yes, I'm advocating self control. Embracing a harming nature may be wonderfully satisfying for the person doing it, but it comes at the price of everyone else.

Karen, yes, we should at least be able to stop ourselves from exerting control over others.

Catvibe, thank you for clarifying your point! Yes, structure is necessary to organizing the labor of many individuals into a common purpose. As you point out, structure is not necessarily control, because there is a general sense that structure is limited to the labor itself. For example, we know that work rules don't reach to who we are as people, or to the rest of our lives away from work. It is a limited context.

Aniket, so true. There is nothing inherently inappropriate about looking for higher meaning or a power greater than ourselves. Unfortunately, in practice, religion can reflect many more human issues than it does divine.

Linda S. Socha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda S. Socha said...

Hello. I love your thinking.
Wonderful clarification...Strategy and organizational control vs chaos....wonderful concept.

I love those seemingly transient moments when it is actually happening and flowing. I call those moments smooth sailing:>).
So are you an ENFP, INFP? I have grown fond of the Myers Briggs.
Love your writing and your ideas

Terri said...

Jason the Anarchist. I like it :-)

Control, like most things in life, is best served in moderation. That's when it becomes leadership and humans need leadership. Too much control takes away free will and will always lead to rebellion which is the opposite effect to the desired one that caused the control to be exerted in the first place.

Catvibe said...

Hi Linda, thanks! Once in a while an idea flashes through like a bolt of lightening. ;-) INFP is the answer to your question. And you?

Linda S. Socha said...

Hey Catvibe...leaning past the E a bit .....sometimes swinging back toward the I on ENFP:>)

SzélsőFa said...

Thank you Jason for understanding my somewhat unrelated rant :)
At the moment this is all I can contribute to this great discussiona s blue death has taken our home PC.

Jennifer said...

Jason, were truer words ever spoken??

"Unfortunately, in practice, religion can reflect many more human issues than it does divine."

For reasons I can't share, this post was so well-timed for me it's scary, and I thank you for it in this totally obscure way. :)

The Preacherman said...

Human nature.

Sad but true.

Anonymous said...

Linda, you can check out my partner-in-crime's blog for some great posts on Myers-Briggs.

Szelsofa, a dead PC at home?? Oh no, that's the worst! I hope you get the blue screen solved ASAP.

Jennifer, thank you for letting me know, even obscurely. You're welcome. :)

Preacherman, maybe it won't always be so.

Sarah Laurenson said...

In my experience when I thought I had control, I only had the illusion of it. Short of time right now. I want to come back and give this a thorough reading.