Use deceit only to avoid direct conflict

Con men and abusers use deceit to exploit the weak. Why engage in it if your intentions are not exploitative? Deceit may be used in all parts of our life, but we refrain from doing so in most cases. There is no rationale for using deceit beyond manipulating people for our own benefit. But consider Sun Tzu’s viewpoint in the art of war.

The worst type of warfare is a direct, protracted conflict. This is where two equal powers declare their intentions and both armies fight head on. Since the forces are equal on both sides, the conflict becomes long, costly, and bloody. If deceit can be used to avoid direct conflict, then it is ethical to use it because it reduces harm.

Imagine a fictional scenario where the ruler of one empire (Wu) understands that a war with the neighboring empire (Tzei) is inevitable. Conquering Wu would provide Tzei with vital resources and trade routes. All previous truces and trade agreements will not realistically prevent this war. The ruler of Wu predicts that Tzei could immediately deploy an army of equal size to that of Wu, but the Tzei ruler would prefer to buy time and build up its army further.

The ruler of Wu then deceives Tzei by concealing his intention to strike at Tzei first. The Wu ambassadors to Tzei give contradictory messages of peace and deterrence, thereby creating the impression that the Wu ruler is confused, possibly frightened and indecisive. At the same time, the secret agents of Wu find a Tzei spy working in the Wu courts. Instead of arresting the mole, they feed him false information that will convince Tzei that the Wu ruler desperately wants to avoid a war. This convinces the ruler of Tzei to let down his guard and built up an army instead of attacking immediately. The invasion of Tzei by Wu forces a week later surprises the Tzei ruler and generals so much that they can not prepare an adequate defense in time. What could have been years of warfare is resolved within a matter of months by the defeat of Tzei.

Notice that in this scenario, Wu was acting in self-defense, which may mitigate morally the use of deceit and warfare. But consider if Tzei would have used the tactics of Wu instead, not for self-preservation but for personal gain of resources and trade routes. The intentions are less pure, but more importantly, a long direct battle was avoided, which would have entailed more costs and loss of life.

Do not delight in your cunning, but make use of it, because it is not possible to survive without it. Mask your true nature and conceal your intentions if this information can be used against you and what is dear to you.

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Human nature: Tragic or Utopian?

Some of you who read the works of writers like Machiavelli, Schopenhauer, or Robert Greene may not just bulk at the amorality of their works, but also their dim view of human nature. Some of them use language that crosses the line into outright misanthropy.

Sun Tzu wrote that to win a battle, we need to see ourselves, others, and the environment for what it is. Only then can we come up with an appropriate strategy.

If you deny the nature of yourself and others, then your strategy itself will be flawed. The only texts that have helped me take control of my life were those that explain human nature, both its positive and negative aspects. Other texts may provide strategies how to deal with people and even our nature, but offer no insight over why we have problems with our human nature in the first place. In most cases, they avoid the reasons for humanity’s shortcomings.

Steven Pinker uses the terms Tragic vision and Utopian vision in his book Blank Slate- the denial of human nature. These two terms encompass the two poles of philosophy on human nature, and underpin the differing political views that come through dealing with human condition.

The tragic vision states that humans are “limited in their knowledge, wisdom and virtue, and all social arrangements must acknowledge these limits” (p. 287). Despite all advancements in civilisation, human nature and its inherent selfishness have not changed. “Traditions such as religion, the family, social customs, sexual mores, and political institutions are a distillation of time-tested techniques that let us around the shortcoming of human nature. They are applicable to human today as when they were developed, even if no one can explain their rationale.”

The Utopian vision envisions human nature as infinitely malleable. Goodness or badness in a person is not an inherent trait but formed by outside influences, either sociological, cultural, or political. Shortcomings in our nature are due to shortcomings in our upbringing or society. Even if we were born with certain innate traits, these can be changed according to society’s demands. Every human is different based because of their different experiences, and there are no universal human traits because of this.

Steven Pinker approaches the subject of human nature from an evolutionary psychology standpoint. Though his view of humanity is not as dark as the purist version of the Tragic vision, he highlights how many of our traits, both good and bad, were inherited, and much of it can not be avoided. I advise you to read the book to truly understand our basic nature and how to deal with our collective shortcomings.

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Theory of mind- morality and machiavellism

To construct a strategy, you need to know three things. Know the nature of others, know the nature of your environment, and know the nature of yourself. You need to understand human nature in general, and individuals in detail.

What is the first question about human nature that emerges in your mind?

Is it whether man is inherently good or evil? Were we born noble, but decay morally in this harsh world? Is society the only civilising force on the inherent baseness of man? Is evil a mere aberation from humanity, or an integral part of it?

What if I were to tell you that the very thing that provides humanity with morality is the same thing that allows us to deceive, manipulate, and betray others? That goodness is directly fused with evil?

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Mishima and the nature of a writer

I came to Mishima because he was the type of character I might’ve invented if he had not existed.
Director Paul Shrader on Japanese writer Yukio Mishima. Source.

The film Mishima: a life in four chapters does not have a logical reason to exist. A ten million dollar production about an insane Japanese writer, in Japanese with English subtitles, had no chance of recouping its cost in America. It was not shown in Japanese theaters either until recently on television in an edited form. Yukio Mishima’s homosexuality, the resistance of Mishima’s widow who directed the Mishima estate, and Mishima’s ultranationalistic political beliefs barred it from being shown there. Death threats were made against Shrader’s production, and Shrader claims to have directed the film while wearing a kevlar suit.

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New header: Love and desire

I started a list of aphorisms and maxims about love and desire. I’ll update it regularly (at least I promise to).

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Life strategy: Give yourself the space to fail

Winners are obligated to keep on winning. His/her followers will not tolerate anything less, and will forget all of the winner’s previous successes in the face of a recent failure. Your followers will feel betrayal for having believed in you in the first place.

Most ambitious people fear obscurity, and the impatient want fame as soon as possible. But consider this: obscurity gives you the space needed to make mistakes and learn. You may hate the initial years where you drudge through your work and training without receiving any recognition. But these frustrating years can represent the time where you have the most freedom and learn the most. Once you do enter the public gaze of your chosen field, you have years of experience that prepare you to deal with the pressures of expectation.

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The treacherous confidence brought on by philosophy

My main interest in philosophy lies in trying to understand the adversities of the human condition and thereby try to gain some control in what seems to be a chaotic and frightening reality. Reading the philosophy of a Sun Tzu or a Robert Greene can feel like a religious expereince, even if the work is completely removed (or in direct contradiction) with spiritual matters. But this feeling is treacherous.

Feelings of comfort can hampen our progress. Dissatisfaction and despair often motivate us to improve our lives despite the costs of doing so. Words of comfort can reduce our drive for change. Words that are meant to inspire can lead to complacency.

Knowledge is not the same as action. The Chinese have a proverb; To know but not do is not to know. The German poet Goethe expressed it this way: Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do. It still surprises me how the simplest truths take years of experience to fully understand, even if we believe we understand them immediately.

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