There is a saying. “With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s bullshit. It’s the sort of thing those without power, usually due to societal position meaning they’ll never get any more power than that of middle-manager status, say to try and convince themselves that those further up the food chain actually care about the welfare of people like them. What it means is that people without power hope that those with power use that power to help those without it. And yes, there is a moral obligation for those with power to not use that power to oppress and bully those without, and if possible to actually use that power to help those without it to lead better-quality lives. But when was the last time you actually saw that happen? The only time I can think of is 1948, and the founding of the NHS.
With great power comes great power. That’s it. The powerful people (who are almost invariably rich in proportion to their power) in this world have no responsibility to use what power they have with regard to those without their level of power. Powerful people point and laugh at the rules the rest of us have to live by or face the consequences – witness the scandal of MPs expenses, the phone-hacking scandal, and so on. Powerful people, when challenged on using their power responsibly, simply shake their heads saying, “oh yes, how terrible, something must be done,” and hire someone to pretend to do something that looks like it’ll solve the problem. “With great power comes the opportunity to do whatever the fuck you want, because you’ll only get in trouble for it if you can’t talk, bribe or threaten the problem into going away.”
How about we change it? “With great responsibility comes great power”. That makes more sense, doesn’t it? And not only on the press-baron or prime-minister level. Actually, it has no relevance to press barons and prime ministers, because they don’t take responsibility for their actions. Who it does have relevance for is the people who believe in sayings like “with great power comes great responsibility”. Take, for instance, someone with a learning disability. They might want to live independently, and have been given the opportunity to do so by their parents/carers. They move into their own flat, maybe with a friend as a flatmate, and suddely they have a huge list of responsibilities. They have to pay the rent, the council tax, the gas bill, the electric bill, the water bill, the phone/internet bill, the weekly food shopping costs. They have to keep the place clean and tidy and in a good state of repair, they have to behave in a manner that doesn’t upset or annoy the neighbours, they have to get up on their own in time to go to work (if they’re lucky enough to have work). It’s a whopping list of responsibilities to get used to. But once they get used to them, once they’ve taken those responsibilities, they have enormous personal power. They have the power to decide what to eat that day, the power to decide whether to get up and go to work that day, the power to decide how, where and with who they spend their days, and doing what. They could decide to not bother wearing clothes that day. They could decide to climb the outside of their building (hopefully not on the same day). Okay, those aren’t particularly useful or powerful powers, but on a personal level, for that person, they can be incredibly empowering.
A typical adult with learning disabilities, or a typical 18 year-old from a poor background, or a wage slave, has, until the point where they decide to do something about it, practically zero responsibilities. Their whole lives are dictated by others – carers, parents, the DWP, their boss. Once they take the responsibility to do something for themselves, they have enormous self-power. The feeling is amazing, it’s like realising that hey, I can do all this stuff now that I couldn’t do before, nothing will stop me! It really is a take-on-the-world-and-win feeling. And as long as you realise that if you do it in small steps you actually can, the chances are greater that you actually will. Today, pay the gas bill; tomorrow, start my own business; next week, buy out Tesco. I’m struggling to express myself adequately here, I know, and that’s partly because I’ve never fully been in any of the boats I gave as examples. I’m not a typical adult with learning disabilities, and I spent a long time not knowing I had learning disabilities, so I wasn’t a typical 18 year-old or wage slave either. But for people who are – just try it. Live independently, realise that you have responsibilities, realise that those responsibilities are ultimately choices, and that those choices are now not the only choices you are limited to making. Realise that with lots of things to be responsible for, it’s a lot harder for anyone to make you do something that’s not your idea. Realise that with great responsibility comes great power.