Election Day. Anyone else sick of the endless debates, backbiting, and overall nonsense? I know I am. However, I do think it is a rather appropriate time to talk about power.
I find the politics of reality range from soul-crushingly boring to enraging to utterly laughable. However, I do find the cut-throat politics of fantasy worlds fascinating. (Perhaps that’s because the outcome of fantasy politics won’t have an effect on my own life.) Alas, I am not particularly good at writing about politics, probably because I’m too honest for my own good. It’s hard for me to come up with political scenarios on my own, but if you give me a scenario, I can usually see a couple ways the situation could go and who would benefit most from what choice.
When writing about politics, one must remember this: the goal of any politician is to amass power. That power can be used for good or ill, for the betterment of the country as a whole or for personal gain or any myriad range of combinations in between. Politics is rarely painted in black and white. But in order to change things or have influence, no matter what the intention is, one needs power.
WAYS TO GAIN POWER:
Money talks. Those with the most money or those who control the purse-strings are usually the ones in control. There’s a good reason people hoard gold and other treasures. Money is the lifeblood of a country. One needs money for government projects, programs, building and maintaining infrastructure, and bribes (also known as “lobbying.”) Without some form of currency, economies tend to crumble or don’t become very strong to begin with. There are four ways to amass wealth:
- Inherit it.
- Marry into it.
- Build through business enterprises (legal or not).
- Steal it. (This can be through a “business” like the mob, embezzlement, Ponzi schemes or other pseudo-legal/illegal methods. The longer you go without be caught, the better.)
Some people are just highly charismatic. They can get other people to listen to them, to believe them, to follow them to hell and back. This is a very tricky way to gain power because it can’t be predicted. Some people are just born with it (or have very good teachers and learn it). Some people have this ability in sufficient quantities to sway public opinion in their favor, but it can also be lost and then people will turn on you. Charisma usually can’t stand by itself; it’s often used in conjunction with one of the other ways to get power, such as wealth or social connections.
Networking can land a person in pretty sweet positions. (That goes for regular jobs as well as politics.) Often people who are born into a higher social class will have better connections than those who are not. However, social connections can be built, often when combined with wealth or charisma, and become a potent weapon.
Ever hear the phrase, “Walk softly and carry a big stick”? Well, it works. The threat of violence is quite powerful, especially when those who have the means enforce it. Whoever has the bigger or meaner stick (a.k.a. military), wins. This is why the Founding Fathers of the United States were against a standing army, but preferred to arm the populace. That way, politicians could not coerce the people into higher taxes or bad policies by threatening them. Assassination is another way of threatening with force. However, one can be threatened without the presence of guns or bombs. Blackmail is a popular form of threat among politicians and often forms the backbone of political power plays. Information is a wonderful weapon, and digging up dirt on an enemy can be an excellent way to end their political career, ruin their reputation, or even end their life.
Generally, politicians want to appeal to the public and get them on their side (at least in republics and democracies. In a medieval-style government with kings and primogeniture, the nobility rarely cares what the public thinks.) However, public opinion is fickle and people are unpredictable, so usually at least one, possibly more, of the other ways to get power must be present. So the good news is that people are unpredictable, even with measurable trends. The bad news is that people are distressingly easy to manipulate. Outlandish promises, half-truths, omitted truths, outright lies, evidence and statistics (which are simple enough to twist), and appeals to the base or noble instincts of humanity are all tools in the arsenal of a politician. Good rule of thumb: don’t trust anything a politician says and do a lot of research.
These are just some of the main ways that people can use to gain power. Many can be combined in various ways and used for many different purposes. If you really want a better idea of how politicians can gain and maintain control over the people they rule, I suggest reading The Prince and The Discourses by Niccolo Machiavelli. A shrewd observer of human behavior and history, Machiavelli has excellent advice for would-be rulers…which means that it’s good for us, the ruled, to be aware of the tricks our leaders like to pull. The Prince is a short piece, good, but limited in scope. The Discourses look at Rome, the greatest and longest-lived government in the history of the Western world and looks at the political lessons one can glean from Rome’s leaders. It’s a lot longer, but well-worth the read.