Friday, October 21, 2011

Power and Immaturity - a metaphor

I am struck by the connection between power and immaturity in the world today.  I see immaturity in the exercise of power in so many places.  Perhaps it is a metaphor that can tell us something about ourselves and where we put our own power.

It seems to me that the power in the Islamic countries had been in the hands of two groups:  the fundamentalist Islamic religious fanatics and the governmental  brutal dictators.  Neither of these groups have been exactly paragons of maturity.  

The religious fundamentalists perceived the world in strictly black and white terms, good and evil, the Islamist purists vs. the devils of the West.  This seems to me to be one of the defining traits of adolescence, living in a black and white universe with no room for nuances and grays.  Keep things simple, easy to understand, just know the dogmas in order to avoid the need to think and feel each situation newly.  Just decide long ago on the rigid rules and wage holy wars to promulgate the Truth, capital "T."

The dictators created a pretty black and white world as well.  Keep it simple, whatever brutality and domination that is needed to get and keep power is all that matters.  The needs of others only meant anything as it related to the need, demands, desires of the rulers.  In other words, the dictators were and are self centered to levels that are hard to comprehend.  This seems to me to be one of the defining traits of children and adolescents:  self-centeredness and self importance.

But we can look closer to home to find immaturity and power linked together.  Certainly, the self-centerdness and lack of caring for others was pretty much the defining characteristic of the Financial Industry as it inflated the housing bubble in order to extract vast fortunes from the middle classes of the developed world.  The smartest of our youth went to Wall Street to make their fortunes rather than to be engineers or scientists like the older generations had that created NASA and built the industrial miracle that empowered and enriched and grew a vast middle class after WWII.  

Unfortunately for us, creating lots of money for themselves had very little to do with actually creating a growing economy, and had so much more to do with creating insider games that rewarded super risky financial behavior that  eventually blew up in all of our faces.

And, of course, immaturity was the hallmark of the millions of homebuyers who saw a chance to "move on up" into bigger and grander homes, beyond what they had any reason to think that they could actually afford.  It was all just going to work out because real estate would always increase in value, or so thought the home buyers and mortgage sellers and politicians and almost everyone.  The immaturity of following the crowd and believing what everyone else believed, especially if it made you feel richer. 

Fortunately, of course, not everyone in the world has been immature, and I really do expect that there has been a lot of growing up in the last three years since the financial bubble collapsed.  I expect that there has been a lot of re-evaluation by people as to what is important to them and as to what really matters in their lives.  I expect that as people who have been self centered, short sighted, and immature in so many ways see how they have hurt themselves and others, people are choosing to grow up, and mature, and find themselves in ways they hadn't before.

In another way, perhaps the Arab Awakening is another metaphor - a metaphor of a new kind of power, the power of taking charge of our own lives,  of taking our power back.  The Arabs are taking their power back from their dictators, and perhaps in similar ways Westerners are taking our power back from the demands of success and ever-climbing wealth and external symbols of "making it." Maybe America can finally stop being driven by the need to "keep up with the Jones's."

Maybe the Arab Awakening is a metaphor of an awakening for all of us, by saying no to being ruled by others, whether obviously and directly by dictators, or being ruled in more indirect ways of trying to live the lives dictated to us through cultural expectations.

Or maybe I'm just talking about myself.