Power. Every great economist, every great political thinker, has reflected on power.We don’t reflect on power. We don’t reflect on the complexity of the power relations that shape our lives, Suzanne Moore said you’d be better getting married than reading Foucalt if you wanted to understand power. It’s easier to reflect on power when you are powerless and looking at what is shaping your life than it is to reflect on power you exercise. Power corrupts, or so am told, and I can quite believe it. Social work is one long reflection on power, unequal power relations equal violence, oppression and abuse. That type of reflection is necessary to stay sane when you are intervening in people’s family life, or dealing with the vulnerable. You have to be aware of how you are shaping situations and how your presence is impacting what you can see. I don’t imagine that is easy when you have power over millions.
When I joined twitter it was notable to me that the people in this stupid little chatroom were the people who made and shaped policy felt by millions. Watching their reactions to mixing with the world now they didn’t have elite institutions to protect their isolation at the top of a hierarchy. It’s no secret how it turned out. Media figures abusing and defaming people, and the christening of a chatroom as the future of media. What if the problem is bigger than the centre left abusing those they disenfranchise?
THis is a generation of political class who only really understand exercising power without reflection. Who are used to being detatched from those whose lives they shape. It was easy in the first four or five years on twitter to make your point direct to those with power, to interrupt their narratives. Focus E15 gained prominence because their occupation of a housing estate was publicised on twitter during party conference. I was able to write for the nationals and to generate a list of enemies who really shouldn’t know my name. If I wanted something in the papers, there was usually a way to get it there. What if the consequence of media power moving to a digital environment are more serious. If they can’t reflect on power they have, how do they know when they are giving it away? How do you put a genie back in a bottle?
My gut is that the astroturf of the alt-right and hard left is shallow. An inch deep and a mile wide. But the revelation of the culture underpinning media, politics and policy makers wasn’t just open to us. We don’t exist in isolation. If this culture cannot even reflect on power they are giving a chatroom, and feel personally injured by people whose reality impacts their identity, what have other world powers been seeing? If a gobshite single mum from Todmorden, or a group of housing activists in London can disrupt media narratives, is it really a surprise that social media is the ideal tool to disrupt an election?
If these people can’t reflect on the power they hold, how will they know when they don’t hold it any more? Will they be like Merovingian Kings wearing the empty robes of power as it falls out of their hands? Who will inherit what they lose and how will it be used?
I really don’t think the policy and media culture outraged at Trump on twitter understand what they have done. The way the power they had can morph and pass to someone else. They have been insulated from it forever. They don’t even know how to reflect on this, the chances of them doing so are slim. Inequality is a euphemism for power. Dynamics between groups, between nations, between individuals, institutions. An inequality crisis is one where unequal power relations are driving crisis. The economists and political thinkers who have reflected on power have usually been given the opportunity to reflect on power by crisis. That crisis would appear to be here.