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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

What communicates power?

Well, I have to say, I wasn't expecting to get this far behind on my reports on the show, but the launch month was very busy, and then the next month turned into coronavirus month. But here I am, and I'm working on getting caught up. The show is still running, and I'm happy that we got through our tech changeover before the good and bad tsunami hit one after the other.

In this session, we were talking about what communicates power. There are a lot of different types of power, and a lot of different ways to communicate them. Some types of power are communicated by our physical appearance. Our membership in a particular social group can indicate forms of power, and when clothes are associated with power, the idea of power rubs off on the clothes by virtue of co-occurring contexts.

We briefly discussed whether there is a difference between power and authority. It feels like there should be, but we couldn't come to a general agreement on what the precise distinction was.

Height can communicate physical power. A badge communicates a particular type of authority. We felt that there was a link between the idea of authority and explicit social license of power.

Cliff argued that power should be defined as the ability to manifest intentions. To impose will might be another way of talking about it.

There are forms of concrete and physical power, like measurable force of wind, earthquake, or a blow. There are also forms of non-physical power, like causing a shift in opinion or behavior.

Kat talked about how power officially conferred by society or organizations is different from acquired power.

Moral authority is a type of power. So is social capital.

We often use physics metaphors to talk about power. Can you set a direction and get to a goal in spite of counter-forces?

Should we break power down into components with numeric values, like in D&D?

When you are writing, how do you convey that a person has the capacity to change society or the world around them? There are a lot of ways to change society, not just with fighting/weapons.

Then we started talking about magical power. It's very interesting that so many magic systems require a cost for the use of power. Is it a metaphorical examination of other forms of power?

I mentioned how in Harry Potter, initially the spells were not localized, but their casting had invisible influence on the world around them. Later in the series, that changed, and the spells became like bullets, which needed to be cast directionally and "hit" the target in order to work.

There is a cost to power when it's not magic, too. Being a leader takes a toll.

Does power leave an imprint? What does that imprint look like?

Putting on the trappings of power can create power, both in magic and in real life.

Cliff talked about how Babylon 5 used the visual badge of the psi-corps. It was an indicator that a person possessed power, but people with psi power were also required to wear it. It conferred authority but also set limitations on the people who possessed it, who for example were not allowed to gamble.

Who is able to give labels to others? That, too, is a form of power.

We use whatever power is given to us. If a young lady's only power is the ability to say yes or no to suitors, then very likely she will use that power to try to find ways to make her life better.

Kat talked about levers of power. What is the lever of power that is given to you? Do you have the ability to apply it? Can you apply it in the place you need to? Is the lever you're given fragile or durable? What is the scope of the power you're given? Is it personal or institutional?

What can you change? Or do you have the ability to keep things the same? US narratives often decry preservation, but we do preserve things.

Culture and language are very interesting in terms of their use and change. They are both preserved and changed through use. We put in a lot of effort to regulate the behavior of others. There is a cost to not changing what we do, but it rarely gets talked about.

Parenting is a big part of both language and culture, and its preservation and change. Cultures and narratives influence children. We try to influence behavior toward ourselves and others. We think about the skills we want to pass to the next generation.

Can you say what you want and get it? Can you get it without saying what you want? Who is talking to whom about what they want? Who can make it stick?

Grouping of people into groups happens both visually and linguistically. Who is considered "we"? Who is considered "they"? Some people code-switch depending on who the current "we" is. Are you allowed to say "I"?

Does saying "we" give you more authority? The royal "we" is when the monarch of England is able to talk about themselves as self, monarch, and head of church simultaneously. It's an indicator of power. The formal forms in many languages use plural forms.

How do people react to you as you move through your life? Who cedes to you and who doesn't?

What are the symbols of power and how are they passed on? What rules surround that?

We talked briefly about the show Leverage, which provides insights on some interesting issues. It's not enough to wear the coveralls so you'll be assumed to be a worker. You also have to have particular identity features. Some roles can't be taken by the black man, or by the woman, because the person in the disguise has to be the one the audience expects in that role.

Is quality intrinsic to a person? Or can it be worn?

We often undervalue something a person has the power to do until we try to switch the roles. An expert does not approach a problem in the same way that a novice does.

Clothing, voice tone, bearing, knowledge, and the ability to apply knowledge can all be ingredients that communicate power.

We wanted to see more attention put on aftermath in our fiction, on what the cost is for decisions and uses of power. We also wanted to see more about resistance, and how revolutions happen. Entrenched power has a hard time reacting to catastrophe (and boy are we seeing that this week).

Thank you to everyone who participated in this discussion. Dive into Worldbuilding meets today, March 24, 2020 at 4pm to discuss Confinement.