“If we live in a democracy and you don’t use your power to vote…
Shame on us… So what the fuss!
Shame, shame.
Shame shame shamity shame.“
Stevie Wonder, “So What the Fuss” (feat. Prince and En Vogue)

Power, in the broadest sense, is the ability to act according to your will by exerting control over your environment.

The more power you have, the more needs and desires you can fulfill. You use this power every day to claw your way a little higher up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You usually get stuck at “eat Cheetos now and for the foreseeable future” on your journey towards self-actualization.

But things get complicated as soon as your environment becomes polluted with other people. Resources are scarce, and this leads to conflicts.

Power over nature can extend to power over people. Your power to eat the last Cheeto disempowers me from eating it.

And I was saving that one, you jerk. It had a funny nub.

Power begets power. The more power you have, the more you can gain.

This concern shapes events from union strikes and Marxist revolutions to interventionist foreign policy and pre-emptive war. We often hear about the need to counterbalance the economic power of a large corporation or the military power of a foreign state. At best, these “balance of power” strategies yield a stalemate of mutual distrust and hair-trigger brinkmanship.

Democracy is intended to circumvent such conflicts by distributing power among the masses. “Empowerment” is regarded as synonymous with voting. The vote is the means by which marginalized groups could break their shackles, have their say, and win back the freedoms that they have lost to the power of others.

But how much power does a vote really bestow?
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