Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Life is not all rainbows and unicorns

"Well this is a fucked up situation."
If you like my work, you can check out a guest post of mine that Harrison from Capitol Commentary was kind enough to publish on his blog.  It's a little less, shall we say crass, than my stuff here, so perhaps it will be a nice change of pace.

I was saving this post for later, but one of my cohorts from Capitol Commentary made a comment on my article from yesterday that makes this one more poignant than my impending diatribe on Jesse Jackson.

Every time someone calls me a “Machiavellian,” as a term of derision—accusing me of being a guy who thinks that the “ends justify the means,”—somewhere a kitten is unjustifiably drowned.  No, not by me, but by some nefarious person who, for unknown reasons, can sense when pedantic morons misuse the name of Machiavelli.

And if you’re observant, you would have noticed that I used the modifier unjustifiably in front of drowned.  I used that because I am, in fact a Machiavellian.  And guess what?  I’m proud of it because I’ve actually read The Prince and have a fairly good understanding of what the hell ol’ boy Nick was trying to say.

Most critics like to use his “it’s better to be feared than loved,” argument to deride him.  Or they indignantly scoff when Machiavelli says that a prince should keep his promises only when it benefits him.  Taken out of context, as dumbasses love to do, these both sound like pretty horrible premises.  When you only read one or two sentences of Il Principe, it does sound like a recipe for a brutal dictatorship.

But guys like me love to read the entire work rather than pull out a couple of sentences here and there, blow them way out of context, and mangle it to fit some inane argument I’m trying to make.  Rather than break down each idea in a long, drawn-out treatise I’m just going to drop one quick quote that should help people understand what Machiavelli truly meant.  He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that in a world of wolves the lambs get devoured.

Classic Machiavellian Moment
“So what are you suggesting Jack?  That we just throw out all of our morals simply because everyone else is immoral?”  Yes and no, Hypothetical Nay-Sayer (HTNS).  Machiavelli is right in that very few leaders in the world are going to play fair.  In fact, very few humans are going to play fair.  So does this mean that you stick to your morals no matter what, even if the result would be catastrophic?  That’s a big negative.  Does that mean that you always abandon your morals if doing so makes the ending a lot better?  Also a negative.

What Machiavelli was trying to say is that we’re sometimes presented with situations where there is no “good,” solution.  Sometimes we don’t have a choice between good and bad; only a choice between good, better, best; or bad, worse, worst.  And in those situations, the ones where the wolves are hungrily awaiting to feast on your tender, moralistic flesh, you might have to sacrifice some moral principle if you want to avoid being dinner.

Do we allow a people to be brutally oppressed, raped, and murdered by their leaders, or do we invade a sovereign nation?  Do you steal food to save a starving child because you have no alternative means of obtaining food, or do you uphold the law and allow the child to die?  These are shitty situations, and they’re pretty much lose-lose.  Machiavelli understood that sometimes choosing the “bad” option actually does less harm than taking the moral high ground.

It doesn’t really matter what kind of morals you have.  You’re going to be faced with situations in which all the options are going to lead to something shitty.  In fact, even in situations where a moral option does exist, that choice could still fuck shit up although your precious moral center would still be intact.  Don’t believe me?  It’s called the Law of Unintended Consequences.

So being a Machiavellian isn’t a bad thing.  You just have to know where to draw the line, which morals you’re willing to sacrifice and for what reasons.  Doing something shitty might be immoral, but it doesn’t make it unjustified.

Machiavelli: The Short, Short Version


Kevin R said...

Put another way: moral dilemmas are never a choice between good and evil. There is no dilemma in choosing good over evil. A moral dilemma arises when no "good" option is available.

Jack Camwell said...

Thanks for your comment Kevin. You make a really good point, and it's one that I've been struggling with for a while now.

There's no dilemma when we actually have a good option: you should always take the good option. But we have to remember that sometimes even the good option causes harm that we didn't intend, but I suppose the Law of Unintended Consequences is best left for another post on a different day.

Thanks for stopping by =)

Harrison said...

We also have to keep in mind that because most people tell the truth the rest can lie and be believed.

Jack Camwell said...

Yes. Roughly quoting Nick, "in a world of wolves, the lambs get devoured."

Harrison said...

What I meant is that people only believe someone is telling the truth is because most people do tell the truth and those who lie are only believed because they use the goodwill of others for their own purposes.

Jack Camwell said...

I knew what you meant =)

Karen Howes said...

What you say is true; sometimes we have to choose the lesser of two unavoidable evils.