Food For Thought: What is a Country? A Look at the Structure of Power and How That Helps Us Predict What A Country Will Do Next

What is a country? At its core, a country is a large, organization of persons. Following that train of thought, the behavior of a group of persons mimics that of the persons in that group. What is a person then? A person is a selfish creature. A person is something that will pursue whatever it think is within its best interests, whatever it thinks it wants. Then what does a person want? That’s relatively simple. We’re all people so we can all attest to the things we want and, using that as a model, we can take a guess as to what it is other people want. Further, we can use that as an extension into what a whole country wants.

What does a person want? More specifically, what is it that I want? At a base level, I want to live (we could go into why we as a species want to live, but that’s a whole other discussion). I want to be secure in my living. In order to do that, I need a bunch of things. I need food, water, shelter, etc. Without sustenance I will die. I need those resources to be secure. However, just having the means to sustain myself ignores what is arguably the biggest obstacle to my security.

We as human beings have somehow ended up as the most powerful, intelligent species on this planet. You can say it’s divine providence or random luck, but that’s the way it is. The biggest and most obvious danger to any human are not animals or natural disasters. The biggest danger to human beings in this world are other human beings.

We all inhabit the same world. We can’t get away from each other (mass migration into the infinity of space is still science fiction). In order for me to be truly secure in my life, I need a way to manage or defend myself against other people. I need to find a way to deal with other people. Which leads us to societies and countries. Additionally, forming groups of persons also helps to deal with threats not related to other people, but, for the purposes of this post, we are mostly concerned with the threat posed by other people.

The foundation upon in which any group of persons is organized is power. Power is an interesting concept. The definition of power that rings the most true to me is one I heard in a psychology course I took years ago. Power (and this isn’t verbatim) is the extent to which a person can influence or control other people. People are central to this definition of power and without the ability to do something to others, you have no power.

I’ve played this game in my head a few times before so let’s give it a shot now. Imagine you have the ability to control the earth. You can raise mountains, carve rivers, explode volcanoes. The only limit on your power is that you cannot affect other people with your power in any way shape or form, ever. Anything you do with your power reverts back to the way it was if it will cause some effect on any one in any way. You can’t tell anyone about your power because that will affect how they respond to you. You can’t even use it in private because if you created an earthen work of art that inspired you, that may affect your behavior when you are among other people, thereby qualifying as an effect on others and invalidating your power. In essence, an ability that cannot exert influence onto others is meaningless. The counterpoint is that whoever can exert the greatest control or influence over others is the most meaningful and the most powerful.

This matters because power is the other thing we need in order to be secure in our lives. In a world where contact with other people is an inevitability, power is a necessity. We all need a method in which to influence and control other people in order to survive. In this way, a country is the ultimate manifestation of power.

Countries are power. Not just countries, all organizations of people are forms of power. It’s a simple idea; if you can’t do something by yourself, if you can’t beat someone by yourself, then get more people. However, countries not only protect from external threats, they protect each of its citizens from each other. By forming an organized group of persons, you create a method to control those within your group and to either control or influence those outside your group.

The structure of a country, in fact, any organization of persons/power is generally the same. It is as follows:

                                                    Leader

Subordinate-Leader       Subordinate-Leader    Subordinate-Leader

More Subordinates         More Subordinates      More Subordinates

As far as I know, the only true organization of persons/power is a small handful of people where one or more persons in the group leads. I don’t think there is any de facto number of people in this group, but many organizations of people generally have around ten people with one person taking the role of leader and the rest following that leader. Some examples are a platoon of marines, a board of directors, and the president of the United States and his cabinet and administration. There can then be subgroups or superior groups of similar structure in which each subordinate of a higher ranked group is the leader of their own subgroup, and so on and so forth.

The reason why this form of organization/power is the prevalent one is obvious. In forming a group of people, we seek to create the best method of cooperating and bringing out the full potential of a group of person versus one person. If you’ve ever worked on a group project at school or had a job where there was no established leader, you can see what the problems are. Everyone barks orders at everyone. There is no authority so no one listens anyone. It’s disorganized and fails to utilize the benefits of having more than one person fulfill roles or assist in tasks. At a certain point, it is more beneficial for a group of people to follow the orders of a mediocre leader than for them to be completely and stubbornly disorganized. Ideally, you’d have a great leader, but doing something is often times still better than doing nothing.

There are a lot of potential counter arguments that can be made, but they generally have been unconvincing in my opinion. How about democracy and elected officials? Well, the president still needs to form his cabinet, congress still needs to form its committees, and the military still needs its joint chiefs. We may elect officials, but in order to get anything done, we need to organize into this basic structure. This structure is what power looks like.

We can take guesses at a lot about how countries work based on our understanding of this basic structure. A lot of what I’ve said above is pretty obvious to anyone whose held a job or tried to work with others or participated in any kind of group of people. Here are some other things that should be obvious.

In an organization, only the opinions of the people at the very top control and have the most power. For example, a country may claim to be a democracy or a dictatorship, but the bottom line is that all countries are essentially oligarchies. The only structure that works is the one I described above. There is no better way to organize and utilize a large group of people. Accordingly, if you can predict and/or control the ruling group at the very top or each of its individual members, you can predict and/or control the entire organization/country. You can predict and control a business, a religious group, a military, a government, a political faction, etc. On the other hand, no man is an island. No single person can rule a country alone. He needs his or her cabal.

Because of this structure, you could argue that no matter who the ruling group is, no one has true control over a country. Every person at every point of the chain not only has their own interests, they must interpret and facilitate the orders/instructions they receive and further issue new instruction to their subordinates. It’s like a big game of telephone. Orders may often be distorted and the end result of orders issued by the top ranking group end up in actions contrary to what the top group intended. A top group, at best, can only issue broad directives and hope the lower tiered groups follow adequately. The lower tier groups can only hope that the top ranking group issues instructions that are within their interests as well. In other words, a few people hold as much power as a few people are capable of, which is unlikely to be close to complete.

In conclusion, there’s a lot we can guess at because of how people use structures of power. One example would be that control over the individuals in the ruling group may grant control of an entire organization. In fact, control over ony member of the ruling group may grant heavy influence over the entire group. Another thing we can guess at is that no ruling group has true control of an entire organization due to the self-interest of each individual in the organization and the potential for miscommunication. In this way, leaders, as in the leaders of a country for instance, are never truly essential and may always be replaceable because we never truly know or are under the control of our leaders.

That’s all for now. Not sure what’ll pop into my head in the future. Maybe some more musings about power or applying the ideas to current events. Maybe a quick profile of a country and it’s relationship with its neighboring countries. Not sure.

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