Luck

 

Luck is like the weather: everyone talks about it but noFortuna, the Roman Goddess of Luck one does anything about it. Luck is also like the weather in that it will have an impact on your life - maybe good, maybe bad. Rain falls on everyone, but for some of us that means a rained out picnic, for others it means a green lawn, and for still others it means a drowned child. If we can’t control our Luck, then is there any reason to think and talk about it? 

Machiavelli observed that Lady Luck seems to favor those who demand much of her and expect her favors. They superstitiously believe that if they are sufficiently demanding of Luck, then Luck will come to heel like a well trained dog.

In The Modern Prince, I have restated the Machiavellian position on Luck based on Machiavelli’s original chapter on The Impact of Luck on Human Affairs. Please read this short chapter and tell me what you think of it.

 

 

 

Chapter XXV

The Two Types of Luck: Good and Bad

Lady Luck, Machiavelli observed, usually favors aggressive, demanding, and assertive men who demand much of her and are never grateful for her devotion. We have all known a Lucky man. Luck has fallen in love with me, he thinks, and I can demand anything I want from her. I never have to give her anything in return, he believes deep in his heart, because she has fallen in love with me. The Lucky man is impulsive. He flies by the seat of his pants and he always lands safely at the right airport. Somehow his impromptu schemes all turn out to be big successes. He treats Luck as if she was his subservient lover, and he demands much of her. And, Luck always does his bidding. 

We have all known a Lucky woman. She expects good things to happen to her, and good things always do. She believes that she is special in a way that only she can understand. She is very smug about her good Luck and feels that she deserves it. This is because she believes that only good things happen to women who are special – and she is very special. Obstacles seem to melt in front of her. She never plans anything; she makes everything up on the spot. Luck continues to present her with expensive jewelry, stylish clothes, and anything else she wants. Women who are smug and demanding, who always feel entitled to the next gift, and who feel that they don’t owe anyone anything are the ones that Luck falls hopelessly in love with. Luck is her whipped dog, cringing and trembling in fear of her anger, yet obediently following her everywhere.

Machiavelli observed that those individuals who boldly rely on their personal good Luck – counting on it as an essential ingredient for their success in life – are the men and women whom Luck serves. Those who are fearful of bad Luck – Machiavelli believed – never get any of Luck’s favors. These individuals have to achieve their life’s success by their own shrewd planning and hard work.

Machiavelli seemed puzzled by this – as are we. But, we – like him – cannot not deny the evidence of our own eyes: some undeserving individuals are incredibly Lucky. Mysteriously, they are maintained in their undeserved and unearned positions in life by the persistent intervention of good Luck. They are even able to overcome competitors who are smarter and who work harder. What is the special relationship that these individuals have with Luck? How can we develop a similar relationship so that we can always be Lucky too? Unfortunately, no one can control Luck.

 

Luck is simply an ancient name for the way things happen in our Universe. We can define Luck as the sum of all the unpredictable events that can affect our lives but over which we have no influence. The only thing we can say about Luck with certainty is that it will have a profound impact on all our lives. Luck has had a huge impact on your life already. 

Statistical and mathematical sciences were relatively undeveloped in the early 1500’s. Machiavelli didn’t know about randomness, distributions, or the normal curve. He did not know that Luck is distributed to all of us purely at random. This does not mean that everyone gets the same amount of good and bad Luck. It means that Luck is dealt out like cards at a poker table. Think about all the poker players who will play at all the big casinos tomorrow night. Will the Universe be fair to those poker players? Is there a Mysterious Invisible Power that gives good hands to the most deserving player – the one who will donate his winnings to cancer research? Will that same Power give the undeserving shoplifter, the card cheat, the embezzling broker, and the serial rapist only bad hands? We know, of course, that the Universe seems indifferent to our inner qualities when we are sitting at a poker table. Luck will not deliver good hands to the most deserving players or bad hands to the undeserving. Instead, the following will be true about the Luck those players will have tomorrow night or any other night. There will be:  

  • Big losers – A very few of the players will be very unlucky. They will be dealt mostly poor hands all night. They will be dealt a straight when an opponent is dealt a straight flush. They will lose a bundle. 
  • Small losers – Some of the players will be somewhat unlucky. They will be dealt a few winning hands but mostly bad hands. They will lose a little.
  • Players who break even – Most poker players will have average luck – a few winning hands, a few losing hands. They will win or lose an insignificant amount of cash.
  • Small winners – Some of the players will be somewhat lucky. They will be dealt several winning hands. They will leave the casino with a little more money than they started with.
  • Big winners – A very few of the players will be very lucky.  They will win more than anyone else at the table. They will fill inside straights time after time. They will fold when someone is holding a straight flush. They will be dealt a straight flush when someone else has four of a kind. This is the group that Machiavelli described as boldly demanding much from Luck – and receiving it. 

See the distribution of Luck in our lives.Life is like the poker table. The deal is random. Some players get opportunities that others do not, and there is no good reason for it. Some players never get a single break. Some have their nerve broken by the constant advances and retreats of Luck. Some are so lucky so often that they feel entitled to it.

Luck is the shuffle of the cards. Luck is bird shit in your hair. Luck is the Lotto machine picking the numbers that you have been playing every week for five years – making you a millionaire. Luck is the Lotto machine picking your numbers – on the only day in five years that you forgot to buy your ticket. Luck is inadvertently running a stop sign at sixty miles per hour – when there is no cop around to write you a citation. Luck is inadvertently running a stop sign at sixty miles per hour – hitting a school bus filled with fourth-graders broadside. Luck is the difference between dropping a glass and seeing it shatter into a million splinters – or catching it intact and unharmed on the first bounce. 

Many successful people do not believe in Luck. “You have to make your own Luck,” they boast. “I am successful because of who I am and how I behave, not because I was just Lucky.” These people never take into account the many others who are just as smart and just as hardworking but who never achieve their goals because of bad Luck. These boastful friends also never recognize their own good Luck in being born healthy, having a good education, having opportunities tossed into their laps, not being caught breaking the law, and never running a stop sign when a school bus is crossing the intersection.

Luck is wonderful to a few. These people are born to prominent families, sent to good universities, placed in excellent entry positions with good employers, socially connected, well-married, given healthy children, and protected from all preventable disasters by their economic resources and social connections. They live well, happily, healthy, and long. Their children are attractive and smart. They usually feel entitled to their good Luck. In fact, they usually believe that they earned or achieved their good fortune by their own ability. They feel that good things happen to good people, and that they have a special inner goodness that they cannot quite describe but which they can sense. Some believe that their Luck is a product of their will-power; that they force the World to shape itself to their requirements by the force of their powerful thoughts or the maniacal purity of their faith. 

Luck is brutal to a few. Some people die young. Some are drowned in the bathtub by their insane mothers. Some are born into deformed or unhealthy bodies. Some are born in countries where there is no hope of education, no hope of economic security, no hope of political freedom, no access to modern health care, no hope of even keeping your clitoris, and no hope of immigrating to another country where things are different. Some are born to mothers with AIDS who pass the disease to them as their first birthday present. Some are imprisoned for life for crimes they did not commit. Some are very ugly and are shunned by those they would want for friends. “Why me?” they say. The empty answer is: “For no reason at all.”

Luck runs cold and hot for some. Each Lucky moment is offset by an equally unLucky one. Luck is tepid to most people. Nothing much happens. 

Luck can change for the better or for the worse at any moment. You can’t control Luck – because by our definition Luck is the sum total of all things that you cannot control – but there are three things you can do about your Luck. 

 

What Can You Do About Luck?


Love and Fear

 

Most people - Americans anyway - believe that love is a wonderful thing, that love is the glue of human relationships, and that the force of love is the solution to most human problems. Most people cannot define love and cannot explain its many, many failures.

Cupid and his lover Psyche.  Cupid endured the anger of his mother, Venus, because of his love for Psyche.Machiavelli was the first to ask whether it is better for a Prince to be loved or feared. Can love have a dark side? Can love ever be undesirable? Is love one thing or many things called by the same name, like many men are called John? What is fear? Can fear be useful? Is it possible to love something and fear it at the same time? 

I challenge you to give up your delusions about love. Start by taking five minutes to read this short chapter from my book, The Modern Prince. Then spend some time thinking carefully about love and fear - unless you are afraid to do so. My challenge is not an empty one. Love is one of the most cherished concepts of our culture. It was not easy for me. It will not be easy for you.

 

 


I particularly enjoyed writing these two short chapters. The subject of one is Luck. What is Luck and how will it affect your life? From the Machiavellian perspective, Luck is the sum of all the events that can impact your life but which you cannot predict or control. We do not like to think that Luck will affect us much, but we would be foolish to indulge ourselves in that delusion. The second is on Love and Fear. Machiavelli was the first to pose the question: is it better - really - to be loved or feared in this world? Can you be honest with yourself about this question? Take ten minutes to read and think about these important concepts. 
 

Chapter XVII

Cruelty and Mercy: Is It Better To Be Loved or Feared?

Is it better for those in your Domain to love you or fear you? What about those outside your Domain with whom you have relationships? 

Obviously it is best to be both loved and feared whenever possible, because both reactions are generally to your advantage. The two emotions are not contradictory at all and they occur together. Most of us are very fearful of the disapproval of someone we love, afraid of losing their love to someone else, fearful that something bad will happen to them, etc. Sometimes, however, you must choose one or the other. 

Usually being feared is the more desirable of the two. This assertion flies in the face of commonly held beliefs, but consider the facts with an open mind.

  • You can make people fear you, but you can’t make them love you. Generating fear, then, is under your control while inciting love among those around you is not.
  • Love is easy to fake; fear is not. If someone is afraid of you, you will know it. 
  • At least some of the people who say they love you will betray you in the future. Remember that half of the people who swear an oath to God to love each other forever end up fighting over their children and their assets in divorce court. Those who fear you may be more trustworthy than those who love you.
  • Fear is pretty much the same feeling in all of us. Fear is the set of psychological and physiological responses caused by the primal anticipation of future pain. Different people will behave differently toward the object of their fear. Some can face fear better than others, but fear definitely encourages respectful, if wary, behavior in everyone. 
  • Only when cornered will a frightened person fight back. Therefore, don’t corner a frightened person. Allow her to reduce her fear by doing as you want. People who love you are not at all reluctant to fight.
  • A person who loves you is often not at all reluctant to fight with you. And, they really know how to hurt you - better than anyone else.

Love

Love is not an emotion or a physiological response pattern, like fear, anger, or laughter. The word “love” is commonly used in reference to a number of cherished cultural concepts. That is, several streams of thought in our cultural heritage are all – unfortunately for clear thought – referred to by that same four-letter word, though they have no real relationship to one another. 

  • The New Testament’s concept of Christian love refers to a hypothetical extension of the familial affection that exists between (some) brothers to include the entire human race. It is a political and social concept asserting that the happiness of others should be as important to us as our own happiness. The expression of Christian love is the central concern of all Christian philosophy, life, and thought – personal and political. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you at all times and in all situations. The New Testament advises against romantic love and sexual contact. 
  • Romantic love is quite different from the concept of Christian love, though the same word is used to describe these two totally unrelated ideas. In fact, the New Testament advises against marriage and neither Testament praises romantic values at all. Romantic love is the rich, warm fantasy that women and men are designed to (1) search for a mate who will be recognized by magical means as “the one”, (2) marry the mate, (3) copulate monogamously for a lifetime with total satisfaction, (4) impregnate, (5) gestate, (6) give birth, (7) raise children, (8) age, and (9) die and proceed to the afterlife – all with the satisfying certainty that the central purpose of life is being fulfilled. Romantic love in America actually occurs intermittently, sequenced among of a number of practice love relationships with people other than “the one.” Practice love occurs prior to the first marriage and between subsequent marriages.  Romantic love at first sight has been reported. It would be hard to test this, but I see no reason to question the assertion.
  • Homosexual love – Homosexuals assert that the romantic love between partners of the same sex is just as profound as heterosexual romantic love. It would be hard to test this, but I see no reason to question their assertion. Statistics I have seen suggest that violence in homosexual relationships is as prevalent as in heterosexual ones, and gay couples seem to break up with a similarly predictable frequency. I suspect that homosexual love is similar to heterosexual romantic love in other ways too.
  • Parental love is yet another use of that much burdened word, and the psychotherapy industry draws much income from the impact of parental love on bewildered and battered offspring. Parental love – in most cases – has no similarity whatsoever to romantic love or homosexual love. While Christian dogma praises the love of children, it has no praise for any form of conception that is not Immaculate. 
  • There is also the love of the patriot for his country, the love of the subject for his king, the love of the professional for his profession, the love of the reader for a good novel, the love of the miser for his money, and the love of the carnivore for a good steak. “Love” means a hundred other dissimilar things.

Love is very perishable. Even those who love a good steak or a good novel do not love the same steak or the same novel for very long. The love of the miser for his money is probably the most enduring of the types of love mentioned above. Love is one word with many definitions. It is used to refer to many dissimilar moods and many dissimilar behaviors. This endows the word with an undeserved aura of mystery and a sense of overarching grandness, as if it were one amazing and incomprehensible thing instead of a lot of very small very different things. 

Love between humans is unreliable and fickle. Those who love you today will leave you, sue you, defame you, betray you, trick you, lie to you, change your locks, empty your account, and deceive you tomorrow. If you have not experienced this aspect of love as yet, then you have only to wait for a little while. Those who declare love to be the greatest and grandest of all experiences also proclaim that the many, many, many examples of the failure of love are all isolated exceptions to the unquestionable rule of love, namely that it is eternal, unfailing, and unchanging. They never examine the concept of love and are never discouraged about love no matter how many exceptions and failures are encountered. Every failure of love or of a loving relationship is seen as “not true love.”

The one thing that is true of all forms of love is that those who love you demand much of you: time, consideration, time, attention, time, friendliness, time, faithfulness, time, money, time, etc. If you do not pay those who love you the coin they demand, then their love for you can change to bitter hatred between two beats of their loving hearts. None hate so intensely as those who once loved. If you do not pay sufficient attention to your wife, even she will do her best to make your life here on earth a living Hell. If you do not pay God the loving and slavish worship that He demands, even He will send your spirit to Hell for trillions of years of flaming agony with no hope of escape. 

Those who love you will demand much of you. Be prepared to pay the high price of being loved. 

 

Fear

Fear, on the other hand, is dependable, constant, and less demanding than love. Strike fear in a man’s heart one time and he will fear you forever. Those who fear you will try to avoid you, and this may be to your advantage. If you do not allow them to avoid you, then they will obey you.

 

Our conclusion remains, then, is that it is better to be both loved and feared, but if you must choose one or the other, then it is better to be feared.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Modern Prince

www.MidasJones.com

 

The Modern Prince:

Better Living Through Machiavellianism

 

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  • It will teach you how to get what you want out of life.
  • It will teach you how to deal with those who oppose you or compete with you.
  • It will teach you the ultimate nature of good and evil (and that is not a small claim).
  • It will remind you that it is the people who love you who cause you the most pain in life. (Preview my chapter on love, if you dare.)
  • It will challenge your ideas of right and wrong, good and evil, truth and lies.
  • It will teach you how to lie skillfully, but it will also teach you that honesty is (usually) the best policy.
  • It will teach you when to be selfish and when to sacrifice for the good of others.
  • It will help you see when others are exploiting you for their own benefit and how to deal with them.
  • It will teach you to evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses in a new way.
  • It will teach you to think of your own well-being first and others second. 
  • It will teach you that the meaning of your life is your own personal decision.

 

Warning: Don’t buy my book unless you are willing to pay the price for success. To become a more successful person, you must become a stronger, more capable person. This is easier to say than to do, as we all know. My book contains no magical formulas or simplistic rules of life. It challenges you to meet life on its own terms and achieve your most cherished goals, whatever they may be.

 

  The Modern Prince is based on The Prince, a little book of advice written by Nicolo Machiavelli to the Prince of Renaissance Florence five hundred years ago. I have rewritten Machiavelli’s classic work for the modern reader. I used the same lively, readable style that you find in these web pages. Machiavelli’s ideas have been used by the movers and shakers of the world for five centuries.

  

   This is your one and only life. Live it by your own rules and on your own terms.

  

   Why live any other way?

 

The Modern Prince

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 MidasJones@MidasJones.com