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A New Machiavellian Proverb, ready to be included into your vocabulary, is presented for your consideration. It is a variation on a familiar phrase, but it is Machiavellian to the core.

The Cultural Buffet is a very enabling idea. It is, perhaps, the most powerful idea in The Modern Prince. It allows you to think in a new and broader way.  How can such a homely metaphor rate such praise?



The Cultural Buffet


Why do you believe what you believe?  Why do you think the way you do? We do not need to plunge into an abstract Buffet Tablephilosophical or theological discussion to make some real progress in answering these questions.

You are thinking thoughts and ideas you have picked up from others during your life. You certainly did not invent most of your thoughts unless you are a very creative or very crazy person. You consumed them. You took them into your mind sort of like you take food into your stomach. You digested them by finding a place for them among the other ideas and beliefs that you had previously digested and absorbed into your brain.


Here are a few illustrative examples:

  • You can easily add, subtract, multiply, and divide, but you didn’t invent the numeric system or fractions. You learned those mental abilities from others.
  • You can read and speak, but you didn’t invent the English language or any other language. You learned grammar, vocabulary,  and phrasing from others.
  • The way you speak aloud - your accent, the way you emphasize certain parts of a sentence, the way you pause for dramatic effect, your hand gestures, and how you use your eyes while speaking to another - form a collage of habits that you acquired by mimicking those around you, picking up one habit here and another there.
  • He brought a new song into her heart.You can express political opinions but you didn’t invent Conservatism, Liberalism, Communism, Feminism, Socialism, or any other -ism. You have picked up political opinions from your political leaders, religious leaders, parents, books, magazines, radio talk shows, etc. and added them to your existing collection of political thoughts.
  • You can cook food but you didn’t invent the skillet or write a cookbook. You learned cooking from cookbooks, your mother, the instructions on the package, or a magazine. Few people invent a dish or a recipe, though many cooks vary the seasoning a little.
  • You can express an opinion on the United Nations, but unless you have visited the UN your opinion is really a repetition of someone else’s opinion. Your opinion is probably a collage of ideas assembled from various news sources, your political heroes, and your political sparring partners.
  • You have sexual fantasies, but even they are not original (there may be more exceptions here than in other categories of thought). Your fantasies probably came from movies, romance novels, gossip, or pornography. Perhaps you were taught them in adolescence by more experienced partners. If you have a thing for nurses, it might have come from reading Hootenanny Nurse by Suzanne Roberts years ago.

Where do faddish phrases come from?



 Ordinary English

No way, Jose

That is not going to happen

The whole enchilada


A case of the ass

Irritated, annoyed, or angry

The A-list


The group of cool or important people.

Insiders, not the common riff raff.


Ripped off or stolen

Riff Raff

Working class, white trash, peasant, etc.

Talking out of her ass



Talking out of her ass

No Way!

Your description of events cannot  be


My description of events is indeed

consistent with the facts.

Preaching to the choir

Those whom you are trying to persuade

already agree with you.


If you have ever used any of these or other faddish words or phrases, you probably didn’t invent them. You incorporated them into your vocabulary after hearing them because they enabled you to express your thoughts in a new way or because they enabled you to express a thought that is new (to you). Perhaps you also adopt slang phrases because they make you feel like you are one of the A-list, all of whom use the newest and latest faddish expressions.


Fish in waterThe point is, your thoughts are not original to you. You jaked every one of them, probably, from other people. What you may consider to be your original thoughts are really small variations on thoughts that millions of others are also thinking. You observe, listen, and imitate. If you are a reader, you may have acquired them from books, newspapers, magazines, or web pages. You are continuing to think thoughts and hold opinions that were first thought of and held by unknown others. Have you ever looked in the mirror and noticed yourself assuming a pose or an expression that reminded you of a parent, a favorite teacher, or a boss? Obviously you observed and imitated their expressions and gestures long ago, without even realizing it. Even now, you are absorbing and digesting ideas that this little essay contains, deciding whether the thoughts presented here will be useful to you.

Humans feasting at the cultural buffet.Like fish live in water, humans live in the world of human culture - a vast warehouse of thought and behavior filled with ideas, phrases, postures, expressions, art objects, clothing styles, hair styles, emotions, inventions, gestures, languages, techniques, belief systems, philosophies, religions, sciences, and attitudes.  Our particular World presents to us an enormous assortment of these things. We absorb some of them into ourselves and assemble them together into our individual way of thinking. Other people live in different Worlds with fewer choices - or more. Children who are raised by religious zealots in a remote village in Afghanistan are offered fewer choices of thought and behavior than children born to wealthy families in Paris. Perhaps those wealthy Parisians are offered more choices than you and me.

Envision your World as a buffet of thoughts and actions. You should select the beliefs, thoughts, and actions that enable you to live the way you desire.


Truth: But, you say, I prefer to believe what is true. I want to think only true thoughts and believe only true things.

Maat, Egyptian Goddess of TruthTruth, I reply, is much overrated as a concept. No matter what you think the truth is, someone else in the world who is much smarter than you believes the opposite. Because she is smarter than you, she can defend her truth much more articulately than you can defend yours. Of course, there is also someone else who agrees with you and who is smarter than both of you.


Does God exist? Smarter people than you say yes and smarter people than you say no.  People much stupider than you also disagree on this point. Atheists are pretty smart as a group, but so are Jesuits. Feel free to believe or not, as you choose.


Did humans evolve from other primates? Evolutionary biologists are very smart and very thorough. They are convinced that the human ape and the chimpanzee evolved from a common ancestor long ago. Surely, though, an omnipotent God could have easily created humankind and chimpanzees 6,000 years ago from nothing. God could have surely designed human and chimp DNA as if they were related. God could have surely put fossils of ancient species that never really existed in the rocks of the earth 6,000 years ago when He created those rocks from nothing. Believe whichever story you prefer, or don’t think about it at all. Whether you believe in one explanation or the other, your life is still what it is and your opportunities are still what they are.


Is global warming a real threat to humanity or just another nutty liberal fantasy? Clever scientists can be found to take either position, though most of them believe it to be a real problem. Will the future of the earth be any different whether you decide global warming is real or not? Not unless you have the technical skills or political ambition to change things.


Which of the eighty major Christian denominations is closest to the teachings of Jesus? The one with the most people (Roman Catholic)? The one you go to? Perhaps the Syrian Orthodox Church of Malabar? Or maybe the Protestant Christian Batak Church? The clever theologians of each of these denominations could talk circles around you and me, each convincing us of their arguments - but they each come to different conclusion. Go to the church, synagogue, temple, or altar that is traditional to your culture or your family. Or pick a new one. Or stay at home and wash your car on holy days.


Who truly won the 2000 election? George W. Bush and his political experts are sure that they won fair and square. Ask certain Democrats - also political experts - and you will get a different answer. You certainly have an opinion on this issue yourself, but I’d bet the rent that you haven’t personally recounted any Florida ballot boxes yourself. You believe what you heard or read, or you were careful to read only those things that confirmed your preexisting conclusion: that your side really won Florida and that the other side stole/tried to steal the election.


Did OJ really murder his wife and her friend? Everyone knows the truth about OJ. I certainly know the truth about OJ. Most Black people believe he didn’t kill her. Most White people believe he did. I’m not sure what OJ believes.


  There is no belief that is shared by a majority of humans. Any belief system that you might choose for yourself - no matter what it is - is one that most people do not accept.  So, choose beliefs that enable you to live the kind of life you want, the kind of life that makes you feel happy and fulfilled. Do not be buffaloed into accepting beliefs that make you feel bad. If you are gay, it is best for you to avoid a belief that makes you feel guilty about who you are. If you are a woman who wants to stay home, keep house, and raise kids, don’t believe that you “should” have a career. If school bores you, don’t believe that there is something wrong with you. After all, school is boring. Find ways to get acceptable grades with minimal effort in minimal time. On the other hand, if you love school and you plan to be a physicist or a philosopher, then work hard and study hard. After all, school is fascinating.

  There are many choices available to us on the cultural buffet. Select those items (beliefs, behaviors, opinions) that enable you to achieve your goals. There are many people to imitate. Imitate those whom you like and trust. Ignore those who try to persuade you to change your life in a way that makes you less happy. All human beings believe that most of the human race is wrong in its beliefs.

  And don’t do any hand-wringing over ethics or morals either. Those vary greatly from time to time and place to place. Do what you think is right for you in the particular time and in the particular place. Do not waste time regretting any bad decisions you may have made in the past. The past no longer exists except in the memory cells of your brain. Regretting the past is when one part of your brain hates another part of your brain. Figure out what you did wrong, resolve not to do it again, repair any damage you can repair, and move on.


Caveat: Morality and ethics may be relative to the person, place, and time, but that does not mean you can ignore the commandments of the law.  Always be careful not to get crossways with the police or the courts. Penalties for breaking the law are usually too severe to justify the risk. That is just my personal opinion, but nobody I know who got in trouble with the law was happy about it afterwards. None of the people I know who spent time in jail thought that it was a good use of their time.



A Machiavellian Proverb



Human See, Human Do.



The human being is the undisputed champion of mimicry. We can ape better than any other ape. If we see someone else do it, we can do it. If we hear someone else say it, we can say it. If one human learns to do it, As I went down to my grandfather's farm. A Billy goat chased me around the barn. It chased me up a sycamore tree, And this is what it said to me: I like coffee, I like tea, Id like Wanda to jump with me.then she can teach pretty much any other human to do it. A toddler can learn speech from its parents, mimicking even their accent and inflection. Any skill can be taught by humans. Any skill can be learned by humans.A ten year old girl can learn the most complex hopscotch and jump rope patterns simply by watching her girlfriends. A high school girl can learn the latest complex dance floor steps by observing her classmates dance in the gym. A young soldier can learn how to plunge a bayonet into her enemy by watching her drill sergeant demonstrate the proper movements against a dummy. A young Roman matron learned how to backhand a clumsy slave across the face by watching her mother do the same. An art student sits in a museum copying the brush strokes of a famous painting, letting the Young ladies developing their bodies and brains.dead hand of the great painter guide her own brush - the dead hand wearing the living one like a glove. A young woman sees a pretty and newly styled ring on the toe of a friend, and she is consumed with the desire to see it on her own toe. A physics professor demonstrates the solution of complex equations on the white board while her students determinedly imitate her work in their notebooks. A new car saleswoman learns how to fleece a customer by observing a more experienced colleague hustle a few suckers. A theology student learns to deliver a sermon by watching video tapes of talented orators call the faithful to a better life.

The human is programmed by evolution to watch, listen, and learn. This is our true genius as a species. We fill our minds with the thoughts of others and and our bodies mimic the actions of others. Your mind is filled with the actions and thoughts of others like a sponge is saturated with water. It is our nature to imitate, to mimic, to pretend, to duplicate, to reproduce, and to impersonate. We learn to coordinate our efforts with others in massive projects like traveling to the moon or building a dam. We are truly amazing.


Human see, human do.


Chapter 2





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