Speak to me about power. What is it? I do believe I’m being out-Cambridged. You want me to discuss power? Right here and now? Her shapely head tilts. No time except the present. Okay. Only for a ten. Power is the ability to make someone do what they otherwise wouldn’t, or deter them from doing what they otherwise would. Immaculée Constantin is unreadable. How? By coercion and reward. Carrots and sticks, though in bad light one looks much like the other. Coercion is predicated upon the fear of violence or suffering. ‘Obey, or you’ll regret it.’ Tenth-century Danes exacted tribute by it; the cohesion of the Warsaw Pact rested upon it; and playground bullies rule by it. Law and order relies upon it. That’s why we bang up criminals and why even democracies seek to monopolize force. Immaculée Constantin watches my face as I talk; it’s thrilling and distracting. Reward works by promising ‘Obey and benefit.’ This dynamic is at work in, let’s say, the positioning of NATO bases in nonmember states, dog training and putting up with a shitty job for your working life. How am I doing? Security Goblin’s sneeze booms through the chapel. You scratch the surface, says Immaculée Constantin. I feel lust and annoyance. Scratch deeper, then. She brushes a tuft of fluff off her glove and appears to address her hand: Power is lost or won, never created or destroyed. Power is a visitor to, not a possession of, those it empowers. The mad tend to crave it, many of the sane crave it, but the wise worry about its long-term side effects. Power is crack cocaine for your ego and battery acid for your soul. Power’s comings and goings, from host to host, via war, marriage, ballot box, diktat and accident of birth, are the plot of history. The empowered may serve justice, remodel the Earth, transform lush nations into smoking battlefields and bring down skyscrapers, but power itself is amoral. Immaculée Constantin now looks up at me. Power will notice you. Power is watching you now. Carry on as you are and power will favor you. But power will also laugh at you, mercilessly, as you lie dying in a private clinic, a few fleeting decades from now. Power mocks all its illustrious favorites as they lie dying. ‘Imperious Caesar, dead and turn’d to clay, might stop a hole to keep the wind away.’ That thought sickens me, Hugo Lamb, like nothing else. Doesn’t it sicken you?
David Mitchell