This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Power corrupts, especially when it lacks status

Power corrupts, especially when it lacks status - Comments

Jay G's Avatar Comment 1 by Jay G

Anybody who has ever had the "pleasure" of going to the New Jersey DMV could have saved these people time and money.

Thu, 22 Sep 2011 23:13:06 UTC | #874114

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 2 by Neodarwinian

Classic confusion between power and control. Power cares nothing for status, but I could see control as a status based compensation attempt. These people were not so much corrupted as marginally compensated for not having real power over others. When I go the the DMV I realize that a game will be played and I will have to play along with the petty control freaks that inhabit that world, but I still emerge as me from the experience and I will have what I want/need. A license. Imagine going to the DMV and coming out with Copenhagen complex. The difference between power and control.

( Stanford Prison experiment excepted )

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 00:31:52 UTC | #874143

Dexteronly's Avatar Comment 3 by Dexteronly

Hence the behaviour of many security guards.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 00:46:11 UTC | #874148

jmacarth's Avatar Comment 4 by jmacarth

Ultimately the issue comes down to iindividual responsibility for any action that we undertake. It's clear that some individuals are more likely to take advantage of their position of control over others (this also relates to treatment of animals who are completely helpless and can't complain!) Giving the excuse of being "ordered" doesn't really wash when it comes to war crimes and bullying behaviours need to be challenged at all levels. It does take personal courage and integrity all of which seem sadly lacking. In short we know it happens how can we change this?

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 01:30:42 UTC | #874157

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 5 by Red Dog

As a very good friend of mine used to remind me ""Academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small"

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 01:49:07 UTC | #874162

Atheist Mike's Avatar Comment 6 by Atheist Mike

So, assuming I got that right, a king couldn't be corrupt as long as he has a high status? Hm... Doesn't make much sense. Most bad kings had a high status and were bad anyway.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 02:07:46 UTC | #874167

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 7 by Peter Grant

What good is all the power in the world if everybody hates you?

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 03:02:50 UTC | #874177

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 8 by Red Dog

Comment 6 by Atheist Mike :

So, assuming I got that right, a king couldn't be corrupt as long as he has a high status? Hm... Doesn't make much sense. Most bad kings had a high status and were bad anyway.

You got it wrong. Just because all X are Y doesn't mean that not X implies not Y.

In this case if low status jobs lead to corruption that doesn't imply that if someone is not in a low status job they are not corrupt.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 03:42:21 UTC | #874185

memeweaver's Avatar Comment 9 by memeweaver

Typical of my experience of US immigration officers "I can ask you for any damn thing I want".

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 05:43:36 UTC | #874204

Vorlund's Avatar Comment 10 by Vorlund

I don't think this is new and any in case confirms what most of us observe of tinpot tyrants. People at the top can be quite self assured and secure and don't have anything to prove (though they will still have character flaws and some are undeniably bullies of the worst sort) but they are unlikely to 'throw their weight around'. Petty officials in civil service such as tax, immigration, security guards, some non-comissioned officers in forces, prison guards, some policemen are all most likely to kick off if they are in a position of control and see the opportunity to elevate themselves in even the slightest way.

They should remember the words of Robert E Lee. "Who humbles others humbles himself."

Organisations employing these people should be training their staff to be 'civil' and taking a hard look at the psychological profiles of the worst offenders.

On an uplifting note I find the train managers in the UK and some airport staff behave with exemplary restraint when dealing with awkward or fare-dodging customers. Joe public can be a real asshole too!

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 06:52:14 UTC | #874213

Rich Wilson's Avatar Comment 11 by Rich Wilson

Border guards.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 07:16:32 UTC | #874218

Mattmon's Avatar Comment 12 by Mattmon

TSA nude X-rays or forced groping pat-downs.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 07:35:57 UTC | #874221

monkey's uncle's Avatar Comment 13 by monkey's uncle

I'm surprised that catholic priests have not been mentioned yet. If anyone wants to study abuse of power, it would be cheaper to simply examine the records & interview some of the millions of people who have suffered at their hands.

I'm not referring solely to sexual abuse here although that's certainly in the mix. I understand that psychologists generally agree that rape is more about power than it is about sex. Probably even more so when children are involved.

It is interesting that (until recently) that priests were generally considered to have a high status by the communities in which they existed. Possibly the autocratic nature of the catholic hierarchy affected their perception of their status. If that is the case, there may well be problems ahead if they are looked down on by the catholic authorities (as the lowest rung of the ladder) & by the community (as representatives of an organisation that promotes child abuse). If the findings of this study are correct, their perceived reduction in status may make them even more likely to abuse.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 07:40:29 UTC | #874225

anonymous.shyster's Avatar Comment 14 by anonymous.shyster

Possibly without status comes a lack of seeming responsibility.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 07:45:43 UTC | #874226

ev-love's Avatar Comment 15 by ev-love

“ …The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, The pangs of despised love, the law's delay, The insolence of office and the spurns That patient merit of the unworthy takes….”



Fri, 23 Sep 2011 08:52:48 UTC | #874255

justinesaracen's Avatar Comment 16 by justinesaracen

Thank you for that ex-love. One of my favorite parts of Hamlet.

As for myself, having no power or status, I find polite groveling to work with all officials. If I need something from some petty tyrant, you can be sure I will flatter him well before even introducing my request. Most of the time it works.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 09:19:35 UTC | #874263

cheesedoff17's Avatar Comment 17 by cheesedoff17

This makes sense to me. It's not the rooster that pecks the hens. It seem to me that man exploits his fellow man in so many different ways, every day. Physically, emotionally, sexually, including children that there is something desperately wrong with human nature. Man is basically flawed and until our brains evolve nothing much will change.

What is the DMV?

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 11:59:24 UTC | #874337

Sample's Avatar Comment 18 by Sample

What is the DMV?

That's a dyslexic veterinarian. No, it's short for Department of Motor Vehicles. A notoriously bogged down and inept agency found in every US state known for its poor customer service.

Had Dante lived a little longer, the DMV would have been granted real estate somewhere in hell.


Fri, 23 Sep 2011 12:05:11 UTC | #874340

KenChimp's Avatar Comment 19 by KenChimp

If we all agree that this sort of behavior is undesirable and intolerable then why in Darwin's name do we put up with it?!

The military "guards" at the Abu Grabe prison in Iraq did what they did because they were specifically trained to view the prisoners under their charge with bigotry and contempt. You couple that with the fact that the prison was being run by non-military private contractors employed by the CIA and you have all the reason you need for people behaving like beasts and treating other people as lower than beasts.

The Bush Administration members need to answer for these and many other atrocities committed under their watch.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 12:11:58 UTC | #874345

Teknical's Avatar Comment 20 by Teknical

I can't agree with the 'especially' part.

Who sent out the troops in the first place? Very powerful people who have the ability to prevent this sort of thing happening before it begins.

Power can corrupt but it can also enhance a persons performance, and it may not matter if the post comes with any degree of status, it is down to the individuals decision as to how they use it. It does not seem to matter if the individual is intelligent or not, again it is how the intelligence is used or ignored.

Giving a few students a bit of power hardly qualifies as an experiment worth anything other than, 'this is what may happen when you give students a bit of power'. Give that power to mature adults who have built up a repertoir of life skills and they will either abuse the power or use it well depending on their dispositions.

The world is full of good and bad people, the problem is they they are not always good and not always bad.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 12:59:56 UTC | #874369

KenChimp's Avatar Comment 21 by KenChimp

"Freedom, like charity, begins at home. No man is worthy to fight in the cause of freedom unless he has conquered his internal masters. He must learn control and discipline over the disastrous passions that would lead him to folly and ruin. He must conquer inordinate vanity and anger, self-deception, fear, and inhibition. These are the crude ores of his being.

He must smelt these ores in the fire of life, forge his own sword, temper it, and sharpen it against the hard abrasive of experience. Only then is he fit to bear arms in the larger battle. There is no substitute for courage, and the victory is to the high-hearted.

He will have nothing to do with the asceticism's or the excesses of weakness. Self-expression will be his watchword, a self-expression tempered, keen and strong. First he must know and rule himself. Only then can he cope with the economic pressures which are employed by economic groups and capitalists, or the political pressures employed by demagogues."

John Whiteside Parsons, from "Freedom Is A Two-Edged Sword"

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 13:33:08 UTC | #874385

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 22 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 18 by Sample

No, it's short for Department of Motor Vehicles. A notoriously bogged down and inept agency found in every US state known for its poor customer service.

Having the pleasure(not) of spending a number of hours in the Jacksonville DMV, I can concur. I can't think of a U.K. institution or government agency that comes anywhere close. I wished I'd brought a razor blade along as I'd lost the will to live by the end.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 14:26:19 UTC | #874412

Sample's Avatar Comment 23 by Sample

Ignorant Amos my condolences on your experience,

I was at the DMV not too long ago, I can't remember what for, an address change maybe, anyway there was hardly anyone there and I was bummed out because I was wearing the We Are All Africans t-shirt hoping to have a large captive audience.

Oh, I remember now, it was a boat trailer license and afterwards I also had to go next door to the US Coast Guard office for another matter. This is on topic. I had six or seven Coasties (whose collective ages when added up was less than the shelf life of a twinkie) shuffle me around for about 20 minutes and I left without the answers I needed.

There was a giant bowl of grapes on their mess table so I helped myself to most of them as some compensation for their wasting my time. :-j


Fri, 23 Sep 2011 14:47:51 UTC | #874425

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 24 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 23 by Sample

There was a giant bowl of grapes on their mess table so I helped myself to most of them as some compensation for their wasting my time. :-j

Not a total waste then }80)~

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 14:57:52 UTC | #874433

blitz442's Avatar Comment 25 by blitz442

Interesting story about a TSA agent.

About a month ago I was in a cab. The cab driver was doing the normal NYC cab driver thing - driving fast and honking at people, but not excessively (in my view).

At an intersection about 8 blocks away from where I needed to be, this plain-clothes gentleman with slicked back hair suddenly approaches the cab and prevents us from moving. He starts accusing the cab driver of "reckless driving" and proceeds to interrogate the cab driver, even threatening to take away his license. The cab driver speaks poor English and has no idea how to respond. After about a minute or so of this, I come to my senses, step out of the cab and ask the guy, "Hey, are you a police officer?" He says, "No, I'm a TSA agent". I burst out laughing and ask him if he has any more authority than me in this situation. The guy angerly says that he has "an uncle who is a police sergeant,"* He then asks for my name.

I politely told him that playing pretend policeman time is over - if he wishes to lodge a complaint about the cabby he has more than enough info to do so. I hopped back in the cab and told the driver to ignore the loud, funny little man and drive off!

  • nepotism of this type is fairly typical in NYC
  • Fri, 23 Sep 2011 15:32:38 UTC | #874451

    Red Dog's Avatar Comment 26 by Red Dog

    Comment 18 by Sample :

    What is the DMV?

    That's a dyslexic veterinarian. No, it's short for Department of Motor Vehicles. A notoriously bogged down and inept agency found in every US state known for its poor customer service.

    Had Dante lived a little longer, the DMV would have been granted real estate somewhere in hell.


    Have you been to the DMV lately? I've had to deal with them recently both in California where I live and to help my mother in Illinois and in both cases the people were polite and the waiting was short to tolerable. At least in some states they've made a very serious attempt to improve their service.

    Fri, 23 Sep 2011 17:00:47 UTC | #874470

    blitz442's Avatar Comment 27 by blitz442

    Comment 26 by Red Dog

    Have to concur - the visit I had last year was not that bad.

    Fri, 23 Sep 2011 17:12:42 UTC | #874474

    TeraBrat's Avatar Comment 28 by TeraBrat

    As a state employee I have to say that my colleagues and i are much more courteous and helpful than most private business customer service employees.

    Fri, 23 Sep 2011 17:51:54 UTC | #874487

    Sample's Avatar Comment 29 by Sample

    Red Dog blitz442 & TeraBrat,

    Is there a chance government workers in recession-stricken areas tend to be more courteous? I don't know. The DMV has a reputation. Unfortunately for them, it will likely be a lasting one considering with technology, there seems to be fewer and fewer reasons to visit the actual buildings.

    I suppose when the last of us who have experience with DMV workers IRL are gone, the new generations will probably wonder, "what was all that about?"


    Fri, 23 Sep 2011 18:05:13 UTC | #874494

    glenister_m's Avatar Comment 30 by glenister_m

    So far my experiences with border guards and airport security have been fairly benign. However I have yet to meet anyone as inhumane as the guys who work at car impound lots.

    (Someone broke into our car when it was parked in a public lot, and the police had it towed as it was unsecured and they couldn't locate us. We had to get a taxi to the impound lot, and were told our car was in the secondary lot 3 or 4 blocks away. There was no shuttle. Fortunately I was there, since my wife was 8 1/2 months pregnant at the time, because I had to walk out to the lot in the pouring rain to get the ownership papers, walk back to pay the impound fee, then walk back to retrieve our car. The guy was totally unsympathetic - we have to pay a fee because someone broke into our car? - and made it clear that if my wife had been alone then things would have been no different.) I don't think they even had a seat for her to sit down while she waited for me.

    Fri, 23 Sep 2011 18:35:18 UTC | #874505