In his fascinating book The End of Power (Basic Books; 2013), Moisés Naim identifies four channels of power: 1. Muscle or the potential use of physical coercion; 2. Code which encapsulates all the moral and traditional values pertaining to all cultures; 3. Pitch which appeals to psychological preferences in our decision making and 4. Rewards as a way of inducing individuals to comply by a given socio-political system.
Furthermore, these four aspects of power are, according to Naim, in the process of being undermined by three revolutions, namely, the More, the Mobility and the Mentality revolutions (or 3 Ms). Each one of them is a potential threat to our conventional notion of power and the social status quo. Coercion has become more and more difficult to enforce when populations are getting better educated and better organised through local social networks. The Podemos and Occupy Wall Street movements have shown the growing power of coordinated action, organised outside the traditional framework of political parties or trade unions. People simply crave for more freedom to exercise their civic power and change society for the best. Also, the world market has entitled individuals to move more freely in search of work and make them more and more likely to challenge and confront coercive authorities. Underlining the More and Mobility revolutions, a change in mentality has made younger generations less subservient to the belief systems of their elders. Naim gives the example of the Catholic Church struggling to defend some of its tenets, such as its condemnation of homosexuality, abortion and the vow of celibacy for its priests. Psychological reinforcements such as the ones commonly used by advertisers, are part of the power holders’ arsenal. Unfortunately, here again, persuasion is a lame weapon in a highly competitive market where voters, like consumers, are offered a great variety of attractive ‘products’. The cynicism of ‘Generation X and Y’ proves how difficult it can be for any powerful organisation to inspire and nurture loyalty among its followers.
Reneging on the title of his book, Naim is not a pure idealist prophesizing the actual demise or ‘end of power’ altogether. He is, in fact, prepared to admit that the religious, political, military or business ‘megaplayers are more constrained in what they can do than they used to be in the past, and their hold on power is increasingly less secure.’ (p. 75) Such a redefinition and reorganisation of power was, indeed, made possible by the IT revolution. Our very freedom will ultimately depend upon its ongoing development or gradual curtailment by Naim’s megaplayers.
Moisés Naim The End of Power