What is it that makes power so valuable?

Earlier this week Vladimir Putin signed a law that can potentially make him the longest Russian ruler since the times of Joseph Stalin.

This was a final step in a process of constitutional reforms which started last summer, and which critics claim as a constitutional coup.

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The election part of the presidency is still officially a part of the process of becoming a president. But the constitutional reforms that are in place now allow the current country leader, if re-elected twice more for six-year terms, to stay where he is … until the end of his days, I guess. Formally it is until 2036. At that time, he will be 83 years old.

Putin came to power in 2000, and since then he only took one brief break when he was a prime minister for four years. So if he does get re-elected twice more, he will break Stalin's record, which saw him as the head of the Soviet Union for 26 years. (There were some other long-term rulers in Russian history including Peter the Great and Katherine the Great, but that was way earlier). 

I've never understood the thirst for power. Maybe simply because I've never had any. But when it comes to wealth and power the Russian president has, I just can't wrap my head around it. I simply can't understand why a person may want to take what he takes and have what he has.

Earlier this year, Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who is currently in jail, published an investigation named Palace for Putin. The History of the Biggest Bribe. It currently has over 115 million views on YouTube (there are English subtitles; it's a pretty curious piece if you are interested in understanding the scale of corruption ongoing in that part of the world). Even though I knew a lot about the Russian government system, in reality, I was nowhere close to visualizing the actual scale of the president's power.

So when the other day the constitutional reforms finally came into effect, I once again started thinking about what it is that makes power so attractive for those seeking it. Turns out that from a psychological point of view, for particular people power is not a goal, but rather a means.

Joseph Burgo, who is a psychotherapist and the author of The Narcissist You Know: Defending Yourself Against Extreme Narcissists in an All-About-Me World (Touchstone, 2015) and Why Do I Do That? Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways They Shape Our Lives (2012), in his approach connects narcissism, greed and power, stating that they go hand in hand and to a point are a driving force for one another.

Narcissists are those who are defined by a ridiculously enlarged sense of self-importance and hardly any ability to empathize with others. Their world often falls into two distinct categories – winners and losers. Burgo notices that narcissists need to keep proving that they are among winners or, what's even better, that they are the best of the best. And with their inability to empathize with others, they are completely fine with reaching their goals at others' expense. Pushing losers deeper into a hole makes them feel even more like winners.

This categorization works in all areas of life but is especially important when it comes to money. Money is an intrinsic part of winning. The need to have more money than others transforms into a need to have the biggest or the most expensive houses, fancy vehicles, private jets, yachts, personal islands, the list goes on. It's the need to compete that makes money so important for people, whose ego is enormously big.

But since there are always others, who are wealthier, smarter, stronger, have more connections or are superior in some other way, narcissists don't really feel satisfaction when they achieve or acquire things. They feel urged to keep going, to supersede, to prove that others are losers and to ensure that no one else, at least in their close circle, can get anywhere close to their socle.

So money and power are the main two feeds for a narcissistic ego. They are like drugs that are required to help make extreme narcissists feel good, temporarily allowing them to feel like winners in comparison to their competitors. Burgo suggests that part of a cure for that is developing true empathy, however, most of the time, extreme narcissists don't find it necessary to come out of their race-style life and keep pushing until they kick the bucket.

Coming back to the Russian ruler, the law that he signed limits any future presidents to two terms in the office, but it does reset his term count. And while it allows him to put his name forward only twice, after these changes, if the ego will is still pushing, I assume, some other ways will be found to keep feeding it.

© Copyright Estevan Mercury


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