Fairness comes down to power

One thread on this blog concerns fairness in the social sphere: where it comes from, why it’s important, the current state of fairness, the imbalance of haves and have-nots in terms of money, wealth, and access to goods and services in the public realm. But probably the most important access of fairness is power.

In this TED talk, Eric Liu describes civics as the art of being a citizen. To Liu, it encompasses the values of the society, the systems that operate to maintain the society, and skills for getting work done within the systems and values at play.

Liu made one assertion that upended my thinking: power is neither good nor bad, it just is. I think I’ve always looked at civic power as a necessary evil. But “Power is no more inherently evil than fire, or physics. It just is.” Maybe it’s just necessary, period. Without it, groups of people don’t get stuff done.

There are several comments on the YouTube page for this talk that assert that power is inherently evil. I’m starting to mull this over. Could President Johnson have persuaded Congress to pass the 1964 Voting Rights Act without using power? I doubt it. Should we look on the positive use of power as a fluke? I hope not.

One aspect of Liu’s talk that I liked was his focus on cities. He correctly pointed out that cities are overtaking nations as the stage and crucible for the exercise of power. Towards the end of his TED talk, Liu challenges audience members to write a case study from the future about a change that they would like to see in their city.

Liu contends that people like me who are ambivalent or slightly put off by the concept of power allow those who are comfortable with, literate about, and desirous for power to wield a disproportionate amount of control and influence in our cities.

Liu also runs Citizens University “to help Americans┬ácultivate the values, systems knowledge, and skills of effective citizenship.” Maybe it’s time I signed up for a course about power. What about you?

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