A few years ago, I wrote about “The Paradox of Capitalism,” which reflected on the reality that we are dependent for survival on the very system that is threatening the survival of our entire planet.

paradoxWith the passing of time, the paradoxical nature of our world has only revealed itself more. The most powerful man in the world right now is perhaps the very worst possible person one could choose to hold such a responsibility. We’ve also seen a string of sexual abuse scandals begin to emanate from the most powerful people in Hollywood.

Why is it that those who abuse others seem to wind up in positions of authority and are enabled in their abuse, while those abused are often silenced for years or even decades? 

Let’s investigate this question through the use of paradoxes – I hope they will shed some light on the subject. I’ll begin with the most obvious and then build toward to the core of our question.

Age

The young take great pains to appear older; the old take great pains to appear younger.

For the young, time passes excruciatingly slowly; the older one gets, the more one realizes how rapidly time passes, and consequently how young one actually is.

Knowledge

The least knowledgeable are the most likely to declare what they think they know; the most knowledgeable are the most likely to admit what they don’t.

People who speak the most often have the least to say; people who speak the least often have spent the most time in quiet observation, and therefore have the most wisdom to share.

Confidence

Those who project confidence have likely spent the least effort challenging their own understanding — this is shallow confidence; those who reveal uncertainty likely have forged the strongest understanding in a cauldron of self-doubt — here is deep confidence.

Shallow confidence won’t stand up to scrutiny but is the least likely to be challenged – its brazenness and loudness leads to wide acceptance; deep confidence is constantly overlooked, challenged and dismissed, despite its actually being the strongest.

Power

Those with the least power in society are the most likely to blame themselves for their failures; those with the most power are the quickest to blame someone else. This helps ensure that those in power tend to remain in power, and vice versa.

People most likely to act on behalf of the best interests of everyone, i.e. those who would make the best leaders, are the quickest to doubt their own ability to lead; people most likely to seek leadership positions are also the most likely to act on their own self-interest and consequently make the worst leaders.

The concentration of power into the fewest hands accelerates the efficiency of the exercise of that power; it also ensures that the exercise of power will be divorced from the actual will of the people. This explains the creation of every system of abuse – from patriarchy to capitalism to the U.S. government to Hollywood.

Conclusion

Using this paradoxical viewpoint, especially highlighting the constant tension between what appears true on the surface and what is actually true deep underneath, opens up a window into the logic that has brought us to the terrible conundrum we are in – where the world is upside down.

The conundrum can only be escaped through democracy, the decentralization of power, and on a more personal level, the active practice of listening, asking questions, and philosophical self-doubt.

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