Diogenes of Sinope was quite a colourful character. Perhaps you know of him, he was after all one of the better known Cynics. Plato knew him too, and often took the piss.
Diogenes you see, was more sensitive than most to the absurdity of the human condition. He found Greek society to be nothing more than a contrivance and affectation. It's said that Alexander The Great, himself an admirer of Diogenes, asked why he was rifling through a pile of bones one day. Diogenese said to him "I'm looking for the bones of your father, but I can't distinguish them from his slaves'."
Diogenes advocated simplicity and self-sufficiency. He saw politics, social climbing, cultural norms and religion as nonsense and nothing more than deceptive, self-delusional claptrap. So he eschewed all that he considered false and lived like an animal. He spent his life in abject poverty, begging and sometimes stealing his food.
Neither did he temper his behaviour in public. Seeing no reason to behave differently than he would in private, he'd defecate in front of crowds. He was also known to masturbate furiously in the local market. "If only one could satisfy a hungry belly just by rubbing it" he'd say. I imagine Plato would watch this and shake his head muttering "wanker" under his breath.
If I were Plato, I'd be pretty pissed with him too. Apparently Diogenes had stamped mud all over his carpets one day and spelt out "I trample upon the pride of Plato". Plato, always one for words retorted, "Yes, Diogenes, with pride of another sort."
Which pretty much sums him, and the Cynics 'philosophy' per-se, right up. Because for me, Diogenes was nothing more than a performance artist and therefore just as affected as the society he was ridiculing.
Perhaps, this was the very point he was trying to make - a point that's as valid today as it was two and a half thousand years ago;
Society is indeed nothing more than contrivance and affectation. We are all, each and every one of us, actors and manipulators. We lie as a matter of course and spend most of our time vying for status whilst pretending that we're not.
How else can we manage to live in such a complex society, one with ever shifting alliances, pressures and opportunities unless we're a bit Machiavellian? Honesty is not always the best policy.
Take the other day for example. I was in a meeting with someone quite senior from a 'competitor' organisation. He likes to remind people of his seniority as often as he can. We needed to reach an agreement between our two organisations. So I smiled politely and nodded sagely, tentatively argued some points and gently guided the discussion to a mutually agreeable point.
You see, I'm cleverer than he is and quite frankly, better looking. So I used his male bravado to my advantage. I allowed him to feel in control, and tolerated his puff chested bleating long enough to subtly (I think), shape the proceedings to our advantage.
On the other hand I could have told him that had a small cock as he seemed to spend most of his time compensating for it. However, this would have done neither of us any favours.
So had I been manipulative in the pejorative sense? Or was I simply being charming and persuasive? Either way, did the ends justify the means? I think so.
Now, I have a theory about really manipulative people. You know the type - always out for themselves and engineering stuff to their advantage at the detriment to others. Conniving little bastards really.
You can spot them a mile off, can't you? Maybe not at first, but it's never long before you're either warned off them, or you discover their nature for yourself.
I propose that these people are just crap at manipulation. Why else do they keep getting caught out? They haven't grasped the subtleties of it and think that winning is about the other loosing. Their Machiavellian Intelligence is poor.
Now I for one, think we should celebrate our contrivance and affectation rather than bemoan it. It's the very thing that makes us human and so evolutionarily successful. Manipulation, lying and posturing are the only way that we can get on in life without murdering each other. It's the oil that lubricates our society.
Mind, I may be just being an old cynic. I wouldn't trust me as far as you could throw me...