POWERUSEDTOBESOSIMPLE. When I was a child in the 1950s, it was synonymous with divine progress, from the soft-touch power steering and power brakes on a V8 Impala to The Power of Positive Thinking – the bestseller that, along with How to Win Friends and Influence People, pioneered mind control as a tool for world domination. The original self-help books. By the ’60s, the power of technology was full of infinite promise. Sure, we were the first generation to contemplate our nuclear annihilation. But a superhero would save us, a Kennedy who seemed invincible until he wasn’t.
Our own sense of power came easily. In the ’60s, we convinced ourselves that we could change the world. Power was something to be seized and celebrated – Flower Power, Student Power, Black Power, Power to the People. Power was a positive vibe, mobilized by rock ’n’ roll and magnified by a purple microdot of LSD that connected all the dots and made every molecule look good enough to eat. Steve Jobs swore by the stuff. LSD, he said, “reinforced my sense of what was important – creating great things instead of making money.” That from the man who created the world’s first trilliondollar company.
Now we have the connective “power” of social media, atomized into oblivion as we swipe left and right. Power is by nature political and inevitably corrupts. But it has never looked uglier, thanks to the White House Midas who turns his name to gold and the world to shit. Power is so ugly these days one hesitates to use the word without a filter. We talk of women and minorities being “empowered,” as if passively endowed. We apologize for the power of our words with trigger warnings. Meanwhile, we marvel at Marvel superheroes, munch power bars, take power naps and seek the power of self-improvement from the Goop galaxy of unguents and axioms.
We may no longer believe we have the power to change the world. But at this point, I’d settle for saving it with a some organic snake oil.