Notes politics

Law 18: Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself – Isolation is Dangerous (The 48 Laws of Power)

Law 18: Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself – Isolation is Dangerous

Isolation will not protect you from the dangers of the world, but it will cut you off from valuable information. Make allies and circulate among friends, you are shielded from your enemies by the crowd.

Transgression of the Law

Ch’in Shih Huang Ti was the first emperor of China (221-210 B.C) and the greatest emperor of his time. His empire was more powerful and larger than that of Alexander the Great. The emperor lived in a magnificent palace with hundreds of rooms and secret underground passageways. He slept in a different room every night. If anyone disturbed him, they would be beheaded.

The first emperor became terrified of human contact. One day, while he made a trip through the provinces, he suddenly died. His body was carried back to the capital by his couriers, but no one knew about his death. He died alone, away from his wives, family, and friends.

Shih Huang Ti was a fearless, ambitious warrior. His tricks and violence led to the unification of China. He built the Great Wall of China and standardized the country’s laws. But he outlawed the writings of Confucius, the influential philosopher who’s moral teachings were revered by the Chinese people. The emperor burned thousands of the philosopher’s books, and killed any of his followers. The writer Han-fei-tzu, noted that “Ch’in has been victorious for four generations, yet has lived in constant terror and apprehension of destruction.”

The emperor withdrew deeper into the palace to protect himself, but slowly lost control of the realm. Ministers acted without his approval or knowledge and plotted against him. In fact, Shih Huang Ti was likely poisoned by them.

A good and wise prince, desirous of maintaining that character, and to avoid giving the opportunity to his sons to become oppressive, will never build fortresses, so that they may place their reliance upon the good will of their subjects, and not upon the strength of citadels.

-Niccolo Machiavelli

Isolation can bring dangerous consequences. Without an ear on the streets, you are shielded from knowing about plots against you. You will become defenseless.

The exception is thought. Constant human contact can interfere with clear thinking. It is a smart short-term tactic to isolate yourself. Machiavelli was only able to write The Prince after finding himself in exile, residing in a quiet farm. Isolation can help you gain perspective, but too much of it can lead to strange and perverted ideas.

While your awareness of the bigger picture is increased, you lose touch with your own limitations and smallness. It is easier to become deluded without human contact. And the longer you stay isolated, the harder it is to get out of its quicksand. Isolation should be used in small doses and with caution.

Read The 48 Laws of Power

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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