Being Machiavellian is not optimal

We all know those people: they seem to be smart, or so they think. They always nudge people towards what’s good for them. They always have a hidden agenda when talking to you. They seem to have gotten ahead in life, and make you question why the world is so unfair.

One may argue that, in an optimized life, individuals treat other people as chess pieces whose sole purpose is to help themselves to get ahead in life. Then an optimizer’s strategy is to use people as much as one can, to become a Machiavellian strategist in handling relationships with others, right?

Wrong. Life is not a one-shot game. Ruthlessly taking advantage of others will backfire, ruin onces’ reputation, and, at the very least, lose trust. Trust is what our species evolved to rely on. Without trust, our society and civilization will collapse. If you distrust that person who always took advantage of you, your feeling might also be shared by other people surrounding that person. Next time, instead of being upset about the unfairness of life, relfect on how that Machiavellian individual lost your trust. Most importantly, don’t let them make you cynical: always default to cooperating in the games of life. Observe them and do the opposite. Being helpful, giving rather than only taking, being the opposite of Machiavellian, is the robust optimization way to a good life.

Written on September 4, 2021