The dichotomy between love and power is a central theme of my Star Mages trilogy. It’s also an important matter in spiritual thought and the pivot of most internal conflict.
We are torn between these two needs in our life. Power lets us survive. Love lets us be happy. Without power, we cannot protect those we love. Without love, power self-destructs. So the two sides of ourselves need each other, and yet they are also in fundamental conflict. Ultimately, the conflict can only be resolved by an agreement defining one of the two as in service to the other.
Power is the ability to manifest changes in reality in accordance with the will. (Some readers may recognize that as Aleister Crowley’s definition of magic, or “magick” as he preferred to call it. I have never liked that definition, believing it too broad and too sly to serve any honest purpose. It includes many things that are not, in any usual understanding of the word’s meaning, magic; at the same time, it excludes some magic done for spiritual or selfless purposes. As a definition of power rather than magic, however, it’s excellent.)
We begin learning power in infancy, as we master control of our own bodies and learn to eat, move on purpose, dress ourselves, speak, etc. Each new skill we learn adds to our power.
Power serves the self. Power is survival, and survival is always achieved at the expense of others — not always other human beings, but always other forms of life. To eat is to kill. To take up space and consume the resources of the biosphere is to deny those resources to competing organisms. Because you are alive, a number of other organisms are not. Because you have the job you do, someone else who competed with you for it and would have gained it if you had not applied does not. Because your parents raised you, they did not raise another child that might have been born in your place.
Everyone has a need and desire for power up to a point. The scope of power expands from the center in concentric rings: survival, comfort, creative expression, accumulation of wealth, exertion of influence, dominance over others, tyranny. At some point, for most people, the scope of power becomes sufficient and we say, “Enough. I have what I need.” For a few people, there is no such limit except what is imposed on them by practical necessity and conflict with others. The arenas of commerce at its most rarefied and of politics, whether within a nation or within an organization, are where those dedicated to the pursuit of power without limit contend with one another.
Love emerges as a motivation at about the same time as power. We learn early the pleasure that comes from making another person happy, from social engagement for mutual joy, from play with someone else not as a struggle or competition but simply for enjoyment of another’s company.
The internal conflict between love and power also emerges early. A child pursues power by taking a toy or a treat that another child wanted, makes the other child sad and becomes sad himself — power has been served at the cost of love.
As we grow older, the capacity for love grows in tandem with the capacity for power and the choice between the two is ever-present. Complex layering happens as we achieve power for the protection of those we love, particularly our children: the need to maintain levels of power (a well-paying job, a secure home) in order to serve the needs of children becomes paramount. Here is the drive for power in service to love.
On the other hand, we may find ourselves in a situation of cultivating friendships for political gain or advancement in the business world or in other ways for what we can “get out of” the situation. Here is love bent to the service of power. We’re complex creatures. It’s all quite tangled.
All of life’s activities blend these two impulses, but surely none more so than sex. In making love, we give pleasure to another and take pleasure ourselves; we serve another and we are served; we may bend another to our will, or bend to the will of another, and do either by mutual agreement; in some cases we bring a new person into existence. Sex mingles power and love like nothing else.
At its simplest, sex is all about power. It’s all an attempt to get one’s rocks off and achieve pleasure and physical satisfaction, pure selfishness on the part of two people whose goals happen to be harmonious in one way or another. For a prostitute and her customer this is blatantly obvious, but even without an overt and crude commercial transaction sex can be entirely without love on the part of either participant.
But sex can also rise above that level, incorporating love into the mix of motives as we seek the pleasure of another and to form a bond with another person. Sex is sanctified and vilified in religious teaching more than any other human activity. It can be divine or diabolical or a combination of the two.
It’s impossible not to follow both power and love. We require both. As Falcon said to his divided self, “I can see the necessity of power. Love without power might as well not exist. I need to be able to protect those I love, to give good things to them, and on a larger scale to do my part in bringing about a better world. I can’t do any of those things without power.” And as his dark side said in response, “I can also see the necessity of love. That is, it’s a part of me, and I cannot help loving others and caring about their well-being.” Without power, we cannot survive. Without love, life loses all meaning and we commit suicide, or in other ways arrange to die.
The real question before us and the conundrum of morality and enlightenment is what happens when a conflict between the two arises. Do we go with power, drawing lines between self and other, making the world a smaller place? Or do we go with love, embracing the unity between I and Thou, but losing an opportunity to make a change? It’s not a simple question to be answered simplistically. Ultimately, love is closer to the truth: the universe is One, and conflict among its parts is an illusion. And yet in our evolutionary past, conflict, struggle, and the concentration of power have increased our own capacity to know and understand and hence to love.
Remember the serpent in the Garden of Eden myth. Would we really have been better off as innocent, ignorant animals, without the knowledge of good and evil? The Fall of Man was as much rise as fall.
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