Are We Becoming a Machiavellian Nation?

If deemed useful and effective in eliciting valuable information that could save lives, torture should be allowed as a legitimate government tool. (A view being espoused today by a large sector of the population.)

Why are we as a society looking for more innovative ways to cheat? Cheating is still looked upon as shameful and crude behavior; the type of behavior that wrecks careers and reputations.

This thought brings me to Machiavellianism.
It used to be that we regarded the maxim, “the end justifies the means,” as the epitome of base utilitarian and unethical conduct. We still do, although much, much less.

Although Machiavelli has endured a worse rap than he probably deserves—he favored a republican form of government and individual liberties—he probably is the best known intellectual father of the belief that downright cruel means, as well as other questionable moral practices, should be justified if the ultimate ends pursued are worth attaining. Hence, ordering the execution of one’s sons or one’s brother for opposing their father’s or his sibling’s political rule was an efficient—and supposedly ethical–way to expediently restore freedom and eradicate corruption in a deteriorating republic or to establish a new one.

That perhaps the majority of the world’s population would firmly reject such coarse utilitarianism as unnecessarily devious and barbaric might require little by way of explanation. And, although such a distorted sense of pragmatism has always been a tempting option among humans, this type of behavior has been mostly regarded as sinful, evil, immoral, or all three altogether.

Although Machiavelli’s ethical acrobatics were limited to the political world as opposed to individual morality, its spin-off, Machiavellianism, refers to similar modes of behavior that now have extended throughout modern societies.  Writing during the Christianized culture of sixteenth century Renaissance Italy, Machiavelli nonetheless showed preference for the values and principles of the old Roman republic, when none of the major monotheistic religions had yet surfaced; thus, his preference for so-called pagan ethos. But Machiavellianism should not be considered unethical or immoral by different standards simply because of its pagan roots. Modern day pagans–humanists, atheists and agnostics–are as capable of ethical behavior as supposedly ardent religious believers are competent at violating their moral ethics through hateful and cruel conduct.

In the past, Machiavellian behavior was not so easily emulated by society, mostly because of the cultural vigor of long established and largely religiously-inspired ethos suggesting that the quality of human life was dictated by ethical standards that were different from those that Machiavelli offered to the political world. So, even though people cheated and acted savagely these modes of behavior were still considered immoral and sinful. In time, this ethos would serve to educate the masses and to civilize social institutions.

Despite the barbarity that we so commonly notice today throughout the world, it might come as a surprise—it might even sound idiotic—if we were told that we live in a more civilized world than the one that existed one thousand, five hundred, or two hundred years ago. In fact, however, if we select any ten indicators of civilized behavior, it is my firm view that today we live in a more civilized world society, particularly in countries with republican democracies as forms of government.

And yet, a mode of primitive pragmatism keeps tempting our human nature: the need to cut corners, to take the easy way out, to eschew what is honorable, or in this case, to seek means or modes of behavior that are both effective and efficient in the attainment of highly desirable and moral goals, regardless of their morality.

In other words, the idea that questionable means taint the very ends they seek to reach is failing to develop in the minds of many who exert a cultural influence in our society.

Even though we live in a highly advanced civilization, in many cases reason seems to dictate that efficiency and effectiveness should be the most reasonably efficient and effective standards for selecting our modes of behavior and our social policies. Thus, it is not surprising that old ethos are being replaced with new ones, conditioned by science, technology, productivity, and new definitions of progress with emphasis on tangible and expedient results.

The temptation to justify unethical means to attain worthy, respectable or even noble goals has become stronger today on account of—and thanks to—modern means of communications. Any mode of behavior that takes place today is immediately disseminated to the masses through the internet, TV, radio, and the printed media, and later incorporated into the entertainment industry. Once we realize that certain modes of behavior are being carried out, these are no longer “private.” Instead, they become public, particularly when they find well-known public individuals that would engage in or support these behaviors, be they politicians, athletes, journalists, and those in the entertainment field or the faceless who manage our private/public business corporations.

We are no longer willing to put up with anything that retards progress, success or advancement, whether it is in politics, war, business, health, education, personal looks, comfort, or social status. Today, inasmuch as the actual value and dignity of human life has exponentially increased in modern societies, both in word and deed, these ethos are being threatened by a modern sense of Machiavellianism: condoning torture to save lives; engaging in preventive wars to deter potential enemies from attacking us; pushing the greed envelope to its limit to create wealth; destroying human embryos and fetuses to improve individual health or to eliminate major and minor inconveniences; promoting gambling to raise funds to educate children; consuming steroids to extend one’s shelf life as an athlete, and countless other modes of behavior.

So, if cheating is still looked upon as dishonorable and shameful behavior because it justifies contemptible and unworthy means to attain worthy and/or respectable human needs and wants, why is it so difficult to realize that we are incorporating cheating into our everyday social lives and thus becoming Machiavellianized as a society?

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