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Do Not Build Fortresses To Defend Yourself - Isolation Is Dangerous

The world is dangerous and enemies are everywhere - everyone needs to protect themselves. A fortress seems the safest. But, isolation exposes you to more danger than it protects you from danger - it cuts you off from valuable information, it makes you conspicuous and an easy target. Better to circulate among people, find allies, mingle. You are shielded from your enemies by the crowd.

Machiavelli makes the argument that in a strictly military sense, a fortress is a mistake. It becomes a symbol of power's isolation and is an easy target. Designed to defend you, a fortress cuts you off from help and reduces your flexibility. They may appear impregnable, but once you retire to one, everyone knows where you are and your fortress can be turned into your prison. With their small and confined spaces, fortresses are extremely vulnerable to diseases. In a strategic sense, the isolation of a fortress provides no protection and creates more problems that it solves.

Solitude is dangerous to reason, without being favorable to virtue. Remember that the solitary mortal is certainly luxurious, probably superstitious, and possibly mad. Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784

Because humans are social creatures by nature, power depends on social interaction and circulation. To make yourself powerful, you must place yourself at the center of things. All activity should revolve around you, and you should be aware of everything happening in your realm. The difficulty comes for most people when they feel threatened. In such times, they tend to retreat and close ranks, to find security in a kind of fortress. In doing so, they tend to rely on information from a smaller and smaller group, and lose perspective on events around them. They lose maneuverability and become easy targets, and their isolation makes them paranoid. As in warfare and most games of strategy, isolation often precedes defeat.

King Louis XIV not only saw to it that all the high nobility was present at his court, he demanded the same of minor nobility. At his lever and coucher, at his meals, in his gardens of Versailles, he always looked about him noticing everything. He was offended, if the most distinguished nobles did not live permanently at court, and those, who showed themselves never or hardly ever, incurred his full displeasure. If one of these desired something, the king would say proudly, "I do not know him," and the judgement was irrevocable. Duc de St Simon, 1675-1755

In moments of uncertainty and danger, you need to fight this desire to turn inward. Make yourself more accessible, seek out old allies and make new ones, force yourself into more and more different circles. This has been the tactic of powerful people for centuries.

The Roman statesman, Cicero, was born into the lower nobility and had little chance of power, unless he made a place for himself among the aristocrats, who controlled the city. He succeeded brilliantly, identifying everyone with influence and deteremining their inter-connections. He mingled everywhere, knew everyone and had such a vast network of connections that an enemy here could easily be offset by an ally there.

Since humans are such social creatures, it follows that the social arts must be practiced with constant exposure and circulation. The more you are in contact with others, the more graceful and at ease you become. Isolation ,however, engenders an awkwardness in your gestures and leads to further isolation, as people avoid you.

Imagine the fortress. High up on the hill, the citadel becomes a symbol of all that is hateful in power and authority. The citizens of the town betray you to the first enemy that comes. Cut off from communication and intelligence, the citadel falls with ease.

Instead of falling into the fortress mentality, view the world in the following manner: It is like a vast palace, with every room communicating with another. You need to be permeable, able to float in and out of different circles and mix with different types. This kind of mobility and social contact will protect you. Always on the move, you mix and mingle in the rooms of the palace, never settling in one place. No hunter can fix his aim on a swiftly moving target.

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