on power or lack thereof

Naves by Hevia on Grooveshark

back to asturias

it should be no news to most readers that i’ve been involved in communities for the best part of the last 4 years now. one thing i sought when i moved to my present community was to be in a situation where i would have no power whatsoever over what happens, and would merely become a member that contributes

though many opportunities have come for me to “pound my chest” and bite my way up the pecking order, i’ve been forcefully trying not to (even though sometimes it might happen). i was interested in seeing whether the same issues i encountered as a leader would emerge with someone else as a leader, and what other ways would emerge to deal with it

considering the current setting is very similar to at least two of my previous residencies, the expected behavior was remarkably similar to my past experiences. risking confirmation bias, what i isolated as fundamental issues regarding the setting and power structure as essential for the outcomes have proven to be very accurate in predicting outcomes of these communities

regarding the setting, the [broken windows theory](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_windows_theory) applied to these spaces becomes an equivalent “dirty dishes” theory of behavior, where the presence of one dirty dish creates a crescendo of mess, and cleanliness tends to preserve itself that way. again, an invisible leviathan makes itself visible by the apparent order of a space, and as its physical order decays, so does social order. this was particularly strong in parties, where the messiness and rowdiness didn’t have a law keeper counterpoint (like a bouncer in a club), causing an excessive abuse of the facilities. clearly even in a small community, there is a need for some kind of law keeping, even if the inhabitants themselves have to implement it. without it, there will be frequent incidents of organization collapse (for example, in an exponential crescendo of mess)

as for the power structure, one of the strongest things i’ve found is that the spaces become an expression of the leader’s values, vision and character. no matter how things are seen, these features will come through. in this case, the leader is exceptionally kind and non-confrontational. this has led to a natural attraction by gentle and artsy types that enjoy this kind of unauthority. unfortunately, it also has generated abuse, namely, by people who know they will not be confronted with their own actions, especially when taking advantage of the facilities (food, shelter, internet, drinks, etc)

this has been particularly obvious in instances where, thanks to overhearing, some of the abusers confided on their friends how they could take advantage of the place because nothing would happen. this is tied directly to the leadership not having any confrontational and authoritarian methods. truth be said, none of the issues are serious, but they are the initial symptoms of possible future crises

but what prompted this article wasn’t the power structure itself, but a side effect of the lack of lawfulness in a community and enforcement of its values. while dirty dishes might be a problem, it isn’t what i feel is the most important

given my personal choice of not fighting back and just sit back, my personal position has been significantly lower than usual in the local hierarchy. though that has been quite liberating in terms of personal responsibility (i can delegate everything to authority), i also lost with it the privileged position to prevent hurtful comments and other types of minor dominance establishing rites, not to mention the capacity to enforce discipline and order (e.g., expulsion of members, enforcing of cleaning, etc). the standard was set by the initial residents, which found it appropriate to make derogatory comments about my personal life for fun. while that is all fine since we were all friends, that soon spread to the newcomers that saw that as socially sanctioned behavior. and while i’m quite good at making fun of myself, i found it very interesting that soon, the jokes and ironies became stronger in the newcomers, that didn’t make an effort to know me, and took the jokes at face value as who i am. this fed back into a very interesting (albeit new) situation for me: i have been slowly pushed lower and lower on the pecking order of the house, to the point where not only i’m not asked for any advice or help anymore, but any thing i might want to say is attacked, or even myself personally. while some members might have previous grudges against me, what was very new to me was how new residents quickly absorbed these opinions on me without knowing me, and quickly proceded to step over to reach up in the pecking order. this is expressed in several ways: comments about me or my personal life, physical damages to my property, disrespect for my personal space, etc. none of these minor instances of “weak bullying” is ever dealt with, since it is not detected, or even observed, by the leadership. in fact, my decaying social status has only been visible to myself because i was, at a previous point in my life, part of leadership, and therefore more sensitive to these subtle changes

this has been an incredibly formative experience in that sense. i’ve understood how community power can break down and weaken its members into docility, not by direct abuse, but by merely tolerating it, ignoring it, or simply just not noticing it or knowing about it. obviously, i have seen myself as a leader in the past as having exactly the same problems and dealing with them exactly the same way, which means i’ve indirectly bullied countless people without knowing. this is very sobering and humbling, and i’m very happy i could go through this experience

transparency and communication are key to prevent this, but once docility of its members settles in, it is unlikely that they will report any abuse, if they see that the leadership is apathetic towards it or even for it. it means that rising in the ranks requires a type of ruthless docility that is otherwise invisible to the leadership, but powerful against competition

i have to say, after much long pondering of both situations, that being a leader is much easier than a regular member. while decisions are tougher, there is little to no strain on one’s own personal well being beyond the one caused by oneself (e.g., by worrying).

the pecking-order battles are much more subtle and ruthless under the shade of a benevolent dictator. and at the bottom will always lie the ones that seek virtue, for virtue is incompatible with such games. it seems virtuosity can only exist at the very top, or at the very bottom, just not in the brawling in-betweens