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Machiavelli was right, too often

More inspiration from , who has written a story that is a series of letters from Lucius Malfoy to Draco, while Lucius is in prison.  They read like Machiavelli (with a dash of Heinlein thrown in), and have led to a philosophical thought (I’ll just type this and then go get some advil).

I struggle with understanding the boundary between things I choose to believe because of my personal ethics versus those I’m willing to say everyone should follow.  The former should be kept as my own code of behavior, and not enforced on anyone else.  The latter, I’m willing to see laws and policing to compel others to follow them.

Examples?  Well, several of my friends are vegetarian (Hi, !) and I respect their choice but wouldn’t want it enforced on me.  I believe you should take care of your body, so I would not choose to smoke.  But I’m opposed to making smoking (of anything, really) illegal.  I believe that harming another person solely because of that person’s race or religion is wrong, and that belief is sufficiently global that I think going to war against Hitler was the right thing to do.

There’s a whole other range of things in there where I believe they’re right, but note they’re also sufficiently practical that even ethically defunct people may find value in doing them.  Makes me suspect most ethics are, at their core, pragmatic rules of thumb.  Shiv gives us an example in her story: 

If you can do someone a favour at little cost to yourself, then it should be done. Later, they may return the favour, in which case you have gained an ally. If they do not return the favour then you have discovered something whose value exceeds the cost of learning it – they are not to be trusted. It is better to learn this over a trifle, than when your life or your liberty is at stake.

Now, my ethic tells me the first line should be the truth, without having to be justified.  But, the following lines make a valuable point and could convince someone far less kind than I that gratuitous kindnesses are a Good Thing. 

The point of all this is that I’m coming to realize that the words of people I dislike can be a good measuring stick for what is personal ethic, and what should be universal.  Machievelli appears to have been an amoral putz, but he was an amoral putz who knew how to get by in the world.  If something he said also fits with my gut instinct about how people should behave, that’s probably one of those universals I was talking about…

Um… I’m unhappy with this because I think it’s missing a lot of subtle shadings of thought here, but I think the basic core is there.  I’ll go take that painkiller now…


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