Comparing Power

I found it especially interesting that in Ancient China, elite culture was so antagonistic and competitive. To a certain degree, I think elites must always compete for a limited amount of influence and power, but it seems especially evident in this culture. The need for showing off and being better than other elites seems remarkably like our own American elite culture. This is a loose comparison because I’m just thinking about this one aspect, but there seem to be some strong parallels.

Society is not all about the elites, but they do have the power to affect everyone else with their actions. If Chinese elites were trying to outdo one another by owning the right luxury goods, their demand would have supported skilled artisans. Today, there are still businesses that specialize in luxury items that few people can afford. These luxury items are recognizable and we know to associate them with wealth and success.

Even more interesting to me is the competitive aspect among the elites. It wasn’t enough to be in the upper crust of society. Elites wanted to be fancier than all the rest. Competition is a large part of our elite culture as well. Politicians, for example, are divided into two major parties that fight for votes to gain political power. Elites also compete when it comes to other symbols of power. It isn’t enough to have a large house full of unnecessary luxuries; they have to come up with new things to add to outdo one another. Celebrities compete for attention in the media. They do outrageous things to end up on the front page.

I wonder if any of these behaviors would be applicable in some way in an ancient context. This might be too much of a stretch. The system of elite behaviors in China sounded more familiar than the temple system in Mesopotamia at least. I can’t really imagine how to translate that into a modern example. If anyone has a good idea, I would love to hear it. The only thing I can think of is televangelism in the United States. It’s not universal, but people that follow one of the churches send in large amounts of money to help with their projects.

The political structure and nature of power in the early civilizations we have talked about certainly stand alone and are separate from our own systems, but sometimes making these kinds of connections helps me imagine something from so long ago. Did anyone else make these kinds of connections this semester?