10 Data-Based Relational Principles of Power

A Series: Building A Relational Frame for Creating Democratic Practices in a Capitalist Culture

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puget sound, camano island, washington :: photo credit: @dr.cbg
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reinhardt redwood regional, oakland, california @ebrpd :: photo credit: @dr.cbg

Old paradigms give way to new ones when some combination of actual events and new ways of understanding those events appear on the scene. Then the ice begins to crack.

More and more people question the status quo and come to embrace new ways of thinking and new directions for policy.

Right now, cracks in the ice are appearing for three reasons: 1) the disruptive effects of trade and technology on individual lives and communities, 2) virtually unprecedented levels of inequality and the possibility that ever-rising inequality is baked into a market economy, and 3) the failure of supply-side economics to deliver on its promises along with some deeper questioning of its goals.

The last four years have fortified the metaphorical wall of ice between those who stand firmly on the side of capitalist profit concerns and those who stand on the side of human relations, dignity, and well-being. Our conventionally abstract economic, government, political, academic, and media paradigms have provided no way around, under, or through that lethal wall so we might connect with each other.

We need to start building from a healthier place. Our conventional paradigms have failed us, and no conventional paradigm in any sphere begins with how actual humans relate with one another in order to build out and implement processes and systems from that perspective.

It’s time for a relational paradigm shift that creates healthy common ground on which we can rebuild humane and sustainable processes and systems of economies, governments, education, politics, knowledge production, and media.

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crockett hills regional, crockett, california @ebrpd :: photo credit: @dr.cbg

Human Power Relations

My field research in Rural American Cultures (RAC) focused on human relations. Even though I chose to leave academia in 2014 to pursue independent research, my academic training based in process philosophy — which understands the universe as radically relational — is baked into who I am, both professionally and personally. (I wasn’t about to leave all those expensive, incredibly useful — sometimes beautiful — academic sense-making tools behind!)

  1. Power is central in our practices with one another: everything we think, feel, act on, imagine, implement, buy, and love is embedded in a power relation.
  2. For individual humans, power is functionally the ability to generate and maintain forward momentum. Forward momentum is hardwired into all living entities on the planet. We own our forward momentum. (In what direction progress occurs as a result of that momentum is a question about choice and options — about agency.)
  3. As humans, our momentum (our power) is always already in relation with others’ momentum (their power), which means that we adapt to one another’s power in our relations (those living connections between us). Each relational adaptation to power is embodied in an observable practice (or set of them) that can be documented, examined, understood, and changed.
  4. Power relations between humans function on a spectrum, from perfectly balanced to severely imbalanced. Relations that tend toward a perfect balance function as democratic and are healthiest for humans. Relations that are intended to be severely imbalanced, to varying degrees, function as authoritarian and are least healthy, even lethal, for humans.
  5. Severely imbalanced (or authoritarian) power relations include racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and speciesism (among others). Each imbalanced power relation is embodied in observable practices that can be documented, examined, understood, and changed.
  6. Power moves in our practices between one another. Sharing power means engaging in practices that help others generate and maintain their forward momentum. Stealing power means engaging in practices that functionally create barriers to slow, stagger, and/or stop others’ forward momentum. Hoarding power means amassing concentrations of what fuels forward momentum: capital, bandwidth, credit, status, authority, weapons, position, and other resources.
  7. Practices move the balance of power in our relations. When there are more power-sharing practices in a culture, the power balance moves toward perfection on the democratic end of the spectrum. When practices that steal and hoard power outnumber those that share power, the power balance moves to the authoritarian side of the spectrum.
  8. Both democratic and authoritarian processes, systems, and regimes are constituted by our human relations and embodied in human practices that can be observed, documented, examined, understood, and changed.
  9. Power relations are the human basis on which processes and systems either succeed or fail. Democracies succeed when human power relations are relatively balanced. Authoritarian regimes succeed when human power relations are severely imbalanced.
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crockett hills regional, crockett, california @ebrpd :: photo credit: @dr.cbg

A Relational Path Forward

Everything we do starts and ends with power. How we “do” power begins with how we’ve been raised in our families to embody and respond to it. As adults, how we go on to employ our forward momentum (our power) and adapt to others’ power depends in large part on how those skills — that we learned responding and adapting to power in our families — are valued (or not) in contexts beyond our family.

Ultimately, each way of “doing” power has serious implications for how we “do” our lives: how we orient in our practices to each other, how we orient in our practices to worlds beyond our family cultures, and how we orient toward human health.

There is no better time than now to focus on cleaning up our relations with one another. The power principles outlined above begin with how humans relate with one another and build out from there. The shift to a relational paradigm provides the most useful and humane philosophical framework within which to understand how we might move toward more balance — and more health — in our power relations with one another.

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kruse rhododendron preserve, jenner, california photo credit: @dr.cbg

SF Bay Area critical researcher, creative, & cultural worker. Content developer for The Relational Democracy Project relationaldemocracy@gmail.com IG @dr.cbg

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