Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian diplomat, philosopher, politician, historian, and writer who lived during the Renaissance. He is best known for his political treatise The Prince, written in 1513 where he articulated the Divide-and-Conquer policy. Fast forward to the modern era and there is no denying the fact that the world is more divided than ever; everything is politicized and polarized. Sensitivities and emotions are at an all-time high. In this blog article, I am going to ask you to step back a little to look at things from a different angle and to ask yourself the question: what if we are being played?
Machiavelli’s purpose in writing The Prince was twofold: 1) to show a ruler or would-be ruler how best to maintain his political power and influence and 2) to redeem himself in the eyes of the ruler of Florence after his fall from grace, having been imprisoned and banished from the city from the rulers of the time.
Reading The Prince will not leave you indifferent, it will no doubt shock you by its bluntness and Machiavellic genius. Machiavelli argued in this book that a sovereign (who he calls a prince) must from time to time resort to unethical and immoral policies and practices in order to maintain control and maximize their own power and influence. In other words, a ruler should lie, cheat, break promises and so on to strengthen or maintain his control while pretending to promote the welfare of the people. The end justifies the means.
Machiavelli formulated his political theory after years of observing corrupt politics close up, having firsthand knowledge of all the dirty tricks and tactics that those rulers were using. This said, he accepts the fact that given the choice it is better to follow established moral and ethical precepts, except that politics is a tainted profession and being moral and ethical in politics can be a tall order.
“Saints passed their lives praying in monasteries or working in leper colonies. City hall was the domain of the devil. To survive in city hall, one had to adopt the tactics of the devil” Machiavelli.
What if you are being played by a policy of divide and conquer?
One of Machiavelli's key political strategies can be found in the Divide-and-Conquer-Policy. The divide-and-conquer policy allows the leaders to conquer their foes, and reinforce their ability to selfishly keep their positions of power and authority by creating intrigues and conflicts among the people leading them to fight against each other; leaving the ruler sitting comfortably on this throne eating popcorn and enjoying the show.
According to the Collins Dictionary, Divide and Conquer is “a concept that refers to a policy intended to keep someone in a position of power by causing disagreements among people who might otherwise unite against them.”
Divide and conquer is a strategy that has been used from the beginning of time and is still being used today. Peasants v Aristocrats, Rich v Poor, Black v White, Christian v Muslim, Men v Women, Straight vs Gay, Old v Young, Left v Right, Republicans v Democrats … and you can go on and on and on. Making people fight against each other serves the purpose of the rulers. There is a lot of discontent currently around the world, people are angry. The question is who benefits from it? The world is upside down and a lot of it doesn’t make sense. For more on this, feel free to check out my book “This Is Your Quest”.
The divide-and-conquer policy is widely used but is it really effective? Leaders who seek selfish interest and behave in a divide-and-conquer way, which hinders positive cohesive relationships, may not be rewarded with the respect and trust of their peers as a consequence. People may well realize that they are being played and if they are smart, they may decide to not play this divide-and-conquer game and decide to play unite-and-conquer instead.
What if you are being played and continue to act like two rats in a cage
A fascinating study with rats was conducted in 1966 by Roger Ulrich from the Michigan University in order to figure out if pain could be the cause and trigger of aggressive behavior. In this study, a single rat would be placed in a cage with an electrified metal grid floor. Painful electrical shocks were delivered randomly throughout the floor to the rat’s feet, causing the rat pain and making him utterly miserable. After a while, the experiment showed that the rat would eventually learn to tolerate those shocks, however uncomfortable.
Then the plot thickened, and a second rat was placed into the cage. Now, the 2 rats are being hit with electric shocks at the same time but instead of adjusting and tolerating these shocks, each rat now has a convenient object to blame for their discomfort, i.e. the other rat. The result is that those 2 rats would fight against each other sometimes to the death because of that anger.
This rat experiment can teach us a lot about people’s reactions to what is happening in the world at the moment. The rats fight each other because they can’t comprehend where the shocks are coming from. They don't understand that there is behind the screen a man in a white lab coat pushing a button triggering those electric shocks. And this is also valid for humans, people fight each other because they are miserable, but more often than not they haven’t taken the time to find out what is really shocking them.
Currently, we are being shocked from all angles, we are shocked every day by the fear of death by a virus. We are shocked by a system that is taking away all our liberties bits by bits. Our ability to move freely to wherever we want is under assault. Our ability to be able to work and earn a living is in jeopardy. Our ability to be able to think the way we think is being questioned. Our ability to be resilient and independent is being hindered. We are shocked every day when we go to the shop and see the prices keep going up. We are shocked every day when our paychecks are being nibbled away by higher and higher taxes. But it is very difficult to understand the why, how, and what on earth of this story. The result is we are suffering from shock-induced aggression that makes us point the finger at someone and direct our anger at that person or group of people.
What about pausing for a minute or two, to look at it from a different angle and take a wider perspective on things and ask ourselves the question: am I being played? Maybe I would be better off being united instead of being divided.
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