Relational Materialism and Citizen X
Chapter Three - Part Three
In Chapter Three – Part Two, I concluded by saying that politics is primarily a matter of decision-making and is therefore a matter of Power.
This begs the question then: What do I mean by Power? Why capital ‘P’ Power as opposed to simply ‘power,’ and do I mean to make a distinction? Further, how does Power influence politics and decision-making in a Relational Materialist frame?
In Chapter Three – Part Three, I will begin to answer these questions and I will start with definitions of Power and power.
To begin, I want to bring attention to my use of capital ‘P’ Power and draw a distinction between it and lower case power. My intention with this distinction is to differentiate a technical term Power from the more colloquial sense of power in common academic and literary uses.
My technical use of Power is similar to Husserl's technical use of Intention as opposed to intention. The technical use of ‘Intention’ is a specific phenomenological term used to describe the intangible aspects of our experience, where we use ‘intention’ in a more colloquial capacity.
All experiences are, phenomenologically speaking, Intended: they are Intentional, they are experienced as about some particular object in the Lifeworld. This is a separate idea from common ‘intentionality’, which is what we use when we say, “I intended to call you last night.” Here, intention is about what you want to do in the world, what action you so desired to exercise. As this is concerned with action, common intentionality is both internal and external, dealing with physical actions in the Lifeworld. In contrast, technical ‘Intentionality’ is purely internal: it is the experience of our connection to the Lifeworld, concerned with epistemology, not praxeology.
My technical use of Power is a similar notion. ‘Power’ is used to discuss the intangible aspects of our common conception of power and how it relates the phenomenological agent to the external world it experiences.
This will all become clearer as I explain my understanding of ‘Power’ and ‘power’, so allow me do that.
Defining power and Power.
The word ‘power’ derives from an older form of the French pouvoir, through the Latin posse, meaning “to be able to.” At its heart, power is a capacity, “to be able” to do something. It is an internal potential realized as material action within the world. An adequate phenomenological definition of ‘Power’ must account for the internal and external factors operative in any Lifeworld exercise of ‘power.’
My initial definition of ‘power’ is “an agent’s (1) capacity to act, an internal potential that manifests in actuality as an (2) intentional action involving (3) a dynamic relationship with the external world.
All expressions of power are intentional, that is, “directed at, or about, objects and states of affairs in the world.” Until the action realizing the intention occurs there is no exercise of power. The capacity remains, the exercise of action simply fails.
A Short Description of Citizen X’s Relation to the Lifeworld
- Citizen X is ontologically and epistemically distinct from the Lifeworld, this allows for X’s phenomenological experience.
- Citizen X’s epistemological experience is that it acts and reacts to the distinct Lifeworld, including itself.
- Citizen X’s ontological experience is that it acts and reacts in the distinct Lifeworld, including itself.
- Acting ‘to’ the Lifeworld, ‘towards’ it, is distinct from acting ‘in’ the Lifeworld and I am using Intentionality and Power to name this distinction.
- Colloquial ‘power’ and ‘intentionality’ are both concerned with the physical reality of direct experience, utilizing the basic ontological and epistemological distinction and 'experiencing’ it, active and alive, drawing together the inner and outer life in a moment of actual life.
- Citizen X, on the individual, or “personal” level, contains both tangible and intangible elements, and expressions of power result in definite and discreet physical artifacts, i.e., actions in a material world.
As mentioned, exercises of power occur in relation with the external world and this fact brings with it limitations to expressions of intentional action. First, as physical beings, basic physical limitations hinder our freedom to act in important ways. For example, our needs for nourishment and rest, as well as general bodily limitations such as having only two arms, two legs, no wings, no gills, the effects of aging, proneness to injury and so on: the body both produces and limits its own expressible power. In addition, the reality of different environments brings opportunities and obstacles such as weather, landscape, climate, and various geographical factors.
To explain, take something as simple as eating an apple.
Seeing an apple on a tree, an individual wants to pick and eat it. It is in her capacity to be able to do this. She can choose to pick the apple. It is within her ‘power’ to do so. In the colloquial sense just used, power refers to the individual capacity to meaningfully interact and to be an active force in the external world. An individual exercises her power when she reaches out and plucks the apple off the tree: “power” describes how action manifests as well describing the force of the action itself. Until the action realizing the intention occurs there is no exercise of power.
Common “power” describes how we are able to act, to make decisions and carry them out. Individual agents have the capacity for action, their own personal power, but the ability to actually exercise this power is a matter of contingent degree.
Returning to the apple example, an individual is hungry and so she intentionally expresses her power by reaching up, plucking an apple from the tree and eating it. However, things are not always so straightforward with our relationship to the external world. What if the apple is too high in the tree to reach, or what if the apple, when picked, turns out to be rotten, thus inedible?
In the examples given, I have described an agent’s ‘personal’ power, the capacity each individual carries to act in the world, to decide and carry through with some intentional action. The agent has “power to” pick and eat the apple, and she has “power over” her environment just in case she uses her personal power successfully.
If the apple is too high in the tree, her intention to pick and eat the apple is frustrated, her hunger grows, and her power over her environment becomes compromised. Of course, with ingenuity and inventiveness, she could overcome environmental limitations; say by building a ladder or perhaps working with another agent to secure her desired outcome.
There are countless examples of the manners that we succeed, fail, change desires, achieve unintended outcomes, and so forth, and ample literature on these subjects exists, however in the context of this blog, it is important to apply this discussion to the more philosophically important relationships between Citizen X and the Lifeworld, or in more practical terms, the relationship between any contemporary agent and the capital-based modern liberal state. 
Searle and One Last Thing
One last thing: Philosophical discussions of power generally concern either ‘power to’ or ‘power over.’ ‘Power to’ describes a capacity, an ability to act, where ‘power over’ describes power as external, involving control of one’s environment or getting other agents to behave in desired ways.
John Searle shows this distinction by separating the capacity for power from its physical expression, logically distinguishing them by stating that ‘X has the power (is able, has the capacity) to do A’ does not include the relational quality, ‘X has the power over Y with respect to action A’ that an expression of power contains. This means that exercises of power involve a second, external element, some Y, to exercise power over.
This relational aspect involves two general constraints Searle claims must be met to be a successful expression of power. The “exactness constraint” requires “one should be able to say, who exactly has power over whom to get them to do exactly what,” applicable even when the agent and subject of power are technically unknown to one another, such as a senator over her district.
Second, the “intentionality constraint” requires a specification of the intentional content of the exercise, the general motivation and direction of the agent’s actions. Colloquial intentionality is extended to cases where the threat or known option of an exercise of power is recognized, including not only the actual intentional content of the threat, but also the counterfactual specification of possible imposed sanctions, including political and economic exclusion or embargo, fines, imprisonment, being kicked out of your bridge club, detention, solitary confinement, and so on; the list of the degrees and types of ‘possible imposed sanctions’ is long and varied.
The core notion of political power for Searle is formalized as, “X has power over Y IFF X is able intentionally to get Y to behave in a certain way with respect to action A whether or not Y wants to behave that way.”
Searle’s definitions of power will be returned to in the relative future. As we move forward, I will look at them from time to time and see what in them holds and what is shown to be insufficient.
Coming soon in Chapter Three: Part Four will pick up this discussion with the ideas of power and autonomy.
Footnotes (yes, I know there's no one or four - silly blog formatting)
 Searle (2010) pp. 146. Searle separates the capacity for power from its physical expression, logically distinguishing them by showing that “X has the power (is able, has the capacity) to do A” does not include the relational quality, “X has the power over Y with respect to action A” that an expression of power contains.
 When she reaches out and plucks the apple, she has exercised her power to do so, just as when she eats the apple she has exercised her power to eat the apple. If she wants to walk over to another tree, she likewise has the capacity to do so and exercises her power by doing it.
 By which I include both individual agents and more formal notions of ‘agent’ such as a social group or complainant in a court of law (i.e. Brown v. Board of Education).
 Searle, (2010), pp. 146
 ibid. pp. 146
 ibid. pp. 148