The New York Times published an opinion piece titled: Power? No, Thanks, I’m Good. The freedom to say what I think and command my own time is enough for me.

The idea of this article is to say that power is overrated if one has the freedom to do their own shit.

Read the article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/21/opinion/power-is-overrated.html


This article got shared on Hacker News: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20022534

I really liked this comment on the thread:

In order to understand why power is coveted, we need to understand human motivation. The best theory I’ve read on human motivation comes from Drive. As described by scientific research, once you go beyond our primal need for food, safety and companionship, there are 3 primary factors that motivate us. Mastery, autonomy, and purpose.

Mastery is the ability to master and perfect a craft you care about. This can most likely be achieved without having power over others. No problems here.

Autonomy is exactly what is described in the article. The freedom to avoid being micromanaged. On the face of it, you don’t need power over others to be autonomous either.

Purpose, however, is a lot trickier. If like the author, your purpose in life is simply to engage in the arts, you’re all set. You don’t need power over others, and you won’t understand why anyone would want that.

But suppose your purpose in life is to save millions of lives, like what Bill Gates has done with his foundation. Or to help all Americans get universal healthcare, like what Sanders wants to do. Or to help mankind become an interplanetary species, like what Musk is aiming for.

It is near impossible to fulfill such purposes without wielding power. Either political or economic or cultural. There are some purposes, even the noble kind, which can only ever be accomplished by shoring up a lot of power.

To go one step further, a lot of people try to fulfill their life purposes through their jobs. They want to help people, and so they work at a non-profit. Or they want to further scientific progress, so they work in a research lab. Which is great, except that by becoming a cog in a powerful machine, they are surrendering their autonomy in the process. They find themselves having to choose between autonomy and purpose. Regardless of what they choose, they fantasize about having enough power so that they can have both. They dream of being rich enough to start their own non-profit, not just work in one. They dream of heading a research lab, not just being a cog in someone else’s.

People like the author are in an enviable position, of having their cake and eating it too. For others with a different purpose in life, power is the only way of having the best of both worlds.

What is your opinion?


Now read this

Answers (Part 2)

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