The recent imposition of trade tariffs by an obstinate Trump administration and the reciprocating adverse measures announced by his Mexican and Canadian counterparts (with the EU sure to soon follow suit) has not only triggered a global concern about an impending trade war but has also set off a panic whose potential backlash could be to say the least ominous. While the whole world seems to be prepared to engage in a deadly ‘who blinks first’ game of attrition, Mr. Eric Liu’s new book, “You’re More Powerful Than You Think”, (“the Book”), could not have made a timelier appearance.
We, as citizens of the world have been brought up with an entrenched belief that governance represents power or even vice versa. The conviction that the governed have been bestowed with as much power – if not more – as is in the possession of the governing has never either bit us hard or raked our conscience. This deliberate ignorance, nay, resignation has led to social, cultural, economic and even structural imbalances which are now taken as a given. The startling fact that the eight richest men in the world have a combined wealth equal to that owned by the entire lower half of the prosperity pyramid, is not startling anymore! The ludicrous fact that a country trumpeting itself as the world’s oldest democracy proceeds to elect a bigot and an unscrupulous loose cannon as their President, ceases to be ludicrous! However, as Mr. Liu painstakingly and inspiringly elucidates in his book, there is no reason for the world to wallow in or stew over this dreaded status quo. A clear understanding of both the prevailing power structure and its mores, combined with a channeling of the immense potential to generate power from within, would lead to a thorough dismantling of the top down structure that has for its foundation the dreaded principles of ‘trickle-down economics and effects’. The replacement will be a true representative mix that gives voice to reason, justice and common sense.
In order to usher in such a paradigmatic shift, Mr. Liu emphasizes that at the very outset it is essential to comprehend what he proposes are the three Laws of Power:
“First power concentrates. That is, it feeds on itself and compounds (as does powerlessness)
Second, power justifies itself. People invent stories to legitimize the power they have (or lack).
Third, power is infinite. There is no inherent limit on the amount of power people can create.”
While the first two laws are self-perpetuating mechanisms that justify and even glorify the ascendancy of the haves over the have nots, and turns a blind eye towards the oppressive tactics followed by the wielders of power, the third law is the antidote for the first two venomous laws. The third law legitimizes the genuine potential of the people to organize, commune, congregate, act and to achieve results.
Mr. Liu also identifies nine solid strategies employing which unequal and intemperate power structures may be turned upside down. These strategies advocate neither violence not reprisals, but serve as a testimony to human endurance and resolution. A blend of empirical approaches and tactical successes, these strategies range from the Observe, Orient, Decide and Act (“OODA”) loop developed by military strategist and United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd to the communitywide work stoppages, hunger strikes and mass marches organized by the tomato harvesters of Immokalee fighting for fair wages. One quintessential attribute that binds all the strategies postulated by Mr. Liu together, is one of organizing. When each one of us recognizes that the sum of our parts at times may be greater than the whole, the resulting synergies can have devastating impacts on the unsuspecting and complacent characters sitting at the top of the pedestal. As Mr. Liu writes, “the powerful, meanwhile, don’t particularly attend to the lives or minds of the powerless because they assume they don’t have to”.
At the heart of the nine strategies are the imperatives to:
1. Change the game;
2. Change the story; and
3. Change the equation
For facilitating an accomplishment of each one of the above core concepts, Mr. Liu provides a set of clear, practical and easy to implement pathways that entail the expending of concerted effort rather than monetary resources. We can trust Mr. Liu at his words since being the Founder and CEO of Citizen University and also donning the role of an Executive Director at the Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity Program has ensured that he has put most of what he preaches into concrete, tangible and fruitful practice.
At a time when the whole world is enveloped in a state of uncertain flux in terms of paradoxical developments – burgeoning GDP growth in the West v exacerbated poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa; stunning developments in Artificial Intelligence v disturbing statistics regarding rising unemployment; uniformly improving living standards for all v racial incarceration of youth and children – there is an urgent need for every like-minded and reform oriented individual to punch above herself and rise beyond the petty and unacceptable set of bias involving religion, race, colour, caste, sex, creed and sexual orientation. This is the only hope that the world has.
As a start, one would do brilliant to pick up a copy of “You’re More Powerful Than You Think” – for surely we all are!