The ‘Will To Power’ Vs. The ‘Totalizing Discourse’

According to philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, every human has a ‘will to power’ – a desire to be powerful, be it by way of money, romance, career, respect, or experience. It’s a simple theory that fits in nicely with the idea of Capitalism and Communism both ways – they have both become super powers of the world in a desire to be powerful. Societies work and progress under these two titles and their ideals, and it certainly explains why there are people controlling a country, and a load of people rebelling against it – it’s a power struggle psychologically constructed within the structure of the society.

What it doesn’t explain so well is why the vast majority of people are not fighting, but instead are passive due to ‘totalizing discourse’ (another word for which being, ‘Grand Narratives‘). Grand narratives are the key beliefs held by a power elite, usually informed by historical context. For example, the Middle East would be considered barbaric and lesser-developed than America, because as history has progressed, that is the way the American media has represented them. Grand narratives like this influence modern day media, which in turn affects the perspectives of those processing that media today – this in turn affects future media production.

The grand narrative of western culture may also suggest that a lot of people have died creating the democratic governments that we have today, and that to challenge the government would lead to more chaos and anarchy. This is a fear tool that can be wielded by the government through the media to stop people rebelling. However, this is on a psychological level. Psychologically, the theory works, and if people trust history (regardless of what that historical record was representing at the time), then they will indeed stay true to the government. However, biologically, the theory is flawed, as if everyone is innately programmed to have a ‘will to power’, then in theory, the media will never fully be able to guarantee complete control of the mass population.

What the power elite needs to do is to use discourse structures of their society to keep people focused on the trivial, and make them empowered in relation to things that do not matter. Shows like The X Factor are (arguably) highly manipulated by the public. The public like the control, and so they watch the show and become hooked through interactivity. Likewise, games like football also attract many fans, as there is a level of interaction and feeling part of a larger group that would cater to a person’s desire to be powerful. Governments are complex, secretive, and complicated, and to think about changing politics and a new society is to go to great effort. If people are powerful with trivial things, why would they bother with more important things?

Call Of Duty – This game is distracting me a lot at the moment. Why? Because when I play it on the hardest difficulty and win, I am – for a short time – an SAS war hero with awesome power. Little do I realize, playing this will not benefit my future, yet writing the essay that’s due in soon will. For some reason, I care more about playing the game because it’s fun (and I also make the excuse that I need a break from work every now and then). Surely if I had a will to real power, this would be in reverse?

The ‘will to power’ does not seem to cater for any real power – one must define the term ‘power’ before one can decide the definition of the idea. Nietzsche may have used the theory to relate to why people live egoistic lifestyles, but the idea is limited – power is counteracted by leisure, fun, and enjoyment. If the quest for power is not enjoyable, fruitful, or particularly popular or beneficial, then the person is less likely to attempt a power struggle. This notion would explain why the government have a need to constantly look in state of extreme power, as the more powerful they are, the less reason there is to challenge them.

Thus, all the government would need to do is cater to the egos of the masses by way of marketing products and services, and allow them to influence those products and services (in doing so, keeping them focused on the society around them, but not strictly on what’s happening in the background of society, or what’s happening in other societies and countries). To cater for that, the media comes into play again – historical context (again, Call Of Duty: Black Ops is just one example of this – a very popular, highly historically inaccurate game). Games, films, and even songs about history give us an ideology that we are ‘good guys’, that a lot of the world is full of ‘bad guys’, and we need our powerful government to represent us and defend us in a ‘vast, scary, and dangerous world’.

We do not challenge them. The grand narratives have, after all, been taught to us at school. What the school didn’t teach us, our parents did – who grew up in similar school runs by the same establishment. Conspiracy theories like the JFK assassination, or the Watergate and (more recently) Hackgate scandals have not been enough to inspire any great deal of mass action. What will it take to divert the focus away from the trivial to the important? Perhaps if challenging the important looked like a fun thing to do. If rebellion became as much fun and leisurely as playing war games are, then surely the grand narratives would quickly start to fall apart. Something for the revolutionaries to think about!

To conclude, a recent act of protest will be occurring soon in December. The aforementioned X Factor will again be trying to seize the Christmas Number One spot, and although Rage Against The Machine succeeded in reaching number one in 2009, 2010’s attempt to get ‘The Bird Is The Word’ just fell short, only reaching number two. It’s almost as if the most passive of the society actively rebel against the rebels. After all, on a scale of grand narratives, protesters, rioters and rebels are all bad, aren’t they? (And it isn’t bountiful – look what happened to Guy Fawkes.) All the same, some will be trying to get this song to Christmas Number One this time around – it seems even revolutionaries enjoy focusing on the trivial sometimes!

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