Practical Philosophy

Playing to win versus keeping your conscience

In The 48 Laws of Power, you’ll find many Machiavellian strategies to climb the dominance hierarchy, not limited to:

It’s pretty clear these strategies work. Author Robert Greene includes numerous stories of historical figures following the laws to great success. He also includes stories of figures who lost their heads for disregarding the laws.

However, after reading 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson, I wonder about the psychological price-tag these laws come with.

Take for example, the law of being careful not to say too much. This makes sense. Many times, we say things we regret, so pausing and thinking before we blurt things out is probably a useful practice. But how far can it go?

“For a long time I have not said what I believed, nor do I ever believe what I say, and if indeed sometimes I do happen to tell the truth, I hide it among so many lies that it is hard to find.” – Niccolò Machiavelli

Lies, built upon lies, built upon more lies. Is it sustainable? In 12 Rules for Life, telling the truth is a tenet. And this isn’t for a pious reason either – the pitfall of telling numerous lies is that you create a kind of personal hell for yourself – and for others. This is similar to the consequence of not doing the right thing.

Ultimately, there has to be a balance. Sure, we’re playing to win. At the same time though, that doesn’t mean it should be at all costs. If the journey in which we get there involves us seriously bending our ethics, we probably are not aiming at the right goal.

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