February 15, 2009
People and their Power
Society has always revolved around the idea of power. Power is seemingly everywhere, and is found in one’s financial prosperity, political position, and social status. Power is found in every problem no matter the size or scope. Power and problems affect different people in different ways. When people who hold great power are affected by problems, then only can the problem become of major significance. When ordinary people are affected everyday by the same problems, society does not seem to pay attention. When a person of power is not affect by a problem, then they will tend to turn a blind eye towards it.
The Iliad is full of power struggles and character conflict over honor, legacy, and respect. It is clear that only characters with social, political and military power are of importance in the story. Troy has been under siege for nine long years, full of blood shed and disease. The Trojans have been defending the walls of Troy, while the Greeks have been constantly attacking in hopes to breaking through those very walls that surround Troy. The Greek soldiers have not seen home while the Trojans have not felt safe or at peace during these nine years. Nobody knows how many lives have been lost in battle, nor does anybody seem to care. In Agamemnon’s eyes, all that matters is the glory of taking down Troy, and being recognized as the man that defeated the Trojans. There is no glory for the soldiers; they are just there to do all the dirty work. The soldiers have no authority or power to speak up for their wants, desires, and problems.
Achilles is the greatest warrior, he can kill anyone that is in his path, and he is strong, swift, and godlike. Agamemnon steals Achilles’ prize that is Briseis. Achilles is angered and feels that his honor and respect has been disparaged and goes on to insult Agamemnon. Achilles claims that he has won all the battles for Agamemnon and that he deserves his own rewards and honor. As seen by Achilles rant, only when Achilles is offended is the problem of any importance:
I cannot imagine Agamemnon, Or any other Greek, persuading me, Not after the thanks I got for fighting this war, Going up against the enemy day after day. It doesn’t matter if you stay in camp or fight—In the end, everybody comes out the same. Coward and hero get the same reward: You die whether you slack off or work. (Lombardo, Book IX, Lines 320-327)
Achilles is putting his feet in the shoes of the everyday soldiers that are on the front line; the soldiers that never receive any reward or respect in fighting. By refusing Agamemnon’s gifts in an effort to bring Achilles back to the battlefield, Achilles has insulted and disgraced Agamemnon. However, Achilles eventually accepts Agamemnon’s offerings and returns to the battlefield. This just shows how a man of power who is affected can turn an existing problem into one of great importance, even if others have been dealing with the same problems for a longer period of time.
Looking back in United States history, a similar situation is found. Before the Declaration of Independence, the colonists had been struggling to survive and maintain families and lifestyles in the face of the English government. As written in the Declaration of Independence these injustices included:
“For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States: For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world: For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury: For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:” (Jefferson)
The colonist had been upset with a lack of representation in Parliament, and that they were living under unjust laws and acts that were being created thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean. All the colonists shared the injustice and hardships of the English rule, but they had little or not say in the matter. The Congress worked very slowly, and the regular, ordinary colonists, without power, could not do anything to speed up the process of deciding what to do. Finally the British affected a man with power; the British attacked John Adams’ home state of Massachusetts and many men in the Massachusetts militia were wounded and killed. John Adams went straight to Philadelphia and made his problem known. Within about a month, John Adams’ plea for a declaration of independence was accepted by all the colonies.
Similar to the case of the Declaration of Independence, the Civil Rights movement was affecting a broad group of people. Blacks and minorities all over the United States are subject to inequality and racial segregation. Although people had the freedom of speech in the United States, their voices were not heard in Washington D.C. Since the injustices did not affect the government, then it was not seen as problem at the time. However, Martin Luther King believed that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly” (Birmingham). Martin Luther King knew that everyone was affected, and will eventually be affected by the injustices of segregation. It was not until Martin Luther King and his fellow leaders in the SCLC began to start to make the injustice an important problem. Martin Luther King helped setup nonviolent actions in Birmingham, Alabama to put pressure on the United States government. Martin Luther King used school children to continue his nonviolent approach to raise awareness, and it worked. The city of Birmingham was in chaos, and countries worldwide took notice. Thirty-eight days after the start of Martin Luther King’s operation, the government and the SCLC came to an agreement and compromise.
The United States foreign policy revolves around the idea of power as well. The United States, in the last decade, has gone to Afghanistan and Iraq to “liberate” the people of these countries. After the attacks on September 11th, 2001, the United States was under a lot of pressure from its citizens and the whole world was watching to see how the United States would respond to an attack on its own soil. The United States decided to invade Afghanistan in order to eliminate the Taliban regime, which had taken over Afghanistan after the Soviet Union withdrew in the late 1980s. The Taliban set up an unjust government that the United States foreign policy did not seem to mind at the time because it had no affect on the United States.
“Children, especially girls, are not given the rights to an education…Playing, smiling and the basics one associates with childhood are almost unheard of in this country and frowned upon as frivolous. The children must work in order to help feed their family. Many work the opium fields filled with landmines.” (Clarke-Copeland)
The only people that knew about the horrors of the Taliban were the Afghanis. It was only until the United States decided to attack Afghanistan that the world realized what was going on in the seemingly unknown country of Afghanistan.
Even in other aspects of society, when people of power are affected then only is the problem of great importance. About one month ago, baseball megastar Alex Rodriguez is connected with performance enhancing drugs. All of a sudden Rodriguez’s admission is seen in every newspaper, magazine, and television show. Rodriguez is not the first player to admit to steroid use, so why does society care so much about steroid now that he was caught? Why didn’t anyone care about J.C. Romero, Paul LoDuca, or the other 103 players on the most recent steroid report? The reason is simple. Not everyone has nearly the same amount of social power (or even physical power, for that matter) as Rodriguez. Like previously mentioned, Rodriguez is a megastar who makes over $25 million a year. He is one of the “faces” of baseball and a huge role model to people all over the world. Steroid usage has been around in sports for decades, but it has never been a problem until a player with power was caught.
The argument stated in this document is not to insult the ancient Greeks, United States government, or Alex Rodriguez. It is just to point out how power works in society and how power can have a positive or negative influence a nation, a country, or an entire world. Power is in the hands of the good and the evil everywhere. The results of power depend on how the people that hold power are affected by a problem or situation. Certain problems are solved, and some just made public. Seriously though, what was a man like Lenny Dykstra doing with steroids anyway?
Clarke-Copeland, Judi. "The Taliban - Horrors to Women, Children and Men."
Information and Entertainment. Aug 1999. JCE Enterprises. 21 Feb 2009
Jefferson, Thomas. "Declaration of Independence." (1776):
King, Martin Luter. "Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]." African Studies Center –
University of Pennsylvania. 21 Feb 2009
Lombardo, Stanley. Iliad: Homer. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1997.