Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Power

power.jpg

I grew up with two liberal parents, socialist relatives, liberal New York Public School teachers, and liberal University professors. Because of this, I think I came away with a distorted view of the world — I was led to believe that that those who weren’t a part of the power structure — minorities, women, the poor — were somehow “better” people than the white male CEOs who screwed up the world. One of the biggest disappointments of adulthood is to learn that this isn’t true. It isn’t just the fault of white middle-aged men. Whoever gets into a position of power, usually ends up sucking.

I think this is one of the reasons I’ve been making so much fun of BlogHer lately. It’s a little sad to read that when women get together, they are as exclusive and hierarchical as a men’s private club of the 1950’s. For years, women have complained about the old boys’ network, but when it is their turn, they act exactly the same way. Should I vote for Hilary Clinton for president because she is a woman? What will she do differently because she is a woman? Can you believe that I actually once thought that if women ruled the world, there would be no more war! That is — until I actually got to know women, and saw how nasty they could be to one another.

Jews have been the ultimate victim throughout history, and a lot of people have been disappointed in Israel because the country acts so aggressively against its enemies. Sometimes I think Israelis should be more compassionate to the Palestinians, considering their common sad history. Of course, having your own country requires certain small responsibilities, like making sure you survive. On occasion, I read some commentaries by Europeans journalists who still prefer their Jews to be like in the old days — nice and willing to go on the train to their “relocation camp.” Maybe one day, the Palestinian leadership will overcome their victimhood and accept some responsibility for themselves.

I think it is great that those who once had no power have started to gain power. Will California be a different place when the majority is overwhelmingly Latino? Will all the politicians be Latino? Will there be enough Telemundo anchorwomen to go around? (note: inappropriate joke about the LA mayor’s recently discovered affair) I think in the future, the power structure will become more complicated… and more fluid. There are plenty of women and minorities in power. And what about those who are over 65 and forced from their job? Someone who is 25 and would never think of discriminating against someone black or gay, sees no problem with firing someone who is “old,” or not hiring someone who is “fat.” How do we know who we should support in their struggle for equal rights? Why do we always visualize the powerful as middle-aged white, heterosexual men?

Recently, Sophia had a UN-type interpreting job in the City of West Hollywood, glass booth and all. It was an induction ceremony for the new mayor of West Hollywood, and Sophia was there to translate for the Russian residents in attendance at a large concert hall used for the occasion. The newly elected mayor is gay. West Hollywood is known to be the area of LA where most of the hip gay clubs and bars are located. During the ceremony, there were many city pronouncements dealing with gay rights, Bush, AIDS, and gay-related drug issues. All of this is great, but Sophia told me a very surprising fact — despite the city’s “gay reputation,” the majority of the city’s population is Russian immigrants. They live in the crappier part of town, segregated away from the hip clubs and the gay power structure. So, here was a city, run by a minority population which does very little to include the majority in city politics. Is this wrong? Maybe the Russians just don’t choose to get involved — which sounds very much like the argument the Republicans made in Florida during that infamous election.

To me, it just proves that whoever is in power becomes as insular and selfish as the next guy. Meet the New Boss, same as the Old Boss.

44 Comments

  1. I’m with you on how nasty women can be to each other. That’s one of the main reasons why I avoid social clubs with women only.

    Your question… “Why do we always visualize the powerful as middle-aged white, heterosexual men?” Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s because in the last few hundred years, they have been the rulers of the world (i.e. U.S., Great Britain, France, Netherlands, Germany).

  2. it’s true, women can be extremely cruel and nasty, it starts when they are kids. i was shocked to see how my girls and their friends treated each other when they were elementary school aged.
    alot of people don’t get involved in politics, in that neighborhood, i’d say it’s more the language barrier than lack of interest (or maybe a combo of both) we have an extremely low voter turnout here, i think people are just too busy to really get involved. or lack of interest. nothing ever seems to change, even with a change of power.

  3. Systems are hard to shake off. They are deep within us after generations of conditioning and patterning. We just repeat the cycles as in a dream-filled sleep, until someone wakes up! And when someone wakes up everyone says: “SH! Go back to sleep, you’re rocking the boat!”

    The dominant power structures and ways of the Patriarchal system are huge, wide, deep and within us all whether we are women, men, whatever.

    “To me, it just proves that whoever is in power becomes as insular and selfish as the next guy. Meet the New Boss, same as the Old Boss.” Yes. That pretty much sounds like repeating Patriarchy to me.

    Neil, great post! Right on target with important questions. As Mike Golby would say: “kicking us out of our comfort zones …”

  4. Geeky — You’re absolutely right. Power has mostly been in the hands of white middle-aged men. I guess what I was saying is that I used to think that this group was more evil than everyone else, when in reality, whoever is in power ends up doing the same thing. Why should I want to share power with you, if I know that if you are in my position, you’re not going to share it with me?

    Tamarika — So, maybe you can educate me when I meet you, since you are an expert in this stuff. Are you saying that everyone… even women… are just following a patriarchal way of thinking? What other options are there?

  5. Yes. That’s what I’m saying. The system is strong, deep, insidious, pervasive … [I am using all the words I can think of to confirm how much of an “expert” I am : )] … and it has been around for a very long time.

    When we meet I don’t want to educate you … I have so many other things in mind … now then, Danny, don’t panic!

  6. OK, no education, just wild flirting, exactly how thing are preferred under a patriarchal system.

  7. YES! Now *that’s* what I’m talking about!

  8. “…It just proves that whoever is in power becomes as insular and selfish as the next guy.”

    Here are some reasons that pop up in my mind as to why this seems true: 1. The only way to survive the system is to join the group. The group and its culture is exceedingly difficult to change.

    2. What good, decent person would willingly take a position of leadership in this or many other countries knowing the press and public will tear them to shreds? Certainly not family-minded people.

    3. Those who would make the best leaders are often modest, self-effacing people who need to be drafted. After all, those who seek power tend to have a lot of “personal issues.”

    4. Money.

  9. July 11, 2007–Tamarika & Neil Flirt Fest

  10. I always come to your blog for laughs but this time I leave with thoughts. Good post.

    Coming from a country with a ‘democratic’ label but not-so democratic policies, I understand what you’re getting at. USA has always been the greatest epitome of human rights and democracy model for us in our country. At least for us minority non-Muslims.

  11. Neil, it has always been the role of the prophet who stands outside of power to point out the corruption within power.

    Just because the corruption won’t go away doesn’t mean prophets give up. Some days we’re the prophet, other days we’re the one being denounced.

    Thing is, in certain times of history (like now?) we need more people who see it to speak it.

    Today you were the prophet. Well done.

  12. Well said.

    Thanks for saying it.

  13. You can call me, 'Sir'

    July 11, 2007 at 7:00 am

    Great post, Neil.

    Power always corrupts, though not always in the same way. Some just abuse it, while others compromise their integrity in small ways that help ensure they don’t lose the power they’ve attained. Small compromises add up quickly. It’s human nature, I believe, and it won’t be changing anytime soon.

  14. Interestingly enough, as I’m beginning to discover through my own involvement in community leadership, with Russians it’s actually a bit of both. On the one hand, many of the OLDER generations are indeed choosing not to get involved (for a variety of reasons). However, there’s also a frequent faily to reach out and engage the younger population by the mainstream groups. In fact, in many communities, even when those younger generations reach out to get involved in large organizations or politics, they are often mostly ignored or even pushed away.

  15. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many…. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from the sense of their inadequacy and impotence. They hate not wickedness but weakness. When it is in their power to do so, the weak destroy weakness wherever they see it.
    –Eric Hoffer

  16. “For the people” leaders get eaten for lunch. Jimmy Carter..fine example.

    As for power, when Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, (New Testament reference)..he offered him all the POWER in the world…Satan rides power like a pony…others ride power like a bucking bronc. It’s really hard to keep your balance.

    Pehaps the problem, is we should be looking to people who are saught, not seeking themselves. Remember the legend of the trek to the teacher. (the leader)
    These true leaders don’t “run” for anything. They lead by example….Some times they have to be alone in a crowd for a long time, doing there own thing..until someone looks there way.

    The only thing we “common folk” can do is participate, and not pander to the lowest common denominator. Stay the course of our own moral compass.

    “Well..he DID IT FIRST!!!” doesn’t work in kindergarten…why should it work in politics.

    Nice post, Neil.

    Good post, Neil.

  17. Very thought provoking. Reminded me of some of the struggles that have been going on with the California State Fair. In the past the Fair has had three ethnic days during the run of the Fair — Latino Day, African American Day, and Asian/Pacific Islander Day. Sacramento now has a sizeable Russian community. They asked why they couldn’t have their own day. The answer seemed to be to change to days that were defined as being multicultural so as to celebrate everyone. Some of the groups with existing days did not like that idea. *sigh*

  18. Okay, Neil and Tamar, the new rule is you have to stay one arm’s length apart at the dance on Saturday or I’m going to have to tap you on the shoulder.

    I often wonder about these issues but I still DO think that white heterosexual men in power have screwed things up so badly that they should be banned from public office for a hundred years, at least in this country. (Non-white men in other countries are doing a pretty horrific job as well.) Not that I’m disagreeing with the “women can be nasty” comment–you just have to go to a middle school playground to see how utterly vicious girls can be. I think part of the problem is in our perception of what the alternative to patriarchy would look like. We need better modeling.

    I hear you about growing up with the distorted views of liberal Jewish parents who were red diaper babies during the Depression. My group was like that family in the Woody Allen movie who found out the maid was stealing from them and said, “Well, she has to steal from someone!” Oy.

    P.S. Who is that C-list Evita? You couldn’t spring for Patti LuPone or even Madonna?

  19. As a woman I am insanely against all the feminist movements that actualy make us look BAD because we’re so intolerant of men and any other being without ovaries

  20. Oh, and I meant to ask why you are ragging on BlogHer–don’t they invite men who are interested to participate in the conversation? It’s not a “separatist” event, is it? (Not that I have a problem with all male/female separatism, I think it’s fine for women and men to get together separately in many cases if they feel so inclined.)

    And your West Hollywood example brought up my own deeply ingraned patriarchal programming. Hearing about all the Russians living there left me with the same feeling as hearing about the growing number of Arabs in greater Israel…”but it’s not THEIR land, we can’t let them run the show…” The fear is always of the dominant group TAKING OVER and crowding out those who are less powerful. That programming is a direct result of growing up in patriarchy.

  21. Sounds a lot like cynicism to me. Clinton was in power for eight years and I thought he did a good job of bringing disparate people to the table.

  22. Oy, now I’m worried about how my Israel comment will be perceived. I did not mean to make any statements about the politics of that region or whose land is whose so please ignore that incendiary topic in the context of this post. (But if anyone wants to take me on regarding my criticism of Neil’s pathetic Evita, I’m in.)

  23. Neil, women can be utter bitches when they’re in groups (or even when they’re not). I just resigned from the PTA because of bitchiness. Give me a man any day as a boss, or to work with in a group – they’re much nicer.

    My experiences living in Africa say that one group ‘mad with power’ is very quickly replaced with another group that promises to be ‘fair’ but ends up ‘mad with power’.

  24. Danny — Your problem is that you think too patriarchal. Every Evita should be considered equal, despite whether or not she is being played by a “name” actress.

  25. Such a provocative post, Neil-ele. I hardly know where to begin….Maybe with BlogHer. Does it really piss you off or are you just doing a schtick? If it pisses you off, is it because you have a dick and can’t be a Her? The Mormon Temple in Westwood pisses me off because I’m not a Mormon and can’t go in, but–well, what was my point here? Oh, yeah, is exclusion as a viable tactic of ego inflation? Or is it just our organic urge to travel with our herd?

    And now to the Russian/West Hollywood issue: Having just spent a decade or so living there, I don’t feel so sorry for the Russians. They control everything east of Fairfax; they gays go west of Fairfax. Plus they have the Russian Mafia, which is the scourge (is that the right word) of law enforcement everywhere. And–up here in the northern part of the state, the Russians are starting to beat the gays to death. Forget the rednecks, it’s the Reds against the gays now.

  26. Dave G — Yes, today is official cynicism day. But in a way, I don’t really see what I said as cynicism. I think I’m saying that everyone is mostly the same, good or bad — and I don’t think that is cynical. We agree that we are all created equal, so it is not surprising that we all suck in the same way. I use the West Hollywood example just because it is a clearcut one. I’m all for caring for the needs of a minority. But what happens when a minority becomes a majority? Should they act any differently or not? I don’t like it when some conservative town wants to put up a statue of the Ten Commandments, so what’s so wrong for taking on city government that seemingly only promotes issues of interest to the powerful minority?

    But then again, maybe its refreshing realizing that everyone is the same. There is something condescending in thinking that women and minorities aren’t as power hungry and selfish as white men. Of course they are!

    And I did like Clinton for that reason… although he was in the pockets of special interests like everyone else. His pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich was the low point in his presidency for me, not his relationship with Miss Lewinsky.

  27. By Jane – thanks for taking me to task! The truth is, yes, I’m a little jealous. There really isn’t any community for men online like there is for women. And frankly, being online as a personal blogger — I feel like a minority. Maybe I’ll one day attend BlogHer when they change the name of the organization to “BlogHer AND the Men Who Love Them.”

    On the other hand, I’ve always had a problem with organized groups, both joining and not joining. Even now, I feel uncomfortable joining “The Jewish Bloggers” group, not out of any discomfort about being Jewish, but because it just doesn’t represent what I think the blogosphere is all about. Maybe I’ll change my mind in the future. I like the fact that I’m interacting with all sorts of people. But sometimes I wonder if I should be as exclusionary as so many others: maybe I should just hang out with other Californians, or Jews, or democrats. I don’t see anything inherently WRONG with mommybloggers only having other mommybloggers on their blogrolls or African-Americans reading only other African-Americans… it just seems sad that the blogosphere has become as segmented as we are in real life. And I’m not the one pissed about BlogHer. I’m only reporting what I read about from some who attended last year — about how there was a hieararchy of friends, and how the mommybloggers and single bloggers pooh-poohed each other. And I’m sure those at BlogHer are aware of this. This year, they have a seminar slated, called The Politics of Inclusion and Exclusion in Online Communities:

    “Comments, link-love, blog-rolls…who’s in, who’s out? The Internet has the potential to be the great equalizer, to breakdown artificial barriers. Is that what we’re doing, or are we all sticking to our respective corners of the online world? What signposts do those who feel outside the online majority look for when deciding if an online community will be welcoming to “people like me.” Can you build community that becomes more inclusive, rather than exclusive… and does it have broader social implications if you do (or don’t)?”

    One start is that 80% of the speakers shouldn’t just be linking to each other on their blogrolls, giving the impression of exclusiveness.

    As for Russians in West Hollywood — when you say they “control everything” to the East, they only do so the same way blacks “control” South Central, if I can be political incorrect for effect. They are the majority there… so what? Both are poorer neighborhoods plagued with crime. I don’t think the Russian Mafia is a big problem in LA. Besides, the gays don’t just control the west side — they also control the city government! It is their responsibility to make the city a great place to live for all residents — gay and Russian (and to clean up all the male prostitutes who seem to only hang out on the Russian East side). I don’t spend too much time in South Central myself, but I DO think it is the responsibility of Los Angeles to give that area as much attention as building more “artist loft space” downtown.

  28. Wow. What an interesting post. I think people who have political aspirations in general like the power. I would never get involved in politics – I don’t have that kind of personality, but if I did I would be all inclusive…Which is probably why I’d never get elected to anything.

  29. I have issues sometimes with groups that have been historically marginalized, subjectified, or wronged using that history as an excuse years later for privilege. 90 years ago I wouldn’t have been able to vote, but I can now so I don’t feel like I’m owed any special favors. But then, maybe I’m talking the upper middle class suburban privilege talk when I’ve never walked the marginalized walk.

  30. This is why I don’t like working with women.

  31. All people suck, some more than others.

  32. Hey Neil,
    Thanks for responding although you are covering so many issues today I can hardly keep up! Israel/Palestine, cynicism, West Hollywood, minority vs. majority interests, Clinton, ethics, the nature of people, etc.

    First, not to get *too* pedantic but the dictionary I looked at defines a cynic as “a person who believes people are motivated purely by self-interest rather than acting for honorable or unselfish reasons.”

    Given this definition, saying things along the lines of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” strikes me as cynical. To me, it’s the equivalent of throwing up your hands and saying, “People are worthless and there is no hope.” And, of course, there are moments when I do this too.

    But, and maybe I’m just a deluded fool, I believe people can act for unselfish reasons. Just one – LBJ remarked that he was writing off the South for generation (previously the most solid Democratic voting bloc) with his support of the civil rights bill. If he was overly concerned with retaining political power, he would have never signed it. But he knew it was the right thing to do and he did.

    Will people always act for *absolutely* pure reasons? Probably not. But if there is one thing I’ve learned, people see what they want to see. If you think people only act selfishly, you will look for examples of their selfishness and ignore the good. Don’t fall into this trap.

    btw, fascinating post!

  33. Dave — You got me. I don’t really feel that cynical about individuals, just groups, but hey — that’s how human nature is. There’s usually infighting and jockeying for position everywhere — even in the most noble cause. I know for a fact that there is conflict all the time within organizations searching for a cure for breast cancer. There isn’t a Jewish organization that exists without two organizers not talking with one another. Within every good, there is a bad, and vice versa. I thought the Live Earth concerts were really cool, but since when is Global Warming an issue that only those under 30 care about. Was Al Gore the oldest one there? How about having a concert with Tony Bennett at Lincoln Center for the cause? Why does an issue have to be youth-oriented to be sexy and appeal to advertisers and networks? It also makes me think about all the hullabaloo AGAINST nuclear energy years ago, which now only makes us only more dependent on oil.

    As for LBJ, he was still a savvy politician. And just because someone wants power, and may even be selfish, doesn’t mean he can’t do good stuff.

  34. How do we know who we should support in their struggle for equal rights? Um, everyone is entitled to equal rights, no? I don’t think I should be supporting any group more or less than another.

    But as a black American (from dreaded South Central which is been mentioned a few times in comments), I do get massively frustrated when the debate comes up with other blacks.

    Who would have thought that the black community after all it’s been through seriously has people who take issue with just about every other equal rights movement out there?

    I see the frustration of feeling left behind, but it doesn’t mean we pick and choose.

    We support them all. At least, I do.

    Why do we always visualize the powerful as middle-aged white, heterosexual men? As Geeky pointed out, well, it’s because for a long time it has been middle-aged white, heterosexual men.

    That’s changing and we’re seeing, that, wow! women, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, gays, etc. have just as many skeltons and mistakes in their past.

    I think one solution is to stop seeing people in power as superhuman. They experience all of the emotions and tempations that all humans do and I’m just not suprised when scandal comes up. I’m more suprised when it doesn’t.

    There are a wealth of topics here, but unless I want to launch into some lengthy writing, I’ll just stop here.

    Good food for though Neil. Thanks for sharing it.

  35. Danny,
    I think what you say here is important:
    “I think part of the problem is in our perception of what the alternative to patriarchy would look like …”

    I don’t think we can “model” it, because we have no real experience with an alternative. And trying out something so completely unknown seems to terrify everyone. For example no dominance, no violence, emotional versus rational, no exclusion … how on earth could we imagine that? And I can hear a million voices screaming: “It’s just human nature – you can’t stop violence or dominance!!!!!” … and yet, I wonder …

  36. It’s true. Power corrupts. Absolute Power corrupts absolutely.

    But… some more than others, Neil. Some more than others.

    There are levels to which the human animal will sink.

    I stopped somewhere down around the 5th level…

  37. It’s going to take a difference of ideas, not genitals, to make change.

  38. Neil, wonderful post. You write so well that it is always a pleasure to read your stuff, and sometimes a surprise. As in this case.

    One comment: If Wendy thinks Jimmy C was “for the people” I’ve got a nice bridge for her, very reasonable.

  39. It can be a dangerous thing to have power and be too far outside the mainstream thinking. MLK, two Kennedys, Paul Wellstone, they were all thinking like new bosses.

  40. Lordy, isn’t this the truth?!

    Signed,
    Jessica
    [Another female drunk with power]

  41. Jessica — Are you sure you don’t mean you’re just drunk?

  42. Neil,
    Thanks for the reply. My intention wasn’t to take you to task. In fact, I feel about groups as you do. And I was a BlogHer last year, so I’ve heard the complaints. But my sense was/is that the complainers wouldn’t be talking if they did feel they were part of the A list. And the A listers didn’t know that they were perceived as being snobbish or exclusive. My sense of true A list people, whatever the field, is that their status is given to them by those who wish they had it.

  43. Now that I’ve had a chance to sit on this convoluted post, I really think I was talking more about myself than anything else. With my own discomfort with being in groups, with the idea of being in any leadership position vs. following someone else’s lead.

    The second subject was probably about my reverse racism and sexim. I really did grow up thinking that minorities and women were somehow “better” or closer to “being real” because they weren’t in power. But it is clearer to me now that this has nothing to do with gender or race but with the power itself. Women leaders like Margaret Thatcher or Golda Meir were as tough as any male leader. You could see how tough everyone was on Martha Stewart for doing something that countless male CEOs do every day. I sometimes feel torn with thinking it great that new people share power, but sad that everyone acts the same was as the last guy. Why does there even have to be an A-list, etc? I thought it was men who were supposed to be the ones who are status conscious, showing off how big their cars are to each other. Why would women want to imitate us?

  44. In my 40s, I’m older AND wiser and very cynical. I don’t believe what the government tells me, I don’t believe in true love, and I’m not sure about organized religion. I haven’t decided if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

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