with the Boss, Your Spouse, Your Lover, Anyone in a Position to Help You or Harm You
The dragon is a gentle beast. If you indulge him and humor him, you may ride on his back. But beneath his throat there are transverse scales a foot long, and if you touch those scales, he will kill you. The lord of men also has transverse scales. Someone who is able to avoid touching the ruler’s transverse scales is well on the way to mastering the art of persuasion.
This is a passage from the Han Feizi, considered to be one of the early masterpieces of Chinese prose. The book named for its assumed author, Han Fei (c.279-233 BC), the major thinker in the “Legalist” tradition. The Legalists believed that the way to public order was through a strict set of laws rigorously and impartially enforced. They assumed human beings were inherently self-seeking: each one of us is out for one’s self. The way to stable order is to assure that good behavior, as set forth in the laws, is rewarded, and that violations of the laws punished. Good behavior will then accord with self-interest. There is much in Han Fei’s thinking that is consistent with contemporary rational choice theory.