Mud in your eye, Mac!

As we look at the way the United States Presidential Election campaign progresses (here , here and here , for example,) among much fanfare, promises, lambasting of opponents and oodles of honeysweet self righteousness, one needs only remember the Great Mac.

Niccolo Machiavelli – (1469 -1527), ‘Diplomatico Italiano’, political sharpshooter, musician, poet, and playwright, had a ‘realist‘ take on affairs of state, holding the following sober view of international diplomacy: states support three major ‘needs’ – namely – military might, economic dominance and blanket national security. These needs are absolute in importance and they therefore take an overwhelming precedence over issues like morality, ethics and ideology.

People often mistook Machiavelli’s pragmatism for sarcasm; some even suspected that he was a radical anarchist. One look at the foreign policy of 21st century nation states shows that he was, indeed, a realist. In fact, some of the world’s political monsters make his views seem tame. Here are some of his thoughts, taken from the BrainyQuote Website.

Machiavelli speaks of The Prince — meaning a ruler, a sovereign by right and might (often more of the latter). “A prince”, he said, “never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise.” – taken out of context, statements like this may sound crude and cruel — “A wise ruler ought never to keep faith when by doing so it would be against his interests.” Machiavelli’s verbal swordsmanship is impeccable, he simply addresses humanity in its most unreserved, uncultured form — “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both,” he said, and some scholars thought him an early days fascist – a 14th century Mussolini.

Here is a case in point: Machiavelli said “Men shrink less from offending one who inspires love than one who inspires fear,” and Mussolini said “Let us have a dagger between our teeth, a bomb in our hands, and an infinite scorn in our hearts.”

And yet, Machiavelli’s words outlasted those of Italy’s 20th century short-term dictator. Mussolini did not survive the wrath of the people he despised most. Humanists, communists, socialists – they all outlasted him. Machiavelli, on the other hand, still towers above other philosophers. His masterwork The Prince is a major study – or observation – of government and governance. In peculiar contrast to his harsh, often bitter, view of life and the state, one of Machiavelli’s surviving personal letters suggest that his view of himself and his deeds was much less sombre: “And as to this little thing [his book], when it has been read it will be seen that during the fifteen years I have given to the study of statecraft I have neither slept nor idled; and men ought ever to desire to be served by one who has reaped experience at the expense of others. And of my loyalty none could doubt, because having always kept faith I could not now learn how to break it; for he who has been faithful and honest, as I have, cannot change his nature; and my poverty is a witness to my honesty.” (From W. K. Marriott’s introduction to his translation of The Prince.)

An interesting take on the issues of desires (needs, voids, satisfaction or contentment,) can be found in the Theory of 16 Basic Desires, a study of intrinsic motivation by (PDF) Steven Reiss, professor of psychology and psychiatry at Ohio State University. Reiss argued that it is impossible to distinguish between intrinsic motivation (when people do things in response to an inner will) and extrinsic (when they do things for a reward, say, for money.)

Moreover, according to Reiss, it is wrong to assume that doing things for a reward is less valuable that doing them out of an inner urge. He developed and researched 16 basic desires that can be identified behind humans’ motivation in doing (or avoid doing) things. Reiss said “Loosely speaking, people behave as if they are trying to maximize their experiences of the 16 intrinsic joys.” (p.186, PDF)

The 16 basic desires (and their corresponding intrinsic feelings) are: power (intrinsic feeling of efficacy), curiosity (intrinsic feeling of wonder), independence (freedom), status (self-importance), social contact (fun), vengeance (vindication), honour (loyalty), idealism (compassion), physical exercise (vitality), romance (lust), family (love), order (stability), eating (satiation – avoidance of hunger), acceptance (self-confidence), tranquillity (safe, relaxed) and saving (ownership). At the same time, however, each desire is also affected by external (extrinsic) needs, power (extrinsic desire to influence and lead), curiosity (extrinsic desire for knowledge), independence (desire for autonomy), status (social standing and attention), social contact (peer companionship and need to play), vengeance (get even, compete, win), honour (need to obey a traditional moral code), idealism (need to improve society, altruism, justice), physical exercise (exercising muscles), romance (sex, courting), family (raise own children), order (need to organise, need for rituals), eating (desire to eat), acceptance (need for approval), tranquillity (avoiding anxieties and fear) and saving (collection, hoarding, frugality as value).(p.187.)

One can almost see the shadow of the Great Mac over Reiss’s argument. Machiavelli sensed that, while people should not be held accountable for their needs and aspirations, their deeds are a totally different natter: “The wish to acquire is in truth very natural and common, and men always do so when they can, and for this they will be praised not blamed; but when they cannot do so, yet wish to do so by any means, then there is folly and blame.

Wish to contribute to ToingToing?