Too naive to understand: The prince

Sitting outside, I look at the sky. It’s so blue today… And clear. I see a million stars in a glance. The effect of this on me is that of magic. I look and look, never tiring of its monotony. It’s the same sky, unmoving. It’s the same stars, blinking at the same pace. The same effect. But it’s new every second. Dear God, I marvel at your creation.

Today in university, walking from the gate to my department, I was thinking about my international relations class. We had just started the topic of realism, and studied the 5 assumptions it was based on. Why oh why must the world be so pessimistic? Is power the only power? Are all human beings selfish? The world I observed then, didn’t look like that… And then today in class, we discussed Niccolo Machiavelli’s book “The prince”. When we were told that book has been used since then, as a manual of politics or state-craft, I was horrified. And then the teacher told us, its principles are still applied in the international politics. What the book basically tells us is that a good ruler is rigid, has no respect for his promises, and only looks for his own interest in everything. The thought of that book being followed scares me…

So when I walked out of the university today, the human nature is what I had in mind. The fickleness of it, and the selfishness. I agree, they do exist. But why is it that they exist a hundred times more intensely in the ruling figures? Why is it that no one focuses on the good that can come out of the good? Am I too naive to understand? Or is what I understand true?…

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13 thoughts on “Too naive to understand: The prince

  1. I believe, what you understand is true. Some facts stay hidden though they are the real truth and unveil themselves at the most appropriate times. May be this was that kind of a time. Nicely put thoughts Moniba.

  2. It’s frightening how our curriculum is still so secular..
    Please post more about your university’s lessons along with your point of views, I’d love to read them. 🙂

  3. I love the first paragraph. *-* It’s so beautifully described, something I couldn’t have put so well on paper myself.
    The IR class though. Pessimistic, yes. Man needs power, war is the ultimate solution. Surprising how the basic foundations are based on things we debate on otherwise.

  4. So when I walked out of the university today, the human nature is what I had in mind. The fickleness of it, and the selfishness.

    I don’t reckon realpolitik has much to do with human nature at all. It’s to do with the nature of institutions.

    Institutions like countries, companies, organised religions, etc might include humans among their components but people are making a big mistake if they think they act according to human values or desires. They are an emergent phenomena, almost a kind of new life form in which people are just cells. They no more reflect the people who make them up than you reflect the cells of your body.

    They develop and evolve in profoundly different environments to ours. In the case of companies their environment is the marketplace and they evolve in competition with other companies. The strategies that allow them to survive are not the same as those that nurture the people who are their employees or clients. The environment of nation-states is harder to sum up in one word but I’m sure you can see the principle is the same.

    If a person in a key position in an institution is not making decisions according to the interests of the institution (i.e. not people) either he will be replaced or the institution itself will fail and be replaced by one more fit to survive in it’s environment.

    What Machiavelli was doing was teaching people how to meet the needs of the city-states of Renaissance Italy rather than the needs of human beings and so how to ‘succeed’ as a statesman. Because the environment of modern nation-states is similar to that of Italian city-states his lessons still apply today.

    IMHO most of the truly disgusting mysteries of ‘human nature’, such as war, terrorism, corporate greed, political bastardry, etc are nothing to do with human nature at all. They are the nature of our institutions.

    Institutions are not human and their ‘morality’ is not human. In fact it is so alien to human values it is often indistinguishable from ‘evil’. That applies even to institutions set up with the best intentions. Regardless of the plans of the founders, institutions will inevitably adapt to the environment they operate in or cease to exist. And the people who are components of those institutions must adapt to the institutional value system or be expelled.

    That’s why I’m an anarchist.

      • But do you really think Anarchism is the solution

        Yeah, I do.

        I think most of the problems of the world are due to people trying to control each other. I don’t know if that need to control is innate or whether it’s a function of how we’ve set up our communities but the setup we use validates far too much of it and empowers the controllers and the mechanisms they use. And, as I wrote above, it creates control centres that aren’t really human at all.

        The main solution in Anarchy is the notion of personal autonomy within free associations. Even if the mechanisms to make it work aren’t perfect I think propagating the attitude that control of others is neither inevitable, necessary nor legitimate would have huge benefits.

        While I think a syndicalist anarchist system similar to the one in Northern Spain during the Spanish Revolution would be vastly superior to the systems we’re currently using I’m not sure it would be both stable enough to maintain itself and dynamic enough to allow for social development.

        At this point, at least, I agree with Bertrand Russell that Anarchism is an ideal that every system should be aimed at achieving rather than a solution to be imposed from whole cloth (obviously imposing Anarchism would be a contradiction in terms). Accordingly my Anarchism is a bottom up process of personal development that must be spread by example, as was the Anarchism of Tolstoy and Gandhi, not the ideology of a revolutionary vanguard as per Bakunin and Makhno.

      • I see, but do you really think Anarchism could ever sustain itself for longer periods of time?… Man is naturally selfish, according to Machiavelli.. And also, isn’t it inevitable that a few shall always eventually come into power, and be accepted by all?

      • I see, but do you really think Anarchism could ever sustain itself for longer periods of time?

        Yeah, I do.

        It already sustained itself pretty well for about 90,000 of the 100,000 or so years people have been around. Tribal societies (at least modern ones, and I’d presume prehistoric ones too) aren’t really the thuggish dictatorships portrayed by Hollywood. They typically have different leaders for different tasks and the leader leads by virtue of the fact that the people following think she is the best one for the job at the time, not because there are laws or police forces making them do what they’re told. They’re mainly free associations, although often their members don’t actually have alternatives if they’d rather not associate.

        The question is whether it can be scaled up to incorporate groups of more than a few dozen (after which everyone no longer knows everyone else personally) and whether it can be adapted from the nomadic hunter-gatherer societies it developed from in order to meet the needs of settled agriculturalists and urban dwellers.

        The cities in particular pose a challenge but syndicalism claims to provide a structure whereby those problems can be solved. If you want some idea as to how an anarchist syndicalist society would work in practice you might read The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin (it’s a good read in it’s own right if you like New Wave sci-fi).

        I think the question is so complex the only way we’ll ever really get a convincing answer will be if we try.

        Man is naturally selfish, according to Machiavelli..

        But man is naturally generous too. Good Samaritans are pretty rare in the animal kingdom as far as I can tell. And what makes people more likely to feel better and be happy? Selfishness or generosity?

        A lot of it’s just game theory. If man always acted from his selfishness people would never pay bills. But mostly they do because they want people to treat them nicely (e.g. still sell them stuff) so they do the same.

        The key is to set up social structures that encourage the good aspects of man and discourage the bad. As opposed to nation-states that rely on man’s aggressiveness or economic systems that rely on his greed.

        And also, isn’t it inevitable that a few shall always eventually come into power, and be accepted by all?

        There is no contradiction between leadership accepted by all and anarchism, just so long as those following take personal responsibility for deciding whether to follow orders. Near the end of the Star Trek movie, Wrath of Khan you see a perfect example of this. Khan’s crew follow him to the death not because he is boss but because they believe in him and what he is trying to do. (Khan and his crew wear pendants that are stylised Anarchy symbols with Islamic overtones). On the other hand Kirk has to bully and threaten his junior crew members to get them to follow orders and when the chips are down many desert their posts. No prizes for guessing who I was cheering for.

        The key is for enough people to be committed to the principles of anarchy for there to be an inevitable backlash against anyone trying to set up a centre of control. We’re a long way from that now and if people like Erich Fromm are correct there may be intrinsic factors in the human psyche that make many people flee from freedom and the responsibilities that go with it to the certainty of slavery and despotism. If he’s right I just hope those scared of freedom can be shown that they stand to gain more than they lose by embracing it and so will overcome their fear.

      • Thank you very much for explaining this so well:)
        One last thing. when you say “centre of control”, you mean it in an institutional form, right?

      • One last thing. when you say “centre of control”, you mean it in an institutional form, right?

        In the context of our discussion, yes.

        But the principle applies at all levels of organisation.

        A bully might be the best fighter in the schoolyard and try to use that to exert control over other students. If everyone reacts as if this kind of behaviour is a threat to everyone’s autonomy and unite against him he’s not going to get very far. He’ll only succeed if some people decide controlling others is a good thing and join his gang or if so many people are either apathetic or fearful and isolated that no united opposition to him can form. If most of the other students believe in their own freedom and the freedom of others a bully won’t get far.

        If most nation-states truly put credence in the concept of sovereignty a country like the US wouldn’t be able to ride roughshod over almost any nation it likes even with all its economic might and overwhelming military superiority.

        In The Dispossessed the anarchist civilisation on Anarres is under constant propaganda pressure from the capitalist and communist countries on the main planet. The anarchists respond to it with pretty heavy handed ideological indoctrination of their own. The worst insult there is ‘propertarian’ (someone who wants to accumulate private property) and right from childhood any tendency towards possessiveness is condemned as propertarian. I would hope that in real life the advantages of a non-propertarian society would become obvious to most people pretty quickly and that indoctrination of that kind wouldn’t be necessary.

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