Tuesday, May 10, 2011
On Speaking of Others
Machiavelli's perception of human nature is essentially pessimistic. It applies specifically to his position as a theorist of power relations, and is even perhaps contingent on his position as a minister/ repository of gubernatorial power. He sees men as either of two contraries - as instruments of control or as subjects fit to be controlled. This dichotomy, needless to say, behoves his job as a Florentine princely stooge. The putative thrust of his discourse on princely conduct can, however, be extrapolated to apply to human relations beyond the context of power politics (behaviour of rulers, etc.), or even extrinsically to the politics of conversation. If you look at his discourse on the need for princes to "maintain [their] reputations", you will find an acute and incisive take on the vagaries of what is today generally called "gossip". Through his aphoristic statements, he reiterates that it is more pragmatic to be reserved. How often do we experience a feeling of discomfort with our own easy conversation and loose tongue! We occasionally feel irritable at our own excessive chatter and our easy dispensing of gossip placed conveniently at our disposal. The surfeit of emotive affect strikes you as being uncharacteristic of yourself and disconcerting only later, with the concomitant and unpleasant realization that you might have offended someone. Gossip can be innocuous, but ultimately, as Machiavelli rightly points out, not being circumspect can become a bit of a bad habit.