Let’s talk about political power for a moment, one of my fave topics. I’m reading through Hun Sen’s Cambodia and I’m struck by how similar the tactics employed by the push and pull of political actors there mirrors the tactics I’ve observed everywhere in power hierarchies.
I remember when I was younger and reading The Wheel of Time and later Game of Thrones being confused by seeing similar descriptions of these tactics by political actors and not really understanding what the heck was going on.
And then as a young adult in corporate America getting pushed around by more skilled political actors and not understanding why I felt unable to control a situation or respond in the ways I wanted to.
It’s interesting to me because it permeates everything to some degree and I see the same activities over and over and over when people are trying to amass power but no one ever talks about it in explicit terms much (with a few exceptions) and I don’t understand why.
Are power games and power tactics so obvious to people that no one bothers discussing them openly? Is it a way to maintain personal power? Are people afraid of giving bad actors more tools to hurt others? Or are you just supposed to figure this out on your own?
I won’t claim to be an expert on power but I’ve thought about it a lot and study and read a lot on the subject and have played these games alongside much more skilled actors at an executive level in startups and large companies and it’s bizarre how consistent strategies are.
Specifically, it seems to come down to:
1) Secrecy, deception, and obfuscation of nefarious or self-serving aims for as long as possible by running the equivalent of positive marketing campaigns with bodies of internal and external people who could affect your power
2) The demonization, smearing, and (often) elimination of any credible threat to or criticism of your actions or attempts to bring your motives of amassing power to light
3) Waiting as long as possible to signal any imminent action and then moving swiftly and devastatingly to accomplish specific outcomes which increase your access to resources (financial, political, or whatever you’re competing over)
Ideally #3 is done in secret and/or followed immediately by a disinformation campaign to confuse the facts in service of #1.
You can also accomplish #3 by carefully and quietly moving over a period of time but risk increases the longer your actions continue and can be observed; you lose control of the narrative when people can see what you’re doing and draw their own conclusions.
These seem to be characteristics of strategies rather than specific strategies or tactics—the medium and messaging and channels that you use to accomplish these things vary tremendously depending on who you are and what your arena is but they are consistent.
You see this play out in everything from Mean Girls to PTA to International Affairs on a global stage.
I guess you could say that this just like strategy and tactics 1001 because it sometimes seems SO OBVIOUS to me now that I’m looking for it but I both don’t remember it being so obvious earlier in my life and no one really talks about it.
My real question is WHY no one discusses this pattern very much in day to day to life because it seems like a pretty decent model for understanding who is trying to manipulate you or increase their own power and why they might want to do so.
Also once you see it it becomes easier to block or counter the actions and motivations of people trying to make it happen. What gives? Why don’t people talk about actions in these terms? I feel like I’m missing or misunderstanding something or maybe being too cynical.
Or maybe just tons of people implicitly get this and I’m over here having a “whoa” blindingly obvious moment? Why aren’t we analyzing the actions of political opponents openly in these terms more? Is this what poli-sci people sit and talk about?
Act to stop people in your life when you see them using these tactics and you suspect their cause is less than noble. These are not tactics to be proud of using.