Lisa’s CCK08 Wordpress Blog

October 30, 2008

Response to Stephen: rights and power

Filed under: Responses — Lisa M Lane @ 3:54 pm

[Normally, I’d be able to respond to a comment on a previous post because the commenter would put it in the comments. But in this case there was a power (or really an exposure) imbalance. Stephen Downes asked his questions in The Daily, which I believe automatically goes out to everyone in the CCK08 class. I do not have the “power” to respond the same way, but I figure the title of this post will hit at least the Contributions column in The Daily if people want to see it! 🙂 ]

Stephen wrote,

Good post, but let me question it. Lisa Lane writes, “I think I have a right to personal empowerment by virtue of my being able to take control when necessary, or to relinquish it when required.” Is this true? If one cannot take control, does this person no longer have a right to personal empowerment? Do rights depend on capacities? Or to ask the same question from the opposite question: do we exert control by virtue of our nature, our personality – or do we exert control by virtue of our actions?

The post was a continuation of the wonderful discussion we had on Wednesday in Elluminate (unposted so far, but I hope it will appear here), where we got into issues such as personal empowerment and freedom as well as education. “I think” was my effort to explore this again, and the questions are very good ones.

Thanks to Stephen, I spent my morning walk mulling over distinctions in rights, control and power. By “control”, do we mean controlling the self, or controlling others? Do we have a “right” to both? Is power about personal empowerment, or about power over others? Do we have a “right” to both of these too?

Our actions are indeed what counts, and they may be founded in our personality, but that doesn’t mean they are justified by rights.

Rights should certainly not be dependent on capacities, or there would be no concept of human rights. Most conceptions of rights, whether Lockean (life, liberty, property) or utilitarian (Mills’ “legitimate and authorized expectations“), are used to justify actions (as in overthrowing an oppressive government). I do not know of any virtuous reason why I should have a right to control others, even with good intentions and legitimate authority. It is not correct that I have a right to power because I am able to use it. I seemed to be saying that might makes right, and of course we know that’s not . . . right.

Personality is still a factor in the assertion of power, even if it does not justify a right to that power. Forceful assertion of control can lead to power. We have two presidential candidates running around right now trying to convince us that they will have power they do not have under our constitution. Asserting this power may well give it to them, if Congress (the entity where this power originates) allows it, as they have done with the current president. Once the power is given, the executive is seen as having a “right” to that power by virtue of precedent. We could get into a whole discussion of right by precedent, and even consult Edmund Burke on the subject.

As a teacher, then, I have power not by right, but by precedent and social norms. Students allow me that power, and I abuse it when I use it in a way that causes harm. (I think that using my forcefulness in a way that limited openness caused harm.) Thus I revise my statement: “My ability to exert control when necessary, and relinquish it when needed, creates greater opportunities for personal power”.

In fact, I revise the whole idea. I feel that Stephen and I actually assert our right to power by virtue of our hair, a commonality noted in some Twitter posts yesterday:

There is, of course, Biblical precedent for this.



  1. I can’t compete on the hair front, although I’m getting there. In the meantime, here’s my response to Stephen, which takes a different stance on rights: This whole discussion is very important, I think.

    Comment by Ed Webb — October 30, 2008 @ 5:04 pm

  2. You are Stephen’s daughter? And Stephen is Solomon-esque?

    Comment by deadvocate — November 1, 2008 @ 12:41 pm

  3. […] Lane provides some insights into the discussion around rights, and personal power and around the importance of personality in control. Bradley Shoebottom makes an important point […]

    Pingback by CCK08: Paper 2 - Changing Roles « CCK08 - Viplav Baxi — November 1, 2008 @ 1:29 pm

  4. I got same idea that comment 2: You must be Stephens*s daughter 🙂

    Comment by Heli — November 2, 2008 @ 9:57 am

  5. C’mon guys. Sampson, hair. I was citing a commonality, not *that* deep a commonality!

    Comment by Lisa — November 2, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

  6. […] There were a number of voices questioning the exercise of power and the after-effects of Stephen’s week 8 impact. Jenny wrote a thoughtful post about this after her week away (four CCK08 colleagues responded to her post directly and it was included as the first item in The Daily). Wendy provided some visualisations that in her post “It just seemed logical for me to differentiate between individual, group, and network power, as well as perceived and actual power.” A link to Wendy’s post appeared in The Daily. Grant shared his take on the week and linked to Lisa’s post to discuss ‘personality’. ‘Turning up the juice’  as a personal response to the exercise of power struck me as a great approach for confident learners. I wonder if it has a lot to do with hair? […]

    Pingback by CCK08: Week 9 Stacks « Clyde Street — November 9, 2008 @ 12:04 pm

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