Can you trust Midas Jones?

Can you believe what you read in The Modern Prince?

 

You bought the book because you hoped it would help you live a better life, not because you believed it to be great literature. So why should you base your life and future happiness on any of the ideas expressed in The Modern Prince? After all ... The book is not based on new scientific discoveries. The author is not a distinguished psychologist or a renowned philosopher but a plain computer programmer who consults to universities and colleges about the processing of student data. Aztec Eagle MaskPreviously, he taught in the business college of a very ordinary state university for a decade and a half. We admit he is a lifelong compulsive reader and that he collects ideas like a botanist collects leaves or a biologist collects butterflies. Even so, it is not the author’s credentials that make the book worth reading.

And, even though the book is based on an assemblage of great ideas composed by one of the Western world’s greatest thinkers - Nicolo Machiavelli - that in itself is not sufficient to recommend recommend the book to you. Machiavelli’s book is considered by all scholars to be a profound work and it always near the top of a short list of the great literature of the Western world, but we must admit that Machiavelli has many more critics than he has admirers. Moreover, our code of total honesty with our readers compels us to admit that Machiavelli’s life did not end well. After a period of considerable success, he was arrested, tortured, and finally exiled from his beloved native city, Florence. Despite his many efforts, Machiavelli was never able to persuade his Prince to restore him to a position of power. If Machiavellianism didn’t work for it’s inventor, why should you think it should work for you?

Aztec CalendarThe answer to that question can be found in Aztec history (as well as in many other places). Be patient for just a few more lines and we will get to the point, or skip the Aztec stuff and go straight to the point.

Amazingly, the great indigenous civilizations of the Americas never conceived of the idea of a wheel. The Incan, Mayan, and Aztec civilizations never built a simple wheeled cart - something that could have been done by their humblest European contemporary. The Aztec calendar you see at left is evidence that the natives of America could imagine and construct wheel-like objects, but they never affixed this shape to an axle and used it to transport heavy items. The carved wooden sculpture at right shows that they definitely knew how to work wood. The Incas used llamas to carry burdens, but they never hitched one to a cart. Aztecs (no llamas in Mexico) had a special class of workers who took the place of donkeys and carried heavy loads (up to 90 pounds) over distances as great as twenty miles per day.

How can this be true? Surely at least some of the engineers and architects of those ancient cultures had IQs bigger than yours and mine, and the idea of a wheeled vehicle is obvious to us. Aztec children had wheeled toys that they pulled by a string, but no Aztec imagined a bigger, more practical version. A ten year-old child in our culture building a sidewalk hot rod out of an apple-crate and rope would know that she needed wheels on the thing. For thousands of years, illiterate European peasants have been building wheeled carts.Aztec_city The simplest peasants in Peru and Mexico - descended from those great native cultures - can build wheeled carts now.

Some scholars have argued that the American ecology lacked large grazing animals, like horses, to pull carts - though the American buffalo would seem like a possibility for domestication as a beast of burden - at least to the native cultures of North America. Others have argued that the American terrain did not lend itself to transport by wheeled cart, but the broad avenues built by Aztecs (right), Mayans, and Incas look pretty smooth to me. Surely a team of human porters could have pulled or pushed carts filled with heavy burdens along these impressive boulevards.

What can explain this paradox? The answer is this: the simplest ideas seem perfectly obvious to all of us, but only after some genius has first thought of it. Surely those Aztec and Inca engineers gaped with open mouths at Spanish carts filled with stolen gold, thinking “Ehecatl-dammit, that wheel-thing is so obvious. Why didn’t I think of that?”

The world of ideas is full of similar examples:

  • The Chinese invented gunpowder, but used it only in firecrackers to frighten away demons. Some European genius saw gunpowder and imagined the first gun-propelled bullets. Now guns are easily understood by all of us.
  • Ancient Egyptians never imagined a war chariot until they first saw their enemies use them. Then they became an obvious tactic to every Egyptian general and were quickly copied.
  • Gravity is such a simple concept, and we all understand that things fall toward the center of the earth. Why, then, did no one think of it until Isaac Newton described it to us? Why was it believed that the sun and all the planets circled the earth, until Copernicus pointed out the obvious truth that they circled the sun instead.
  • Isn’t the computer an invention for which there is an obvious need and for which there are many applications? Then why didn’t the greatest science fiction authors (Robert Heinlein, Isaac Azimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and others) incorporate computerized devices in their classic stories, many written in the fifties and sixties - after the invention of the computer by Eckert and Mauchly?

Start thinking about it, and you can come up with many examples of obvious - even childishly simple - ideas that only became obvious to you after you first heard them from someone else or saw them?

 

Finally, we come to the point, which is this. You can believe the ideas in The Modern Prince because after you read them you will think, “That is so obvious. I’ve known that for such a long time. I’ve just never expressed it to myself in quite that way.” As you read The Modern Prince, you should have the growing certainty that the book describes the world as you have seen it and experienced it. You have been taught that the people and events that make up the world are governed by an ethical code, a particular religion, or a profound philosophy, but there has always been a dissonance between what you have been taught and what you have seen with your own eyes. Machiavelli had the unsettling habit of expressing obvious truths that we have been taught to disbelieve. Everyone says that the emperor has clothes on, but Machiavelli was like the boy who said, “The emperor looks naked to me.”

 

Machiavelli did not recommend that we lie, cheat, or steal, but he observed that all of the successful people he knew had lied, cheated, or stolen to attain their success. He observed also that it is sometimes necessary to lie, cheat, or steal to get what you want or keep what you’ve got. Can this be denied?

The choice between losing and cheating is a difficult choice, but Machiavelli didn’t recommend either cheating or losing. He just said, choose what is best for you but be aware of the consequences of either choice. Many of us prefer to believe in a world where cheaters never win and winners never cheat, but that world is not this earth. That world is found only in fantasy and delusion. Live boldly, Machiavelli said, and live according to your own nature.

 

If, in The Modern Prince, you read ideas that resonate with your perception of the world - with what you have seen with your own eyes - then there is your proof of the value of the book to you. Do not trust Midas Jones. Trust yourself.

 

If, on the other hand, Midas Jones’ description of the realities of human life seem crazy, stupid, or silly to you, then take the book to a used bookstore and trade it for something else that will be of more use to you.

 

 

On This Page

 

Can you really trust Midas Jones? Midas says that you can’t. Read why.

A Machiavellian Proverb: The Introduction to The Modern Prince is all about trust. How do you decide who or what is trustworthy? This little proverb will guide your thinking. You’ve heard it before.

Get Motivated: No day should start without a ten-second Machiavellian meditation. See the Machiavellian Motivational poster. It makes a nice desktop and is suitable for framing. Its sentiment comes to us from the Great Communicator.

 

A Machiavellian Proverb

(With Thanks to the Authors of the Gospel of Matthew)

 

 

Judge the Tree by Its Fruit

 

 

This saying presents a very useful intellectual tool to the Machiavellian. It suggests that you can best determine how beneficial something is by considering its outcome. A tree is good if it bears good fruit, but a tree is not good if it bears no fruit, withered fruit, or poisonous fruit. It does not matter how lovely the tree is or who planted it.

This proverb also gives you a useful tool in conversation, when you are trying to persuade or teach someone that a good thing cannot be very good if its outcomes are all bad. Other ways of saying the same thing:

 

A systems analyst would say, “Judge a process by its outputs.

 

A Machiavellian would say, “The ends usually justify the means.

 

Deadly Jimson WeedIn the context of the Introduction to The Modern Prince, the proverb means this: Consider the book a good or useful one if it excites your mind with new possibilities and lets you imagine yourself accomplishing new and exciting things that seemed impossible before. It doesn’t matter that the book is well-written and clever (it is). It doesn’t matter that the author is a great fellow of obvious talent and deserving of the income (he is). All that matters is that the book enables you to see yourself in a better, more realistic way, capable of grander and more ambitious actions than you had previously thought. The fruit of this tree/book grows in your mind, and only you can know if the fruit is good or bad. At left you see the lovely flower of the deadly Jimson weed, a plant which kills cattle and the occasional poorly informed teenager seeking a cheap source of hallucinogenic intoxication.A Potato Blossom At right is a lovely but somewhat less exotic potato blossom. Obviously, these two plants cannot be judged by their beauty or their hardiness but by their fruit. One is poisonous; the other nutritious.

 

 

This proverb was suggested to us by the authors of the Gospel of Matthew. They describe Jesus teaching his followers how to distinguish between true and false prophets - a problem for Christianity since its earliest beginnings. Jesus said, “... every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. ... Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

 

We have adapted it here to help you distinguish between a useful self-help book and a useless one.

 

 

A Motivational Poster

 

poster_trust_but_verify_resizedTrust but verify” was one of President Reagan’s many memorable phrases. Whatever you think of his political achievements or acting ability, you must admit that his ear for a phrase was superb. A Machiavellian can learn much from Reagan’s rhetoric.

 

We are taught that if we trust someone, then it inappropriate to verify. This is stupid for the obvious reason that liars and deceivers all pretend to be trustworthy. Liars and deceivers all express indignation if you question them or check up on them. What is the teenager’s response when a parent discovers unsavory material in the girl’s diary or porno magazines under the boy’s mattress? “How dare you invade my privacy? How dare you check up on me?” they shriek.

 

If you expect someone to trust you, then you should also expect her to routinely verify that you are - in fact - worthy of trust. Make sure she also understands that you intend to routinely verify that she is doing what you expect her to be doing as well. Because of the trusting nature of the relationship, you both fully expect to find that the other party is in fact doing exactly what is expected.

 

In the case of The Modern Prince, compare what is written with what you have observed in your life and in your relationships. Trust the author but verify his claim that the material in the book becomes self-evident once read.

 

The motivational poster above can be downloaded, printed, framed, and placed in an obvious location. It should remind you always that both liars and honest people act as if they are honest. In fact, good liars are usually more persuasive than honest people. If you do not believe this, then I suspect that you know some very good liars.

 

Top of Page

 

Dedication to the Reader

 

www.MidasJones.com

 

 

Download or read online: Machiavelli’s Prince in English translation by W. K. Rowling

 

Read a brief summary of Machiavelli’s life and works,

written by W. K. Rowling as the Introduction to his translation of The Prince

 

A readable summary of Machiavelli’s Prince can be found at

http://www.princeton.edu/~ferguson/adw/prince.shtml

 

 

 

 

The Modern Prince:

Better Living Through Machiavellianism

 

Click to read a couple of sample chapters. Click here to read a couple of chapters

 

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