An essay by Beaver on the nature of power, surprisingly relevant to the whole net neutrality issue from recent times:
>’in a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. “Do it,” says the king, “for I am your lawful ruler.” “Do it,” says the priest, “for I command you in the names of the gods.” “Do it,” says the rich man, “and all this gold shall be yours.” So tell me – who lives and who dies?’
>”Oh, I think not,” Varys said, swirling the wine in his cup. “Power is a curious thing, my lord. Perchance you have considered the riddle I posed you that day in the inn?”
>”It has crossed my mind a time or two,” Tyrion admitted. “The king, the priest, the rich man – who lives and who dies? Who will the swordsman obey? It’s a riddle without an answer, or rather, too many answers. All depends on the man with the sword.”
>”And yet he is no one,” Varys said. “He has neither crown nor gold nor favor of the gods, only a piece of pointed steel.”
>”That piece of steel is the power of life and death.”
>”Just so… Yet if it is the swordsmen who rule us in truth, why do we pretend our kings hold the power? Why should a strong man with a sword ever obey a child king like Joffrey, or a wine -sodden oaf like his father?”
>”Because these child kings and drunken oafs can call other strong men, with other swords.”
>”Then these other swordsmen have the true power. Or do they?” Varys smiled. “Some say knowledge is power. Some tell us that all power comes from the gods. Others say it derives from law. Yet that day on the steps of Baelor’s Sept, our godly High Septon and the lawful Queen Regent and your ever -so -knowledgeable servant were as powerless as any cobbler or cooper in the crowd. Who truly killed Eddard Stark, do you think? Joffrey, who gave the command? Ser Ilyn Payne, who swung the sword? Or… another?”
>Tyrion cocked his head sideways. “Did you mean to answer your damned riddle, or only to make my head ache worse?”
>Varys smiled. “Here, then. Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.”
>”So power is a mummer’s trick?”
>”A shadow on the wall,” Varys murmured, “yet shadows can kill And ofttimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow.”
There are actually two lessons to take from this. The first one is obvious, the other is not.
The first one is as plain as said in the text: “Power resides where men believes it resides.” This is an indubitable truth, something that even a brute can grasp. We see it perfectly in the real world. However, the implications of such a statement are far grander. It means power is a fickle thing, something which you barely have control over and could slip from your grasp at any moment.
There are ways more effective than others to secure power, yet in the end, the greatest source of power is ideas. Ideas are what cause men to believe power resides in one thing or another. Without ideas, it is merely the well armed, the strong who rule and have power and they rule only until someone else can kill them.
The second lesson, however, is the truly interesting one. It’s one which a careless reader may have interpreted as mere ass kissing written into the text.
“And ofttimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow.”
This is supposed to be interpreted as Varys complimenting Tyrion, a dwarf who is currently acting as regent lord. However, reading between the lines, one can interpret Martin’s true meaning, and it is something far more sinister, and the reason why the world’s governments are so paranoid, so anxious to control everything:
When Varys says “A small man can cast a very large shadow”, what he meant is that the most powerful men in the world are likely not kings, not rich men, not priests and not even warriors. They are likely unremarkable men with a remarkable ability to manipulate the world through ideas and their ability to spread them.
Understanding this, one can now understand why the world’s governments are scrambling to control the internet, to install surveillance, to track people, to control speech; they know and understand that truth, more than you can imagine. And because they understand it, they also understand that they are at the mercy of a nobody somewhere. Maybe just some bar fly who talks a lot in a popular bar frequented by a lot of people in New York, whose words get repeated until they affect people everywhere. Maybe some woman writing a blog about her every day life. These “small men” are indeed “casting a very large shadow”, maybe not even intentionally.
Once you understand this, you will understand just how little power many “powerful men” truly have. And you’ll understand their paranoia, their urge to control information, their urge to control people.
Original screen cap: