26 June 2012

The 48 Laws of Power, and Other Secret Archives

From Sun Tzu to Machiavelli and beyond, clever strategists have sought to unearth the secrets of wealth, power, happiness, and ultimate victory. Today we will focus on Robert Greene's The 48 Laws of Power.

Law 1 Never Outshine the Master

Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to please or impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite inspire fear and insecurity. Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.

Law 2 Never put too Much Trust in Friends, Learn how to use Enemies

Be wary of friends-they will betray you more quickly, for they are easily aroused to envy. They also become spoiled and tyrannical. But hire a former enemy and he will be more loyal than a friend, because he has more to prove. In fact, you have more to fear from friends than from enemies. If you have no enemies, find a way to make them.

Law 3 Conceal your Intentions

Keep people off-balance and in the dark by never revealing the purpose behind your actions. If they have no clue what you are up to, they cannot prepare a defense. Guide them far enough down the wrong path, envelope them in enough smoke, and by the time they realize your intentions, it will be too late.

Law 4 Always Say Less than Necessary

When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control. Even if you are saying something banal, it will seem original if you make it vague, open-ended, and sphinxlike. Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.

Law 5 So Much Depends on Reputation Guard it with your Life

Reputation is the cornerstone of power. Through reputation alone you can intimidate and win; once you slip, however, you are vulnerable, and will be attacked on all sides. Make your reputation unassailable. Always be alert to potential attacks and thwart them before they happen. Meanwhile, learn to destroy your enemies by opening holes in their own reputations. Then stand aside and let public opinion hang them.

Law 6 Court Attention at all Cost

Everything is judged by its appearance; what is unseen counts for nothing. Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion. Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost. Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious, than the bland and timid masses.

Law 7 Get others to do the Work for you, but Always Take the Credit

Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause. Not only will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, it will give you a godlike aura of efficiency and speed. In the end your helpers will be forgotten and you will be remembered. Never do yourself what others can do for you.

Law 8 Make other People come to you use Bait if Necessary

When you force the other person to act, you are the one in control. It is always better to make your opponent come to you, abandoning his own plans in the process. Lure him with fabulous gains then attack. You hold the cards.

Law 9 Win through your Actions, Never through Argument

Any momentary triumph you think gained through argument is really a Pyrrhic victory: The resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of opinion. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word. Demonstrate, do not explicate.

Law 10 Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky

You can die from someone elses misery emotional states are as infectious as disease. You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster. The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you. Associate with the happy and fortunate instead.

Law 11 Learn to Keep People Dependent on You

To maintain your independence you must always be needed and wanted. The more you are relied on, the more freedom you have. Make people depend on you for their happiness and prosperity and you have nothing to fear. Never teach them enough so that they can do without you.

Law 12 Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm your Victim

One sincere and honest move will cover over dozens of dishonest ones. Open-hearted gestures of honesty and generosity bring down the guard of even the most suspicious people. Once your selective honesty opens a hole in their armor, you can deceive and manipulate them at will. A timely gift a Trojan horse will serve the same purpose.

Law 13 When Asking for Help, Appeal to Peoples Self-Interest, Never to their Mercy or Gratitude

If you need to turn to an ally for help, do not bother to remind him of your past assistance and good deeds. He will find a way to ignore you. Instead, uncover something in your request, or in your alliance with him, that will benefit him, and emphasize it out of all proportion. He will respond enthusiastically when he sees something to be gained for himself.

Law 14 Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy

Knowing about your rival is critical. Use spies to gather valuable information that will keep you a step ahead. Better still: Play the spy yourself. In polite social encounters, learn to probe. Ask indirect questions to get people to reveal their weaknesses and intentions. There is no occasion that is not an opportunity for artful spying.

Law 15 Crush your Enemy Totally

All great leaders since Moses have known that a feared enemy must be crushed completely. (Sometimes they have learned this the hard way.) If one ember is left alight, no matter how dimly it smolders, a fire will eventually break out. More is lost through stopping halfway than through total annihilation: The enemy will recover, and will seek revenge. Crush him, not only in body but in spirit.

Law 16 Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor

Too much circulation makes the price go down: The more you are seen and heard from, the more common you appear. If you are already established in a group, temporary withdrawal from it will make you more talked about, even more admired. You must learn when to leave. Create value through scarcity.

Law 17 Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability

Humans are creatures of habit with an insatiable need to see familiarity in other peoples actions. Your predictability gives them a sense of control. Turn the tables: Be deliberately unpredictable. Behavior that seems to have no consistency or purpose will keep them off-balance, and they will wear themselves out trying to explain your moves. Taken to an extreme, this strategy can intimidate and terrorize.

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

The world is dangerous and enemies are everywhere everyone has to protect themselves. A fortress seems the safest. But isolation exposes you to more dangers than it protects you from 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.

Law 19 Know Who Youre Dealing with Do Not Offend the Wrong Person

There are many different kinds of people in the world, and you can never assume that everyone will react to your strategies in the same way. Deceive or outmaneuver some people and they will spend the rest of their lives seeking revenge. They are wolves in lambs clothing. Choose your victims and opponents carefully, then never offend or deceive the wrong person.

Law 20 Do Not Commit to Anyone

It is the fool who always rushes to take sides. Do not commit to any side or cause but yourself. By maintaining your independence, you become the master of others playing people against one another, making them pursue you.

Law 21 Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker Seem Dumber than your Mark

No one likes feeling stupider than the next persons. The trick, is to make your victims feel smart and not just smart, but smarter than you are. Once convinced of this, they will never suspect that you may have ulterior motives.

Law 22 Use the Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness into Power

When you are weaker, never fight for honors sake; choose surrender instead. Surrender gives you time to recover, time to torment and irritate your conqueror, time to wait for his power to wane. Do not give him the satisfaction of fighting and defeating you surrender first. By turning the other check you infuriate and unsettle him. Make surrender a tool of power.

Law 23 Concentrate Your Forces

Conserve your forces and energies by keeping them concentrated at their strongest point. You gain more by finding a rich mine and mining it deeper, than by flitting from one shallow mine to another intensity defeats extensity every time. When looking for sources of power to elevate you, find the one key patron, the fat cow who will give you milk for a long time to come.

Law 24 Play the Perfect Courtier

The perfect courtier thrives in a world where everything revolves around power and political dexterity. He has mastered the art of indirection; he flatters, yields to superiors, and asserts power over others in the mot oblique and graceful manner. Learn and apply the laws of courtiership and there will be no limit to how far you can rise in the court.

Law 25 Re-Create Yourself

Do not accept the roles that society foists on you. Re-create yourself by forging a new identity, one that commands attention and never bores the audience. Be the master of your own image rather than letting others define if for you. Incorporate dramatic devices into your public gestures and actions your power will be enhanced and your character will seem larger than life.

Law 26 Keep Your Hands Clean

You must seem a paragon of civility and efficiency: Your hands are never soiled by mistakes and nasty deeds. Maintain such a spotless appearance by using others as scapegoats and cats-paws to disguise your involvement.

Law 27 Play on Peoples Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following

People have an overwhelming desire to believe in something. Become the focal point of such desire by offering them a cause, a new faith to follow. Keep your words vague but full of promise; emphasize enthusiasm over rationality and clear thinking. Give your new disciples rituals to perform, ask them to make sacrifices on your behalf. In the absence of organized religion and grand causes, your new belief system will bring you untold power.

Law 28 Enter Action with Boldness

If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid.

Law 29 Plan All the Way to the End

The ending is everything. Plan all the way to it, taking into account all the possible consequences, obstacles, and twists of fortune that might reverse your hard work and give the glory to others. By planning to the end you will not be overwhelmed by circumstances and you will know when to stop. Gently guide fortune and help determine the future by thinking far ahead.

Law 30 Make your Accomplishments Seem Effortless

Your actions must seem natural and executed with ease. All the toil and practice that go into them, and also all the clever tricks, must be concealed. When you act, act effortlessly, as if you could do much more. Avoid the temptation of revealing how hard you work it only raises questions. Teach no one your tricks or they will be used against you.

Law 31 Control the Options: Get Others to Play with the Cards you Deal

The best deceptions are the ones that seem to give the other person a choice: Your victims feel they are in control, but are actually your puppets. Give people options that come out in your favor whichever one they choose. Force them to make choices between the lesser of two evils, both of which serve your purpose. Put them on the horns of a dilemma: They are gored wherever they turn.

Law 32 Play to Peoples Fantasies

The truth is often avoided because it is ugly and unpleasant. Never appeal to truth and reality unless you are prepared for the anger that comes for disenchantment. Life is so harsh and distressing that people who can manufacture romance or conjure up fantasy are like oases in the desert: Everyone flocks to them. There is great power in tapping into the fantasies of the masses.

Law 33 Discover Each Mans Thumbscrew

Everyone has a weakness, a gap in the castle wall. That weakness is usual y an insecurity, an uncontrollable emotion or need; it can also be a small secret pleasure. Either way, once found, it is a thumbscrew you can turn to your advantage.

Law 34 Be Royal in your Own Fashion: Act like a King to be treated like one

The way you carry yourself will often determine how you are treated; In the long run, appearing vulgar or common will make people disrespect you. For a king respects himself and inspires the same sentiment in others. By acting regally and confident of your powers, you make yourself seem destined to wear a crown.

Law 35 Master the Art of Timing

Never seem to be in a hurry hurrying betrays a lack of control over yourself, and over time. Always seem patient, as if you know that everything will come to you eventually. Become a detective of the right moment; sniff out the spirit of the times, the trends that will carry you to power. Learn to stand back when the time is not yet ripe, and to strike fiercely when it has reached fruition.

Law 36 Disdain Things you cannot have: Ignoring them is the best Revenge

By acknowledging a petty problem you give it existence and credibility. The more attention you pay an enemy, the stronger you make him; and a small mistake is often made worse and more visible when you try to fix it. It is sometimes best to leave things alone. If there is something you want but cannot have, show contempt for it. The less interest you reveal, the more superior you seem.

Law 37 Create Compelling Spectacles

Striking imagery and grand symbolic gestures create the aura of power everyone responds to them. Stage spectacles for those around you, then full of arresting visuals and radiant symbols that heighten your presence. Dazzled by appearances, no one will notice what you are really doing.

Law 38 Think as you like but Behave like others

If you make a show of going against the times, flaunting your unconventional ideas and unorthodox ways, people will think that you only want attention and that you look down upon them. They will find a way to punish you for making them feel inferior. It is far safer to blend in and nurture the common touch. Share your originality only with tolerant friends and those who are sure to appreciate your uniqueness.

Law 39 Stir up Waters to Catch Fish

Anger and emotion are strategically counterproductive. You must always stay calm and objective. But if you can make your enemies angry while staying calm yourself, you gain a decided advantage. Put your enemies off-balance: Find the chink in their vanity through which you can rattle them and you hold the strings.

Law 40 Despise the Free Lunch

What is offered for free is dangerous it usually involves either a trick or a hidden obligation. What has worth is worth paying for. By paying your own way you stay clear of gratitude, guilt, and deceit. It is also often wise to pay the full price there is no cutting corners with excellence. Be lavish with your money and keep it circulating, for generosity is a sign and a magnet for power.

Law 41 Avoid Stepping into a Great Mans Shoes

What happens first always appears better and more original than what comes after. If you succeed a great man or have a famous parent, you will have to accomplish double their achievements to outshine them. Do not get lost in their shadow, or stuck in a past not of your own making: Establish your own name and identity by changing course. Slay the overbearing father, disparage his legacy, and gain power by shining in your own way.

Law 42 Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep will Scatter

Trouble can often be traced to a single strong individual the stirrer, the arrogant underling, the poisoned of goodwill. If you allow such people room to operate, others will succumb to their influence. Do not wait for the troubles they cause to multiply, do not try to negotiate with them they are irredeemable. Neutralize their influence by isolating or banishing them. Strike at the source of the trouble and the sheep will scatter.

Law 43 Work on the Hearts and Minds of Others

Coercion creates a reaction that will eventually work against you. You must seduce others into wanting to move in your direction. A person you have seduced becomes your loyal pawn. And the way to seduce others is to operate on their individual psychologies and weaknesses. Soften up the resistant by working on their emotions, playing on what they hold dear and what they fear. Ignore the hearts and minds of others and they will grow to hate you.

Law 44 Disarm and Infuriate with the Mirror Effect

The mirror reflects reality, but it is also the perfect tool for deception: When you mirror your enemies, doing exactly as they do, they cannot figure out your strategy. The Mirror Effect mocks and humiliates them, making them overreact. By holding up a mirror to their psyches, you seduce them with the illusion that you share their values; by holding up a mirror to their actions, you teach them a lesson. Few can resist the power of Mirror Effect.

Law 45 Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform too much at Once

Everyone understands the need for change in the abstract, but on the day-to-day level people are creatures of habit. Too much innovation is traumatic, and will lead to revolt. If you are new to a position of power, or an outsider trying to build a power base, make a show of respecting the old way of doing things. If change is necessary, make it feel like a gentle improvement on the past.

Law 46 Never appear too Perfect

Appearing better than others is always dangerous, but most dangerous of all is to appear to have no faults or weaknesses. Envy creates silent enemies. It is smart to occasionally display defects, and admit to harmless vices, in order to deflect envy and appear more human and approachable. Only gods and the dead can seem perfect with impunity.

Law 47 Do not go Past the Mark you Aimed for; In Victory, Learn when to Stop

The moment of victory is often the moment of greatest peril. In the heat of victory, arrogance and overconfidence can push you past the goal you had aimed for, and by going too far, you make more enemies than you defeat. Do not allow success to go to your head. There is no substitute for strategy and careful planning. Set a goal, and when you reach it, stop.

Law 48 Assume Formlessness

By taking a shape, by having a visible plan, you open yourself to attack. Instead of taking a form for your enemy to grasp, keep yourself adaptable and on the move. Accept the fact that nothing is certain and no law is fixed. The best way to protect yourself is to be as fluid and formless as water; never bet on stability or lasting order. Everything changes. _RobertGreene.net 48 Laws of Power

Power, Seduction, and War . . . the blog of Robert Greene

The 48 Laws of Power at Amazon.com

Free Online Library: Works on Strategy and War (Includes Machievelli, Sun Tzu, von Clauswitz, etc) click on the book you wish to study

The Occult Technology of Power

As always on the Al Fin blog, we do not attempt to move anyone to adopt a particular point of view. Our purposes are almost exclusively to inform and to provoke.

Everything you think you know, just ain't so. Until you figure that out, you are only going to be taken advantage of by folks who have a better feel for the deep inner grit of things.

H/T Foseti


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Blogger Eric said...

Greene's speech to yale graduates is good:

And his recent mini-book Descent of Power:

Also recommend The Changing Face Of Intelligence:

Tuesday, 26 June, 2012  
Blogger horos22 said...


sounds more like a recipe to become paranoid schizophrenic than anything else, and to die unloved. And a recipe for nepotism, groupthink, idea-destruction, and overall inefficiency. I'm sure that empires past have fallen because individuals in those empires have followed these 'principles'.

A small example - a goldsmith in early imperial rome had the cojones to show Tiberius aluminium, telling him that he (and the gods) were the only ones who knew how to manufacture it from clay - and Tiberius promptly executed him because he thought that it would lessen the value of his silver and gold holdings.

Other, major blunders in the ancient world:

1. the rejection of the steam engine, also by the roman empire, because it threatened the value of slaves.
2. the keeping of mathematical truths as 'secrets' by the pythagoreans, because they thought the public unworthy of them and they wanted to maintain their privilege and status.
3. the burning of the library of alexandria by the early christians, and again by the invading moslems, both because of the heretical thoughts that they thought they would entail.

and I'm sure you could fill in the blanks with thousands more, all the way up to when the enron traders gamed the california regulations to reap billions in personal profits whilst causing rolling blackouts in california.

Why do you post such cac as if it were gospel? This very-true-selfishness has far more potential in sealing our doom than the genetic 'intelligence' drift over a course of a century that you regularly feature. (which even if true - which I doubt - can be ameliorated by better diet, tools, and opportunities for the most disenfranchised)

If anything, we are in a race between the better and worse halves of our nature - and the worse half is more vividly illustrated than anything else by the 'advice' of Robert Greene.

Tuesday, 26 June, 2012  
Blogger Eric said...

I am immensely distrustful of those who claim to work in the benefit love or selflessness, it's usually a cover for the exact opposite.

Greene always seems to piss someone off, that's probably for the best. It's about seeing the world as it is, not as you want it to be.

Tuesday, 26 June, 2012  
Blogger Will Brown said...

The thing about classical strategy is that it is structured as a self-reinforcing series of concepts that combine to create a unified practice, available to anyone willing to learn the knowledge and techniques required. Mr. Greene's self-styled "laws" are the opposite of this principle; indeed, many of his points explicitly contradict others (see: 1 vs 34 or 5 vs 17 as example), or are simply stupid advice (point #9) when not outright counterproductive (29, 41).

Mr. Greene does grasp the concept that there is a systemic process by which success can be developed and achieved, but his stated mechanism(s) are both ill-considered and poorly crafted to be viable, I think.

YMMV of course, and thanks to Al Fin for an interesting read.

Tuesday, 26 June, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

Eric: Thanks for the suggestions.

h22: If you are looking for something claiming to be gospel, you have come to the wrong place. AF2100 is a blog meant to inform and provoke, but not to persuade or convert.

We are looking for tools which help individuals to become more competent and more capable of achieving important advances -- both individually and in voluntary cooperatives.

We are looking to help evolve societies of human dynamism, as opposed to the societies of stasis in which most of us are enmeshed. See Postrel

I suspect that Eric is more of a dynamist, and h22 more of a stasist. Of course, I could be wrong about that. ;-)

Tuesday, 26 June, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

Will: Thanks for the comment. As a student of classical strategy, you could probably point us to some other useful sources. Please feel free to do so.

My impression is that Greene attempted to combine various approaches to strategy into one set of rules. If so, he was virtually certain to contradict himself at times.

Which points out some differences between wisdom and intelligence: Wisdom is highly context dependent, whereas intelligence is thought to have evolved as a way of solving novel problems where the context is new and past experience is a poor guide.

If you try to combine various traditions of wisdom which arose out of distinctly different experiential histories, you probably cannot avoid contradiction.

Tuesday, 26 June, 2012  
Blogger horos22 said...

oh, come on.. I'm not a statist or a dynamist, I'm a pragmatist, which means that I agree with what works and what doesn't for the greatest number of people. Usually, for organizations this means to base policy on empirical truth, and one of those empirical truths is appointing others based on raw ability.

The extent that such behaviors that Mr. Greene espouses worm their way into organizations, and to the extent which those organizations hire people who espouse them, is the extent to which those organizations are inefficient. Look at the above maxims:

"never outshine the master" - great. less ideas to work with.
"pose as a friend, act as a spy" - great. lack of trust all ways round.
"play to people's fantasies" - k, groupthink all around guys.

Furthermore, I've worked for MANY organizations now, big and small, and have only seen a smattering of these 'maxims' being expressed, and there was a direct correlation between how many of these maxims were there, and how pleasant the work environment was.

In short, the places where they ARE expressed the most vividly are places that we really don't hold highly - any number of tyrannies (including soviet russia and nazi germany, pre-republican and revolutionary france).

Why again, this is a matter of debate is odd to me. There's another word for Greene's maxims, that is corruption, which I think any institution should have guards against.

Tuesday, 26 June, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

h22: It is unlikely that you will ever be forced to choose between adopting Greene's 48 rules of power vs standing before a firing squad. Your righteous indignation over this posting -- clearly described in the body of the post as intentionally provocative -- is rather puzzling.

Rather than questioning why this is a matter of debate, what you seem to be saying is that Greene's ideas are so far beyond the pale that they should never even be mentioned in polite company.

Such an attitude favouring PC censorship of ideas (rather than open discussion) would easily qualify you as a "stasist."

Tuesday, 26 June, 2012  
Blogger horos22 said...

well, you really do like to label don't you. 'indignation', 'stasist'. You also seem to like to jump to conclusions and to beat straw-dogs - in particular, you are quite quick to say that 'they never should be mentioned in polite company' even though I never even hinted at any such thing.

My point - and one that you should be willing to discuss but so far haven't done so - is that Greene's ideas and the adoption of them are EXACTLY what you so loudly decry with one voice in this blog - namely corruption. For whatever reason, you don't seem to want to make this connection.

That's the odd thing, see. This isn't the first time I've run across Greene's maxims, and it seems that there is a nasty correlation here. Those who are most in favor of laissez-faire capitalism seem to have a sneaking admiration of them, and in so, are in favor of pursuing self-interest in its most brutish form, even though that form can impoverish the vast majority of people, INCLUDING THE PERSON ADVOCATING THE NO-HOLDS-BARRED CAPITALISM IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Take again, the goldsmith aluminum inventor. If Tiberius - in self-interest - hadn't executed him, two thousand years worth of people would have had the benefit of the metal. Tiberius himself would have had less strife, an extra industry, the roman empire would have been more stable, better functioning. Who knows what knock-off effects it would have had.

Yet we were denied all of that because Rome followed Greene's maxims rather closely. And more to the point - and quite ironically for you - the mindset led to thousands of years of STASIS, NON-CHANGE.

So I ask - who's being the stasist here? If you don't agree with his maxims and think they are repugnant agents of corruption like I do, then hell, you agree with me and we have no argument.

But if you DO agree with them then you are being *exactly* what you purport not to be, namely a stasist, someone who is willing to preach anti-corruption with one voice yet BE corrupt in order to garner personal gain.

So which is it?

Tuesday, 26 June, 2012  
Blogger Will Brown said...

@ Al Fin:

Thanks for the invite; as might be expected tl;dr was the result.

See here if you're really that desparate for something to read (there's some good books mentioned too :)).

Tuesday, 26 June, 2012  
Blogger Eric said...

It depends if the individuals view the world as a zero sum game. People that specialize in competition, the corporate climber types, tend to view life as one big competition like you said. In perfect competition all of the profit is competed away, no one explores frontiers either. Basically corporate war of attrition.

Ideally we wouldn't have to bother with the 48 laws and all of that, but it has found utility in the past, and likely will in the near future. At the very least you will have to protect yourself against zero-sum/short future time orientated competitors, so it's useful to acknowledge their thought processes.

I just made a post about this in the context of European immigration:

Tuesday, 26 June, 2012  
Blogger PaleoSapiens said...

Test- Due to clear as mud help/instructions...

Tuesday, 26 June, 2012  
Blogger PaleoSapiens said...

Al Fin - you have a very interesting site; one that could use improvements though. A good start would be to either: use a better system for comments or, give CLEAR instructions on commenting...

As a Military Historian (specifically WWII), it seems very few people are familiar with the difference between "Tactics" & "Strategy."
In this post the -Strategy- is to gain/attain & hold "power." The 48 Laws are -Tactics- for achieving the ultimate strategic goal.

Thus, law #47, in part, should say that, "[t]here is no substitute for [tactical planning]..."

"....The devil is in the details..."

Details aside, these 48 laws are actually a recipe for disaster. See 20th Century History for several, of virtually infinite, examples.

May I suggest a game of chess instead?...
Besides, power and control are an illusion. Too bad a majority haven't learned that bit of wisdom yet.

Tuesday, 26 June, 2012  
Blogger SwampWoman said...

Dang. I didn't know there was an instruction manual for how to be a bullshit artist.

Wednesday, 27 June, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...


It is always good to be reminded of the difference between strategy and tactics. Thanks, PS.

Will: I remember your long interest in classical strategy. Thanks for offering your site and its links as a resource to readers.

Eric: Appreciate your comments and your work at your own site.

SW: I believe there are quite a number of instruction manuals for how to be a bullshit artist. In fact, the world is soaking in them!

h22: No doubt the readers here are enjoying your status-seeking display of emotion laden logic. Please tell us more.

Anyone who has taken the time to observe and learn about apes and other primates will recognise several of the rules of power as ape rules. Rules to achieve dominance evolved in social mammals, and to some extent in all territorial animals and all harem-keeping animals.

As commenters have pointed out, these 48 rules are not a unified strategy (or unified set of tactics). They are more of an ad hoc collection thrown together from various traditions -- traditions which were born of distinctly different histories.

But if we look beneath the words to the deeper meanings, we can often find non-verbal ape rules. And many of the mammalian rules of dominance can be traced and tagged to one hormone -- testosterone.

These rules are useful in many political settings, including university faculties, government bureaucracies, and offshore yacht cruises and camping trips.

But just like statistical software, these rules should not be used blindly, without an intuitive sense of where they are productive and where they are counter-productive.

In fact, if such rule sets as Greene's are set in stone, without an awareness of the ongoing, dynamic "tactical arms race of power and dominance," they become foundations for fossil-like quasi-religious belief systems.

Wednesday, 27 June, 2012  
Blogger Ugh said...

Al, the comment system is fine... Not rocket science. Anyway, many of these seemed contradictory to me. But worse, I would never want to be this kind of person, in fact in life and in the workplace I despise these kind of people. I respect genuine people, honest people 'what you see is what you get' type of people. That said some of these laws are dead on and do not seem to have be written by the devil himself...

Wednesday, 27 June, 2012  
Blogger horos22 said...

sigh.. always with the labels. if the logic is emotional, its because I *have* met people in work environments who think they are little machiavels and use these, thankfully (in my case) much to the derision of their peers. It still doesn't make the experience a pleasant one.

Yes, the rules are to a certain extent empirical, and grounded in human truth - just like the human foibles surrounding irrational belief, an us-vs-them mentality, cognitive filters, plain thick-headed stupidity and inflexibility, and so on.

But just because they are truthful doesn't mean they are to be sought out, let alone followed. The scientific method exists as a corrective to human fallibility surrounding belief, likewise, successful organizations have correctives to prevent such behaviors from taking hold in their organizations:

1. strict performance review on hiring, especially on openness of ideas
2. two-way, anonymous peer review on work evaluation
3. a no-tolerance policy for counter offers when employees look for other employment.
4. a long quality review process for ongoing changes
5. a scientific mindset approaching the benefits of given ideas
6. heavy use of small teams to come up with unorthodox ideas and willingness to fund them, compensation for original ideas.

and so on. Organizations should detest these behaviours and if they occur, they can devour companies. Witness Enron - I looked at their email stream, unedited after they folded, and it was a cesspool of unctuous bootlicking, cocky self-assurance, and plain ugliness.

So.. if you are watching game of thrones, it can be amusing to point out where these hold true with characters' behavior, but in real life, avoid people who pull this kind of shit like the plague.

Wednesday, 27 June, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

Craig: Yes, I cringe at many of these 48 "rules" myself. But often it is the things which make one uncomfortable which offer the greatest learning opportunities.

Thanks for the reassurance on Blogger comments. I make it harder than necessary for people to comment, but not as hard as I could do. It's better to limit comments to those who are determined to comment, and not make it too easy for one-off trolls.

Wednesday, 27 June, 2012  
Blogger PaleoSapiens said...

Point taken on the view of comments. It is the prerogative of the blog owner to make the rules. If you don't like it/them, don't bother commenting.

@#*$%*&!! totalitarians... /joke.

Kidding aside, Al Fin has made a choice in the matter. That choice is to be respected.

Wednesday, 27 June, 2012  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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