The Lockean Theory of Property- Part II

 

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In Locke’s book the 2nd Treatise of Government, he provides an answer to a perplexing problem concerning property rights. What authority grants us the right to own and acquire property? Is it the whim of a benevolent monarch that provides us a right to property? Are we granted a right to property through cultural norms?  Is the right to acquire and own property the by-product of legislative fiat? Locke would suggest that none of these factors wholly justifies our right to ownership. He asserts that it is a natural right endowed upon us by our creator. Veering away from the premise that ownership is privileged granted by a ruler or government. Rather, it is the birthright of every free individual. Opposing the convention that the king has dominion over everything within the boundaries of his kingdom.

 

It could be argued that to some capacity that theorist before Locke had an understanding of property rights Even the famously illiberal  Niccolo Machiavelli stated in The Prince:

 

What makes him hated above all, as  I said, is to be a rapacious usurper of the property and women of his subjects. From there, he must abstain, and whenever one does not take away either property or honor from the generality of men….  (Machiavelli, 1532, Transl. Mansfield, 1985).

 

Machiavelli did recognize property rights based on natural law. He saw respecting the property of a ruler’s subjects as a matter of pragmatism. A ruler cannot get ward off insertions and usurpation plots if he is hated by his people. Demonstrating how the indignation of the people can potentially operate as an informal check on power. Even in illiberal principalities. However, provincial self-interest falls short of a comprehensive ethical argument for the preservation of property rights. This is why this philosophical breakthrough is attributed to Locke. Versus previous thinkers.

 

The bigger mystery at hand is how did humans end up acquiring private property? In the nascent period of human history, nomadic people did not own land. Moved from location to location searching for various resources. Upon the dawn of the Neolithic period, hunter-gather societies were on the decline. Humans started to form sedimentary communities. Before permanent settlements, all lands and resources were part of a commons.  What is known as today as a common-pool of resources. Where the availability of resources is not limited by private ownership. Once humans started to acquire land, they were effectively taking it out of the “commons”. No longer could your neighbor harvest lumber from the thicket of woodlands you now presently own without permission.

 

How land transitions from the “commons” to private ownership is where Locke’s theory comes into play. We are born free and therefore we own ourselves. Consequently, we own the fruits of our labor. Through our private effects, we effectively take the resource out of the commons by harvesting it.

 

The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are his property. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state of nature hath, provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in…

(Locke, 1690, P.19. Ed. Macpherson, 1980)

 

Effectively, if now one else owns the resource and you effectively harvest it or process it for use it is yours. Unfortunately, this method of claiming tangible property is much more complex in the modern era. Most land and resources are under either private or state ownership. There are exceptions. The ocean is one of the few pure tangible commons left. Where fishing rights tend to be delineated by licensing or argument. However, this same principle of ownership can be applied to intangible goods in the form of intellectual property. This explains a plethora of societal sanctions for copyright infringement, plagiarism, and a myriad of other varieties of intellectual theft.

 

Locke, in his argument, does not condone resource consumption without limits. We can continue to procure resources providing two conditions 1.) we are not letting anything spoil and 2.) we are leaving resources for others (Locke, 1690, P.21). Inferring that God didn’t bless with bountiful resources to squander them nor to be gluttonously hoarded. This demonstrates the fact that there natural limits on consumption. Providing that we stay within these limitations our consumption doesn’t transgress against the rights of our neighbor.

 

Locke also provides some interesting commentary concerning the introduction of money. Many resources that are harvested are perishable meaning we can only take as much as we intend to personally use. Limiting us to a Robinson Crusoe Economy, laboring for mere subsistence. Any further harvesting would lead to waste. What Ludwig Von Mises referred to as Autistic Exchange. Unlike harvested goods, money does not decompose.  This characteristic of money is so salient that it is one of the seven defining features of money. By the introduction of a medium of exchange vastly expands our ability to consume resources by remedying the issue of waste and depletion(Locke, 1690, P.23). Substituting currency for barter we can develop a division of labor. Instead of attempting to produce everything we need, industries emerge that are devoted to food production.  Meaning other segments of society can create other goods and services. Using the market as an allocation mechanism we can remedy the waste/ depletion conflict. Producers will tailor production to market demand, limiting the potential for waste. This also provides consumers with the opportunity to freely acquire these resources.

 

There are two caveats here. One we still see plenty of instances of hoarding in free-market economies. No system is perfect. Hoarding can still transpire with a common-resource pool in a state of nature. A market-based system helps diminish the coordination issues associated with obtaining resources. Also, keep in mind, this treatise was written before the technology that allowed for mass resource extraction. This issue could be mitigated through private harvesting collectives and contractually agreed upon extraction quotas.

 

The second being is that money helps minimize the number of resources being spoiled. However, it is not a full-proof safeguard against it. Then again, there is never a full-proof method of preventing bad consequences.

 

 

 

The Lockean Theory of Property (Part I)

 

 

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The philosopher John Locke is arguably one of the most influential thinkers in Western thought. Locke’s crowning achievement of political philosophy would have to be his theory on property. A theory of property rights that has become the focal point of liberal democracy.  The king does not have possession of the estate you inherited from your father. Even if the land is within the jurisdiction of his kingdom.  This powerful distinction provides the precedent to legally codify the natural right to property in positive law.

 

Protection of property is one of the few legitimate ends that government serves. In Locke’s 2nd Treatise of Governmenthe goes so far to claim that the main reason why humans form governments is the “preservation of their property” (p.66). If a government fails to protect the rights of its citizens it has abdicated its main duty. Thus, it is illegitimate. Especially, when the government is supposed to operate as the mediator between burglar and homeowner. We depart the state of nature and handover the authority to distribute restraint and reparation to the government (p.10). In exchange, we refrain from enacting justice as we would in state of nature because the government has promised to justly addressing transgressions such as theft. The question becomes why do we delegate the responsibility of defending property to the state? Per Locke,  we surrender the right to punishment so that it is applied justly and isn’t influenced by bias (p.66).  Harm can even come of the individual who had their property taken or defiled.

 

They who by any injustice offended will seldom fail, where they are able, by force to make good their injustice; the resistance many times makes the punishment dangerous, and frequently destructive, to those who attempt it. (Locke, 1690, P.66. Ed. Macpherson, 1980).

Making for good justification for why we allow the government to determine the means and magnitude of the consequences (p.67). It is safer for society than allowing individuals to act upon their passions. Beyond the concern of general well being, it provides standardization of repercussions for property crimes. Uneven or inconsistent consequences is a haphazard application of force defended on the grounds of fickle passions. This is nothing more an individualized form of tyranny.

 

That does not mean that every government policy implemented since the publishing of Locke’s magnum opus has secured the property rights of the citizens. Even in the contemporary world, there are many autocratic and despotic regimes. One of the more notable luminaries of the illiberal regimes in 2020 would be North Korea. Even in the United States, a country founded on Lockean principles, there are policies antithetical to property rights. One such embarrassing example is civil asset forfeiture.  By a loose definition is a legal doctrine that allows law enforcement to seize property that is suspected of being used in the commission of a crime. Since 2014, approximately 35 states have reformed their civil forfeiture laws, 15 states require a conviction.

 

Reform isn’t enough to right the wrong of civil asset forfeiture. The only time property should be taken from an individual who violated the law would be in the instances of property crime. Only under the condition of restoration.  For example, my car was stolen and then found in the driveway of an individual that lives two towns over. It is permissible for law enforcement then to seize the car and return it to the rightful owner.  If I am trafficking black tar heroin in my car, it is wrong for the police to seize my car.  Even if my car was purchased with the proceeds of drug sales. My transgression of transporting illegal drugs for sale is mutually exclusive from my conveyance. Yes, the conveyance did help assist in transporting the drugs. It was rightfully paid for. I did not steal the car. Paid for the car through engaging in the victimless crime of drug sales.

 

By self-ownership, I utilized my labor by selling drugs to purchase the car (p.19). Therefore it is my car and the government does not have the right to take it. At least from a philosophical standpoint rather than a legally positive standpoint.  In the same vein (no pun intended), selling drugs to others is a victimless crime. As free individuals, who own their bodies, they are electing to ingest the drugs I sell. This an authority they cannot be transferred to anyone else. Especially not the leader of the  Corrections Officer’s unions who frequently lobby against drug legalization (a shining example of rent-seeking).

 

Civil asset forfeiture is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the state violating our right to property. Other policies such as eminent domain present other examples of the government treading upon our property rights. I can only picture John Locke rolling over in his grave every time we justify these egregious crimes against our property. Every example is a direct violation of our social contract. The deal being we relinquish our right to individualized punishment for an assurance that our property is protected through legal means. It is a horrifying juxtaposition when the government becomes the burglar. The same institutions that were designed to protect our property are then used to commandeer it. That runs contrary to the philosophical core of the United States. The first country founded on the right to secure property.

 

 

 

 

Locke and How Parents Shape our Political Reasoning

 

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John Locke is arguably one of the most influential political philosophers to ever live. The father of liberalism built the intellectual scaffolding that hoisted Europe up towards the Age of Reason. He also effectively build the philosophical foundation for the founding principles of the United States. America serving as not only an enduring social experiment but as a living tribute to Lockean ideals. Locke’s 2nd Treatise of Government serving as the fodder for the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are
endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed…

 

The first paragraph of the Declaration almost serves as a succinct summary of Locke’s 2nd Treatise. Locke’s influence on America’s political heritage is indisputable. Many of our cherished rights such as free speech and freedom of religion are based on the concept of natural rights. The concept of natural rights served as the core justification for Locke’s arguments in the 2nd Treatise. There was one observation in Locke’s grand treatise that was only quasi-political which was the relationship between parent and child. To refer to such as dynamic as even quasi-political may seem far-fetched to many modern observers. Then again, this may be an indicator that we have allowed the government to have too much dominion over our daily lives.

 

Locke begins his argument by stating that both the mother and father have authority over their children (p.30). Providing paternal power to both parents.  Citing the Ten Commandments  of the Christian Bible, the commandment ” Honor thy father and mother”. Providing biblical justification for allotting control to both parents in rearing their children. Versus having the father serve as the one and true tyrant. There is also a practical consideration if the mother has no authority over her children, what is she to do in his absence? If he is sent off to war. If he passes away due to disease. It is only sensible to endow both parents with the authority of arising their children.

 

Why do the parents need to exert control over their children? Does John Locke assert that all men are born free? Yes, equal in the sense of the capacity for reason. By being born as a human being and therefore possessing the faculties for reason.

Children, I confess are not born in a full state of equality, though they are born into it. Their parents have a sort of rule and jurisdiction over them, when they come into the world, and for some time after; but it is a temporary one…. The bonds of this subjection are like swaddling clothes they art wrapt up in, and supported by, in the weakness of their infancy: age and reason as they grow up, loosen them, till at length they drop off, and leave a man at free disposal  (Locke, 1690. P. 31. Ed. Macpherson, 1980)

 

This eloquent description explains how parents will relinquish their control once their children reach adulthood. Before becoming an adult, most children lack the full capacity for sound judgment. The parents must instill values in their kids. Also, to assist them with developing their reasoning skills. Reasoning skills are partially a byproduct of experience. However, there is also a biological component to this development as well. Contemporary research suggests that brain development continues into our mid-20’s. Back in the 1600s, the life expectancy was approximately 39 years. It most likely would have been unrealistic to assert an individual was a fully cognizant adult at 25. Most likely after the child had a firm understanding of basic reasoning and societal norms and values was when they were deemed an adult. Currently, in society, we utilize arbitrary age cut-offs to determine adulthood. Libertarian thinker Murray Rothbard asserted that a person becomes an adult once they are self-sustaining.

 

The question remains how does the stewardship of parents over their children pertain to political life? Parents are preparing their children to become active members of the community. The values that parents instill in their children will have consequences for society as a whole. Granted, once the child reaches the age of majority they are free to exercise their will. Often, our childhood does have implications of our behavior and decisions as an adult. While not every parent is capable of raising upstanding citizens, most are.  How children interact with the community and society as a whole is based upon the modeling of their parents. Humans not only learn from auditory input (the directives of our parents) but also visually. We watch what our parents do and to some extent absorb it into our repertoire of permissible behaviors. It wouldn’t be outlandish for a parent who doesn’t vote to raise children who choose not to vote.

 

A lot of our “political behavior” is learned from our parents. More often than not an individual declaring allegiance to a political party. It wasn’t a choice.  Choice requires a specific degree of evaluation and subsequent discrimination. Much like religious convictions they are often bequeathed to the children from their parents. Further demonstrating the importance of parents in establishing the child’s capacity for moral reasoning. While it is imperative to initiate children in a cohesive moral philosophy such as religious domination or a set of political beliefs, developing reasoning supersedes both.  Having morals inculcated into you does not make you moral. You must first be able to distinguish morality from immorality. Then the individual’s religious and political beliefs have substance. Without having a strong moral framework choice are arbitrary and lacks context. Effectively makes any decisions you make at the political level done so blindly. Such moral and rational illiteracy can be disastrous to an individual, community, or country.

How Not to Live Your Life- A Lesson from Kierkegaard and Seinfeld

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The 1990s sitcom Seinfeld  was loudly proclaimed to be the show about “nothing”.  The very term “nothing” is somewhat paradoxical. Nothing denotes the complete absence of an essence or form. Technically it is herculean  task to fixate any concept around the word. Logically some attribute is bound to invalidate the notion of complete absence of  any form or detail. Hence, why the show really wasn’t about nothing. It was really an unapologetic slice-of-life comedy. Focused on four 30-something NYC residents and their day to day lives. Lives typically punctuated by social faux pas and outlandish situations. Generally spurred by their own errors or impulses. It the television program doesn’t fixate on nothing. It merely lacks an overt, cohesive and reoccurring theme. In contrast to the modern fables portrayed in a sappy coming-of-age drama.

 

At first glance, it would appear the odds of obtaining any profound philosophical insights from Seinfeld would be unlikely. However, some philosophers would disagree.  Back in 2000, William Irwin edited  a collection of essays drawing philosophical themes from the sitcom. To think philosophical insights from a show where the characters quibble over breakfast cereals and superheroes. Seinfeld and Philosophy  is a brilliant attempt to infer the unthinkable from the show about “nothing”. The unthinkable being is logical and moral parables.

 

Out of the four main characters of Seinfeld  Cosmo Kramer is certainly noteworthy. A slender and cloddish man with a mop of wild hair upon his. His rangy frame often silhouetted by a thick hazy of smoke from a burning Cuban cigar. Frequently barging into Jerry’s apartment and rifling through his refrigerator for food. He never holds a steady job. Often is hopping from one fleeting interest to the next.  Whether it be some harebrained business scheme or new absurd fixation. For example, in season nine when Kramer discovers the furniture from the old  Merv Griffin Show in a dumpsters.  He then decides to assemble the set in his own apartment and pose as if he was a late-night talk show host. Kramer mirrors Peter Pan. Stuck in a perpetual state of adolescences. He is fickle with is commitments and interests. Making his life a revolving-door of collective fads.  Giving some credence to Elaine one time insulting Kramer by calling him a “hipster doofus“.Yes kids, this episode did predate the American Spirits smoking, fake glasses wearing, Pabst Blue Ribbon drinking hipsters of the 2000’s.

 

How could any sizable moral lesson ever be derived from a character that lives such a shallow life? Philosopher William Irvin found some insights in Kramer’s disregard for commitment.  Detailed in his essay Kramer and Kierkegaard: Stages on Life’s Way.  Where Irvin parallels Kramer’s life to that of the Aesthetic Stage of Life. In terms of stages of moral development that would appear to be Kierkegaard’s most rudimentary stage.  It is important to note that this starts with and ends with despair. Is distinguished by a flight from boredom. Fully illustrated by Kramer’s ever-changing agenda. Spirited, but short-lived enthusiasm. Such as the time Kramer pitched his idea of a cologne that smells like the beach or a pizzeria where you can “bake your own pie” (Irvin, 2000). This only dovetails to possessing a lack of commitment another defining feature of this stage. Exemplified by Kramer referring marriage has a man-made “prison” (Irvin, 2000) Clearly  illustrating his distaste for committed romantic relationships.

 

Cosmo Kramer operates as a moral  allegory of what not to be. Unprincipled and pleasure seeking. To characteristics of hedonism that run contrary personal responsibility. One of the conceptual cornerstones of Existential philosophy. The philosophical movement Kierkegaard was a pioneer of. Can an individual float through life as a middle-aged or even elderly “hipster doofus”? Constantly raiding your neighbor’s refrigerator. Hatching various get-rich-quick schemes that invariably fail with in a short duration of time. Finding novel oddball hobbies to occupy your decades of scant employment. It is no wonder many of these interests fade fast. There isn’t any substance to them. They are merely temporary distractions for a man lacking conviction. If Kramer was truly committed to any of his business ventures he would abort them within a matter of days. He would fight for his business to success.  He isn’t the type to want to exert such effort on what is difficult.   Kramer would rather feed the perpetual cycle of fleeting interests and wavering commitment. Making him a prime example of what we should avoid being in real life.

 

 

Machiavelli in the Office-Part VII: Lady Luck

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Machiavelli’s wisdom is often overshadowed by is reputation.  A reputation that is synonymous with ambition and a wanton disregard for higher moral standards.  It is reasonable to question to what extent this image was true. The royal monarchs of old-world Europe were known to give lips service to the lofty visions of Aristotelian virtue.  In reality, quite often fell short of this ideal. Typically veering more toward the vices of greed, lust, ambition, and other excesses. From this perspective, it would appear as if Machiavelli merely pays the price for his honesty and pragmatism. It could be argued that he may even be more moral for his candor. Then again who wants someone exposing all of the trade secrets? It should also be noted that many of the debauchery prone rulers post-1532 who spoke of higher virtue may have very well taken a page out of old Nick’s book.

 

Machiavelli taught us about things far deeper than how to maintain an iron fist rule over a principality.  He was intimately aware of the shortcomings of human nature and intricately weaved these insights into the greater corpus of his brand of political philosophy. Hence why it is almost a crime to narrow his observations to the maintenance of the autocratic rule that characterized the Florentine royal court. He guides the patient and prudent reader that transcends the scope of political power. Machiavelli’s  The Prince is truly multidisciplinary and timeless. Expounding upon questions as broad as those of human psychology, diplomacy, opportunity costs, effective communication, and resource utilization.  So why not apply these lessons to the modern-day workspace? Hence why I have embarked upon this ongoing series.

 

Today’s topic of analysis is luck. Yes, the enigmatic variable of chance.  As much as skill and effort do play a role in success, there are circumstances that we cannot control.  The marginal effect of luck was not lost on Machiavelli. Especially considering he saw the advantage in managing newly acquired territories on virtue rather than on a happenstance shift in vicissitudes (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 22. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [1]. While it is unwise to rely on luck alone it cannot be left out of the equation. As luck accounts for all of the factors that are outside of the domain of our control. Through acknowledging the power of chance and uncertainty we can humble ourselves. Not fall prey to the hubris that can blindside us from success. Luck is a double-edged sword. When lady fortunate smiles upon us everything is wonderful. As soon as that smile sours and forms a grimacing scowl dark days are on the horizon. The variance of chance serves as limitation and such be considered in any decision.

 

The Prince certainly exhausts the point that fortunate alone cannot ensure success. Chance is too unstable to provide any clear and substantive results.  Luck and fortune are imperative in any enterprise that involves risk. It might be wise to preface that it best to take on calculated risk versus running into the situation blind. Machiavelli understood this well. However, he also acknowledges that you do need to take some risks. That with no risk there is no reward. That lady luck tends to smile down upon the young rather than the old. Why? Because as we age we become more risk-averse. Without risk, there isn’t a reward. Creating a razor-thin balancing act between the risk-to-reward ratio. Providing us with the insurmountable task of finding the golden mean. While lady luck does favor the young, keep in mind the young tend to make more mistakes. They may incur large victories on rare occasions, but they also experience a lot of losses.  Those losses provide the framework for our wisdom as we get older.

 

I conclude, thus, that when fortune varies and men remain obstinate in their modes, men are happy while they are in accord, and as they come into discord, unhappy. I
judge this indeed, that it is better to be impetuous than cautious because fortune is a woman; and it is necessary if one wants to hold her down, to beat her and strike her
down. And one sees that she lets herself be won more by the impetuous than by those who proceed coldly. And so always, like a woman, she is the friend of the young, because
they are less cautious, more ferocious, and command her with more audacity.

(Machiavelli, 1532, P. 101. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [2].

 

Regardless of the contingencies of luck, when lady fortunate smiles we must be ready to act.  In all honesty,  pushing aside the flowery language and the rape metaphor (which I do not endorse), he is telling us to recognize opportunities when they present themselves. Any time fortune turns in our direction it is a rare gift. The opportune time to exercise our virtue or skill to foster sustained success. Your boss assigns you to attend an industry convention. It sounds like an inconvenience, but you have been given a great opportunity. You have been presented with the chance to network. If you are presently dissatisfied with your job, you have your opportunity to scout out your next employer.  If you are a hiring manager you have just interviewed a perceptive and bright job candidate that exhibits leadership qualities. Do not let the age of this recent college graduate fool you. With some guidance to polish the soft skills, this individual could be your future protege. Lady luck has just thrown you a bone. You need to take her up on this gift. It requires your skill to recognize what is right in front of you. If not, it will pass you by. Because luck is fickle and fleeting.

 

 

Machiavelli’s wisdom is often overshadowed by is reputation.  A reputation that is synonymous with ambition and a wanton disregard for higher moral standards.  It is reasonable to question to what extent this image was true. The royal monarchs of old-world Europe were known to give lip service to the lofty visions of Aristotelian virtue.  In reality, quite often fell short of this ideal. Typically veering more toward the vices of greed, lust, ambition, and other excesses. From this perspective, it would appear as if Machiavelli merely pays the price for his honesty and pragmatism. It could be argued that he may even be more moral for his candor. Then again who wants someone exposing all of the trade secrets? It should also be noted that many of the debauchery prone rulers post-1532 who spoke of higher virtue may have very well taken a page out of old Nick’s book.

 

Machiavelli taught us about things far deeper than how to maintain an iron fist rule over a principality.  He was intimately aware of the shortcomings of human nature and intricately weaved these insights into the greater corpus of his brand of political philosophy. Hence why it is almost a crime to narrow his observations to the maintenance of the autocratic rule that characterized the Florentine royal court. He guides the patient and prudent reader that transcends the scope of political power. Machiavelli’s  The Prince is truly multidisciplinary and timeless. Expounding upon questions as broad as those of human psychology, diplomacy, opportunity costs, effective communication, and resource utilization.  So why not apply these lessons to the modern-day workspace? Hence why I have embarked upon this ongoing series.

 

Today’s topic of analysis is luck. Yes, the enigmatic variable of chance.  As much as skill and effort do play a role in success, there are circumstances that we cannot control.  The marginal effect of luck was not lost on Machiavelli. Especially considering he saw the advantage in managing newly acquired territories on virtue rather than on a happenstance shift in vicissitudes (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 22. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [1]. While it is unwise to rely on luck alone it cannot be left out of the equation. As luck accounts for all of the factors that are outside of the domain of our control. Through acknowledging the power of chance and uncertainty we can humble ourselves. Not fall prey to the hubris that can blindside us from success. Luck is a double-edged sword. When lady fortunate smiles upon us everything is wonderful. As soon as that smile sours and forms a grimacing scowl dark days are on the horizon. The variance of chance serves as limitation and such be considered in any decision.

 

The Prince certainly exhausts the point that fortunate alone cannot ensure success. Chance is too unstable to provide any clear and substantive results.  Luck and fortune are imperative in any enterprise that involves risk. It might be wise to preface that it best to take on calculated risk versus running into the situation blind. Machiavelli understood this well. However, he also acknowledges that you do need to take some risks. That with no risk there is no reward. That lady luck tends to smile down upon the young rather than the old. Why? Because as we age we become more risk-averse. Without risk, there isn’t a reward. Creating a razor-thin balancing act between the risk-to-reward ratio. Providing us with the insurmountable task of finding the golden mean. While lady luck does favor the young, keep in mind the young tend to make more mistakes. They may incur large victories on rare occasions, but they also experience a lot of losses.  Those losses provide the framework for our wisdom as we get older.

 

I conclude, thus, that when fortune varies and men remain obstinate in their modes, men are happy while they are in accord, and as they come into discord, unhappy. I
judge this indeed, that it is better to be impetuous than cautious because fortune is a woman; and it is necessary if one wants to hold her down, to beat her and strike her
down. And one sees that she lets herself be won more by the impetuous than by those who proceed coldly. And so always, like a woman, she is the friend of the young, because
they are less cautious, more ferocious, and command her with more audacity.

(Machiavelli, 1532, P. 101. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [2].

 

Regardless of the contingencies of luck, when lady fortunate smiles we must be ready to act.  In all honesty,  pushing aside the flowery language and the rape metaphor (which I do not endorse), he is telling us to recognize opportunities when they present themselves. Any time fortune turns in our direction it is a rare gift. The opportune time to exercise our virtue or skill to foster sustained success. Your boss assigns you to attend an industry convention. It sounds like an inconvenience, but you have been given a great opportunity. You have been presented with the chance to network. If you are presently dissatisfied with your job, you have your opportunity to scout out your next employer.  If you are a hiring manager you have just interviewed a perceptive and bright job candidate that exhibits leadership qualities. Do not let the age of this recent college graduate fool you. With some guidance to polish the soft skills, this individual could be your future protege. Lady luck has just thrown you a bone. You need to take her up on this gift. It requires your skill to recognize what is right in front of you. If not, it will pass you by. Because luck is fickle and fleeting.

Machiavelli in the Office – Part VI- Don’t Hire Mercenaries

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Machiavelli could easily be considered one of the most misinterpreted thinkers in political philosophy. His name has become synonymous deceit and other vices of public office. This marred image of Machiavelli has sullied his reputation as a philosopher for centuries. Despite Machiavelli’s image problem, his insights extend well beyond the provincial mode of retaining tyrannical authority. He expounded upon immutable truths about human nature. Truths that need to be acknowledged anytime you are navigating any kind of social hierarchy. Whether naturally developed or systematically contrived.

 

By Machiavelli conveying these truths in his works of political philosophy, he distinguishes himself on a deeper level than a mere political theorist. Rather, he transcends that restrictive title. Embarks upon detailing the more convoluted and perplexing realm of human nature. His observations at times even veer into the territory of practical advice.  Hence why the application of his work isn’t just limited to the sly trickery that characterized the Florentine royal court back in the 16th century.

 

In terms of applying  Machiavelli’s lessons to the workplace, this insight is a unique one. That requires some abstract thinking to foresee the application but conceptually is similar enough that it works. This is about hiring managers utilizing contracted employees from employment agencies. This is colloquially known as “using temps” or temporary employees. Some individuals may question what hiring temps over fully company employees has to do with mercenaries. Hiring mercenaries is something that Machiavelli advises all shrewd rulers to avoid doing so.

And by experience one sees that only princes and armed republics make very great progress; nothing but harm ever comes from mercenary arms. And a republic armed with its arms is brought to obey one of its citizens with more …. (Machiavelli, 1532, P.50. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [1].

 

And because with these examples, I have come into Italy, which has been governed
for many years by mercenary arms, I want to discourse on them more deeply, so that, when their origin and progress have been seen, one can correct them better. (Machiavelli, 1532, P.52. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [2].

 

Let him, then, who wants to be unable to win make use of these arms, since they are much more dangerous than mercenary arms. For with these, ruin is accomplished; they are all united, all resolved to obey someone else. But mercenary arms, when they have won, need more time and greater opportunity to hurt you since they are not one whole body and have been found and paid for by you. (Machiavelli, 1532, P.55. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [3].

 

All three quotes from The Prince exemplifies the perils of hiring soldiers. At the end of the day, the soldier of fortunate only has his eyes set on fortune. There isn’t any sense of pride, heritage, community, kinship, or other forms of social cohesion bonding them to the kingdom they have been paid to defend. Even if native-born soldiers are receiving a salary and other benefits (in the modern era; health insurance, education) they still have a bond to the country they defend. They joined the military out of nationalist or patriotic convictions.  There is more of an emotional and philosophical bond to there defense of the homeland. Money can motivate people to do unfathomable things. To truly and consciously commit to taking a bullet for a cause is an act based upon strong convictions. This is the kind of loyalty that cannot be bought. Some historians have even speculated about the folly of England utilizing Hessian mercenaries in the Revolutionary War. Ultimately, providing some credence to the assertions of Machiavelli.

 

Temporary workers hired from an employment agency provide similar issues. From my observations, temps tend to be fired for much more frivolous reasons than full employees. If you are hired directly, in most instances, your boss will understand if you are having car trouble. If you are a temp you could very well be fired over the incident. If you were directly hired by the company you would be subject to the rules listed in the “employee handbook”.Such document details policies that provide specific parameters for proper conduct. Meaning you can be three times versus once before you are terminated. Temps are technically considered employees of the employment agency. So they are not insulated by these measures. Paralleling the premise of being paid to be a foreign soldier.

 

The pretense of lacking stability and lack of uniform policies for temps skews incentives away from productivity. We all know that “temp-to-hire” arrangements are an exercise in carrot dangling. Your manager doesn’t ever treat you like part of the team. What is the point in killing yourself for a company that will never outright hire you? It presents a problem of mutual investment. The employer doesn’t feel invested in the temporary employee. The temporary employee does not feel invested in the company.  Creating a disconnection that is a very similar dynamic to that of mercenaries. A lack of connection and commitment does not yield good results.

 

 

 

Machiavelli in the Office – Part V: Respect Property and Privileges

 

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Machiavelli’s remains one of the most insightful and misinterpreted philosophers of the Pre-Enlightenment era. His observations have been grossly distorted to the point that his very name inspires fear of treachery and callous calculations. Few people in human history have ever been honored with having their name made into an adjective. However, this honor for Machiavelli is muted by the fact that it carries a negative connotation. Leading to his legacy as a writer and thinker to be forever stained.

 

Machiavelli’s legacy is marred by misconceptions is typical for writers who are either seldom read or read in the proper context. I would tend to agree with Machiavelli scholar Harvey Mansfield that the latter is very much applicable to his work [1]. Machiavelli was immoral or amoral as he is typically painted by popular perception. Rather he departed from the classical understanding of morality.  Favoring pragmatic uses of force and deception versus appealing to divine directives. These same godly decrees most likely were given lip service by the pre-renaissance ruler. However, once they interfered with the interests of the royal court were quickly dispensed with. Leading one to surmise that maybe Machiavelli wasn’t any less moral, but rather was more forthright.

 

All because he has been misrepresented over the centuries does not mean we cannot draw valid lessons from him. He provides some great reflections upon general aspects of human nature that extends beyond the blood-soaked halls of the 16th-century Florentine royal court. Lessons that can be applied to just about any social structure including the work environment.

 

In Niccolo Machiavelli’s book The Prince, he mentions several times that a rule needs to respect the property of his subjects. This lesson can be modified for a manager in an office environment by supplanting property with workplace privileges. An example would be allowing your employees the ability to work remotely a few days a week. Keep in mind this example may be more applicable in the pre-COVID-19 world. It will work for this essay. Naturally, if you receive a directive from upper management to suspend this privilege with little justification their will be some backlash.  The brewing undercurrent of frustration and resentment will dampen morale.  The consequence of backlash is referenced multiple times in The Prince.

 

Machiavelli cautions to be cautious when levying taxes upon your subject because unjust and burdensome taxation could fuel discord (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 68 & 72, Transl. Mansfield, 1985) [2]. Predating the whole “taxation is theft” mantra. However, he does more directly call out the vice of not respecting property rights among rulers.

 

What makes him hated above all, as  I said, is to be a rapacious usurper of the property and women of his subjects. From these, he must abstain, and whenever one does not take away either property or honor from the generality of men….  (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 68 & 72, Transl. Mansfield, 1985)  [3].

 

In other words, it might be wise if you have any leverage to debate this policy change with upper management. Otherwise, you will have some disgruntled employees on your hands. Unfortunately, in some instances, managers need reminders to keep their hands off of the property of their subordinates. It could be as minor as using Karen’s bottle of hand sanitizer when she on vacation without her permission.  It could even as severe as taking claiming to Henry’s commission on a sale behind his back. Both situations demonstrate a boss disrespecting the property of their employees. While the scene with the hand sanitizer is little more of minor faux pas, taking someone else’s commission is stealing out of their pocket.  Aside from the moral consideration of theft, how are you going to gain the respect of your staff if you are willing to blatantly steal from them?  You are lucky if you can retain staff at that point never mind have them respect you.

 

Unfortunately, I have to say don’t fraternize with the spouses and romantic partners of your employees. Not that they are property. Slavery has been abolished, therefore people cannot be property.  There is no better way to sow resentment than to cross that line. It is a folly that will not only sully your reputation as a leader but will cause unnecessary friction.  Also, it is completely a superfluous action. There is never a good reason to venture into that territory.  No one leadership using reason would ever think that such conduct is permissible. You are not a member of congress. You are not in the oval office. There is no reason to ever go there.

Social Media – A Virtual Cave

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The topic of reality is one that has been highly discussed in the discipline of philosophy. From the extensive discourse has generated a litany of postulations pertaining to the nature of reality. A natural corollary of examining reality is the extent to which our perception of reality is a delusion. How do we know what we believe to be real is truly real?  This is a daunting question that humans have been grappling with since the days of  Greek antiquity. No other than the philosopher Plato. Plato provides a firm demonstration of the illusory nature of reality in The Allegory of the Cave [1].

 

In a nutshell, The Allegory of the Cave details a group of people held captive since infancy in a cave. The only visual stimulus they have “shadow puppets”. Produced by the fire-light silhouetted hand gestures of their captors. The prisoners only know the forms of our world through these two-dimensional figures projected on the cave wall. As we all know from our own experience with shadows they lack texture and detail. Only provide a general outline of the for of an object. One day, one of the prisoners breaks free from their shackles and decides to leave the cave. That prisoner was in for a shock.

Blinded by the blaring sunlight the prisoner’s eyes adjust to the lighting of the external environment. Then realizes the true vibrancy of the world outside of the cave. The prisoner comes to the realization that the “shadow puppets” projected on the cave walls were only a caricature of the true objects. For example, a shadow puppet of a tree does not convey all of the veins in the leaves or the crevices and grooves in the bark.  Upon this monumental discovery, the prisoner comes back to the cave to announce his new findings to his captive peers. Unfortunately, they were not receptive to this new perspective of the world. The looked at him as if he was crazy. Defended the validity of perceiving the world as depicted on the cave walls. They continued to intently watch the motions of the shadow puppets on the cave wall.

 

The Allegory of the Cave demonstrates some important points about human perception. Clearly, the shadows simulating the animals on the cave walls are not an accurate representation of their actual forms. We can believe that we know the true form of the depicted animals, however, due to our faulty perception, we do not have an accurate account of their essence. The prisoners believe that they were seeing a dog, however, it was merely the shadows being formed by their captors. By referring to the shadows as a dog does not mean they truly comprehend the essence of a dog. What a dog truly is. It is possible to gain knowledge through perception. However, there is a gulf between our perception and truth [2]. Meaning there is a giant gap between true knowledge and illusion.

 

Illusion tends to be a problem that has continuously plagued humans in the pursuit of truth. On a biological level, we are susceptible to optical illusions.  This is a by-product of evolutionary adaptions that help facilitate easier navigation of our environment. The human mind has a limited capacity for sensory input, therefore our eyes are designed to operate on preassumptions.  Hence, why we tend to enjoy looking at the Impressionist paintings of Claude Monet. We are reading into the painting with our perceptual assumptions. His painting is comprised of a myriad of loose, formless, and broad brush strokes. Anyone of us would swear up-and-down that we see a sailboat or a springtime picnic. In reality, our brain is imposing that form on the sensory input. Such misconceptions are innocent in terms of visual aesthetics. In areas where moral considerations are more pressing, this can be dangerous.

 

Throughout Machiavelli’s flagship book The Prince there are multiple references to perception being more important than reality. He clearly asserts that appearing to be righteous takes primacy over actually being so (Machiavelli, 1532, Transl. Mansfield, 1985, P. 62) [3]. This sentiment is quite often reflected throughout modern society. The idiomatic statement “fake it until you make it” a perennial favorite of every aspiring salesman. Above all, this reflects a dishonest mentality and a facade that cannot indefinitely be maintained. Due to our strong proclivity towards a plethora of biases, we will continue to trust those exuberating confidence over people who are competent. At least until charade starts to unravel. Needless to say, we are wired to fall into the trap of faulty perception. If we are easily tricked by smoke-and-mirrors it is reasonable to question the validity of our perception.

 

While Plato may have used The Allegory of the Cave as an abstract model it still has countless potential for real-world applications. One of the best examples is social media. I really could not even fabricate a better example of a metaphorical cave. The emergence of the occupation of social media influencer has only compounded the extent to which reality is distorted. Even for the average social media consumer you only get a brief glimpse of their life. Often it only details vacations, happy hours, good times with friends, and rarely displays hardship. This brief snapshot of your friend’s life is somewhat illusory. It only illustrations only a fraction of the story. It does not detail the mundanity of day to day life or family disputes.  As people we all have struggles. What those struggles are and their magnitude is what varies. No one has a perfect life. Therefore, I would suggest stop looking at the exploits of your Facebook “friends” with envy. Realize that odds are their life isn’t much better than yours.  In fact, theirs could be worse. Hence, why they are putting up an impenetrable front.

 

In the instance of social media influencers, this effect is only compounded. They are frequently paid to promote a service or product through the channels of social media platforms. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. I am a proponent of capitalism after all. It should be noted that many of these influencers are also paid to embellish upon their lifestyle. Make it seem as if they have more freedom, wealth, and sex appeal than what they actually possess. Ultimately, a great lifestyle is the best selling point for a product or brand. Regardless of the truth of the matter. This contrived lifestyle does not convey the actual truth of the influencer’s lifestyle. You do not see the behind the scenes pressures of appeasing a brand’s aggressive marketing department. Nor do you see the pitfalls of fame. Fame brings a level of Scrutiny that few mild-mannered people can adequately weather. This was the same point that Adam Smith illuminated in his book Theory of Moral Sentiments. The trapping of fame often comes with profound drawbacks. The lavish life portrayed by the kings and queens of  Snapchat does not include the bad and the ugly aspects of their lives.

Machiavelli in the Office – Part IV: The Folly of Neutrality

 

 

 

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Machiavelli was arguably one of the most dynamic minds of the Renaissance era. Some scholars argue that was the first pragmatic philosopher. Lending his contextual morality to thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand. The righteousness for its very sake can prove to be an impediment. Even stray us away from the greater good. This for any ruler would be to protect and defend their principality/kingdom. Being the first pioneer to venture into the dark waters of practical utilitarianism has made Machiavelli a symbol of moral impropriety.  Forever staining his legacy as an intellectual and writer. To such an extent some are bold enough to claim that he was not even a philosopher.

 

The pragmatically-minded Niccolo Machiavelli provided some deeply profound insights into the study of politics. However, many of these insights are quite transcendent and shed light on the inner mechanics of human nature. Applying to more than the grisly and hallowed halls of the 16th-century Florentine royal court. Realizations that can be applied to better survive the duplicity of the boardroom or sales floor.

 

As in any work environment, disagreements are invariable. They are bound to happen regardless of workplace dynamics. The defining difference between successfully navigating such situations and being trapped in a spider’s web of drama is simple.  Do not be neutral! I would also innovate upon Machiavelli’s point by including do not play both sides of the conflict. Remaining neutral or being a “double-agent” has several adverse effects. All will damage your reputation at work. It will make you appear to be dishonest, disloyal, indecisive, weak, and disconnected.  None of these attributes will convey any leadership potential or valuable soft-skills. Rather it makes you look pretty foul professionally.

 

A prince is also esteemed when he is a true friend and a true enemy, that is when without any hesitation he discloses himself in support of someone against another. This course is always more useful than to remain neutral, because if two powers close to you come to grips, either they are of such quality that if one wins, you have to fear the winner, or not. In either of these two cases, it will always be more useful to you to disclose yourself and to wage open war; for in the first case if you do not disclose yourself, you will always be the prey of whoever wins, to the pleasure and satisfaction of the one who was defeated, and you have no reason, nor anything, to defend you or give you refuge. For whoever wins does not want suspect friends who may not help him in adversity; whoever loses does not give you refuge, since you did not want to share his fortune with arms in hand. (Machiavelli, 1532, P.89. Transl. Mansfield. 1985) [1].

 

Staying neutral or switching sides above all damages trust.  As conveyed in the wise words of Machiavelli. If there are ongoing issues between a co-worker you are friends with and another co-worker. Your work pal is expecting you to stick up for them and have their side of the conflict. Anything else will damage your relationship. Granted, we are only talking about one co-worker, but the image is everything. If you appear as disloyal, dishonest, or fake word will spread. Typically you will not be the wiser. The true irony being many of the individuals proliferating gossip about you being fake are the same people that fall into this very same trap.

 

If you are neutral in an inter-department conflict the negative consequences are only magnified. If others cannot rely on you for support, how can you expect them to do the same? That is precisely Machiavelli’s point. Beyond appearing to be fake, you are burning bridges. People who may have been willing to help you through various conflicts or issues will be less inclined to. Like anything else in life, reciprocity is key. That doesn’t matter if it is a key ally being attacked by hostile forces or a dispute over the delegation of responsibilities at work.  We all make cognitive assessments about our relationships. Everyone whether consciously or subconsciously is keeping a proverbial scoreboard. Similar premise to a bank account, if you don’t contribute anything the well will eventually run dry. It is best to bring what you can to the table. Whether or not you intend to protect a true friendship or solidify an alliance is another story.

 

To expect the benefits of a relationship regardless of its nature, without out reciprocating anything beneficial is presumptive. Very well could put you on the road to creating a new adversary. Machiavelli, the dark philosopher himself, recognized this. He understood to achieve anything you need the assistance of others. We are not marooned on a  desert island like Robinson Crusoe. If you appear to be disloyal or to manipulative, you will eventually hit a brick wall. Leaders need the support of their subordinates. If you are under leadership you need the support of your leader and peers. Marring these ties with being the office gossip or being too timid to declare sides, is only a detriment to yourself. Wanting to keep the peace in the office is a laudable goal. However, it is far too idealistic and not within reach. If a dispute is unavoidable, you need to pick aside. The consequences of not doing so are much more profound than those of staying neutral. Having only enemies in the office is a lonely and treacherous road.

Hume v.s. Kant- Thoughts on the Act of Suicide

 

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The act of suicide most likely has been around since the dawn of human history. The reasons that an individual chooses to take their own life run the gamut. Suicide much like other decisions has a litany of moral considerations. It should be noted that many religions actually have prescriptions explicitly against the act. Any steadfast contrarian would question whether suicide can be ethically justified. Some thinkers would even be so bold to address whether or not we have the right to commit suicide.

 

Two marquee names of the 18th century European Enlightenment were bold enough to expound this morbid topic. Although, both came to very different conclusions about ethical considerations of suicide. German philosopher Immanuel Kant viewed suicide to be unquestionably immoral. In contrast, Scottish thinker David Hume struggled to find the immortality within the act. Both taking on diametrically opposing views.

 

Kant not only found it impossible to rationalize the act of suicide. He expresses the utmost censure for those who dared to commit such an atrocity. Kant believes since we were created by God we belong to him. Operating on the understanding that our life is not ours to dispose of on our whim. However, Kant took it one step further by equating the victim of suicide to the level of a lowly beast.

Man can only dispose of things; beasts are things in this sense; but man is not a thing, not a beast. If he disposes of himself, he treats his value as that of a beast. He who so behaves, who has no respect for human behavior, makes a thing of himself.”[1].

Unrelentingly harsh.  Certainly, a severe assessment to make. Especially considering most people plagued by suicidal thoughts are generally psychologically tormented. Kant’s thinking is notorious for being complex and nuanced, but he was quite rigid in the realm of morality. The topic of suicide is no exception.  From Kant’s perspective, if you killed yourself you would no longer be able to engage in moral acts. This highest duty to our self, due to all other duties being contingent upon being able to be moral [2]. If an individual dies of natural causes he did not choose this path. If an individual dies in combat defending his country this is a valiant act of bravery. From Kant’s perspective, the soldier sacrificed his life to spare his fellow countrymen from such a fate. In contrast to selfishly taking one’s life. May alleviate the victim of suicide, but does not help society in any way. It could be argued that suicide inflicts more harm on society making it immoral.

Kant’s perception of those who have committed society is quite brutal. The opposing views of David Hume provide more clemency towards suicide victims. Rather than morally browbeating them. David Hume expressed his views on suicide in the 1755 essay Of Suicide expressing some of the logical fallacies implied in arguments against suicide.  Hume suggests that God allows us to control other aspects of nature, for example harnessing and collecting natural resources. So why would suicide be the one exception (Hume, 1775, p. 3) [3][4]. Beyond that point :

…. divine order’ is meant simply that which occurs according to God’s consent, then God appears to consent to all our actions (since an omnipotent God can presumably intervene in our acts at any point) and no distinction exists between those of our actions to which God consents and those to which He does not. If God has placed us upon the Earth like a “sentinel,” then our choice to leave this post and take our lives occurs as much with his cooperation as with any other actions we perform [5].

 

Hume has addressed the theological concerns of suicide.  But what about the duty to ourselves and others?  The way Hume saw it, you do not harm society by taking your life. You only “.. cease to do good..” (Hume, 1755, p.8) [6]. Almost perceiving the act without any further context is morally neutral. Considering how drastic the act of suicide is this is kind of a far-fetched notion.  Odds are whatever moral contributions we have to offer society are minuscule. It is absurd to stay alive to provide a mere “frivolous advantage” to the public (Hume, 1755, p.8) [7]. Hume also argues that suicide isn’t necessarily an abdication of duty to ourselves.  If affiliated with sickness and other ailments synonymous with advanced age, what is the point of living? To a certain extent, you are existing to endure more misery (Hume 1755, P.8-9) [8]. With such health conditions, you could only prove to be a detriment to others. This could result in more mental anguish.  Making staying alive merely for its own sake fruitless.

 

To conclude, I see some profound problems with both perspectives.  Kant is far too judgmental and rigid concerning suicide. The last thing you should ever do is deride someone for having suicidal proclivities. Chances are it will only exacerbate the problem rather than persuade them to not commit suicide. Also, suppose the scenario where you and your child are held at gunpoint. You are told by the assailant “either take this gun and shot yourself or I am killing your kid”. It may be debatable if this scenario would constitute suicide. If we argue it does, clearly killing yourself would be more moral than continuing to live. While there is a clear distinction between right and wrong, Kant’s moral absolutism can prove to be problematic.

On the other hand, David Hume is far too flippant about the subject as a whole. There are profound consequences that result from committing suicide. I am a fierce defender of individuality. But suicide impacts people other than yourself. The impact is not isolated to you and you only. Friends and family of the victim will be devasted by the unexpected turn of events. People at work depended on the victim. Believing that suicide is morally neutral is a fallacy. I would advise against codifying the moral considerations of suicide in law. End of life decisions should be left to the individual. Especially if they are suffering from a terminal illness. Making something legally accessible doesn’t make it right. Many states have annulled anachronistic laws prohibiting adultery. That does not excuse the moral failings of adultery. However, to humiliate and denigrate those with suicidal thoughts is also wrong. Downright cruel!

Machiavelli In the Office-Part III: This Isn’t a Popularity Contest

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The principles detailed in Machiavelli’s flagship mirror-for-prices book The Prince are quite versatile. Concepts that can be applied anywhere from the bedroom to the boardroom. Ideas that possess utility beyond the treacherous halls of the 1500’s-era Florentine courts. They may very well be useful to you in your daily life. May even be able to help you navigate the minefield of climbing the corporate ladder.

 

In the third installment of this series, we will examine one of the most well-known quotes from The Prince.

It is better to be feared than loved when either is to be dispensed with. (Machiavelli, 1532. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [1].

 

The meaning quote appears to be quite linear. Many variations of this concept have circulated throughout history and popular culture. This premise was first captured in print by Machiavelli. Presents a pragmatic truth that is applicable anywhere. From the schoolyard to the prison yard. It even has its utility on the sales floor. All because you enter adulthood doesn’t mean that “bullies” become a thing of the past. Unfortunately, individuals looking to victimize others is all too real of a problem in the workplace.  Whether you are in management or are an entry-level employee you need to be to cope with this aspect of work. There will always be people looking to undermine and tear you down. Outside of the emotional stress, it can cause, it also can be detrimental to your career. Sometimes rumors can take on a life of their own, you wouldn’t a damaged reputation to sully any opportunities for advancement.

 

To some extent this advice from Machiavelli is counterintuitive. Growing up we were always told, “you get more flies with honey than vinegar”. There is some truth in that to a degree. Like with most things in this world, kindness is not exempt from the Law of Diminishing Returns. If you are too kind, those with a proclivity for predation will see a potential target. Not to mention, another point shrewd point that was made by Machiavelli. People are fickle. You can be exorbitantly kind and friendly to them one day. The next they will be stabbing you in the back. Trying to be everyone’s friend may be a luxury you can’t afford if you are serious about your career.

 

Often excessive kindness is viewed as a weakness. If due to dynamics within the work culture you are not well-liked, kindness will only be a noose around your neck. Even pretending to appear kind will be too much of a liability. You will have to cultivate a tough exterior. One that conveys you will put up with any nonsense. Sure everyone will appreciate you bringing in donuts for about 15-minutes. Then less than an hour later you are back to being the office doormat. The weak link that can be used and abused. More domineering and aggressive co-workers will recognize this and will try to test you. Give them a run for their money. Let them know you are not intimidated!  The shock of that alone will have them reeling. Underneath it all, they are weak people. They are lazy people. In order to make themselves appear productive, they need to degrade others. This is nothing more than grade A sophistry. Nothing of substance. Just tawdry and cheap tricks. Do not let these prime examples of dishonesty, banality, and mediocrity get to you. If they were more capable they wouldn’t need to stoop to such lowly tactics to discredit others. Gently push back, they will not expect it. Their reaction will be priceless.

 

Crafting a resilient facade and be able to defend yourself from the office “bully” does have its limitations. While you don’t want to seem like a pushover, without constraint aggression can backfire. Even the master of statecraft and subterfuge understood that if you become known for superfluous acts of cruelty you will become hated (Machiavelli, 1532. Transl. Mansfield 1985, p.72) [2]. This would defeat the whole purpose of making yourself appear intimidating. Once you cross certain lines, your co-workers will relish taking you down. Not due to perceived weakness, but due to your actions appearing to be unjust. Per unwritten and unspoke social conventions, there are certain norms that are to never be violated. Defending yourself from the predator by becoming the predator is rarely ethically justifiable. Machiavelli acknowledged this indirectly. The informal restraints of excessive cruelty are other people. Whether codified in formal law or in informal normative values. If others sense injustice in your actions, they will put you in your place.

 

That is one of many examples of why labling Machievlli as “amoral” is a misnomer. There was a loose moral code implied in The Prince. A general message of pragmaticism above all. If you fail to protect and effectively rule your principality, you have failed as a ruler. While this brand of philosophical thought is not grounded in the grandiose conception of idyllic morality, doesn’t mean it is devoid of morality. Pragmaticism may seem cold and mechanical there are natural constraints. If as a ruler you implement a grotesquely inhumane policy, public outcry and the threat of rebellion will swiftly prove as a check on your power. The same applies in terms of inspiring cautious respect among your co-workers. Act in a manner that will persuade people to not take advantage of you. However, the perception of your co-workers also operates as a restraint on how menacing you can be.

What is Good, Tends to be Good in Moderation

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Aristotle was a thinker who sought to bring order to thinking. Hence, his emphasis on distinctions and categories. This need to establish order also extended to personal conduct.  Proclaiming moderation to be a core pillar of proper deportment. Beliving it was an indispensable aspect of living a virtuous life. Those of us well versed in history can’t help, but see how far the latter days of the Roman Empire strayed from moderation. At the apogee of Rome’s profligate spending on foreign wars; the wine was flowing and orgies were in full swing. Not to mention grotesquely gluttonous overconsumption being decadently flaunted. Banquet-style bulimia, does this seem appealing to anyone? Clearly, none of these excesses were healthy physically, financially, or psychologically.  Making Aristotle’s emphasis on moderation clear even from the standpoint of a consequentialist.

 

 

Aristotle believed that we should want what is good. What is good is universal to all people as there is only one correct true plan (Adler. 1978. P. 82) [1]. How can this be true if every person has a diverse array of wants and needs? We need to distinguish between “wants” and “needs”.  Our needs are always good for us. Moderate amounts of food, clothing, shelter, and the pursuit of knowledge does little in the way of harm. However, our needs can be “misdirected” (Adler. 1978. P. 87-88) [2]. If I want a cigarette to experience the temporary effects of nicotine, that is clearly a want. Nicotine is not essential to life. To compound matters, wanting to smoke a cigarette is a misdirected want. As the effects of smoking are severely detrimental to healthwise.

 

In order to be physically healthy, we do require some material wealth. After all, clothing, food, water, and housing are not free. External goods such as wealth and food have diminishing returns (Adler, 1978, P.96) [3]. Once we have our needs satisfied, anything else is gratuitous. Aristotle did express that internal needs (psychological) such as the pursuit of knowledge could not be overindulged. Making it imperative that we exercise restrain (Adler, 1978, P.99) [4].  Devolving into excess clearly has well-defined consequences. Drinking too much is injurious to our health. Much like sexual promiscuity. Overspending is damaging from a financial perspective. Observing how the roman republic veered away from virtue in its latter days of it is easy to see how its collapse was inevitable. You can only stretch the limits of the natural order for so long without negative consequences. When we overextend pleasure, pain is bound to follow.

 

The question becomes is how do we avoid the long road to self-destruction? As you can imagine Aristotle did have an answer.  That was to practice the virtues of temperance and courage. Temperance being able to resist overindulgence. Courage being the proclivity to endure necessary pain (Adler, 1978, P.103) [5]. Temperance is quite self-explanatory to avoid being hedonic. Maybe avoiding that MDMA-fueled orgy would be a prudent decision. Courage isn’t quite so obvious. Pain is a part of life. That can be physical or psychological pain. Those of us who are more reserved find social situations to be daunting. If we want that promotion we need to get out of our comfort zone and network with our fellow co-workers.  Making that discomfort requisite pain for a greater good. Even through the process of leaning, we experience pain (Adler, 1978, P.105) [6]. The anxiety of grappling with difficult academic material. The payoff of enduring such discomfort is much greater than the temporary relief of avoiding it.

 

We are not an island. Our decisions and choices impact society as a whole. The virtue of justice is concerned with the wellbeing of others. Our choices do directly impact others in ways that are detrimental to them. Making it imperative that we behave responsibly (Adler, 1978, P. 107-108) [7]. If we choose to drink too much and then drive home, we impact people. Suppose that due to our compromised state we happen to hit and kill a pedestrian crossing the road. This one bad decision will set off a cascade of pain and anguish throughout the community. The pedestrian was a husband and a father. Now an entire family is devasted. The man we killed was the town butcher. Now all of the employees that worked for him no longer have a job. As you can see one bad decision has a long-reaching ripple effect.  It also displays how we need to try to veer towards virtue. If we fall prey to excess, we do not only hurt ourselves. To some extent, we hurt everybody.

Form and Purpose- Aristolian Thought

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Here are some more insights from the Classical philosopher and master of taxonomy, Aristotle. Aristotle draws a sharp contrast between what is a byproduct of human ingenuity and that of nature. He had four main causes or parameters that need to be met in the consideration of constructing manmade goods. These considerations included:

 

Material Cause: that out of which something is made.

Efficient Cause: that by which something is made.

Formal Cause: that into which something is made.

Final  Cause: that for the sake of which something is made.

(Adler, 1978, P. 42) [1].

 

The Formal Cause gives way to the essence of the object that is produced. For example, the “carness” of an automobile. The quiddity of an object possesses all of the enduring attributes specific to the category of a car ” … every size, shape, color…” and so on. Even when confronted with the Formal cause of an object. The other causes also play a role in contributing to the nature of an object such as the Material Cause. An operable automobile constructed out of loose-leaf paper seems like an impossibility, if not an outright oddity. These four defining principles are what “transform” or shape the object (Adler, 1978, P. 43) [2].

 

Now that we have described the core attributes of what contributes to an object’s form, let’s go a little deeper. As if this wasn’t abstract enough. What about the object that is formless?  It possesses the potential for all forms but lacks resemblance to any material form. Existing as a contradiction. From an Aristotelian point a view there is no such contradiction. Because such an object cannot exist beyond the confines of our imagination. It can be only hypothetical or conceptual (Adler, 1978, P. 53-54) [3]. Every object and entity physically existing on this planet has a form. That includes even all existing entities that are a byproduct of nature. Even objects in the nascent stage of development or construction have a form. To exist without in the physical world without a form is self-nullifying. Without a form, an object cannot be an actuality.

 

If we review the four causes posited by Aristotle, we see that an object’s purpose is implied in its physical form. For any object produced by man, its utility is generally self-evident. In other words, its Final Cause is salient. It would be superfluous to pontificate over the purpose of a chair. When we examine objects and entities of the natural world their functionality isn’t so obvious. Which is understandable as they are not an invention of human thinking. Typically, their functionality is revealed through rigorous study. Biologists provide a great deal of insight into the Formal Cause of the objects and lifeforms of the natural world. Each component as an integral role in stabilizing the ecosystem. The environment much like any other complex system is highly sensitive. If any link in the intricate chain is broken every other aspect is impacted. For instance, predators generally operate as a safeguard against overpopulation. Which implicitly operates as a form of resource conservation. If the predator is eliminated from the food chain resource equilibrium will be askew. Leading to other complications.

 

This example demonstrates how nothing exists haphazardly. Generally, the function is implied in the physical form. This is also true in the natural world. Most phenotypical attributes exhibited by animals has an adaptive purpose from an evolutionary standpoint. The bright colors of a frog in the rainforest is a signal to potential predators of their prospective meal being poisonous. Whether this is a true indicator or mimicry is inconsequential. Either way, the bright colors function as a deterrent. I am not veering to an argument for Intelligent Design. Regardless of how this adaptive attribute came into existence, it has an operable purpose. Whether it manifested through design or chance of the evolutionary vicissitudes. Even this interpretation of phenotypical expression could be subject to scrutiny.

 

The main point here is that nothing exists without a purpose. All physically existing entities have a form. That physical form implies purpose. This alone does not relegate man to the superficial purpose of mere subsistence. The human brain is competent within man’s physical form. The human brain is capable of astonishingly profound insights, innovations, inventions, and complex reasoning. Our higher existential pursuits are an aspect of man’s purpose. Otherwise, we would not possess the organic operating system for such pursuits.

 

 

You Can’t Have It All

 

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The concept of opportunity costs is often brought up in discussions of economic exchange. However, this idea extends well beyond the borders of economics. It influences just about every aspect of life. Every day we make choices. We choose to get up in the morning and go to work. We choose which pair of pants to wear. We even choose between several different varieties of caffeine beverages to consume once we arrive at work. Anytime we discriminate between two choices we end up forfeiting the benefits of the option we have foregone.  An example is when we choose to have coffee instead of a green tea we are foregoing the antioxidants in the tea for more caffeine. Whenever we make a choice something is given up.

 

Opportunity costs do not operate isolated from a temporal element. I would surmise that time does play a role in our decision-making process. We come across what is known by the Austrian School of Economics as Time Preference. The notion that people prefer present goods over future goods [1]. Whenever we act rationally and make a decision we attempt to improve our present situation. However, we do so at our peril because we have to contend with the uncertainty of the outcome of our action (Murphy, 2015, P.50-51) [2]. Let me quote Mises to solidify the Austrian take on uncertainty:

 

Time preference is not absolute with man; it is only one of the items entering into the weighing and balancing of pros and cons. A man swallows bitter pills for the sake of beneficent effects to be reaped at a later date. There cannot be any question of unconditionally preferring what is good in the short run to what is good in the long run; the intensity of the satisfaction expected from each of the alternatives must be taken into account too (Mises, 1948, P.744) [3].

 

While in most instances we evaluate choices with a bias towards the present. This is not without exception. There are instances such as deciding to take medicine or going to school that do not have an instantaneous pay off. However, most people would rather own their BMW at 40 than wait  until they are 90. Most people would prefer drinking moderately priced wine regularly over  drinking a fine vintage of Dom Perignon on occasion. For most people, they would have to abstain from wine drink for a bit to afford a bottle of top-shelf champagne. Even from the standpoint of home ownership the inferences of time preference applies. Most people finance their homes versus paying cash.  In most cases, having the money upfront is an impossibility. Unless this individual profoundly delayed or forewent marriage and child rearing.

 

The idea of time in decision making is much than a mere observation of market catallactics. As discussed above choices are future oriented. It is just a matter of how beneficial the decision is long-term. From the perspective of time, the future can range anywhere from 5 minutes from now until the 5,000 years from now.  What maybe advantageous 5 minutes from now may not be 5 years down the road. This idea can be applied morally, politically, socially,legally, and philosophically. It can extend from and individual actor to an entire nation or even planet. In the decision making process we need to not only discriminate between two options, but attempt to choose the one that will have the best long run results. Which is often derailed by the plight of uncertainty.

 

Operating under a veil of uncertainty causes us to question the benefit of looking towards the future. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, is it really worth it to quit smoking? This is  a variety of lingering mischief caused by the uneasiness of  uncertainty. Which tends to skew  incentives. Should we care about tomorrow if tomorrow isn’t guaranteed? Which provides a perverse but compelling argument for a litany of bad decision. For example, incurring massive amounts of debt. The colloquialism “you can’t take it with you” seems to apply here. There is also a moral element to this as well. Our present behavior is often imparted in children. There what is often referred in psychology as “modeling“. While our pursuit of instant gratification may seem to only impact us, it implicitly impacts future generations as well. Kids start to imitate the behavior of the adults around them. This actually is a strong point made by many social conservatives. The perceived erosion of our morals to be increasingly apparent in the youth. As the age that children become interest in topics such as sex, obscenity. drugs, among other excesses appears to be getting younger. Which in an abstract sense would reveal a lack of cultural foresight. Especially as community bonds continues to decay and state power continues to increase. Slowly eliminating many of the informal channels of  charity and self-policing.

 

However, I would not describe myself as a social conservative.  The older I get , the more arguments of  communitarian conservatives tend to appear rational. The context of time in relation to choices and consequences cannot be underscored. Is there ever any ambiguity when a decision is shortsighted or a long term solution? I would argue yes. Many of the solutions to combat COVID-19 fall within this troubling grey area. The mandatory shutdown of all non-essential businesses mandated by various state governments. Is this the best long term solution?  It would help facilitate flattening the curve to some capacity. It may help in terms of narrowing the spread of this highly contagious communicable virus. What about the economic impact of the virus?  If you slice the apple in the other direction these mandated shutdowns are economically disastrous in the long run. Many businesses will not be able to whether the storm. Even just closing schools and daycares for 12 weeks has project a $153 billion loss in productivity [4]. This is excluding the toll taken on the hard hit hospitality sector.

 

Choosing to shutdown non-essential businesses presents the classic example of an opportunity cost.  Public health over the financial  health of the economy. I am not making any judgement here, rather stating that there wasn’t a perfect solution. In this instance it wasn’t possible to work in the benefit of public health and the economy. State and local officials had to make some tough decisions.  Hopefully will work out well in the future. However, doubt will always exist due uncertainty.

It also goes back to a dichotomy that I always like to examine. Autonomy over safety. One of the best examples of this the gun control debate. Would you rather live in a world that is purportedly safe, but you have relinquished the right to self-defense? Would you rather live in in a world where the danger of a mass shooting exists, but you can own a gun? Both scenarios have conspicuous opportunity costs. Drastic ones at that. It then turns into a choice between security and freedom. At the present moment which one do you value more? The same logic applies to imposing the COVID-19 shutdowns. The unanimous decision appears to be security over freedom. I hope that decision was the right one. Although, I am very skeptical. Treating safety as a positive right cannot guarantee it.

 

 

 

An Object and its Attributes- An Aristotelian Observation

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Few thinkers can be described as profound, prolific, and enduring. Needless to say, all of these characteristics apply to the thought of Aristotle.  Few would ever truly acknowledge his contributions to biology. Aristotle was a master of taxonomy. Rigorously examining defining characteristics of a specific category. Categories extending from entities from the physical world to the metaphysical world. This may be a careless oversimplification, he was great at labeling groups of objects, ideas, people, animals, etc.

 

We could simply state that Aristotle’s fixation on category was somewhat superfluous. Even go so far to call it pointless. I would vehemently disagree. We as humans think in language. Categories operating as a natural corollary of language. Language in of itself is a category. A category of a specified system of human communication. While many people claim that categorization is either unnecessary or problematic, it is an inevitable proclivity of human thinking. Even in a broad sense we subconsciously place ideas, objects, locations, people into categories. Categories to some extent operate as a tool to better navigate the world and to engage in higher-level thinking. Classification brings order to thought. To indignantly vilify the act of labeling things due to the social stigma surrounding specific designations is shortsighted. Without structure, stray thoughts are aimless and do not form anything comprehensive. So yes, we do need to put a label on it. Unlike your son’s last girlfriend.

 

Beyond cognitive organization, categories are helpful in other ways. To fit into a specific category, the object must possess certain immutable attributes that define this specific label. The quiddity or essence of the stone. Some are large, some are small, some are smooth, and so on.  However, despite these superficial differences each stone possesses defining characteristics that categorically specific. Here is where Aristotle comes in. He sharply defines the difference between the categorical object and its attributes. The distinction between “body” and “characteristics” (Adler, 1978, P.12) [1]. The “body” whether conceptual or physical is the corpus of all constant characteristics of an entity in a specific category. For example, all of the defining attributes that all dogs possess constitute the categorical “body” of a dog. The characteristics of the dog or attributes are much more dynamic. Unlike the categorical “body” of the essence of a dog, it is subject to change (Adler, 1978, P.13) [2].

 

It is clear how Aristotle places the line of demarcation between uniform traits of a category and those that vary. A rough stone can be polished then it is no longer rough, but smooth. The texture of a stone being rough is certainly not a defining trait of the essence of the stone. Seemingly when the characteristic is altered it does operate on a continuum. It replaces the previous attribute.  Call me foolhardy to question one of the greatest minds of Western Philosophy, however, this appears to lack some nuance. Does the new characteristic replace the old one? Because we live in an imperfect and imprecise world there isn’t a golden-mean for defining qualitative attributes. The problem becomes when is a previously rough stone polished to the point of being smooth? That is a potential flaw I see in perceiving fluid traits in a total category rather than sequential gradations. Which “smooth” and “rough” are definitive descriptions of texture the exist on a scale. It is a matter of degree The extent to which a surface is “soft”, “hard”, “smooth” is held captive by subjective perception. Which at times can lead to faulty interpretations of the characteristics of the surface. For example, in the instance of tactile hallucinations.

 

It could be said that the defining difference between two fluid characteristics suffers from the Sorites Paradox. When does a rough stone become smooth? In the absence of any quantitative parameters, we need to rely on common consensus. If the majority of people would agree with a surface of a polished stone being smooth, then that is the proper attribute. Not that all because the majority of people agree with this notion makes it correct. When effect with a lack of any objective criteria how else are we to approach the problem? The best course of action would be to take an average composite of subjective evaluations of a specific characteristic for the best approximate answer. Unfortunately, it is still an imprecise standard. However, better than a survey of one subjective observation.

 

The very fact that I can veer into this direction reinforces the importance of fixed categories. Even fixed categories with loose parameters can be subject to scrutiny.  Therefore, having a strong distinction between the fixed and dynamic features of a categorical object. Without boundaries, we devolve into aimless thinking. Which is incapable of solving algebraic equations much less pontificating upon the larger questions of existence. Being able to organize thought is a crucial feature of higher-level thinking. Hence why you tend to witness fleeting and fractional thoughts from young children. Outside of the limitations of a 4-year old’s attention span, they are still developing their sense of category. What distinguishes one object from another. What remains constant in similar objects. If we did not have categories even at the conceptual level nothing would exist in a context. Making everything aimless and boundless.

 

 

 

A Retrospective View

 

 

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Oddly enough it has been 10 years since I first ever ventured into blogging. I had a humanities class back in Community College that required we maintain a blog. Adding a modern twist to the old assignment of familiar college essay. The course was fixated on life and death. Taught by two instructors. The professor that led the death portion of the class Dr. A. Keith Carreiro left a real impression upon me. He certainly had a “Dead Poet Society” kind of vibe about him. I would also say that he was a little darker and more intense version of Robin Williams character in the 1989 film. He often was irked and perplexed by the disinterest and ignorance of the students in the class. As a now 31-year old University graduate, I can understand his frustration. A man who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of knowledge was basically speaking to the wall. The insouciance of 18-24 year-olds at times can be astounding. However, Dr. Carreiro I was listening. 10-years later I can truly say that you have impacted my life.

 

He really demonstrated to me the interconnected nature of life and death. Oftentimes our lifestyle determines our manner of death. One salient example being choosing to smoke. On an even deeper life, if we live a moral life we can leave behind a legacy of pride versus memories of regret.  In sense, he posited an indirect form of existential thought. Taking responsibility your life on this Earth will make coming to terms with your mortality slightly easier. Beyond these insights I was also indirectly learned to avoid apathy. To not become Nietzsche’s archetypal “last man”.  Content with the status quo and unwilling to grapple with the bigger questions of life. To have our lives revolve around menial tasks and distractions. Especially in a comfortable society that has an endless cornucopia of “bread-and-circus” veering us away from the pursuit of genuine truth. His class was a jolting and jarring wake up call for me. I would attribute his influence to why I blog about economics and philosophy today.

 

I vividly recall anxiously working on assignments for Dr. C’s course. Overcome by worry I step outside of my basement to my backyard. Greeted by the brisk and stinging wind of New England winter. I pull a crudely made hand-rolled tobacco cigarette from my pocket. Bracing from the wintry gales as I attempt to lit it. Taking my first drag I inhale with consternation. Questioning my own intellectual abilities. I was advised against going to college by my high School guidance counselor. Should I even be attempting transferring to a state school? Then subsequently exhaling figuratively and literally releasing my trepidation of the unknown. In a sense mirroring ontological confrontation. Aside from smoking being a well known cause of death, for the record I quit 7 years ago. Death is unknown. Much like the further. The uncertainty fuels our fear.

 

Ten years older, ten years wiser I know understand that both the future and death are immutable fixtures of life. They are unpleasant truths that we must reluctantly embrace.  Neither can be dispensed with. Uncertainty doesn’t excuse us from responsibility. Three years later I took responsibility for my health by quitting smoking. All because death in inevitable doesn’t mean we can try to live well while on this planet. That is a sentiment that I know Dr. C. could agree with. Lets live well emotionally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually. After all, time waits for no man. This isn’t a dress rehearsal, life is happening now!

 

I would be the first to say that I am far from being totally enlightened. There is still a lot of learning that I have to do. I still fall prey to certain distractions in life. I do enjoy moderate consumption of craft beer, whisk(e)y, and martinis. I do watch NFL football. Self-improvement is a work in progress. However, I do read a lot more and get plenty of cardiovascular exercise in these days. All we can do is strive for better. Once we settle for resting on our laurels that is when we run into the danger of becoming the “last man”. We should always be aiming to be the better version of ourselves. Perfection is unattainable therefore all we can do is try.

 

Here is the link to my blog for the course.  Certainly not my best work. I was a far cry from a young Mark Twain or H.L. Mencken. However, it was my first sincere attempt at exploring one of the major mysteries of life. Considering we in contemporary American society don’t have much of a context for addressing such inquires, I think I did okay.

 

Machiavelli in the Office-Part 2- Flattery

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The wise words of Machiavelli are equally applicable to the campaign trail and the sales floor. They aren’t regulated to the shadowy subterfuge of the Renaissance era Florentine Court.  After all, The Prince is the work that transitioned us from unconditional virtue to pragmatism. In the hierarchical folds of a corporate office, pragmatism prevails over virtue. Your happy hour drinking buddy may superficial appear to be a friend. However, if it is between your well being and their promotion. Rest assured they will betray your “friendship” for the promotion. When your livelihood is on the line the incentives to do what’s practical are high. To some extent, the ends justify the means. The only restraint is your local human resources office.

 

Part 2 of this series is more geared towards management as we address the issue of flattery.  Flattery can assume forms. Ranging from compliments to subordinates hanging out with their boss after work. How sincere are the motives of the brown-nosers and yes-men that surround you? Every apple-polisher as an ulterior motive. The unfortunate facts are there is a significant number of those in management that seek the approval of their subordinates. It hinges on a similar principle of presidential approval polls. Your employees under your leadership assume the role of a constituency. However, you can’t let the prisoners run the prison. That’s why it is imperative to superficially appeal to the biases of your employees, but do so in a manner that can provide you leverage. Perception is everything. It is important to remember your employees are not your friends. Due to many in management longing to feel expected they often blur this line. This is a trap that strong leaders adroitly sidestep.

 

I do not want to leave out an important point and error from which princes defend themselves with difficulty …. the flatters of whom their courts are full; for men take such pleasure in their own affairs and so deceive themselves there that they defend oneself from it risks the danger of becoming contemptible. From there is no other way to guard oneself from flattery unless men understand that they do not offend in telling the truth..

(Machiavelli, 1532, Trans. Mansfield (1985) P. 93-94)  [1].

 

The quote above from The Prince provides some straightforward advice to anyone in management. Hire people that are honest. The facts are not everyone is going to like you. Especially considering any leadership position requires you to make tough decisions. It is best to look towards your subordinates that provide forthright feedback than those who blow smoke. If you distort the social dynamic between boss and employee it is a treacherous path. Employees stop respecting you as a boss. Which means you are no longer able to command any authority. Beyond that flattery is generally illusory in nature. Merely smoke and mirrors. Odds are if Bill is having a 30-minute conversation complimenting you about your new BMW, isn’t just trying to be friendly. He is utilizing flattery as a tool to gain leniency or consideration for a promotion. The fact that John all of a sudden wants to go out for a drink with you on Friday, should be held in suspicion. In contrast, it is wise to listen to Jim’s feedback on the new invoicing process. Rather than hold his constructive criticism against him.

 

Not only does flattery blind us to the reality of the motives of others, but it also erodes respect.  Being wary of flattery is a natural corollary of  Machiavelli’s most famous principle of  “it is better to be feared than loved”. I will directly address that concept directly in another essay. As I mentioned earlier about the distortion of the social dynamic, once esteem is lost it is difficult to be regained. Psychologically we are wired to remember the negative more so than the positive. It may be impossible to revive your image after slamming down shots at the local bar with all of the bootlickers in your office. It is prudent to distance yourself from such situations. Focus on the employees that provide valid criticisms. Set aside your ego and realize that you are not always right and that no one is Mr.Popular.  This isn’t High School and it certainly isn’t a popularity contest. It is more important to command some respect without being too draconian. That will also have some adverse consequences. The Law of Dimmishing Returns applies to just about anything. Whether tanigble or conceptual.

 

 

 

 

Machiavelli In the Office- A Career Advancement Guide (Part-1)

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Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince is arguably one of the most important books ever written. It is often speculated to be one of the first written works of political philosophy. It dropped us down from the lofty cloud of idealist virtue to the Earthly necessity of hard-nosed pragmatism. Straying from the idealized conceptions of Plato’s Republic and Aristotelian “right-reason”.  It is not enough to behave virtuously, but we must also have virtuous intentions. It because evident how such principles can impede effective leadership. Machiavelli was concerned with results making him to some extent a forerunner for . He catapulted us into the era of modern philosophy. An acknowledgment of what is versus what should be. An acknowledgment of the true nature of man in contrast to what man could be. Such deep insights are not without a price. Few thinkers have been as universally misrepresented and villainized as Machiavelli.  Often reduced to a cartoon caricature.

 

A book spanning less than 200-pages rarely has many insightful observations embedded in it as The Prince. Few books are as nuanced as The Prince contributing to the wide array of misinterpretations. Most of us would prefer to live under governments far more liberal than a highly centralized principality. That does not mean the advice in Machiavelli’s most well-known work doesn’t apply to modern politics. The observations made in The Prince applies to any organization with a social hierarchy. Meaning its applicability extends the bloodstained floors of the Florentine royal court. The wisdom presented in The Prince can easily be applied to the boardroom as well as the political arena. I would contend that many of the principles that encompass the Machiavellian brand of political philosophy can be applied in the office. That’s right, you can utilize these same tactics at work.  Here we will embark upon a series of applying the political lessons from Machiavelli to the workplace.

 

The first lesson of we can draw from Machiavelli to apply to our work life, it is more important to appear virtuous than to be virtuous. Keeping up appearances. What your actual motives are for making friendly small talk with your co-workers or subordinates is inconsequential to the outcome. Similar in politics, it doesn’t matter if you follow through with your campaign promises. The “say-do gap” can be mended by high voter approval ratings. If the voting public has a high opinion of you it isn’t necessary to be effective. The same can be said at work. Even if you are the hardest worker in your department you could be passed for a promotion if you appear to be unsociable. The consequences of having cultivated such a bad reputation is difficult to correct. To some extent, image is everything.  This is a sentiment that is echoed throughout The Prince.

 

Thus, leaving  out what is imagined about a prince and discussing what is true, I say that all men whenever one speaks of them, and especially princes, since they are placed higher, are noted for some of the qualities that bring them either praise or blame. … someone cruel, one merciful… the one honest, the other clever… And I know that everyone will confess that it would be laudable thing to find a prince with all of the above mentioned qualities  that are held good. But because we cannot have them,  nor wholly observe them, since human conditions do not permit it. (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 61-62. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [1].

 

And one of the most powerful remedies that a prince has against conspiracies is not to be hated by the people . (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 72. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [2].

 

Both quotes exemplify how appearing to be good is more important than being good. There are a lot of admirable characteristics that you want to display to your co-workers. You want to appear smart, creative, reliable, friendly, interesting, enterprising, etc. The probability of one person possessing all these attributes is slim. Making it a necessity to pretend to have these attributes. Which is imperative if you are seeking career advancement. The idiom of “faking it until you make it” is central to this whole idea. This is why oftentimes individuals in management rarely admit to being ignorant or lacking information.  It degrades confidence in their leadership abilities. This is somewhat perverse the standpoint of pure logic. Human perception is seldom guided by logic. Especially when we account for the prosperity of people to use heuristics to aid in making quick decisions. A rule of thumb is to appear to be organized, sociable, hardworking, intelligent, and possessing a capacity for critical thinking. It is hard for your boss or co-workers to objectively validate that you have all these characteristics. It is easier to assume some who is confident and well-spoken has their shit together. Rather than examine the quality of work from a co-worker that is more reserved.  Whether you are dealing with voters or hiring managers appealing to their biases is key.

 

Part of behavior in a manner that will cultivate a positive image it is imperative to stay on the good side of your co-workers. Attend the occasion happy hours. Say good morning to everyone. Engage in small talk. Small talk can also double as a means of extracting information and gossip. Serves as a dual benefit. No one will be the wiser that you have ulterior motives. It also helps you to better integrate yourself with your co-workers. All of this goes into the social capital bank for you. Regardless of your intentions. If you are within the good graces of your peers they are less apt to throw you under the bus or start rumors about you. It isn’t full proof, but what is? It is when you appear unfriendly and negative is when people tend turn on you. Appearing to be nice will help smooth over your deficits in other areas of your job. Even if you are an impeccable worker, if you are hated by your peers you are on borrowed time.  It will create a hostile work environment for yourself and at that point you are better off jumping ship. Unfortunately, a bad reputation will endure longer than your tenure at the company. It is quite cumbersome to revive a sullied reputation among closed-minded people.

 

Much how Machiavelli dedicated his great book Lorenzo de’ Medici, I should dedicate this blog series to someone.  To the recent college graduate with too much time on their hands. As you pursue Zip Recruiter and Indeed for your first career opportunity, please keep this blog series in mind. The advice present is unorthodox and may even make your future human resources representative queasy. However, take from a guy with a job … it is sound advice. I may not be as innovative or clever as Machiavelli, but I can apply his philosophy to corporate America on a micro-scale.  I wish you luck in your job search.

Stoicism On Climate Change

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Many affiliated with the environmental movement have an apocalyptic view about climate change. It mirrors the moral panic exhibited by many “dooms-day-preppers” proclaiming holy judgment will be on the horizon. I am far from a scientist, do not intend on arguing about the empirical validity of global warming. However, realistically what impact can an individual have on to reverse or impede the effects of global warming. When confronted with the magnitude of the problem it is magical thinking to believe that one person can make a profound difference in the outcome. To some extent, you have to be delusional and at a grandiose scale to believe that purchasing an electric car will save the world.  It is analogous to believing that your vote mathematically would be the deciding vote in the presidential election. That would be highly improbable. Then again, I am not a statistician. What do I know?

 

The facts of reality are that our individual actions will only have a miniscule impact. The question becomes how do we cope with the hard facts of reality? Especially, if it is a topic we are passionate about or even profoundly concerned about. Here is where we would applaud the ancient philosophical school of Stoicism for providing some sage advice. Which generally entails focusing on what we have control of and not fixating on what we do not. A significant oversimplification of stoic thought, but a sufficient synopsis for our purposes.  Treating your individual action as the deciding factor in a large decision that has many complex moving parts is a recipe for needless stress. The anti-gun control pamphlet is merely a drop in the bucket. There are plenty of other purveyors proliferation similar material. This goes down the line for just about another divisive topic through American public policy.  The odds of holding a Bernie Sanders sign for three hours on a Saturday will have any genuine impact at the poles is slim. Therefore, there is no reason to lose any sleep over it. If you are really that crazy about the guy vote for him in the Presidential election. Then again don’t put too much weight your vote.

 

I am not trying to breed apathy here, but rather I am trying to realign our exceptions to what we actual have control over. This slightly touches upon Jordan Peterson’s mantra of “Clean your room“. Not that I am trying to promote Dr. Peterson or his ideas, but it does parallel a mentality similar to the stoics. After reading the article in Philosophy Now, A Stoic Response to The Climate Change Crisis I have become inspired to expound upon this topic. All too often people agonize over lofty ideals that they cannot achieve or problems that are out of their reach.  I witnessed a lot of this after the 2016 Presidential election.  There was the mass proliferation of contingencies plans aimed to remove Donald Trump from office.  I am not making a value judgement about the residing President of the United States.  Rather I am illustrating how people burden themselves with circumstances that are out of their control.

 

The previously referenced article details the reactions of various stoic philosophers to the current issue of global warming.  My favorite speculated response was that of Marcus Aurelius. Then again, I am probably biased. My favorite stoic philosopher happens to be Marcus Aurelius. Nevertheless it is still supremely wise advice:

 

The lesson from Marcus Aurelius here, then, is twofold: stop wasting mental energy being shocked or offended by human inaction on climate change. Do not assume that humanity will take upon itself timely and wise actions, or that some mysterious force will protect us from the results of our own behaviour, or soften the horrific blows when they come. Shock and incredulity are not worthy of anyone who studies history or the natural world. Don’t be like a traveler unfamiliar with how things go here. It’s time for us to face what is happening, and to prepare. Facing reality is the first step in figuring out how to handle it well. (Gindin, 2020, P.15) [1].

 

So essentially, overcome being offended by peoples disregard for the environment. Do what is within your power to prepare for the of  externalities of climate change, but do not expect others to follow suit. By all means, recycle, do your part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, etc.  Understand that you are not going to save the world doing your part. I would add don’t proselytize the virtues of environmentalism. Marcus Aurelius would tell us to expect others to change their ways because we handed them a pamphlet is unrealistic and naive. Making it even anything a waste of time. When we could have been doing that actually would be productive for the environment. Selling environmentalism with the same tactics of a dooms-day cult will not win you any converts. However, you will get a lot of perplexed expressions from disinterested shoppers at the local mall.

 

 

COVID-19 and The Rejection of Civility

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Amid all the chaos spurred by the COIV-19 outbreak, the deterioration of civility seems inevitable. People are being reduced to quarreling and fight over toilet paper. Conflicts over cases of bottled waters and other forms of provisions are becoming more prevalent. Such emergencies have the proclivity to bring out the worst in people. Similar occurrences aren’t relegated to this one instance. Look no further than the looting that transpired during Hurricane Katrina. The line between civilization and lawless chaos is razor-thin. All it takes is one natural disaster or national emergency to shift incentives away from cooperation to antisocial behavior.

 

Social Psychology has a litany of various theories to help explain the descent into pillaging and violence. Describing the psychological mechanisms driving mob behavior does explain the behavioral element of such actions. However, it fails to address the deeper moral questions of the “temporary” erosion of civility. It is reasonable to question whether this loosening of societal standards would be temporary if the precipitating circumstances remained. This question can only be indulged with pure conjecture. I would be so bold to suggest that the circumstantial decay of social standards serves as an indictment on the Enlightenment.

 

I am not addressing concepts of the Enlightenment but the intellectual movement of the whole. It was the thinkers of this era that lead us from the barbarism of the dark ages to the relative calm of modernity. To avoid falling into the trap of the Whig interpretation of history, the Enlightenment did not nullify classical philosophy. Rather expanded upon it. The Enlightenment is what orientated the Western world towards poverty rights and the rights of the individual. Neither can be validated in a climate of wanton destruction and disregard for your neighbor. In times of panic, we revert to our fight-or-flight reflect negating reason, principles, and decorum. Reducing our behavior to that of Neanderthals. Fear is antithetical to reason. Making it caustic to the clear thinking required to respond in a civilized manner. Causing us to plummet to the mentality of primitive man.

 

Many may see this phenomenon of “disaster panic” as a temporary rejection of Enlightenment ideals. I would argue otherwise. I would contend that many people never acquainted with the moral considerations or etiquette required for civility. There are a lot of people that behave rudely even under regular circumstances. Compound their incentives for boorish deportment with fear, society unravels rapidly. Which makes it reasonable to question whether the Hobbesian conception of human nature is true. It appears as if the rule of law is what typically constrains transgressions such as assault and looting. It should be noted that in the instance of the present crisis that this isn’t necessarily true. In most municipalities throughout the United States, law enforcement agencies are still operating. The fear of punishment can be ruled out as a constraint on antisocial behavior. But such behavior demonstrates a deep-seated lack of respect for property and fellow person.  Vandalism and theft demonstrate a lack of respect for property rights. Violence and confrontation displaying a lack of respect for our fellow person. Behavior falling short of the movement inspiring liberal values. The precepts that helped levitate Europe out of the squalor and pestilence of intellectual and physical serfdom.

 

What enforces mutual respect of person and property are informal social norms. Once panic sets in the strength of these norms are greatly reduced. It isn’t true respect, but rather an overt avoidance of opprobrium from our peers. Which does not demonstrate a true comprehension of person-hood or natural rights. Rather punishment avoidance. Merely an informal form of punishment evasion. An individual possessing a true understanding of natural rights would be able to reason why it is wrong to punch someone over a pallet of toilet paper. Not abstaining from such an action due to the consequences of legal or social punishment. Classical thinkers tended to believe that action in of itself wasn’t righteous unless the intention of the action was also righteous.  While we are veering slightly from the thought of the Enlightenment there is still quite a bit of truth here. If respect for person and property is not instilled in us on an intellectual and moral level it will not remain resolute. When the comfort and security of modernity frays so will our courtesy and civility. Then comes the downfall into a primitive mindset.  Hence, why I question if humans ever really adopted or even understood the ideals of the Enlightenment. Because if we did we would be able to better manage our savage urge to pursue self-preservation. If so, we would be reduced bludgeoning one another over toilet paper.  Then again, such conduct has been evident over so much less. Such as a $5.00 toaster on Black Friday. This leads me to postulate that we do not even a time of crisis to witness such regressions.