Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fraud, Swindle and Truth

Last week I found myself out of reading material.  I had finished the March editions of National Geographic and Smithsonian, and mentioned in a previous post that I had completed the Winter 2014 Laphams quarterly.  And, of course, I had finally published An Atheist for Christ, which was the project I had hoped to complete via my built up vacation days from work.  Fortunately, the Lapham spring 2015 edition arrived in the mail.  Good timing, good topic; Swindle and Fraud.

About 30 pages in, I encountered The Importance of Being Deceptive, taken from The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli.  I would imagine that most people have heard of Machiavelli although he is probably also one of those writers that many people think they "know", but have not actually read.  I include myself in that statement, as I do not recall ever reading The Prince, but have described various people and/or policies as Machiavellian.  So, spent a few minutes on Wikipedia reading about the man; for those also curious, here is a link.

I imagine that most people, were they to be asked if Machiavelli was a good person or bad person, might assume the worst based on their understandings of, and the connotations associated with, the term based on his last name.  It may surprise many people then, when they read that he was an historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher and humanist.  That he is considered one of the founders of modern political science, more specifically political ethics.  And, that he also wrote comedies, carnival songs and poetry.  In short, he was an accomplished, erudite thinker, and exerted much influence in early 16th century Florentine, which means therefore, he was an important figure during the Renaissance.  

That his greatest work, which includes his views on the importance of a strong ruler who is not afraid to be harsh with his subjects and enemies and less truthful than wise, may be more a result of his living during the time of strong but warring Italian city-states which were vulnerable to the other unified nation states, particularly France.

In other words, his philosophy was as much influenced by his place in time as his personal beliefs.

So far, I have only read about a quarter of Laphams Swindle and Fraud edition but I am beginning to see a pattern.  Regardless of the time, 1200 BC Troy or Rome, 16th century Florentine or London, or 20th century Nuremburg or New York, there have always been those who use fraud and deception to gain power, fame and riches, for, as it was so notably quoted, "there has never been a shortage of sheep to be fleeced".

(Note here.  If indeed, there have always been a subset of men who spend their days looking for pigeons, always finding them with ease, doesn't that mean that most men therefore are honest?  And isn't that a good thing?)

Today as I was walking the dog, I wondered what Machiavelli might think of the United States of America today.  Would he nod approvingly? 

Is not our entire advertisement industry based on deceit?   What product or service is not touted as the best?  And the pharmaceutical industry has created a whole new category of advertisement deceit in which they invent a disease, create a pill, then, via small print or an overdubbed voice tell you that their product might kill you.  All the while showing happy people who have been cured.

Politics?  Just today I saw a 2016 presidential candidate announce that he will be shopping for his health care insurance via the exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act, the day after he proclaimed that if elected president he would repeal every single aspect of said act.  He is not above taking part when it suits him, nor is he troubled by castigating it when talking to his base.

Perception is the most important thing, substance a distant second, if that.  Obama is a socialist whose policies will wreck the American economy.  You can hear someone saying it on Fox and in many American homes every day.  Yet, since the peak of the recession, say around 2010, the US economy has not only rebounded, but it may be argued is as strong as any, in the world.  Unemployment is under 6%.  The stock market flirts at record highs every other week.  Corporation war chests are bursting with cash.  And, even better (or most likely even worse), the 1% have continued to realize a bigger portion of the pie than ever. 

The rich people club of America could not have written a better script; paint the president as anti-business, label equal pay for equal work, and higher minimum wage proposals as socialist, weaken unions, and allow jobs and assets to be sent offshore where lower wages, and taxes can double and triple profits.  And, oh yes, encourage the GOP to continue tossing out losing presidential tickets and far right candidates with limited agendas and intelligence, so that the rich can continue to feed the lie that big government is the enemy. 

At this point, one has to wonder if truth is even possible.  Would we buy a product that advertises that it is as good as the rest?  Or that it is cheaper because it is not quite as good?  Would we vote for a candidate that tells us that we can't be the world's policeman, without expecting blowback from those that we kill and displace?  Or a candidate that tells us that we can't pay for the benefits we expect without paying our fair share of taxes? 

Is the truth, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder?

If so, then Machiavelli it is!!




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