There are two things people cannot handle—glory and power. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” as Sir John Dalberg-Acton once said. It has also been said that if you really want to test a someone’s character, give them power. A lot of times, people think that power can be manipulated, but like anything addictive, it will ultimately alter the equilibrium of self. In and of itself, power is not necessarily dangerous; it is when that power is given to someone who harbors ill sentiments towards others that it becomes weaponized. In the hands of such people, power tends to become dangerous, because those hungry for power are prone to usurp more of it. Inevitably, this leads to the abuse of power, and the abuse of power leads to abuse of positions. Abuse of positions leads to the worst crime of all: the abuse of people. We have seen this over and over again in history, with governments, police, army, the courts, and even more personal aspects of life.
When malicious, unsympathetic people are given control, they exercise it as if they have absolute power and feel that they can do what they wish with impunity. They effectively possess absolute power, because no one holds them accountable, even though they were not intentionally given such power.
There are a few examples of this. Take a jury of twelve. They have some level of power, because they are chosen to declare a verdict for a case, which may have life and death implications for the accused individual. Having the power to influence someone’s life in such a way could easily take a toll on a jury member’s mind. Taking it further, if a majority of the jury has a skewed sentiment against the accused individual, or simply people like the accused individual, and that jury bases its verdict on the sentiment, the accused individual will likely be judged unjustly. This suggests that perhaps the members of the jury who were chosen to serve may have had that sentiment long before the trial, but were unable to exercise it in an influential way. Being in the position of influence, on a jury, made a way for them to exercise the ill will in a tangible way.
Another example is state law-enforcement agents. Perhaps they are in charge of public safety. They might have sentiments against people of another race, culture, or status that they have harbored all of their lives, before they became law enforcement officers. Now that they have become state agents, they have some level of power that they can exploit; it may not be absolute power given to them by the state, but it is a power that runs the risk of going unchecked. These state officers might treat civilians and criminals of their race or culture differently, and less brutally, than those from another race or culture. This abuse of power is one that is rarely questioned, because no one feels like it can be challenged, since the state agents are invested with authority by those above them.
In this way, sometimes the people that society should be concerned about operate with the wrong oversight, harming the very people they were empowered to protect. When you have a dangerous person hiding behind the badge of a law enforcement agent, armed with a gun, a Taser, and a bullet-proof vest, or one hiding behind the office of senator or president, decked out in a suit, tie, and authority, he has the power to commit crimes and rarely be held accountable for them, because he is protected by the state, allowed to do whatever he wants, even if what he’s doing is several times worse than the “criminals” everyone imagines.
Ultimately, the problem with giving power to people is that is comes with the temptation for some people to use that power given them to potentially do things outside the mandate of that power. People in power who use it for ill will may very well be considered criminals, because they are doing what criminals do: breaking the law and ruining lives. Because of their perverted use of power, certain groups of people may even be falsely accused. The only difference between these “legal” criminals and their illegal counterparts is that they are abusing their power and hiding under the cover of the state to perpetuate their hate and destruction of fellow human beings.
Power in the hands of humans—does it really belong there? Is it handled well there? Is it safe there? The answer is no, but it is an inevitable danger. That is why we have to stay vigilant, holding those we have entrusted with power accountable. Power by itself can be dangerous, but it becomes much worse when it is usurped to serve a selfish, destructive ends – sentiments based on hate, prejudice, greed, and rage. Power does indeed tend to corrupt, absolute power absolutely, and any level of power driven by a corrupt sentiment is destined to cause pain and destroy lives.
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