It started with a tweet. Eddie Codel described Boston's streets as "Kafkaesque." I found it on Wikipedia (it means disorienting), along with a listing of other name-inspired words. One caught my eye: Machiavellianism. The first line of the Wikipedia entry:
Machiavellianism is the term that some social and personality psychologists use to describe a person's tendency to deceive and manipulate others for personal gain.
It comes from Nicollo Machiavelli, a Renaissance writer, diplomat, etc. known, in part, for principles of conduct that are marked by cunning, duplicity and bad faith. His most famous work is The Prince.
Upon a bit more investigation, I found that there is a personality test called a MACH-IV test that gauges a person's Machiavellianism. Apparently there are "high machs" (likely to agree with Machiavelli) and "low machs" (unlikely to agree). Most people are in the middle (I'm a low mach). Take the 20-question test here.
When I first read about all of this, I couldn't help but think about the spammers and blackhats of the web. Aside from the trash that they produce, I'm fascinated by the people behind the spam. Who are these people? How did they get this way? What motivates them outside of money? Do they know right from wrong? How can they justify their decisions?
Viewed with a Machiavellian lens, I see spammers a little differently. It makes me wonder if spammers are born vs. made. Perhaps this is the source of my fascination - that spammers aren't just unethical, but possibly a bit mental. An insightful article in Salon has this quote:
McHoskey's article argued that high Machs possess, to a greater or lesser degree, the qualities associated with classic psychopaths: a lack of remorse, pathological lying, glibness and superficial charm, a grandiose sense of self-worth.
Sound familiar? Here are a few interesting questions from the MACH IV test that is based on Machiavelli's "The Prince" (on an agree/disagree scale). How do you think a spammer responds compared to you?
5) It is safest to assume that all people have a vicious streak and it will come out when they are given a chance.
8) Generally speaking, people won't work hard unless they're forced to do so.
13) The biggest difference between most criminals and other people is that the criminals are stupid enough to get caught.
16) It is possible to be good in all respects.
9) All in all, it is better to be humble and honest than to be important and dishonest.
If nothing else, I can now start to incorporate this word into my day-to-day life. Instead of obscenities, spam will now just make me say - oh how Machiavellian! Or, maybe it'll actually be - oh how $#@&ing Machiavellian!