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.


Bel esprit said...

Dear Arjun, to begin with, I would like to congratulate you on your well written blog...

But I see that you have quite viciously reprimanded "gossip". So, in defense of the guilty, I would like to comment that gossip often serves to be an instrument of change; it is in fact this intrinsic characteristic of gossip, that often makes it an apparatus of the state- this pattern has been recognized by almost all political thinkers including Plato, Castiglione, Marx, Althusser and definitely our old friend in concern here- Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli... You cannot deny the fact that gossip is one of those cornerstones of human civilization, on which the modern society was founded.

In fact, in the Indian context, it was just "a gossip" which had resulted in one of the most famous uprisings in the subcontinent- that of the Indian Rebellion of 1857!

Arjun Rajkhowa said...

Thanks for reading this.

I should assure you that I too am of the guilty party. Yes, gossip is effective. Not doubt.

I felt the urge to write this note after a certain incident, and I felt sort of bemused by my own willingness to let spill things I wouldn't otherwise. It's complicated. We like to pass on information, but we sometimes feel tacitly reprimanded for it.

I like your blog, by the way.