The Psychological Politics of Power

[This title’s alliteration was purposely phrased to capture your attention. Hopefully it didn’t make you wan’t to P. Haha, my jokes are lame, okay enjoy.]

Now, I don’t consider myself a person of politics — or someone who is capable of having political debates — but I do recognize the existence of political systems that hide in the background of our daily lives, like behind an officer’s fancy clothing or an assistant’s mediocre job.

The other day, I went to get my driver’s licence, and although my experiences were of a subdued form of oppression and subjugation, I think conceding to its existence in larger systems (namely federal ones) is an important psychological implication.

This will probably be a long post, sorry. But for me, as this personality growing with psychological concepts, I walk and talk and experience through what I’ve learned. It’s  a little irksome at times, but when I can match up a behavior to a concept or mechanism, it’s the best. I will be listing some of the most salient behaviors that I observed and how their application can be scary. Like, really scary.

1. Complexes

This is probably the easiest behavioral outcome to understand and apply politically. A bureaucracy or feudal system of men superior and men inferior not only restricts fluctuations in behavior, but it also very lucidly bolds out those with complexes. Superiority complexes are usually most common.

When I had entered one of the officer’s rooms to get stamps for my papers, I observed the following: Besides the fact that everyone on the outside was being scorched out in the sun and he was sitting in his air-conditioning, he had assistances coming and going all the time. I hand the man in the white and black uniform (which is another issue we’ll get into later) my papers and he sighs and glances at me then stamps away. One of his assistances walk in with a card and asks him whether they’ve done the right thing and the officer drops his pen and glares at him.

“You’re an idiot!” he yells, “You are an idiot,” he repeats, “when I give you a task, don’t use your brain, don’t think about it. You’re an idiot, so please don’t use your brain, just do what you’re told!”

I tilt my head a little at the man yelling and the recipient of it and am at awe at how well the superiority complex fits. This was a man deprived of power as a child — and now he’s in a position that offers a lot of it [the way he sees it anyway], so how do you assume he uses the thing he longed for for years? That’s right, he abuses it. It was clear-cut. A plus B equalled C.

Now, I know in this specific situation there were many details missing like, maybe that assistant really did irk the officer’s nerves extensively, or maybe everyone was used to him speaking that way but he was great deep down. But the point of me observing it was to understand its possible psychology in a more general sense — because if we consider that laws are being passed and documents are being signed on the basis of a childhood inferiority, then we need to seriously consider the credibility of our rulers.

2. Clothes as a behavior determinant 

It might seem obvious, but it’s something no one puts a lot of thought into often. You’ve probably been exposed to the famous Zimbardo Stanford Prison experiment that ended in horrifying match with this concept. A boy puts on the uniform of a prison guard, he becomes only a prison guard. A boy puts on jail clothes, all he knows now is behaving like a prisoner. It sounds like it shouldn’t make sense, but it does. When I would walk my through my old high school’s gates in proper dress code, my behavior was psychologically restricted to student behavior, and I couldn’t really recognize it, it was just how things were. I couldn’t raise my voice too loudly, or say inappropriate words to my friends, or have my phone out for display — but outside of that environment, I would joke around with my teachers that I would see also dressed in casual clothing. It is a magical concept that isn’t really magical, just psychological.

The officer believes himself to have a certain amount of power presented to him by his black and gold bars on his shoulders and his white jumpsuit thing. But here’s what he’s missing. This uniform was so specifically designed for a restriction of his behavior. It was given to him, he didn’t choose it. There’s another frightening understanding in the fact that positions are never ours, they are articulated and very meticulously designed to identify and limit how we act, but that’s a philosophical debate for another post.

3. Environment as a behavior determinant

Again, this concept sounds quite clear, like yeah duh, if I’m in a prison cell it’d be quite difficult to behave like a business man — but again, when we look at our daily lives, we really dismiss a lot of these factors. If we look at the most prominent parts of our lives growing up, schools, we can see this in action. The classrooms, for example, are the insidious epitome of red tape. The first thing you might remember about your old classrooms was how identical each desk was to the other. This is true whether you had giant tables with identical chairs that you all sat around or whether each student had individual desks. As a student, you are almost programmed to understand that the teacher has the cool big bureau and you get the desks identical to your classmate. It is psychologically instilled that in a school setting, you are inferior and teachers are superior. Now, as an elementary student, it’s almost impossible for you to even recognize this brainwashing, but when you get to university, it becomes one of those sad truths of educational systems all around the world.

Let me quickly tell you a story that seems unrelated but it is, I promise. For one of my courses here at uni, our professor (whom I had grown to really appreciate) had called for a makeup class in one of the teachers’ lounges. Obviously not everyone attended, and they missed out because wow, this lounge was luxury. Anyways, there were no desks, no specific bureau for the professor, no promethean boards, it was just a bunch of very oddly comfortable bamboo chairs nonchalantly places around the room. We sat with our notebooks out, and as we began discussion, the professor sat next to us in one of the chairs. It was the strangest thing! It was almost blasphemy to teachers around the world! And I’m not exaggerating when I say that during that class, I learned so much more than I ever had in our regular classroom setting. We discussed and shared ideas with no prerequisites. No one was marked as knowing more or less, we all learned from each other, and I believe that is what education is supposed to be about, not how to deal with anxiety before an exam. It is a sad truth. It really is.

Anyways, if we take a look at the license place again, it becomes easy to see how the work environment allowed for this officer to yell the way he did. And if we extrapolate to larger systems again, it becomes way too easy to see how a president or prime minister is only cool when they’re in their offices, but outside of it, who knows how they actually behave.

4. The possibility of masochism

Now, I realize how this may seem a little far fetched and that the percentage of people with this disorder is so very rare, but what we fail to consider is the fact that many types of behaviors can be learned. So, I don’t need to have this certain fetish to have components of its behavior. Firstly, let me quickly list the main behavior a masochist engages in: the primary identifier is this need for humiliation by others to achieve pleasure. I’m not going to get into the sexuality of this topic because I find it frankly fatuous. So, if we take this need for humiliation and extrapolate a little, we can identify many personalities that don’t mind feeling painfully inferior to others. And this is a problem, because it is personalities like these that aide in perpetuating these disgusting systems.

I’m not claiming that the assistant that replied in an almost enslaved manner was a masochist. But his behavior that didn’t feel the need to retaliate against such horrible words makes him another pawn in this political chess game.


And I realize that again, I am missing too much of the real picture to make any confident judgements on this assistant and officer, but their example was such a wonderful depiction of so many realities that we should make confident judgments on.

And so, the next time someone yells at you, I suggest you laugh. Obviously they’ll ask you why you’re laughing when you should be crying. And then you’ll pat them in a pretentiously sympathetic manner and tell them that it’s okay that they were never shown love or given power as children. Then they’ll get even more mad at you, and that’s when you should probably run away.

Psychology only teaches me how to read people, okay, not how to fight them. I’m still a coward.


5 thoughts on “The Psychological Politics of Power

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