Power doesn't corrupt you

Why does everyone say this? When I spell it out I can get most people to admit that being powerful doesn't override our free will, so just where is this idea coming from? The only thing we could mean by 'corrupt' in that sentence that doesn't contradict free will is that having lots of power just makes it more *tempting* to be corrupt. And this might seem to make sense because power can mean you face less consequences for being corrupt... except, it still doesn't.

It's true that being powerful enables you to get away with corruption. But *this works just as well in the opposite direction*. Being powerful enables you to do more good, and to not be held back by fear when good is unpopular. Power is completely orthogonal to good and evil; power in the hands of good people is no less beneficial than power in the hands of bad people is harmful.

Missing comparison fallacy

A time I was held back by fear because good was unpopular

Sometimes when people (usually anarchists) make this argument it turns out that by 'power' they mean 'authority', in the sense that governments have it. That's a very different concept though; of course other people being loyal to you over their conscience would lead you to grow an inflated ego. What I'm talking about is *power*. For example, a superhero has a lot of power but usually doesn't have authority.

It's also worth noting the difference between power and unaccountability. Unaccountability is not just extreme power. Power means being able to do things; unaccountability means not facing consequences for what you do. It's possible to have power without unaccountability: for example, someone who could launch a missile but will be shot if they do has a lot of power but is accountable. They could use this power to blow up a tyrant's military base. In fact, this leads me to another point:

Power when it's not coupled with unaccountability is actually not even close to balanced; it's a *good* thing, due to how temptation works. Bad people are selfish; when they desire to hurt others, they usually won't still do it if it would get them hurt too. A selfish person would not usually give their own life to kill someone they hate. But a heroic person might give their life to kill a tyrant. Good people, being set apart from bad people by having a value other than their own happiness, are *more* willing to use power than bad ones when it's not coupled with unaccountability. When it is coupled with unaccountability, the two are symmetric.

The idea that "Good people should avoid power because they know they can't trust themselves not to use it for evil" is just depressing to hear people express. That's called despair! If good people don't allow themselves to have great power, then they can never solve great problems.


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