But I Don’t Want
To Be EVIL!!!
“Is the Machiavellian necessarily an evil person?” you ask.
“No, Machiavellianism has nothing to do with evil,” I reply. “Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the concept of evil has no place in Machiavellianism.”
“Then why does the dictionary say that Machiavellianism is “characterized by subtle or unscrupulous cunning, deception, expediency, or dishonesty?”
“Because the world has been lying to you about Machiavellianism for five centuries,” I reply.
Machiavelli shocked the Christian world by suggesting that important decisions should be made and critical actions should be undertaken based on their impact on your life, without regard to a formal code of ethics, religion, or philosophy. This troubled leaders of the Church, who taught that the purpose of life was to obey the Church and its teachings. It also troubled the leaders of the State, who taught that the purpose of life was to obey the State and follow its laws. Those who were threatened by Machiavelli’s boldness declared, falsely, that Machiavelli preferred evil, deceitful, or treacherous means. That is not true. Machiavelli simply observed that the successful people he knew well had all used deceitful or treacherous methods to get what they wanted or keep what they had, including leaders of both the Church and the State. Therefore, he went on to say, a person who dreams of success should be prepared to lie, cheat, or steal - or be prepared to give up her dream. A person who dreams of success should also expect to deal with the treachery of the State, the deceit of the Church, and the mischief of those who live around her. Many people objected to this description of the world and human behavior. It seemed too cold to the people and too accurate to their leaders.
As for “evil,” it is a silly idea that has no place in your mind. Think about it. “Evil” is a fantasy concept, like the concepts of the vampire, the ghost, the fairy, the free bonus offer, and penis enlargement. They simply don’t exist. The word “evil” does not describe anything that you will ever encounter in the real world. A person who views the world from a Machiavellian perspective may do things that some people think are evil but others think are good. A Machiavellian acts in the manner that she thinks is appropriate or useful in the particular situation, all the while anticipating how others will respond or react. Machiavellians do not spend time thinking about what is the good thing to do or what is the evil thing to do. Don’t be wringing your hands over ethical details while the wolf steals the baby.
However, each of us has a list of actions that she considers to be evil. There is no reason for a Machiavellian to think, do, or say things that she considers to be evil. Don’t do anything that will still be giving you guilty nightmares twenty years from now. Except in the most extreme and improbable situations, you can find another way. Life is complicated, and we are often compelled by events to take bold actions whose consequences will change lives forever - our own and the lives of those whose happiness is important to us. Life requires us to think carefully and deeply about the people around us and the things that happen to us.
Is murder evil? I think so. Was my father evil when he murdered Nazi soldiers in France in 1944? I don’t think so. What about my grandfather, who murdered German soldiers in the same parts of France in 1917? I don’t think so. The German orphans and widows whose fathers and husbands my ancestors murdered probably think they were monsters, even after all these years.
Was Harry Truman’s decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan, prompting Japan’s quick surrender, evil? On V-J Day, my Nazi-killing father and his Nazi-killing rifle were on their way to Japan to participate in the planned invasion of that island. Instead of going to Tokyo or being killed on the way, my father was quickly discharged from the Army and sent home. A month later, he married my mother in a small, sweet ceremony. After four months of enthusiastic effort, he impregnated her with me. His fellow veterans were busy doing the same thing. Those two atomic bombs saved me and many thousands of baby-boomers from having never existed, so I don’t think they were evil. Remember, I could never have come into existence unless that particular sperm cell penetrated that particular egg. Every person’s DNA is unique, so they tell us. I could not have been conceived at any other moment in the history of the universe. I toast Mr. Truman’s memory every year on my birthday, but I suspect that many Japanese residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would not lift their glasses with mine. If you think the bombing of Hiroshima was evil, would you be willing to give up your life to change history for the better?
Was the murder of Saddam Hussein on an Iraqi gallows evil? Now that is an example of ethical fine print. Rather than thinking about it, you should use your ethical brain cells for something more important. The ends usually justify the means, and a world with one less Stalinist dictator in it is a better world, no matter how it happened.
Is the sexual molestation of children evil? I think so. Was Joseph evil when he married and presumably copulated with the thirteen year old virgin Mary in the year zero and regularly, we suppose, thereafter - producing James and Jesus’s other siblings? I don’t think so. Back in those days, when a girl started menstruating she was considered a woman. Little Mary - like other 13 year old brides - certainly expected to serve her older husband’s sexual needs and present him with children. Even younger brides were not uncommon then - or now - in that part of the world.
Is the torturing of animals evil? I think so. Is shooting a pig evil if it is done only so that a surgical intern can practice removing a bullet from a gunshot victim? I think so, but you may not. The intern certainly doesn’t think so and neither does the medical college. Neither do gunshot victims. What if the same pig is shot and operated on a second time? What about a fifth time? This is, after all, how surgical interns get their training, as we all should know. Student surgeons have to practice on somebody. Now the pig - if it could think and speak its thoughts - it would surely tell you that anyone who shoots the same pig six or seven times (so an inexperienced, fumbling medical student can practice removing bullets from various parts of its body and head) is the very incarnation of slobbering, malicious, monstrous, Satanic Evil. The pig might suggest that shooting and removing bullets from Saddam Hussein would have been better than killing him and burying him. After all, he was a monster. All pigs are innocent creatures.
Is denying food to a child evil? I think so. Is withholding fattening food from a morbidly obese ten year old boy evil? I don’t think so, but the boy will definitely think so.
Is telling a lie evil? I think it depends on the lie. All things are relative. Is it evil to lie about sleeping with a woman so as to protect her reputation in the little Bible-belt town in which she lives? I don’t think so, but you might think that the little slut should be horsewhipped in front of city hall. Is it evil for a politician to lie about the policies she really intends to implement if she is elected? I think so, but she doesn’t think so - she thinks that you have to lie to the hayseeds every now and then or no one would ever get elected.
Is the administration of poison to innocent people evil? I think so. Are the executives of marketing firms that produce cigarette advertising evil? I think so, but you may not, especially if you are a smoker - or a marketing executive. Is the prison guard who injects poison into the veins of a convicted killer evil? What if the convicted killer is discovered to be innocent the day after his execution? Is the guard retroactively guilty of murder? Is an Islamic terrorist who plans to dump radioactive materials in the Albuquerque water supply evil? I think so, but many Muslims would consider her to be a saint. Is ordering a hamburger evil? Ask an animal rights activist or a vegetarian.
Everything is relative. Everything depends on the situation, the time, the place, the people, the culture, the context. An action cannot be judged without considering the entire situation in which it occurs. No matter what you do, a large part of the human race would condemn your action. Therefore, you must select the action that fits the situation. Wasting time thinking about good and evil leads nowhere. That is the essence of Machiavellianism.