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Law 42: Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep will Scatter (The 48 Laws of Power)

Law 42: Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep will Scatter

A single individual can be the cause of trouble, this person is the stirrer, the arrogant subordinate, or the poisoner of goodwill. Strike at him to put an end to his poison.

 At the end of the sixth century B.C, Athens established a democracy that would last a century. This was its proudest achievement but with time, new problems arose. How to deal with those who disrupted the cohesion of the city, that was surrounded by enemies?

The Athenians found an alternative to violent punishment. They relied on a less brutal way to maintain order. Each year, they would gather in the marketplace and right the names of the individual they wanted to banish for 10 years. If a name appeared 6000 times, they were exiled, otherwise, the person with the most votes would be ostracised.

In 490 B.C, a great general named Aristides defeated the Persians at the battle of Marathon. He was a just man off the battlefield. But with time, the Athenians came to dislike him. He became too righteous and scorned the common folk. Eventually they had him banished.

Themistocles replaced the general but he too became conceited and was eventually banished. Pericles was another political figure that faced the threat of ostracism but his close ties to the people staved off this fate. His tutor was Damon, the artistically, musically and orally gifted Athenian. But Pericles eventually suffered ostracism.

At the end of the fifth century, there was Hyperbolus, who was described by many as the city’s most worthless member. He slandered people freely and didn’t care about what people thought of him. Some were amused, but most were irritated by him. Hyperbolus wanted to stir up anger between two leading politicians, Alcibiades and Nicias. He wanted to take their place. Alcibiades’ flamboyant lifestyle and Nicias’ wealth and aloofness were frowned upon by Athenians. But the two politicians pooled their resources to take down Hyperbolus. Because Hyperbolus was considered a low buffoon, the practice of banishment that had gone on for nearly a century came to an end. The Athenians saw no value in ostracism anymore.

Trouble within a group is often caused b one person, the chronically dissatisfied one. Recognize the troublemakers and do as the Athenians did, get rid of them before they infect the others with their anxieties.

Another story is told about Boniface, a cardinal who wanted to take over Florence. The poet Dante was a gifted orator and highly influential in Florence and supporter of the whites, the newly rich merchant class. The blacks were old money. A conspiracy took place to remove Dante from Florence so that the blacks could gain power. Dante’s skillset was a threat to the cardinal’s mission. Boniface and his allies succeeded in doing so, and when the city was taken over, Dante was prevented from going back home for the rest of his days.

When you strike the shepherd, the sheep will move in all directions. It is easier to defeat one man than an entire army.

If you draw a bow, draw the strongest. If you use an arrow, use the longest. To shoot a rider, first shoot his horse. To catch a gang of bandits, first capture its leader. Just as a country has its border, so the killing of men has its limits. If the enemy’s attack can be stopped [with a blow to the head], why have any more dead and wounded than necessary?

Chinese poet Tu Fu, Tang dynasty, eighth century

Read The 48 Laws of Power

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

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