Be a Fox to See Traps
How Machiavelli can teach us to navigate a world filled with Fake News and deceitful people.
There is nothing more difficult in today’s world than attempting to discern what is true and what is not.
The Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527) was one of the first people to separate morals and ethics from governance. In his words:
“…but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.”
Although most people would agree that being a kind, just, and respectable leader is of the utmost importance, Machiavelli knew it was rare to find a leader that would always conduct themselves that way.
Humans are prone to falling to Confirmation Bias, or believing information that supports what you think is right, even if it isn’t necessarily true or logical. We would like to believe those that choose to lead us always have our best interests in mind, but that is simply not the case.
A perfect example of this fallacy is the mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate religious cult. Marshall Applewhite promised his followers that if they followed his teachings, they would be picked up by a spaceship to be brought to heaven.
Unfortunately, Applewhite and his followers promptly died after ingesting a tainted drink, not realizing the irrationality of their beliefs. While Applewhite’s mental state could be argued, it is unarguable that his followers were led slowly to their doom by hearing positive things and feeling a sense of community with the cult that clouded the more dubious ideas that Applewhite pushed.
Machiavelli knew that it was imperative as person to take this advice if they wished to succeed as a leader:
“The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.”
In Machiavelli’s mind, being a fox meant being able to see the “traps”, or seeing lies and intentions people veil under their words and actions.
Before you come to any conclusions from what you have heard, especially from the media or those in power, take the time to evaluate their intentions. What agendas are they attempting to push? What are they doing aside from telling you what you should believe?
The Dunning-Kruger effect states that human beings are generally incapable of determining their own incompetence or competence when they are of low ability. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that we practice self-awareness, evaluate what people have to say and what they are trying to accomplish before we blindly believe them.
We must exercise extreme scrutiny in what we hear and what we choose to believe, lest we fall prey to the traps the world sets for us on a daily basis.
Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg
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