Truth and Power
Please join me online at TrustThePeople where I am one of the moderator’s: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/trustthepeople-sacramento
The Relationship of Truth and Power in Protests for Democracy
Some thoughts about truth and power in politics and freedom of our citizens are that we gain power in the number of people working together to change some aspect of our government.
On January 20, 2001, I participated in Sacramento’s counter-inauguration protest, standing outside in the cold, damp air, holding a sign that read; “The court elected the President, not the people”. This was pertaining to how the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the vote counting in Florida that would have shown Al Gore to be the winner in the Presidential election.
I became part of the group that planned this and two other previous demonstrations about the Florida recounting of the votes and abolishing the electoral college and am a co-moderator of the website. This group, TrustThePeople-Sacramento, (http://www.egroups.com/group/trustthepeople-sacramento), founded on November 10, 2000, takes its’ name from the now President (s)elect’s pre-(s)election line; “I trust the people”, in a mocking fashion. The point is that if George W. Bush truly trusted the people, he would allow all the votes to be recounted and trust the people’s decision of who they wanted for President. Since so many people believe, as I do, that the election was illegitimate, TrustThePeople online groups have been started up in many major cities across the U.S.
I had heard through the media allegations that people of color in Florida had been turned away at the polls and told they couldn’t vote, that their name was not on the voter list. This prompted me to join TrustThePeople after receiving an e-mail, possibly by the Working Assets telephone company newsletter. My outrage over such blatant prevention of people attempting to vote pulled me into several online activities and planning demonstrations. I have signed petitions along with hundreds of other people that have been circulated by attorneys planning to take those allegedly involved in frauding the election to court in several lawsuits.
Petitions also circulated online have pertained to all those who protested the election process, where we were asked to sign our names and addresses that would be delivered to Congress. The Working Assets telephone company also used its ActForChange newsletter to solicit customers to send electronic e-mails to their Congresspersons to protest the election. It has been said by word of mouth that there are so many e-mail letters being sent to legislators in this way that the e-mails will be hand delivered to them since people such as Dianne Feinstein (D., San Francisco) has been returning e-mails. A demonstrator at the counter-inauguration protest said to a group of us talking that Dianne Feinstein doesn’t really care and has higher political aspirations to move up in office.
I received a hard-copy letter from my Representative, Robert Matsui, in response to my e-mail to him that was an online form letter, where I signed my name to the bottom of a pre-written e-mail letter and entered my e-mail address. Matsui’s letter was disappointing to me because he urged that all Americans “unite in support of our new leader” and, to quote Al Gore, “partisan rancor must now be put aside”. So many of us involved in planning demonstrations and other protesters were so galled by how easily the Democratic party fell in line to support Bush after Bush was declared the winner. A member of the Black Radical Congress was especially angry over a breakfast meeting when he said that no white Congresspersons supported blacks in Congress who rose up to speak out about the alleged illegitimate election. He went on to say that he has never experienced Democracy in our country, being a black person.
Our group, TrustThePeople, and the groups that have joined with us, feel a need for justice and fairness in our elections so that every person’s vote carries equal power to everyone else’s. To believe that some people’s votes were discounted by either not being counted at all, such as in Florida, or that some person’s of color were turned away at voting booths, as reported in the media, has caused outrage. Our groups and others across the U.S., such as every other TrustThePeople group that is found in each state, hold the perception that this election took our rightful President from us; Al Gore. If the votes were recounted for the state of Florida, Al Gore would have gained the majority of votes in the electoral college and would have then been our elected President of the United States.
Since our country is based upon the principles of equality of all persons and that each vote holds the same amount of power, I feel a deep sense of coercion, fraud and even fright that such an important election could so blatantly be stolen away from the U.S. citizens who voted for Al Gore. My personal vote went to Ralph Nader, and I assumed that Al Gore would win. Having left the Democratic party for the Green party just less than a year ago, I would not have felt upset had Gore won rather than George Bush put into the Presidency. I and others I have spoken to, do not accept George Bush as our President, and we plan a “Not my President’s Day” protest in Sacramento on President’s Day on February 19, 2001.
Lust to Rule
Our country is very entrenched in politics; more so than in other countries. This perspective was brought about by one of my online friends who lives in Canada, who emailed me maybe a year ago that Canada is very much like America in the way that it is capitalistic with its’ Wal-Mart’s and McDonald’s restaurants everywhere. He also wrote that in Canada, politics is not as important as it is in the U.S., and so Canadians watch the political elections in the U.S. Because of his writing me, I realized how much of my everyday life is based upon some political and consumerist agenda. My pay as a woman is sometimes based upon my physical characteristics. My occupation, race, age, weight and the color of my hair, all make a difference in my value as a woman in our society that is driven by consumerism. Advertising dictates what is attractive in males and females, for example. Whether women can receive abortions or not is directly related to political and social agendas. The movement wanting to take abortion rights away from women is connected to the religious right and conservative politics. The Republicans are usually associated with having the big money behind their political candidates, having agendas of tax breaks for the rich, and lack of caring for the environment so that oil drilling in the Pacific or other oceans and cutting down old trees in our forests are seen as necessary in their pursuit of more money, greed and power.
Nietzsche (1967) said that “It is our needs that interpret the world; our drives and their For and Against. Every drive is a kind of lust to rule; each one has its perspective that it would like to compel all the other drives to accept as a norm”. Looking at Nietzsche’s statement and blending it with my perspective of political agendas in America, I would say that my needs are to live harmoniously with people and the earth so that rainforests and old growth would not be cut down, and such preservation of our natural resources would be a priority. My view is of a living earth that people can either harm or keep healthy, and that my conscience about the health of our environment extends well past the time of my death. Wanting to earn huge profits from oil wells that ruin the environment for corporation’s short-term gain is irresponsible and uncaring about people and the lifespan of the planet.
Equality as Philosophy of Democracy
The idea of what is truth in our Constitution that says “all men are created equal” is a belief, since all men are not exactly alike. Some men and women have talents and skills in some areas that others do not. Some men and women are physically stronger than others. So in the case of the Constitution, the idea of equality of all persons is an ideal and a principal to operate under so that each person’s voice should be heard equally by their vote during an election. Nietzche (1967) might call this idea of equality a “logical-metaphysical postulate”. He writes, “Along the lines followed by Descartes one does not come upon something absolutely certain but only upon the fact of a very strong belief”. It is our desire to treat all men and women equally in a Democracy that we postulate this truth of all men and women are created equal.
Some people may believe that men are superior to women, and so to say that all men and women are created equal would be another logical-metaphysical postulate. It is the desire and hope that all men and women would be given equality in their votes, in their rights, in the way men and women are treated equally in terms of pay, in their role in decision-making in their families, in social status, in their ability to get an education, in their treatment within the justice system, medical care and other institutions of our country is the reality we would like to live under. Equality is a hope and desire that has been postulated into our Constitution. Equality might be called a philosophy of Democracy.
Nietzche (1967) wrote; “Everything that enters consciousness as ‘unity’ is already tremendously complex: we always have only a semblance of unity”. This is true in that people do not act and think alike; political, religious and social agendas shape persons and vice versa. We try to uphold unity in our country by constituting that “all men are created equal” so that we live under fairness where all persons are treated alike.
Equality of Votes
As a country, we have decided that the value of the life of our people is that life is equal, so it logically follows that each person’s vote would count equally. Our votes are supposed to be considered to be of equal importance, so that our government by the people would mean that all the people’s votes govern what kind of society we live in, no matter what level of superstructure or infrastructure of our society we operate in. Our votes decide who our representatives will be according to their philosophy of Democracy and also who gets voted in to various offices. We vote our representatives in who will best write and vote for the laws we feel are fair, since a Democracy postulates equality. Our voices are meant to be equally important when we write our legislators so that they know what their constituents value and think.
Elections, however, are greatly influenced by the amount of campaign contributions various politicians are “gifted” with, when in fact this money is often meant to persuade a politician to favor whatever the group’s desires are. We hear in the media about unlimited amounts of “soft money” donated to certain politicians and their political parties. Money in elections weighs heavily in deciding who gets more advertising time and name recognition, and also what group’s special agenda’s get favored when laws are being written and passed. In such examples, money buys clout and power, which effects the lives of every American, fairly or not.
If this past Presidential election was indeed stolen, this negates what our country is based upon, and sends the message that only certain wealthy and influential people can decide what kind of society we want to live in. That only certain people’s values are important, such as the people who have the most money. The rest of the people would live under a few people’s dictates that benefit the few. There is the fear that the few only value their own desires, and do not care about the rest of the people’s needs and desires. Allowing large tax breaks for the rich serves the few in our country and is an example of the stolen Presidency’s agenda to show favor to the huge campaign contributions he received from certain corporations.
Foucault (1984) wrote about analyzing the mechanics of power; “This task could only begin after 1968, that is to say, on the basis of daily struggles at the grass-roots level, among those whose fight was located in the fine meshes of the web of power. This was where the concrete nature of power became visible, along with the prospect that these analyses of power would prove fruitful in accounting for all that had hitherto remained outside the field of political analysis”. With the selection of President Bush, many thousands of citizens across the U.S. were alienated from the democratic process of
voting and are networking across the country and beyond in protest. This grass-roots movement is developing momentum as more demonstrations are planned by social activists, such as the race/walk in San Francisco in May 2001. This growing movement has the effect of alerting politicians as well as possibly the selected President that there is unrest and unhappiness with the way that the election was decided. Because of various grass-roots activities, such as emails to legislators, communications amongst online political and social groups, social commentary in the media and alternative press,
school discussions, and individuals talking to each other, power and influence is growing that will have an effect on future elections and laws that get passed.
Foucault’s concrete nature of power that takes place in the fine meshes in the web of power seems to take place in the spontaneous joining together of individuals across different political parties that has the power to interfere with the dominate party’s agenda. Those who do not typically hold the power; mainstream citizens, whose fight is located in the fine meshes of the web of power, demonstrate that power does not always
mean wealth, political power, social status, or other forms of power normally associated with a person’s status in our society.
In a political race as important as a presidential election, the obvious power lies with the wealthy who can use their money to influence people to vote their way, so it is surprising and exciting when the “little people” activate their power by rising up in numbers to voice their opposition. That “the people” speak through their grass-roots efforts even after feeling that their votes had been discounted preserves the power of our
citizenry so that we do not become an Imperialist country. Our power is in our open defiance and protest and hitting the streets in marches, demonstrations and other public forums. It is power exercised in different ways; power of the wealthy against the power of numbers of people.
Superstructure of Society
Foucault may have seen that the wealthy and elected politicians make up a large part of the superstructure of our society and “the people” make up parts of the infrastructure. The everyday life of “the people” is not as active in politics and government when their jobs do not involve working directly working in these
realms. “The people” abide by the laws of this country that those in government pass through legislation and thus “the people” live under the layers of governmental power. Those in Congress passing laws work at a higher level in the web of our governmental power and so make up the superstructure of our society because they have direct influence over what laws all U.S. citizens must follow.
Foucault’s (1984) term of “economy” of power is that power is not purely repressive, otherwise people would not follow it’s dictates. Our government is set up to allow discourse of ideas arguments that is protected by our Constitutions Bill of Rights.
This economy of power also produces things, induces pleasure and forms knowledge and so is not the narrowly defined force of a prohibition. Foucault (1984) sees “economy” of power as being
“more efficient and much less wasteful (less costly economically, less risky in their results, less open to loopholes and resistance) than the techniques previously employed, which were based on a mixture of more or less forced tolerances (from recognized privileges to endemic criminality) and costly ostentation (spectacular and discontinuous interventions of power, the most violent form of which was the “exemplary,” because exceptional, punishment)”. (p. 61)
This is a more positive, hopeful view of power than the oppressive, forceful type governments of other governments where the people are severely punished or threatened by showing disagreement with their government, such as in Communist China. Foucault’s view here allows for individual’s to voice their opinions openly and allows for groups to work toward making changes in our laws to protect vulnerable groups of people or environmental concerns, for example. The mindset of these groups are geared differently than the corporations and political agendas they are fighting.
Truth as Philosophy
Liberal groups often are associated with issues that do not make corporations rich, such as helping lower income groups. The paradigm of values causes groups to clash and seek power for their causes; each side having their own view of “truth”. Corporations may think that they offer jobs and good salaries to families so that people can live in comfort, and see their competitive drive as being necessary to this “truth”. They may see the value of adding to technological advances to society and that this is necessary to the advancement of our country’s best interests. These values may indeed be in the best interests of society until they reach a point of destroying the environment, or when their products or services become too cost-prohibitive for the average American to afford. The “truth” behind such corporations then becomes a rational to justify and outweigh the perceived damages to society.
“Truth is the kind of error without which a certain species of life could not live. The value for life is ultimately decisive” Nietzche (1967). The U.S. public holds conflicting views of how our country should be run. Each political party, Republicans, Democrats, Greens and others hold a certain philosophy or ideology that it is based upon in a genealogical sense. Historically, Republicans are seen to be conservatives who take care of the rich, and Democrats and now other newer and smaller political parties are usually seen to represent the less wealthy and the unions. Each party holds their own truth about what best serves our country; a view that is self-serving in the way that the party agenda would best be of benefit to each individually. Truth in this sense is really an opinion about what is best politically, but is not empirical truth. Much more comes in
to play with this truth, such as a person’s emotions, beliefs and the way they were raised.
“Truth”, according to Foucault (1984) “is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extends it. A ‘regime’ of truth”. I would agree with Foucault that “truth” has been based in capitalism because with capitalism there will always be those corporations that have more money than others. And to protect their interests, each businesses “truth” will be formed with profit in mind. Capitalism has been our financial “truth” in this country that effects everyone’s prosperity in some way, from judges to those in poverty. Self-preservation comes into play in capitalism that is based upon competition rather than cooperation, much as that found in patriarchy; keeping certain groups in power and keeping others out of power rather than activating a spirit of cooperation.
Competition and Power
Elections seem to be about large money interests that may have no concern about the environment or the things that are in the best interests of the mainstream population. Corporations use large monetary donations to influence elections. Big business pursues their agenda of competition; to become the largest and richest company in their field. Competition often breeds greed and a lack of concern for long-range damage to the earth and to the consequences of mid and low income people. An example is tobacco companies who, in their efforts to make large profits, manufacture addictive cigarettes so that their customers must keep buying their product. There have been charges of tobacco companies advertising to the young to gain teenagers and young adults as new customers. Lately, tobacco companies have tried to change their image by advertising campaigns portraying their good works in society, such as helping victims of natural disasters by importing free bottled water. They still manufacture their addictive cigarettes that have been shown to cause lung cancer that kills people.
To counter such greedy interests, groups of lesser wealth can use knowledge to inform and educate the public about the dangers of tobacco, for example. It is when such grass-roots movements gain the attention of a larger, more powerful group, such as the medical community, that research can be continued and lawsuits can be activated. The medical community also holds power because it is looked upon to be an authority on medical and health issues, the “experts” and therefore is more readily respected and recognized than grassroots groups. In this case, change happens at the bottom of the power structure with activists working with activist medical professions, rather that the other way around. This groundwork must take place before legislative laws can be written. Power in this case can happen from the infrastructure and work outward to the superstructure.
Competition, then, becomes a danger to people’s lives. Competition, as a way of obtaining influential power and wealth, can be seen as a tool of a privileged class at the expense of the less financially wealthy. This then can be seen as “negative power” rather than Foucault’s (1984) idea of power as being a vehicle for knowledge, discourse, producing things and inducing pleasure. Since our economy is based on the competition of capitalism, finding the power of keeping negative power in check becomes difficult, since it often is not financially profitable in the short-term.
Keeping negative power in check often falls to the grassroots groups who become the whistle-blowers and watch-dogs that protest such activities. The government itself may have watch-dog agencies, but these are not usually associated with paying huge salaries or huge operating budgets. Grassroots groups are usually comprised of everyday working people who do not have the time to devote full-time hours toward protesting corporations or other groups who have gained wealth from their profit-driven activities. Money then can be seen as a negative influence when money in and of itself is not “bad”. It is how money is used by wealthy groups that can be very destructive and not mindful of the best interests of the larger society.
Foucault’s (1984) “economy” of power that has the positive effect of producing things, forms knowledge, and produces discourse that would run through all of society has not been perceived to happen in the recent presidential election. I view power in this last election to have been exclusive of the people’s will, with the election having been decided upon by a handful of judges. Because not all people have the agenda of including all people’s opinions in the form of votes and want to protect their political agenda, the election was unfair and undemocratic. People’s greed for power to make decisions that give some people wealth and other’s face financial hardship does not reflect the positive view of power that Foucault (1984) discussed in his writing. This urge to power of people in the political arena unfortunately effects all American citizens, causing some to feel helpless and not wanting to put any energy into trying to address issues surrounding the electoral college and how people’s votes were either counted, discounted and whether counting indentations in voting cards should have been counted as someone’s attempted vote. It’s just too large of a situation to confront and some people undoubtedly feel that their voice in protest about the election would surely not count if votes were perceived to not count. Helplessness and feeling distant from the halls of power of the Capitol works in favor of those happy with the election results.
What might be called repression of the masses by not counting all votes comes up through the Monarchy from which our United States was influenced by. After all, the founding fathers history came from England, and in our patriarchal society, there is still old attitudes that might be called “the old boy network” that still tries to hold all power over the masses. These old attitudes are hard to break even with educating society about them. Knowing how to fight these attitudes is also needed, such as standing up to them en masse.
Foucault (1984) also asks whether war is waged between two classes or more. This raises the interesting study of society and socio-economic groups in an attempt to understand power dynamics of a negative type that divides society up in to a type of class system. White males are valued the most historically, then white women, then less value is given other races with African-Americans usually falling at the bottom. Power and race also effect what groups of people get the better opportunities and find more acceptance in society so that those who are sympathetic and understanding of the cultural class system of society will also be excluded from those who want to stay at the top of power and wealth.
Our society is not made up of just white males, and so much of our society’s population are assumed to be against this patriarchal power structure that produces financial inequity that is becoming greater. Even judges at the U.S. Supreme Court level, who are mostly senior citizens who are supposed to dispense justice and uphold equal rights for all persons are not unaffected by the old, status quo. When our society faces such biased attitudes at the very top of power, it is evident that our whole society is negatively effected in that democracy is not carried out. In the case of judges, those that desire to keep the status quo may really believe that they must keep the old boy network attitudes into play which goes directly against the democratic idea of equal rights for all.
Much of the helplessness that people feel is because of this type of situation where those given the duty to ensure that our laws are upheld do not carry out their duty, but fall short of this. The influence of wealth and power is far-reaching and has a powerful effect upon how our country is run.
If persons really believe that one group of people is inferior to another, for example, they might be operating on age-old training and upbringing of their family that has taught them this belief that has been entrenched in the person’s thinking. Such persons really might feel that they themselves are more worthy and know more about how things should be done and really believe that class divisions should occur. They also have much invested in such attitudes and practices, not wanting to give up a piece of the power to anyone that they do not feel close to; i.e. someone “of their own kind”. Their daily lives and relationships with friends and family are based on keeping their piece of the pie that would appear to come from the idea of scarcity thinking also, meaning that there is just not enough prosperity to go around. This causes persons to cling on to the status quo to protect their holdings of wealth, power and future opportunities. Their whole way of perceiving the world is competitive and greedy rather than cooperative and fair.
Threats in the form of knowledge are also of concern to those in power. The fear of someone knowing more than they do about something might threaten their position of power. Foucault (1984) wrote about this in the form of intellectuals being a political threat after the Second World War. Having knowledge about negative power agendas of politicians, for example, and having effective strategies of protesting unfair political manipulations creates a powerful force to the powers that be. Grassroots attempts may not win every battle, but will have an impact that forces change in whatever social system is being protested.
In the case of the last presidential election, for example, the masses who are in favor of pushing for voter equity will be a force to reckon with, since so many people already have joined forces about this already. The Civil Rights Movement took the masses to protest over a period of time that set the wheels in motion to create equality of all people in the United States. We still fight those battles against racism today but there has been definite progress.
Foucault, M. (1984). Truth and power. In P. Rabinow (Ed.), The Foucault reader (pp. 51-75). New York: Pantheon.
Nietzsche, F. (1967). The Will to Power. (W. Kaufmann, Ed., and Trans.; R. Hollingdale, Trans.). New York: Random House. (Original work published 1911), pp. 266-276.