“Machiavellian Intelligence” is a recent concept. However, it has been practiced for at least 400 million years. What is Machiavellian Intelligence? Any form of intelligence which uses a Theory of Mind to predict, and sometimes, as we will see below, dictate, the behavior of others (this my definition, which generalizes the usual one, which is confined to large social groups).
Any animal with a sufficiently advanced intelligence acts, relative to other animals, with a Theory of what the Mind of the other is. For short, philosophers call that a Theory of Mind.
Elaborated originally when studying primates, the “Machiavellian intelligence hypothesis” (Byrne and Whiten 1988, 1997) is that the large brains of humans grew over the millennia because of intense social competition for reproduction (now of course, food is even more important than reproduction… and survival, more than food… So limiting to a social group is silly.)
However, considered in my much more general sense, Machiavellian intelligence has existed probably since the first fishes ambled on land, if not before (such fishes nowadays, such as Mudskippers spend some time threatening and fighting each other for their piece of mud… It is of such animals and their ilk, we are talking about today).
For example the mother crocodile which charges or, actually, any animal making a mock charge, uses a Theory of Mind (they know they may scare away the enemy, because the enemy will be afraid; thus they know something about the mind of the enemy, and they conceive of fear ).
In human beings, Machiavellian Intelligence can reach heights unsuspected by traditional scholarship.
Consider insults. The very principle of insulting depneds upon having a Therory of Mind. Generally insults are viewed first as the mark of anger, the products of gross and primitive minds. But there is much more to it. Insults can be proffered to change the mind of the adversary in a very deep way.
I got severely insulted on the Internet in recent months. The perpetrators have TDS, Trump Derangement Syndrome, according to which whoever did not agree with what they were injected with, is most evil. The plutocratically owned Main Stream Media (including “public” outfits for sale, such as NPR and PBS) decreted that all heretics were racist, homophobic, anti-Muslim, Lesbian, Transexual hater, “Alt-Right”, “red”, combative and generally atrocious. One did not have to be a supporter of Trump to attract a frenzy of insults. Being a simple supporter of the Truth, in any way, was deemed enough for a deluge of insults.
I must confess that I supported the Truth really a lot, partly in the hope of studying the flow of insulters, and what it was the insulters hope to achieve. The more I supported Truth, the more enraged the insulters got. I found that sad, as a simple human being with simple feelings, for people I used to consider friendly, or, at least, decent, yet, the more I got insulted, the more very interesting I found the entire exercise, as a philosopher trending towards ever more sophistication..
ven by people whom I have known face to face, accused me to be a “racist”, an “antisemite”, or a “racist troll”. Several of these people know my family is multiracial, from three continents. That my parents and closest family fought the Nazis in uniform or in the resistance, taking huge risks, even hunted by Gestapo. Some even knew that said family has been extremely tight with Obama for more than four decades (and they adulate Obama, whom they never met, as if he was the new Golden Calf).
In spite of evidence to the contrary, and without supporting sophisticated reasoning for hurling such infamy, the insults kept coming, and were widely advertized in “social networks”. Someone important explained to me that the insulters were mostly posing to reassure their allies, and employers (in the “liberal” media) that there was no way they knew a monster such as me.
But then I discovered this:
Something insulters want, and all too often get, is for their preys to become according to their insults.
Facebook friend John Michael Gartland agreed: That’s just what I was thinking. Others I exposed the idea to had an “eureka moment”.
So insults flow from a Theory of Mind. “Fighting words” (a legal notion) are there to incite coming to blows. But what I revealed above is more subtle.
Say you know somebody who is not a racist, not a xenophobe, not a liar. Still, suppose that person is insulted, and called, publicly, a “racist”, “xenophobe”, “liar”, and other derogatory terms, relentlessly. What to do to get out of it if denials only excite the insulters to further abuse? Paradoxically, the natural reaction is to embrace the deplorable condition which is unjustly conferred, is to embrace it: that immediately drops the charge of bad faith and lying.
Also, having received already the punishment, why not enjoy its fruits? And if it irritates so much the insulters, why not to strike back with what infuriates them so much?
Such is one of the infernal loops which foster conflicts. Thus, confronted to insults, replying with just “esprit”, tack to tack, as Voltaire (and many others) used to, is not always the wisest behavior. Insults are how the creeps transfer their inferiority to ourselves. Let’s go higher, to crush the insulters, as the roaches they are.
To the violence haters and insulters propose, impose and live by, we have an alternative: intelligent, honest debate, going boldly where they can’t want to. Nothing infuriates them more.