Power, Piranha-Style

(By John Terranova)

piranhaSometimes animals behave in ways we humans would be wise to mimic. Piranhas, surprisingly, inspire me to recreate human society along their noble model.

Let me explain. . . .

Full gown piranhas are all of similar size. None get large enough to rule the others. Even as vicious predators “that will bite anything and everything” with razor-sharp teeth, they are reluctant to kill each other; instead, they “fight with raps of their tails.”[1] Likewise, rattlesnakes, rather than bite each other, wrestle. Both species may establish a pecking order, but they do not destroy each other.

I have a theory about why they behave this way — a theory that could help make the human world more just. If one piranha, say the strongest one, were to turn his teeth upon a fellow piranha and kill it, what would happen? I suspect that all the other piranhas in the school would collectively turn upon that aggressive one and destroy it since it would be a threat to their collective safety; though that piranha were the strongest, it would be no match against the whole. Since each piranha is of similar size, none of them can become so strong and powerful that they can dominate the school.

Herein lies the model we humans should follow. . . .

Concentrated power corrupts, so it is in our best interest to diffuse power as equally as possible. If we allow individual humans to possess disproportionate concentrations of power (be it financial, political, spiritual) we jeopardize our species’ peace. Both sides of the stereotypical political spectrum tend to favor one form of concentrated power over the other. Free-market conservatives distrust concentrations of government power, yet they favor concentrations of private financial power; bureaucratic liberals distrust concentrations of private financial power, yet they favor concentrated political power. The piranha school distrusts both concentrated political and  financial power, for the piranha observes that power corrupts. Need we list the innumerable abuses of power by both the private and public sectors?

I take it as a guiding principle that anyone who advocates for concentrating power  is not trustworthy. Their sympathies reveal their destructive nature. We should turn upon those who valorize power and divest them of it. Rather than giving that power to another, we should destroy the power or divide the power. The more we diffuse the power, the harder it will be to take advantage of it. Kings and popes and CEOs and presidents and generals and hedge-fund managers and gurus and police captains and dalai lamas and supreme court justices and federal reserve chairmen and pastors and the like are all perversions of justice: they are piranhas that have grown too big and strong and dominate our school; they have, they do, and they will turn their teeth upon us.

[1] Grossman, Dave. On Killing: The Psychological Coast of Learning to Kill in War and Society. New York: Back Bay Books, 1995.


  1. JasonNovember 25, 2013

    Interesting connection, I have never heard it made before.

    I am curious to hear the idea that power must be diffused applied to various aspects of life, such as economics, government, religion, etc. But until I heard back, good stuff! And hats off for allowing this principle to break out of the ridiculous Republican/Democrat box. Two sides, same coin.

  2. shellyzNovember 25, 2013

    aka actonite libertarianism?

  3. AlexNovember 26, 2013

    Anarcho-Capitalism and the form of Libertarianism that I personally hold.

  4. AlexNovember 26, 2013

    Shared. Excellent article. Big reason why I’m a 2nd Amendment and Gun Rights advocate. Dilute the Power. Share the Power.

  5. JasonNovember 26, 2013

    Shellyz: If I understand it, Acton-style libertarianism is strongly free-market in emphasis, which I don’t think John would be a fan of (he can speak for himself, of course, and hopefully he will!).

    Alex: Yeah, Anarcho-syndicalism is more up John’s alley, I think.

  6. shellyzNovember 26, 2013

    So many flavors … I need to learn more :).

  7. AlexNovember 26, 2013

    Much I like about Anarcho-Syndicalism. I like it’s populist undertones. I am the rare breed of Libertarian/Constitutionalist/Populist/redneck LOL.

  8. AlexNovember 26, 2013

    ” the primary function of government is to “protect the minority of the opulent from the majority.” They view the primary purpose of the state as being the defense of private property and therefore of economic, social and political privilege, even when such defense denies its citizens the ability to enjoy material independence and the social autonomy which springs from it.”–Anarcho-Syndicalism (wiki)

    Good stuff.

  9. AlexNovember 26, 2013

    “anarcho-syndicalism holds to the idea that power corrupts.”

    AMEN in 1,000,000,000 size font.

  10. Johnny TNovember 26, 2013

    To my knowledge, most types of libertarianism would permit immense concentrations of private financial power. I think that is just as dangerous as a super-powerful government.

    Jason, I’m glad you appreciate the way this idea avoids the typical liberal/conservative divide. I think a lot of people feel those are the only two choices, and they have to pick the lesser of two evils. It is a false dichotomy.

  11. AlexNovember 26, 2013

    “To my knowledge, most types of libertarianism would permit immense concentrations of private financial power. ”

    Yes, most flavors “permit” it…but Libertarian positions tend to acknowledge the fact that it is nearly impossible to eliminate some sort of Class structure and homogenize all…we just tend to think that having checks and balances against the Oligarchy and having systemic incentives that provide for a strong middle class with Freedoms in tow…are a good check-and-balance against Oligarchs and Corporations having the ability to gain and exert too much Power.

  12. AlexNovember 26, 2013

    We see Statism similar to your Position. Often the State becomes a Proxy for the Oligarchy and the Elites…which in the current US System…it has in spades.

  13. MelissaNovember 28, 2013

    I’m with Shellyz, so many flavas…I TOTALLY need to learn more…damn.

    Thanks for using the piranha analogy. WAY interesting.

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