Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Imagination & Power

“The structures of power have an astonishing stability. In the large range of constructive imagining of options we turn again and again to archetypal patterns, to the Charismatic Leader, the of the Band of the Brotherhood Committee, to the Pure Young Hero, to the Good-Bad Earth Mother. Why are our imaginations of power structures so fixed? It is because we learn from experience; and our most formative experiences of power, and of power relations, are those we have during our prolonged and wholly dependent infancy. While this prolonged infancy makes empathy and psychological complexity possible, it exacts a cost. We are formed not only by what we have learned from experience, but by the ways we learn. [emphasis added] As long as we are in a complex and often highly benign compliance to those who nurtured and sustained us as infants, we associate security and well-being with dependence on power figures. It is to those beginnings that our imaginations return when we are discomforted, depleted, in need. Even though we eventually chafed at the restrictions of our nurturing figures, even though, if we were lucky, we developed sympathy and autonomy, we still have as part of our expectations our early experiences of childhood where reality meant dependency, being Subject to a Boss. If that relation was a benign one, we are all the more subject to gravitate to reconstructing it when we are troubled; but if it was a malign relation, then we are all the more incapacitated. For then a malign power relation is what we expect of the world. It is what defined normality. And of course if it was malign, then we are crippled in our abilities to envisage alternative structures.”—Amélie Oksenberg Rorty, from her essay, “Imagination and Power, Social Sciences Information 22 (New Delhi, 1983): 801-816, reprinted in Mind in Action: Essays in the Philosophy of Mind (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1988): 330-345.

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