Friday, November 17, 2006

The Vice of Power

When English historian Lord John Acton wrote in an 1887 letter to Bishop Creighton that "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely", he did so in protest of the promulgation by Pope Pius IX of the dogma of papal infallibility. This he saw as an affront to the progressive notions he championed on liberalism and limited government.

Although much of what Lord Acton had advocated during his life in the 19th century would still be disagreeable to some in this century, his assertion on the wicked tendencies of power offer an enduring equation whose implied correlations are of near exact predictability. This demonstrable truth of power waltzing with vice and conceit is perhaps a topic that can be further explored by our contemporary neuroscientists.

The culprit, I say, is Dopamine. This chemical, which is produced in the primitive (animal) part of the human brain, regulates our appetite for rewards and our perception of how well those rewards meet our expectations. This is responsible for the brain’s attraction to pleasure-seeking substances and activities including sex, drugs, and Rock&Roll.

So, when the newly elected members of the US Congress assume their responsibilities early next year and when those who were defeated return home to consider their futures, they may want to first consider how to regulate their Dopamine before regulating the people’s business.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Healing Power of Forgiveness

The South African leadership continues to astonish the world with its stubborn insistence on reconciliation and forgiveness - and that is a rare example in a world where many are determined to exact vicious revenge onto those who once oppressed them.

This week the president of South Africa Thabo Mbeki attended the funeral of one of the most vicious leaders of Apartheid who, even after his racist regime had fallen, refused to take part in national reconciliation. Well, in death, the black leaders of South Africa offered him a state funeral to bid him farewell.

Now if only others in distant places like Iraq, Palestine, Sri Lanka, and Kashmir can learn half of the lesson the likes of Nelson Mandela are trying to teach, the world would be so much better for it.