It is mind-boggling to think that I have lived in the United States for 12 years now. It is equally strange to tell myself (and other people) that since then, I have been back to Russia, my home country, only once. It was 10 years ago. And it is sad to admit that I am not even sure when I will be there next time.
Do I want to go back? If I really really wanted to, I would find a way. It would be a lie to say that I do not care about the country where I spent the first 27 years of my life. I do not want to live there right now. But if I had a magical teleportation machine, I would certainly love to revisit places when I once was so happy and so sad. I only I could...
But wait! There is a way. I can teleport myself to all those places in my nightdreams. These visions have a strange relationship with my memory. Over the years, I discovered that dreams took over. Now I am not even sure whether I remember correctly all the streets where I used to walk. Perhaps what I "remember" is just a figment of my imagination? When I first came to the United States, for the first few weeks I had a lingering feeling that I was in a movie. When (if) one day I go back to Russia, it will probably seem that I found myself in a very very long dream.
This poem is about the impossibility of returning to the past of a place and of the self. All of us have experienced a version of this feeling, no matter whether we are immigrants or just moved to a different part of the same country. One day we all discover that it is impossible to stop the clock, to go back to where and who we once were. This realization does not have to be painful. There are always memories to treasure and things to look forward to.
*Watch the video above to hear me read this poem to the beautiful music created by Maarten Schellekens.
One day, I will return…
No, this is not the right word.
Means coming to a place where I once was.
But it does not exist because
My memory has turned it into rain...
Let’s try again:
One morning, when I walk
Along the streets that bear deceptively familiar names,
Some even hiding echos of my childhood games,
I’ll look into the eyes of buildings that will seem
So real yet hard to grasp,
Like an unfinished dream.
Let’s try again:
One evening, when I step
Onto the floating island of my past,
So infinite and yet confined,
Packed tightly in the nutshell of my head.
Will I be home at last?
Will I be whole at last?
Let’s try again:
If I could choose
Of all the places that my memory holds,
Where would I go?
Of the old park where I once learned
To find birds’ nests and mushrooms under trees
And where, on a hidden path,
A sculpture of a giant’s head
Teased me with mysteries.
I think this time I got it right:
When I am old and when my head is light,
I’ll dream myself next to the giant’s face
Half-buried in the middle of the path.
I will remove, as one takes off a robe,
The layers of years and skin
And will emerge
Among soft shades of leaves, a child again,
Ready to soak in the gentle sun,
Forgetting what my older self has done.
The journey’s over. I’ll stay there
Letting warm breeze play with my hair.
I have two updates:
1) about the contents
2) about the newsletter
I have had a few weeks free from work (I am a freelance editor, and sometimes I have time between projects). During these weeks, I have focused on writing for my project POWER of meanings // MEANINGS of power. In fact, I realized that this is a project that I want to focus on for a while. My second hypertext project Me, Looking for Meaning (chronologically, it was actually first) will take a back seat. It has been tremendously important for me, especially since it helped my project about power to take off. But, for the sake of efficiency, I want to focus on one thing for now.
This change means that many of the new blog posts will be related to POWER of meanings // MEANINGS of power. I hope you share my interest in this topic and will be excited about new pages of the power project. I will occasionally post other things. For example, I have finally been able to organize my Russian poems, so I plan to translate more of them and even turn some into videos. I also plan on creating and sharing some videos based on my English poems, of which I still have only a few.
If you would like to be notified about new blog posts, I have great news! This change was inspired by my friend Jiwon, who is working on an important hypertext project about life and experiences of a North Korean defector Kumhee. After browsing their website, I realized that I need a newsletter! Now I have one.
You can sign up by scrolling to the bottom of the main blog page (or my About page) and entering your email. This way, I will let you know about new blog posts. I will send out the newsletter no more than once per week, probably much less often than that. And you will be able to unsubscribe at any point.
I hope that you will join me on my intellectual journey! I appreciate you support :)
*This is a new entry of my hypertext project POWER of meanings // MEANINGS of power.
Free will is the focus of one of the longest-running debates in the history of human thought. This debate is shaped by two main questions: Are people's decisions and actions independent from any circumstances? Are people's decisions and actions predetermined? On this page, I present the debate about free will and discuss how it is related to my exploration of power. For a more thorough overview of the free will debate (i.e., different schools of thought, positions of specific scholars) see the sources at the bottom of the page.
It is important to keep in mind that the debate about free will belongs to the realm of philosophy. That is, we cannot declare with absolute certainty whether free will exists or whether it is a myth. It is possible that answers to the debate's questions elude us due to the limitations of the human mind. Another possibility is that the main dilemma of free will is formulated incorrectly. In other words, it might be pointless to argue whether people are absolutely free in their choices or whether their actions are completely predetermined, since both of these options are neither true nor false.
Why might we assume that people are free in their decisions and actions?
This is what our intuition is telling us. Just to clarify, I am not talking about enslaved individuals, but about an average person living in a democratic country. If you ask such a person if their decisions and actions are free most of the time, they will probably say yes. Or this person might tell you that their decisions and actions are not always free because they often have to do things that they are expected to do (by their family, community, organization they work for). But they will also probably tell you that they know when they are making a free choice vs. when they do something because they have to do it. In other words, they will tell you that they can use their free will sometimes and that they know when they use it.
If after reading this page, you want to test how you yourself feel about your own ability to make free decisions and take free actions, you can pay attention for a few hours or a day to things you do, including the smallest actions throughout your day. You will probably notice that many if not most of these actions appear to be a result of your free will. In other words, you will feel that you do them because you want to do them. (In fact, if you feel that most of your actions are a result of somebody forcing you, that might be a symptom of a serious problem, either related to your mental state or to your relationships with people around you.)
Why might it be a problem to assume that people are free in their decisions and actions?
If you feel that most of your decisions and actions are free, you will most probably assume that other people's decisions and actions are free most of the time as well (we are talking about free people living in a free country). The problem with this assumption is that it can lead to negative emotions directed at other people or to the reluctance to help people experiencing problems. For example, you might say that people who are poor are to blame for their economic situation. Or that people who have achieved less in life than what you have achieved are just lazy; they could have made different choices and become more successful, but they chose not to. As a result, you will be less willing to support people who are struggling. You will feel superior towards people who, you will feel, have achieved less in life than you did.
Believing in free will might be unhelpful also because it can create unrealistic expectations about willpower. For example, we can beat ourselves up for our inability to break a loop of a habit (e.g., smoking or overeating). We will expect ourselves to control our impulses just by deciding to do so and by formulating logical arguments why we should not do something that harms us. As a result of this self-judgement and pressure, we will not be able to find effective ways of breaking out of our habits (this idea is discussed in the book Unwinding Anxiety).
Why might we assume that people's decisions and actions are predetermined?
On the other hand, we might want to take into consideration various circumstances influencing our decisions. We are born into the world of social interactions shaped by spoken and unspoken rules. Our actions need to be aligned with ideas that we did not create and often do not fully comprehend. Our actions are determined by our perceptions. But where do our perceptions come from? Anaïs Nin famously said, “We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” To that, I can add that the way we are is in many ways shaped by the way the social world around us is.
One might assume that our desires are free: I want something because I want it, not because somebody told me to. So actions based on desires are also free. But our desires are in many ways biologically and culturally determined. Think, for example, about desires based on survival needs (both individual and the species), which shape our decisions about looking for and keeping a sexual partner or about foods we crave (e.g., the fact that most people like sugary and fatty foods is related to older parts of these brain that associate these foods with survival). Although our needs are not only related to survival (see Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), the "higher" needs often reflect the social world around us. For example, to fulfill the self-actualization need ("desire to become the most that one can be") one has to have some understanding of what this "most" can look like; this understanding often comes from the larger society and communities that one feels a part of.
It is nice to think that, as the famous protest song goes, "Die Gedanken sind frei" - which means "Thoughts are free". But how free are they, really, if they reflect cultural meanings that we did not create? How free are our thoughts if they are shaped by biological needs that all representatives of Homo Sapiens species share? How free are really our thoughts, if they are influenced by emotions that we find so hard to control?
Why might it be a problem to assume that people's decisions and actions are predetermined?
If we accept the idea that our actions and their results are predetermined, we might be less willing to change our lives or challenge ourselves. We might think: "If whatever I do leads to the result that I have no control over, why bother?" This assumption might spell doom both for individual and for social development.
Belief in determinism might also lead to denial of responsibility for any actions. How can we expect anybody to be accountable for anything if we believe that nobody can act differently from how they act (due to biology, socialization, and personal experiences outside of our control)? This point of view might lead to passivity in the face of any injustices and inequalities.
If all our actions are predetermined, we cannot either request accountability or give people credit for any accomplishments. No matter whether we see the result of a certain action as "good" or "bad", we might need to acknowledge that this action was taken not because somebody made a decision to take it. According to determinism, the real reason behind any action is a chain of events outside of any individual's control, set in motion in the beginning of the universe.
* * *
The debate about free will is going to remain purely philosophical unless we find a way to scientifically test if our desires and actions are fully predetermined or not. To test this idea even for a seemingly simple action, like you reading this page right now, we would need to take account everything that has happened in the universe from the beginning of time and see if all of these events lead with absolute inevitability to the the action in question, or if there is a wiggle room for free will undetermined by the circumstances of the past and present. At best, we can only have logically-grounded but untestable opinions about free will.
In my opinion, we should assume, for practical purposes, that both absolute free will and absolute determinism do not exist. I believe that our actions are shaped by some amount of what can be called "determinism" and some amount of what can be called "free will". In other words, it is hard (in my opinion) to deny all the circumstances that shape our actions. We are not absolutely free to make any possible decision, we are not even absolutely free to envision or desire any possible decision. In terms of my exploration of power, we can say that everybody is to some extent powerless in the face of numerous circumstances outside of our control.
On the other hand, I believe that there is wiggle room in our actions where we can make choices that affect our life and lives of people around us. Free will happens only within the wiggle room because our choices are not entirely free. We can choose from a range of options, but we do not choose the range of options that we need to choose from. The options we have depend on many factors and circumstances outside of our control.
Now, some might point out that it's unclear how we make the choice between these limited options. Perhaps even this choice is somehow predetermined? Some thinkers draw parallels between mysteries of free will and the quantum world. On the quantum scale of reality, a particle cannot appear anywhere, it has limited options, and there is probability involved. But the particle is not making a choice where to appear. Perhaps our choices are determined by probability rather than free will?
Here is where I have to acknowledge that my opinion about free will is based on faith (not in the religious sense) rather than on facts. I believe in the importance of making an effort to make ourselves better and make the world around us better (this idea is known in philosophy as "meliorism"). I believe that our power lies in making this effort. We use our personal power by making choices that challenge ourselves, rather than letting ourselves follow the predetermined path or go with the flow.
I believe that everybody has some wiggle room where free will can be exercised. In this sense, everybody is powerful, at least to some extent. Each free choice we make determines the range of choices in the next instant, both for ourselves and for others. It's kind of like playing a multiplayer multilevel game: on each stage we have a limited range of options to choose from, and every choice we make opens up new options or closes old options for ourselves and others. I believe that, guided by this view of free will, we can strive to do and be our best under the circumstances.
To sum it up: in my opinion, powerlessness and power are always mixed in a way that makes it difficult to say with absolute certainty where power ends and powerlessness begins. Another way to put it: there is no absolute power or absolute powerlessness. That said, it is essential to emphasize that relative amounts of power and powerlessness change from individual to individual and even from action to action taken by a specific individual. So, in specific circumstances, some individuals do have more power than others (which is a concern of scholars studying inequalities).
I believe that accepting that we have a certain amount of free will will lead to our empowerment: we will be able to use our power to impact the way things are. On the other hand, I believe that if we acknowledge our limitations and limitations of others (powerlessness caused by determinism), this attitude will foster empathy for ourselves and other, curiosity about all the factors behind people's actions, and humility in the form of acknowledging that no individual can know everything about the way the world works.
My position free will calls for alertness. We cannot decide that one person always has more power than the other person and stop there. We cannot say that we know for sure what actions are predetermined and what actions are a result of free choice. Because there are no simple ultimate answers, we need to be flexible in our conclusions and judgements. Alertness in this sense means always wondering what amount of determination (powerlessness) vs. free will (power) there is in any action, in any situation.
Brewer, J. (2021). Unwinding anxiety. Avery.
Encyclopedia Britannica. (last updated July 28, 2023). Free will.
People Who Read People. (January 9, 2021). How does not believing in free will affect one’s life? [Podcast]. (also see the list of sources on the podcast page)
Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. (last updated November 3, 2022). Free will.
*This is a new entry of my project POWER of meanings // MEANINGS of power.
It might not seem like something special, but I believe that it is an essential form of individual power that most people have (but do not necessarily consistently use). It is essential because using this form of power allows us to get some control over our reactions to our own emotions and to things happening around us. When we do not use the power to change the way we see things, we are unable to see the difference between the way we are (the way we feel) and the way the world around us is. When we do not notice that we see things from a certain perspective, we are less satisfied in our everyday lives (according to buddhism, we live the life of suffering). At worst, the inability to tap into this power can lead to bitter conflicts and painful mistakes, to actions that hurt others as well as ourselves.
Just to clarify, the term "power to change how you see things" is arbitrary. Like many other concepts and distinctions that I use in this project about power, the term "power to change how you see things" helps me dig into the broad topic of power, but it is just one of many possible ways to talk about it. I could as well talk about "power to recognize that we see things from a certain perspective", or "power to recognize that other people see things differently, and that's ok!", or "power to notice how our perspective is shaped by our backgrounds and emotions".
Let me offer an example, a story that illustrates how one can use the power to change the way one sees things. This story comes from my family trip to Rhode Island in the summer of 2022.
Rhode Island is one of my happy places (especially when it's warm!). I actually lived there for a few years. Every time I revisit the state, I look forward to spending time by the ocean. All the parents out there know that vacation with small kids is not really a vacation. It is hard work. During my 2022 summer trip, I enjoyed seeing familiar places and faces, but I was also often tired and could not do what I wanted with my day. It was hard to avoid frustration, but I knew that it was important not to let this frustration control how I was experiencing this trip. I was managing this emotion, and it was hard! (This makes sense, since making an effort is a prerequisite of using power.)
One morning, I was getting ready to spend some time at the beach with the kids, when tensions and uncertainty crept in our plans. We almost decided to go somewhere else, but eventually I did end up getting to the beach together with the children. However, after the unpleasant beginning of the day, I felt stuck in a bad mood.
So here I was, finally at the beach with my kids, but instead of enjoying the warm waves touching my feet I was feeling the waves of frustration rising in my chest. I was frustrated about the morning disagreement with my husband that almost prevented me from going to the beach. On top of that, there was an even worse kind of frustration: the one about finally being at the beach and not being able to properly enjoy it.
I knew that I had to make an effort to get out of this vicious cycle of frustration. The first element of power to change how we see things is realizing that we see them a certain way. I was reminding myself about it, but I was still feeling the frustration. The second element was realizing that changing the way I was seeing things at that moment was possible. So I focused my mind on the fact that I was at the beach as I had wanted to and that it was up to me to enjoy it. But I also knew that I needed to be gentle of myself. To be effective, all these realizations and reminders needed to happen without any trace of self-judgement.
By the summer 2022, I had been practicing mindfulness for a while, so I knew that I needed to pay attention to the moment, which included my emotions and my surroundings (instead of the circular thought about what the unpleasant morning interaction, about almost not going to the beach, or about my inability to just relax).
As I was focusing on my surroundings, which I wanted to experience so much to begin with, I decided to document (via pictures and videos) various little details that I was noticing. This helped me to ground myself in the moment instead of letting the "itty bitty shitty committee" in my head play the "woulda-shoulda-coulda" game.
I looked down at the sand I was standing on, with the gentle waves coming in and out. The first thing I noticed was that, each time the water receded, the sand it left behind revealed little patterns that looked a bit like bird's feathers, or perhaps like parts of a plant.
The water was softly coming and going, coming and going. The predictability and gentleness of this movement was calming, but it was never boring because patterns of the sand and of the water were always changing. I noticed that the water carried some sand with it, and the sand swirling in the water created what seemed like small shimmering clouds.
The water was also creating tiny ripples and bubbles. The bubbles were busting and creating tiny circles of ripples that were overlapping in intricate waves and disappearing almost instantly. With its transparent quality, the water seemed like liquid glass decorated here and there with the sparkling whirlpools of sand.
As I was observing this simple natural beauty, my frustration was still there, swelling in my chest. Instead of feeling frustrated about the frustration, I let it be and kept bringing my focus back to the ocean. I was reminding myself that I could see the situation differently, but that it was also ok that I wasn't seeing the way I wanted (not colored by frustration).
So I just kept looking underneath at the softly moving water. Sometimes, I could see small stones or shells buried in the sand. It was soothing to look at the soft lines of water ripples, of the circles left by bursting bubbles, and of small natural objects that the sand revealed.
All this time I was standing in very shallow water. In fact, half of the time, there was no water touching my feet because the waves were coming and going. Next, I moved to a slightly deeper place.
Here I could observe another element: red weed coming and receding together with the waves. Instead of looking closely at the sand, I changed my perspective to see how the water was receding. I noticed that the very edge of the incoming wave was creating a rolling border of sand. I also saw bigger sand whirlpools in the water mixing up with floating fluffy clumps of red weed. The receding water was creating shiny patterns in the sand that looked like fabric.
The seaweed mixing with shimmering sand clouds, with tiny bubbles floating on top, created yet another pattern. Whenever I changed the place I was standing or the angle I was looking from, new details emerged. The more I paid attention to them in the moment, the easier it was to let go of the frustration. I was not forcing it to go away, not telling myself that I need to let it go or that I need to do it faster. I was just letting my emotions go, and it was helping.
There were just so many things happening in the water at the same time! The swirls and the shimmer, little waves and ripples coming in from different directions and overlapping gently, the red weed mixing up with whirlpools of sand, the bubbles and the circles they left, the mysteries of tiny objects (shells and stones) hiding under the water filled with shimmer and color and light.
And then there was sparkles of sunlight that I could see when I looked at the water from yet another angle. The reflection of the sun looked differently whether it was on the sand with the water receding, or on the incoming wave filled with bubbles, red weed, and sand clouds. The sparkles of sun looked like liquid silver; they were hinting at some treasure hidden beneath the water.
I also enjoyed looking at my feet being licked by the gentle waves. My feet, grounded in the sand, were adding more patterns when the water was receding. I felt myself not like a distant observer but like a part of the beautiful play of natural elements that I allowed myself to witness.
I was looking at my shadow, decorated by the living-glass waves, soft bubbles, tiny ripples, and by sand whirlpools mixing with red seaweed. I was a part of the moment, in the moment, and I was feeling happier and more relaxed.
This story is an example of me using my power to see things differently. Admittedly, "things" in this wording is a pretty vague term. I am talking about my ability to see differently the whole situation, but also an ability to see things around me in a different light. I was able to change the focus of my attention from frustration to all the objects and details that make the ocean beach such a special place for me.
Notice that the change of the focus was natural and gentle. I do not think that changing the way you see things can be done by force of shame. I was not telling myself, "Hey, you are at the beach now! Isn't that what you wanted. You should feel better already!" Instead, I allowed myself to remember what I love about the ocean and simply enjoy the moment without self-judgement.
It should be clear by now that power to change how you see things is a form of mental power. This is also an example of the power to focus on the now, which is essentially the power of mindfulness. It requires noticing that we see things a certain way and recognizing that the way we see things can be changed. Standing at the beach that day, I was reminding myself that the frustration was coloring how I was experiencing things around me, and that I could experience the moment differently. I was not telling myself, "You can see things differently if you want to" because that would have been a form of self-judgement. Instead, I just told myself, "Hey, this is just the way I see things now, but I can see them differently". This soft reminder helped me, indeed, to see things differently there and then.
I believe that anybody can change the way they see things, but the wiggle room of this change is different for different people. For example, a person suffering from depression can probably change the way she sees things to a certain extent, but it is definitely not the same extent that I have. More specifically, a person suffering from depression would find it very hard - by the nature of this condition - to recognize that when things seem hopeless, this is just how she sees them. (Just to clarify, I know very little about clinical depression, so my ideas about it might be erroneous.)
Even if we do not imagine such a challenging circumstance as depression, for an average person changing the way he sees things can be very difficult. That is to say, one cannot easily see things in any possible way. The way we see things is determined by our environment (culture and upbringing), by individual features of one's physiology and psychology, as well as by specific circumstances. We are not entirely free to change the way we see things any way we choose.
In this sense, it would be unfair to expect another person to easily change their perspective in the way you think would be beneficial for them. I might think that it would be helpful for my child not to be afraid of vampires under his blanket; but it would not be fair for me to assume that it would be easy for him to recognize that there are, indeed, no vampires hiding there.
Changing the way we see things is determined by many circumstances outside of our control as well as by some things within our control. I believe that most people have some wiggle room, and that’s where their choice to change the way they see things can happen. But who's to judge how big this wiggle room is? Because changing the way we see things is a form of mental power, it is an invisible power so we often don’t know that we have it, and if we use it, it might not be obvious to ourselves and others.
*This is an entry of my hypertext project POWER of meanings // MEANINGS of power.
According to my theory of micro- and macropower, there are three main forms of individual power:
1) Power as ability is what I can do physically (e.g., lift a stone) or mentally (e.g., change my perspective in order to see a situation in a different light).
2) Power as influence is how my actions relate to limited resources.
3) "May" power is what I am allowed to do.
Both power as ability and "may" power are described in everyday speech using the word can, which creates some confusion. In order to clear it, we need to take into consideration the circumstances of the specific situation. For example, "I can speak English" is a form of power as ability when we refer to what languages we use to communicate. For example, I personally can speak Russian, Spanish, French, English, and German. In contrast, when Indigenous children were taken from their parents and put in boarding schools, they could speak English in the classroom, but they could not speak their native language. In that case an Indigenous child would say, "I can speak English" referring to the fact that she is allowed to speak this language as opposed to her family language.
Being allowed is not the same as being able to do something. If we are not able to do something (no power as ability), we just cannot do it. If I cannot lift a really heavy stone, I will simply not take it off the ground, no matter how hard I try. In contrast, if I am not allowed to lift a particular stone (e.g., because it is sacred), I might still be able to do it if I choose to, but then I will have to face consequences.
I describe "may" power as being allowed, but allowed by who? In my interpretation, "may" power refers to what other people allow us to do. For the purse of this analysis, we will talk about allowing as something that can only be done by a person. We will not talk about allowing in a non-literal or poetic sense, such as the force of gravity not allowing me to fly.
Obviously, laws of nature also limit what we can or cannot do. As the saying goes, one can do many things, but some of them only once. For example, I am able to jump off a cliff (I can physically do it if I choose to), but if I do it without any appropriate equipment (e.g., bungee-jumping), I will hit the ground and die. But for the purpose of this analysis, I will refer to my inability to jump off a cliff and fly without any special equipment as a lack of power as ability, as opposed to the lack of "may" power. In order words, it is about what I can physically do as opposed to what somebody allows me to do.
So we will talk about my "may" power as determined by other people. If we look at a situation from their perspective, their power as influence will shape my "may" power. When somebody does not allow us to do something, they exercise their power as influence (by limiting what I can do), which determines my "may"power, or the lack thereof. For example, I can make a decision to walk down a busy city street naked, but I am really not allowed to do that, so I will get arrested and face the consequences (in this sense, Lisa Stansfield's music video from the 90's does not seem particularly realistic).
As with any other kind of power, "may" power always coexists with some degree of powerlessness. Nobody has an absolute "may" power in a sense that nobody is allowed to do absolutely anything (even the most absolute monarchs in history).
On the other hand, we can often observe how people have different amounts of "may" power, which can be described as a form of inequality. There are different forms of the following saying: a poor person steals and goes to jail, a rich person steals and gets richer. Another example: according to some reports, people with different skin color get different sentences for the same kind of crime (e.g., using illegal drugs). Finally, a historical example comes from a book about Louis XIV. His authority and decisions were challenged many times by different people. It's noteworthy that noblemen could be punished for such a rebellion, but not the same way as people without the noble status. For example, Chapter 4 of the book linked above says: "While humble Ormistes were broken on the wheel, the Prince de Conti and the Duchesse de Longueville were allowed, by virtue of their rank, to withdraw to their estates."
We can imagine many other situations when one person is allowed to do something while another person is not allowed to do this same thing. My husband is a French citizen, so he is allowed to travel to France without a special visa. I am not a French citizen, and even though I can try to get on the territory of France illegally, I will probably have to face serious consequences; in other words, I am not allowed to do that without a visa (visa symbolizes permission, being allowed to enter). In this case, my husband is allowed to do something that I am not allowed, and his "may" power is determined by complicated conventions, laws, and meanings (e.g., meaning of a nation).
Seeing "may" power as a separate form of power helps us to consider some important questions:
1) Who has "may" power in a certain situation?
2) Why does one person have "may" power in a certain situation while another person lacks it?
3) Who is doing the allowing? What factors are their decisions based upon?
4) How do we know when we have or lack "may" power?
In terms of the conversation about power and responsibility, these questions allow us to avoid unnecessary blame. Somebody might not do something we want them to do because they lack appropriate "may" power. When I was waiting for a decision on my British visa in 2022, I discovered that people in the visa and immigration call center did not have "may" power to contact the decision center in order to speed up the process (or even to understand what is going on with my application). They were not allowed to influence the process or to access detailed information about it. In this sense, blaming them did not make much sense.
Considering question #4 is important because it further shows how complicated the issues of responsibility and blame are. Under some circumstances, we may discover our lack of "may" power only after doing an action. If I arrive in a foreign country, I need to be aware of its laws in order not to get in trouble. Some would say that I cannot use my ignorance about the laws as an excuse if I break one of them. On the other hand, not knowing the limits of my "may" power may be determined by circumstances outside of my control.
Last thing to say about "may" power is that using it feels rewarding, as with any kind of individual power. People enjoy knowing that they can do certain things, and they do not like being told that they are not allowed to do them. This is why it might be inefficient to tell somebody who is littering not to do that, because they will perceive it as an attack on their power. Many people (both children and grownups) choose to push boundaries, even break laws, in order to experience their "may" power. It is rewarding to "do whatever you want."
Here is one quote from my book Media Is Us that I really like: "In order to know the universe we all share, it is essential to acknowledge that we live in overlapping but distinct worlds. Accepting that none of us can fully access the objective reality and respecting each other’s versions of it brings us one step closer to understanding what this reality actually is" (p. 45).
"Looking at modern technologies - which seem to evolve every day - it is easy to think that the way we communicate now is fundamentally different from how our ancestors used to communicate hundreds of years ago. Indeed, many things are different, but it would be wrong to assume that in the 21st century we interact, learn, and get entertained like nobody did before..." Click to see the post on Goodreads.
One day, between the flowers and the sky,
I met the most amazing butterfly.
It sat in my hand, waiting to be caught,
And all I knew was that it caught my heart.
This butterfly became my precious friend,
Our happiness, I felt, would never end.
First, I carried my friend around.
Her feet were still unsteady on the ground.
I fed her and I slowly watched her grow.
I taught her things that she did not yet know.
My friend became as strong and tall as me.
She could explore all things that she could be.
My work was done, and now it was my turn
To take the love she offered in return.
She fed me patiently as I was growing small.
She taught me things that I could not recall.
My feet were now unsteady on the ground.
She smiled to me and carried me around.
It was so warm and cozy in her hand.
Our happiness, I felt, would never end.
One day, between the flowers and the sky,
It was my turn to be a butterfly.
Click here to read the story of the poem and watch a video.
Do you know that media existed already in Ancient Egypt?
This is not some kind of pseudoscientific hypothesis claiming that pharaohs received knowledge from extraterrestrial beings. When we say “media”, we usually imagine screens, algorithms, and printed pages. But why limit ourselves to modern technology?..
Read more on Goodreads!
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I often use this blog to share new or updated entries of my hypertext projects. If you see several versions of the same entry published over time, the latest version is the most updated one.