Robert Greene’s Concise 48 Laws of Power
I read the 195 small pages of the concise version and I’m very grateful for that choice, since this little book contains so much nonsense and such diverse themes with contradictory advice that a larger or more comprehensive version of it, might have prevented me from finishing it! Nevertheless, I gained and learnt much from it, I gained because the content drips with reality and applied knowledge. The ideas and advice is applicable and implementable; the readers only choice is whether to take and employ the advice or not.
This choice boils down, for me, to a decision of whether you view yourself as a human or an animal. Clever people will immediately say we are both, and Greene constantly uses the phrase ‘human animal’, but that emphasises the animal side. The debate about to what extent we are animals is not really the issue though, the question is, when we employ metaphors and set moral and ethical ideals, do we construct these ideals to become the smarted animals or the best humans? So, never mind genetics and evolutionary history, we are faced with choices where we can act like animals or humans. Personally, I fully recognise my animal nature, and that is why in theory, reflection and ideals, I have to go 100% towards being a human being. Just because I have teeth does not mean I have to bite other people.
I found the book helpful for a few reasons. Greene reveals and promotes sneaky tricks to get to the top, and just as we find it disgusting, we discover chapters that act as mirrors, we discover how we learnt to automatically do many of these clever and manipulative tricks and strategies! Society and experience taught us to play the power game. Greene makes the pensive reader aware that we all play the game to some extent. The book leaves you with a choice: do I try to stop the tricks and live an alternative innocent naive life, or do I become a master tactician in the games of power. We live in a power jungle, and to some extent you need jungle law in the jungle- or you die. Followers of the New Testament Jesus (and I don’t mean church going christians) might find the predicament more acute. How sincere, how naive should we be and does naivety equal sincerity? If I think of Jesus, he played many social games: the silence before Pilate, the answering questions with questions, the naughty metaphors of turning cheeks, the embarrassment of writing in sand… Jesus was constantly playing people. Yet there was a grounded purpose to his games and it was not popularity, it was didactical and strategic. Innocent like a dove, sneaky like a snake: wow, hardcore cutting edge advice, 2000 years ago. It is not easy to operate in the grey, we are addicted to black or white answers, we are addicted to the creation of opposites; it makes us feel clever and in control.
Greene, thought he is writing an assured money maker, by providing selfish people with ammunition to trample on others. Yet, as was the case with Machiaveli, he supposes such a hyperbole of unpretentious animality that his ‘tricks of the trade’ manual, becomes a profound philosophical workshop, an ethical shakeout. I’ve been reading one law each day, for 48 days. I did this as ‘bible study’ and the irony is, by reading such a dirty little bible, it did a splendid job of reverse psychology, increasing my hunger for unselfish goodness. Sure, I picked up many tricks along the journey and if I can stay grounded or rooted, I will do well to implement many of these tools, not because Im in a war against others, but because I need to influence people addicted to silly rhythms and beliefs. THe tool can be the key to unlock a door, then friendship and love will be the actual door we walk through to explore the rooms of deeper life.
I would definitely advise the little book, for naive people to sharpen up, and for sneaky people to reevaluate their moral stance.