Power and the Convoluted Intricacies of the Relationship

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Gabriel Kislik
Western Heritage in a Global Context
Prof. Gu
03/08/13

Power and the Convoluted Intricacies of the Relationship

The “Art of War” is an ancient Chinese military treatise written by Sun Tzu, a high-ranking military general around late Spring and Autumn period of China. The text is divided into thirteen different chapters, each of which is devoted to one specific aspect of warfare. Throughout the past and to this day, the “Art of War” has remained one of the most influential texts of Eastern and Western societies, leading millions from military theorists and political leaders to business management employees, a better understanding of how to manage conflict and win battles. Although he admits that conflict is an everyday part of life, Sun Tzu considered war as a necessary evil that must be avoided whenever possible, asserting that “war is like fire; people who do not lay down their arms will die by their arms.” Throughout his treatise, he emphasizes the fundamentality of avoiding war, and if impossible, the importance of dealing with it swiftly and efficiently. Overall, the “Art of War” tremendously helps the reader understand the deeply complex power relationships between individuals, and how to empower oneself within a democratic society.

Indeed, Sun Tzu once said, “If you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” Even though this text is deeply subjective to interpretation, it is crucial to determine what is meant. The author is here emphasizing the importance of understanding yourself and others, as in that case one will be far more likely to win any battle, than if he does not know himself and others. More importantly, I believe Sun Tzu is implicitly inviting us to focus on understanding others, and being aware of a person’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as their motivations. In fact, I believe that Sun Tzu is not strictly referring to battles, as in armed conflict, but any type of personal conflict from personal relationships to politics. In other words, if one fights and wins a battle against someone without gaining a greater understanding of that person, then nothing is won, even if one wins the argument. Moreover, if one fights a battle and gains a greater understanding of himself and the other, then he has gained something much greater than a mere win, and the outcome of the battle itself becomes irrelevant. Altogether, this is particularly relevant to gain a better understanding of power relationships, as the more knowledge one has over his own and other’s strengths, weaknesses, and motivations, the more control and influence one has within that relationship.

In like manner, there are many different treatise, novels, plays, and even manifestos throughout the world that explore the deep and complex power relationships, whether implicitly or explicitly, in order to help us readers gain a better understanding of such interactions. This is the case for Machiavelli’s treatise “The Prince”, Elie Wiesel’s novel “Night”, Marx’s “Communist Manifesto, or Shakespeare’s play “Measure for Measure”, which all portray power relationships in very different ways.

In his play “Measure for Measure”, Shakespeare portrays the power relationship in a greatly negative way. Indeed, throughout the play and its different characters, he is implicitly exposing entrenched and unjust power structures within that particular society. More specifically, in the play’s focus on religion and motifs of manipulation and falsity, depicting how those who are empowered by status use their power to reinforce their own position and shape the world around them.

For instance, in Act I, scene 3, the Duke of Vienna bewails that his city is spoiled, its people too indulgent, and that he wishes to see long ignored...
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