Warrior Poet Project podcast ep 24 with Robert Greene: Transcription
Note: As part of my ongoing research project: The Authorpreneurship Masterclass, I am going deep on Robert Greene and a number of other gods in fields related to business, authorship, social media, etc. If you want to listen to the episode, check out the Warrior Poet website.
Aubrey Marcus: Alright ladies and gentlemen. Here we are with a very special podcast, one that is particularly special for me in that I discovered Robert Greene’s works and his book, The 48 Laws of Power, at a time when I needed it the most. It was an act of serendipity from the heavens for me to receive this book at the time that I did, and it really helped me through some challenging situations and times, and I made a note to myself that I would love to have a conversation with this man, at least to thank him and to get into some details of his books, and here we are. Not only have we had lunch, but now we’re right here on a podcast, so a very special guest to have. Mr Robert Greene, thank you for coming on the Warrior Poet Project.
Robert Greene: Thank you so much for having me, Aubrey. My pleasure.
Aubrey: I guess like a lot of people, I found you through The 48 Laws of Power. Is that what you seem to find more common than not?
Robert: It’s weird because there was the whole pickup artist community that found me through The Art of Seduction. A lot of people found me through The Art of Seduction. A few military geeks through the art of war book that I did, and some people through 50 Cent, but I would say maybe 60% or 70% through The 48 Laws, like yourself.
Aubrey: And I definitely want to get into all of them because I’ve read all your books, at least in the most part. War I kind of probably about 70% just kind of picked and chose some chapters, but that’s one of the things I love about your books. You don’t have to take them as a whole pill to swallow all at once. You can kind of pick and choose your parts and get a lot out of it in almost vignette format.
Robert: Yeah. It’s sort of how my mind works, you know? I just can’t get it together to write a whole book where I want to read everything from chapter to chapter. I like the pick and choose mode. My last book was probably the only book where you almost do want to read it from the beginning to the end, and you can’t really do that. But my next one, I’m going to be back to The 48 Laws of Power model because that’s just how my brain works.
Aubrey: Awesome. The last book he’s talking about of course, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is Mastery, which is a master work indeed and definitely something I’ve appreciated. But I want to kind of go book through book and chat about it a little bit. What I found so interesting what that The 48 Laws of Power uses so many historical examples that are so unbelievably applicable to today’s world. I mean we’re talking about vastly different times; kings and courts and emperors and different military strategies, and all these different examples, but then you apply them to regular 2008 corporate America, 2013, whatever the year, and it holds so incredibly true. I heard some of your TED talk, and you mentioned that you kind of started to understand that yourself from all the various jobs that you had worked where you had encountered these common themes.
Robert: Yes. I’ve had many, many different kinds of jobs from very blue collar construction work to working in Hollywood as a writer, etc, and I had seen all sorts of power games being played, some very manipulative, nasty stuff, and I’m constantly reading books. Particular periods fascinate me, like the Renaissance or Machiavelli or Louis XIV, and everything seems sort of timeless to me. The same things I’m reading about are going on. I remember, as you were talking I was reminded of a story in The 48 Laws of Power about this great Chinese strategist from 2000 years ago, more or less, named Chuko Liang. You couldn’t think of two different worlds than that and our world now, but he had this one story I relate in The 48 Laws of Power where he was so clever. You always knew this guy was up to something. He was thinking two or three moves ahead of everyone else. Just the fact that you had to go to war with Chuko Liang struck terror in you because you could never predict what he would do. One time he finds himself completely trapped. He blew it. There’s no way out. He only has like 30 men with him. He’s stuck in this castle, and a giant army is coming to destroy him. There’s no trick in the world that’s possibly going to save his hide this time, so he decides he’s going to do his ultimate trick. He’s going to sit on top of the castle meditating, and when the approaching army comes they’re going to see him by himself sitting on top of the castle and they’re going to assume that this man is so clever and he has some trick up his sleeve, and they’re not going to dare attack him. It works and they go and turn around and leave with their 40,000 men against 30. I swear I have witnessed this kind of thing from very clever people before. I’ve seen it in sports. W you’re going up against a Bill Belichik-coached team, you’re already worried about how he’s out-thought you. It’s not the fact that it’s ancient China or modern America, it’s the psychology — the mind game that’s going on — that’s timeless, that was going on 2000, 3000, 4000 years ago. That’s how my mind works and how The 48 Laws of Power operates.
Aubrey: Yeah. That’s one of my favorite stories in the work. There are so many that illustrate points that make sense. I remember there was another Chinese adviser who, this was maybe just a general that, you couldn’t really tell the emperor that he was doing something wrong, so you had to generate these reports of weird, aberrant natural phenomenon, like the geese that were flying backwards and all of these things that happened to just let the emperor know that he was a little off course. I’ve been in situations, I had a marketing company for many years and encountered many different bosses, basically at that point. There were so many that you had to use these really interesting strategies like, I think one of the ones was when you’re building an architectural structure, and you might be able to tell this story better, you leave one thing that’s clearly fucked up. That way the emperor or whoever you’re trying to please, can say, “oh, that thing is really messed up. You’ve got to change that,” but they’ll accept the rest of your plans. I had to use that strategy constantly. I mean constantly you’d have to leave something blatantly wrong, like some horrible color in there so that they could go, “that color is terrible.” You’re like, “you’re right. I didn’t even think of that.”
Robert: That’s a story of Louis XIV and the architect, a very clever architect named Mansart. Louis XIV was just such a know-it-all that you had to do that to make him feel like he was actually the one doing the major design decisions, but the point of your story, or the story that you’re bringing up, is that people above you — your boss — have insecurities. They have an ego, and so many of the mistakes that people make in power is that they don’t think that. They think, well, that person is so powerful and strong that I can say, I can criticize him, I can do whatever. But no, they’re actually more insecure than you think. Being in that position makes them very vulnerable, and you have to constantly think of what you’re doing that might upset them, that might trample on their ego, that might make you look better than they are, for instance, and tailor your actions. In the past doing that kind of thing, like outshining the master, you would have been put in prison or beheaded. Now you’ll be fired and nobody will know why. That’s what a lot of the laws of power deal with, and that’s sort of a timeless phenomenon. It could be a king or it could be your boss. It’s all the same.
Aubrey: And that was it, really. I did a great job one time for a client. I put my whole heart into it, and I got fired. I got fired right at the point where everybody was saying, “Aubrey, you did such a good job. It’s amazing,” and everybody was singing my praises, and then I got fired at that point. I was devastated, devastated. That was the point where I discovered your book. I started reading and was like, “aha. This all makes sense.” Right from chapter one, never outshine the master. Just by reading it, you don’t get it instantly, but it at least gave me this framework to say, “okay, I’m going to take my emotions aside, take my own pride and my own ego and feeling like I should have gotten praised, and say ‘what’s the game? What do I want out of this in the end? And how do I survive? How do I stay afloat?’” That made a huge difference.
Robert: Well, I’m happy to hear that. That’s sort of the difference between people who succeed in life and don’t. It happens to everyone. I’ve outshone the master, I’ve been fired, I’ve dealt with these problems personally, and every single human being, I don’t care how strong or powerful you are, reacts emotionally in the moment, like, “what the hell did I do wrong? Why are they firing me?” You can’t help it, but the dividing line between people who move past it and get successful is that they take a step back and they reflect on it and see, perhaps, what they did that might have triggered somebody’s insecurity. They go through a rational process of trying to understand what happened so that they don’t repeat the mistakes. That’s basically what The 48 Laws of Power is trying to help you, to enter that psychological process where you review your own actions from a bit of a distance.
Aubrey: One question I have that has just actually occurred to me is, it’s so frequent that you would encounter these bosses and figures at the heads of large enterprises, corporations, that had pretty substantial egos to overcome, and these power games were very necessary. Why do you think that is so prevalent? You would want to think, in a perfect egalitarian world, the best person rises to the top and you wouldn’t have to worry about this so much, but historically and in the present day that’s not always the case. What do you think is going on there with that dynamic?
Robert: Well, everything depends on the particular business you’re in. First of all, we know that it’s not a meritocracy and the best people don’t rise to the top. Usually it’s going to be pretty much the opposite.
Aubrey: Especially politics.
Robert: Politics, but god, in business. My goodness. I can give you lots of examples of that. So the person who occupies that position often times isn’t the one who deserves it the most, so they’re going to have a lot of insecurities. It’s a very lonely position. I work as a consultant to some people who are very powerful, and they have nobody who they can turn to. I’m often shocked that this person who’s very important in business or academia, why are they calling me? They could just read a book or whatever. They have nobody they can talk to, nobody they can relate to. They’re very insecure, they’re very vulnerable. The business world is extremely competitive. If you’re a CEO of a publicly traded company, every single one of your moves is being monitored, you don’t have a long life, you’re aiming for short term results, but still trying to have a long term view of things. To be a leader in the world today is almost an impossible job because you have to be tough and hard, because it’s more competitive than it’s ever been in this globalized world, but you have to appear to be virtuous and democratic and loving and in favor of all the most progressive issues. You have to juggle things that can’t be juggled. So you’re naturally having insecurities, you’re having to play games all the time. It’s a very vulnerable position. I have many more people who have these problems and who play games on the upper, upper echelons than those in mid-level positions where you’re not quite so vulnerable.
Aubrey: Yeah. I can see where that makes some sense. I think all of these different books on seduction and power, there’s the counter-argument that says, and I think there’s actually a quote by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche who says, “a warrior’s decency is the absence of strategy.” So there’s this idea that if you just play it straight, it’s all going to work out. Or in Seduction, if it’s meant to be, it will. Really, that’s kind of bullshit. There are certain situations where you can just be totally straightforward, and I’ve striven to do that with my company, but I wouldn’t have been able to navigate through all of the dangers that exist if I hadn’t had at least a defensive knowledge of the other games that other people were trying to play. You have to have that balance of when to let it all go, but at least have the armaments to be able to fight in this world.
Robert: Yeah, and I’m trying to say there’s no opting out. So the gentleman who said the best strategy is really to have no strategy, well that is a strategy.
Robert: You tell me what isn’t a strategy. If you’re involved in anything where there are winners and losers, which politics, business, even the arts, anywhere, trying to opt out is a strategy. Either you’re conscious and aware of it or you’re not, but there’s no such thing as no strategy. Everything we humans do, because we don’t like the feeling of being powerless or having no control over a situation, has a strategic orientation. Then I go back to the quote of Machiavelli, that would be great if everybody in the world was good. If everybody in the world was good and decent, then fine, you don’t need The 48 Laws of Power and you can be open and honest, but that five percent of assholes out there, they’re pretty strong, they’re pretty aggressive, they can ruin it for 95% of the world. That one person [inaudible] call it infection. You’ve got to be aware. You’ve got to have some defensive knowledge as you mentioned. You can’t be naive. I have a law in The 48 Laws of Power which seems pretty nasty at face value: get other people to do the work, but always take the credit. Really what it is, it’s about making you aware of the fact that that’s going to happen to you as you’re rising to the top. Someone’s going to make you do all the hard work, and then they’re going to put their name on it. Now, how do you handle that? Are you going to get all whiny and upset and complain and get fired? Or are you going to be a man or a woman or whatever you are? That’s just the way of the world. “I’m going to learn. It’s a process, and someday I’m probably going to be doing that to somebody else when they’re working for me.” So a lot of what the book is about is defensive knowledge so you’re not so damn naive when you enter the world.
Aubrey: One of the things I loved when I read it is that you made a choice not to add morality into the book. You took it as a pure exercise in how to achieve power, and that allows the reader to adjust the morality to their own standards. I think that was a really brilliant move because, I think, a lot of authors would have shied away from talking about these techniques that are completely ruthless, that involved the killing of people or whatever, but very effective. They would have shied away because of the moral issues. But you just said, look, this is a way that’s successful in getting power, this is a way that’s not successful, and then you apply your own morality. That was a great choice. Did you know you were going to do that from the start or did that kind of come about?
Robert: Yeah, I mean I get kind of fed up with all the bullshit out there, like the books that try to pretend or the people who try to pretend that we humans are all cooperative and basically we’re good. Books on how to manage people, etc, they just seemed not the reality that I dealt with in Hollywood, in journalism, and all the different realms where there are a lot of people playing a lot of very weird games. So as you say, a lot of people will write about that hard stuff in politics or whatever, but then they’ll have a chapter at the end in which they apologize for everything and they say, “you shouldn’t do any of this. I’m just trying to show you.” And that’s where I’m different. I don’t apologize. I don’t have a chapter at the end disclaiming it all. As you said, I think of the reader as an adult. You can make your own choice. Your morality will probably come from your parents and from your adolescence, etc. A book isn’t going to change you morally. This is a book about being aware of what other people might be up to. You bring to it your own background and I’ll leave it up to you. I will say some chapters are ironic and you should be able to grasp that, like play on people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following, and I show you how to create a cult in five steps. You can see that I’m being ironic and I’m sort of showing you how to be aware of how other people can be manipulating you.
Aubrey: Shit, I was already four steps deep, Robert. You’re telling me it’s ironic?
Robert: Oh, you mean you’ve already created a cult?
Aubrey: Damn it. I was already on the path. You can’t pull the rug out from me at this point. It’s too late now, Robert.
Robert: You can use it to create a cult and I’m fine with that, but the examples are clearly somewhat comic. You know, doctors who make you worship the moon as if the moon is going to tell you… These kinds of stories from the 18th century. So there’s clearly an element of irony, but most of the book, as you point out, is treating you like an adult and saying, these are the weapons. Now you know what they are. You can use them or you can defend yourself against them. It’s up to you.
Aubrey: Absolutely. I think there’s that equal mis-perception, to transition over to The Art of Seduction. You hear so many times people who aren’t very successful in their dating life and romantic life, like I wasn’t. I was not very successful until I was about 22. It’s not because the girls who I was going after would not have, if we’d gotten past that barrier, it wouldn’t have been a good relationship. I feel like I’m very confident that I would have brought a lot to the table, but there were certain barriers in place that prevented these initial steps from happening. The seduction failed at the outset, and what I think people don’t realize is they think, if it was meant to be, we would just be. We would see each other and the attraction would be universal. Bullshit. That’s not how it works. There are going to be walls, and you have to get past those walls before either of you are going to see what each other are about and know whether you are compatible or not.
Robert: Well, just think of it this way, if you’re straight like I am, men and women are very different. There are biological reasons for that and other reasons. A man will generally be interested in sex a lot sooner than the woman is, because she has a lot more at stake in that. So you’re dealing with a resistance factor. That woman doesn’t want to feel like this is something that’s just about you getting your biological needs met with someone of the opposite sex. They want to feel that there’s something more involved. We can discuss whether that’s biological or cultural. It’s an interesting question, but it’s there. So, because the woman that you’re trying to seduce already is very different, has a different value system, different things she wants that aren’t the same as what you want, just simply being who you are, you’re not going to get anywhere because you’re going to hit where she’s saying, “he’s after something that I don’t want to give. There has to be an element of trust.” So at that point you have to bring some effort into it. You have to say, “she wants attention that’s individualized.” That’s the most critical element in the art of seduction: the feeling that someone is giving you attention that’s geared toward who you are. You’re a different person. They understand your likes. They know that you like to read these books, that you like these colors, that you like this kind of music. When their attention is focused on you as a person, suddenly that resistance that was there biologically, culturally, starts to fritter away as they start seeing that there’s something going on where you’re making an effort, where you’re honing in on what makes them special and different. Then the seduction game starts to take place. But if you start from the assumption that it’s just magic and who you are, and the two things will align, you’re going against biology, culture, everything, millions of years of evolution. It ain’t gonna work because it’s not how human beings work.
Aubrey: Yeah, I can tell you from my example, and even the idea that you’re going to be exactly your true self when you’re talking to that person, that’s bullshit too. You’re going to be some version. You’re always going to be putting on some kind of face when you first meet somebody, even if it’s another guy, another friend. It’s rare that you’re going to be your truest self in the introduction phase because you’re kind of feeling each other out. In my introduction phase and wooing phase for girls, when I was younger, I would be way overly nice; smiles ear to ear on stuff that wasn’t funny and just too complimentary, and it wasn’t exciting or interesting for anybody. But that wasn’t really me. That wasn’t how I was with the rest of my friends or anybody else. That was me thinking, I want this. This is how I should be. And it failed miserably, time and time again.
Robert: Yeah, people use that why can’t I just be me type of thing as an excuse because they don’t want to go through the effort or they’re insecure, and that’s basically it. It’s a crutch to fall on. The fact that you dress a certain way or you ask her on a date to go to a restaurant that you normally don’t go to, you’re already making an effort. You’re already not being necessarily who you are. I always ask the question, “who are you?” Do you really-
Aubrey: Yeah, seriously.
Robert: Today you’re wearing five different masks. Who you are with your boss, your mother, your sister, you’re always playing different roles. That’s what it means to be a social creature. So you don’t really know who you are. There are areas you can go to explore about your character that you haven’t even realized yet, so don’t give me this weak-ass thing. You don’t know who you are. You have things you do that you’re not even aware of. So seduction and relationships and sex is theater. It’s a theater, it’s a role you play. You’re creating drama. It should be exciting. It’s like a movie, and there’s nothing wrong about it, there’s nothing nasty or manipulative about it. It’s exciting. That’s what the mating ritual is like. That’s what animals go through when they do particular dances in front of each other. So embrace that illusion aspect of it because that’s what makes it beautiful. Your day-to-day life is boring as hell. [inaudible] but seduction is an area where it doesn’t have to be boring, where you can have drama that you interject, surprises, gifts, and as you point out, not meanness, but where you’re not nice, where you deliberately project coldness. That kind of element spices up the whole seduction process. People who think everything should be just natural and who you are, they’re the worst people when it comes to romantic relationships.
Aubrey: This was 12 years ago. This was before I knew anything about any kind of art of seduction or anything like this. I started to learn for myself and I realized that the girls that I didn’t really pursue and wasn’t really targeting, I was very natural with them and very open, and they were falling madly in love with me, these girls. Then the girls I was pursuing, it wouldn’t matter who they were, I couldn’t push them far enough away. It was impossible for me. I remember realizing, I just looked and analyzed and said, okay, here are these case examples on one side, incredible success. Here are these cases, and these girls are not necessarily any better than these girls. It’s not like an intrinsic difference in the samples, it’s just how I’m acting. Then of course I get to read a book like The Art of Seduction, and I was like, aha. Now I see exactly how it was going down. But it’s such a vital book. I often think we read so much nonsense in schools and in preparation. The 48 Laws of Power is one of the most valuable tools to prepare you for work, and The Art of Seduction is incredibly valuable to prepare you for dating, and nobody gets those unless your buddy tells you or you listen to a podcast. It’s maddening to me.
Robert: Well, we shouldn’t be handing them out to high schoolers.
Aubrey: I think we should, Robert. Level the playing field, then it gets really interesting.
Robert: I’ve always had the marketing opinion that the fact that you hear about it word-of-mouth kind of adds a cult-like element that I play on and I’m kind of happy with because it makes you want to go out and get it. If you’re given the book you have a different relationship to it. I like that when people hear about it, someone says it, and then you go do it as opposed to me telling President Obama to send it out to all of America. The thing that I try to do in The Art of Seduction that’s maybe different from the other books is that I try to say there are two sides to the game. Most books or people always emphasize one or the other, which is, you have to be natural. You can’t be this cold person who’s read a book who’s applying step one, two, and three. The other person will see through it. There’s nothing seductive about it. It looks like what it is.
Aubrey: Mechanical, yeah.
Robert: Someone who’s read a book and trying to do a formula. You have to be natural and in the moment. So that’s the first half of the book, but there’s a part of you, I want to make you aware of what’s naturally seductive in you. Everybody has a quality that is naturally seductive. You’re just not using it. You’re not conscious of it, so I’m going to make you conscious of what you have, whether it’s the fact that you’re kind of childlike or whether you have this charming social ability or whether the clothes that you wear excite people: The Dandy. You have it in you. I’m going to make you more aware of it so you can actually amplify that natural seductive quality, and then I’m going to give you strategies, so it’s not just being naturally a dandy or whatever the character is, because that’s not enough. You also have to be aware of the things that you do. Putting those two together and emphasizing them both equally will make you a really good seducer. So that’s sort of what I try to do in the book that would separate it from other books.
Aubrey: Sure. Then the payoff is that there will come a point where you guys will have, presumably or not, some kind of deeper bond where you can just go back to shitting with the door open and doing whatever and having any kind of relationship where you don’t even have to think about the book anymore. But there’s that initial phase where those strategies, you just have to cross that threshold in order to get anywhere.
Robert: Yeah. I had this guy who came to me for advice. He had this woman that he was madly in love with. He tried to seduce her and he made some mistakes, and she just wouldn’t return any of his calls. It was finished. I said, “alright, I’m going to help you get her back,” and we worked on it for about four months through email, and it worked. He got her back and he proposed. They were getting married and I said, “look, take The Art of Seduction and go bury it in your backyard. Dig a hole. Put it in the hole.” [inaudible] And he did it, and that was fine because I didn’t want him to be using the book anymore because he wouldn’t do something quite right and that’s what messed him up in the first place. [inaudible] Just throw the book away and I’m happy.
Aubrey: Yeah, that’s awesome. As far as The 33 Strategies of War, that’s very interesting from a historical standpoint, and that’s another reason I like so many of your books. There are great illustrations, great stories. I’m a fan of history as well. I was a Classics major for one of my double majors.
Robert: I didn’t know that.
Aubrey: Yeah. I was Classics and Philosophy. That was my double major at the University of Richmond.
Robert: You know, that’s my major.
Aubrey: Really? Yeah, I just loved it. It was fascinating to me from the start. I had a minor in Latin, so I was translating a lot of Latin texts. So I like reading these types of things, but the application I wasn’t able to get into as much. So what do you feel like is the proper modern application for that book, the strategies of war?
Robert: Well, I think it has [inaudible] Thank you.
Aubrey: Just thought I’d show the fans.
Robert: Very wide application. The first part of the book is showing you, the first four chapters, the mental aspect of strategy. So as we said earlier, I believe that almost everything involves strategizing. Of course being with your parents or your loved one, there are moments in life where there shouldn’t be strategy. That’s fine, but a lot of times we are strategizing, even if we’re a parent and we have a child who’s giving us trouble, there’s strategy involved in that. So I want to show you the mental aspect of strategy, how you’re constantly messing yourself up mentally. You’re getting in your own way by these really bad attitudes. There’s a classic military idea of don’t fight the last war. You’re always mired in the past, what worked in the past, [inaudible] and I want to say that to be a great strategist in life, in any area, you have to be in the moment. You have to be alive to what’s happening in front of your eyes, what makes this particular circumstance different from any other. That’s what makes a Napoleon a Napoleon. You’re not just simply applying what worked yesterday or two weeks ago or assuming that this person is exactly like who you thought they were a month ago. Everything is fluid, changing. You’re in the moment. So the first part of the book is very applicable to all life situations: how do you prepare your mind for conflict? Conflict is a very hard thing for human beings. We don’t like it. That’s why we have so many passive aggressive people in the world. People don’t like to confront somebody directly. They don’t like to deal with conflict. So you go through all these avoidance strategies that mess you up. I’m going to show you how to prepare for it without becoming aggressive or an asshole, and how to not be afraid of it and how to handle it in a rational matter. This is a book about rational strategizing. It’s not a book about crushing people or the dirty, violent part of warfare. It’s the eminently rational part. Then there are chapters about how to organize people together. So it’s very applicable to those in business who have to run a company with 10 or 20 people. How do you motivate them? How do you create an esprit de corps? How do you get people [inaudible] Then on and on I go through chapter on… I have a chapter on passive aggression, how you deal with people who are passive aggressive, because it is a military tactic as well. The book, on the lowest level, is going to help you deal with the concept of people who are resistant or antagonistic. Then the applications get wider: business situations that get more and more complex or any kind of work-related thing where you’re dealing with more and more people and it gets complicated. That’s what this is really about.
Aubrey: I think, for me, one of the challenges… I really like when I have a defined opponent. That’s exciting for me because then I can bring… it’s almost energizing in that you have an enemy that you can try to use all your forces and capability. I think the absence of that is actually a motivational challenge. It’s always great to have that person doubting you or the person you’re going against, and that’s one issue, but as you’re talking about it I’m seeing how there are broader applications for this even if you don’t have, necessarily, an opponent. In my mind I was thinking, I’d love to get into this book, but who’s my enemy? Who am I waging war against other than myself? I don’t need these strategies to wage war against the parasite of my own mind. That requires different strategies than this.
Robert: Why do people turn to The Art of War by Sun Tsu? That book has been wildly popular for decades now, particularly for people in the business world. It’s a fantastic book and I draw upon it heavily for this one. This is sort of my version of The Art of War, but when you read it it’s very abstract. It’s hard to know exactly how you’re going to apply it in your life. It seems so profound, and it is profound, but you don’t know what to do with it. Well, I want to take that art of war and the concept and why people are attracted to it… people who are drawn to The Art of War — and a lot of people in the hip hop world in the 90s, that was like their bible — they’re not drawn to it because they have enemies; they know that life is war. They know that life is constant conflict. There are constantly battles going on. The battles are maybe with yourself, and that’s what the first part of the book is about, but you’re having battle with your partner, your wife, your husband, your children, your colleagues, your boss, and it can drive you crazy. You get emotional, you overreact, you’re constantly thinking about that last battle that didn’t go well. So you don’t have to have enemies in life for this book to work for you, you know? In fact you do have enemies, and they’re everywhere.
Aubrey: That’s right. How do you think it would apply to… I read some of your interviews from Mastery, I read the Freddie Roach one. How do you think it would apply to combatants in combat sports? Because my company works with a lot of MMA fighters. I know you have some ties in with some of the boxing community. Does it work on that very literal sense of, if you’re preparing for a single opponent in athletic combat?
Robert: Oh, most definitely. It depends on your style, but if you take MMA or boxing, I have a chapter in the war book, I forget the exact title. It’s about forcing the momentum… [inaudible] dynamic. Going on the offensive. Like Rommel and his whole strategy in North Africa. You’re determining the… did you find it?
Aubrey: No. What do you think it’s called?
Robert: It’s about controlling the dynamic, forcing things to you-
Aubrey: Control the Dynamic, chapter 15. “People are constantly struggling to control you. The only way to get the upper hand is to make your play for control more intelligent and insidious. Instead of trying to dominate the other side’s every move, work to define the nature of the relationship itself. Maneuver to control your opponents’ minds, pushing their emotional buttons and compelling them to make mistakes.”
Robert: Freddie Roach is a master of that. Whether you’re a defense-oriented person or an offense-oriented person… This book has two sections. The offensive is longer for a good reason. Freddie is an offensive-minded trainer. He believes that you go out there and you set the rhythm, but what Freddie does is he, as the trainer, sets the rhythm before the two boxers ever even get into the ring by playing all kinds of wicked mind games. He gets the manager of the opponent upset and he gets the opponent [inaudible] at the weigh-in. He says things to the press that he knows are going to get under the guy’s skin. So before Manny Pacquiao ever steps into the ring, the other guy’s already seething. He [Freddie] always wants to set the tone. I think the most successful coaches generally do that. I notice Bill Belichik will do that. Phil [inaudible] in his own way was like that. That’s the most obvious application of The 33 Strategies-
Aubrey: Phil Jackson actually, you mention that… I know another hall of fame NBA coach, and he would always say that they were competitive. They would see each other, and while normally most people in that kind of community would be very friendly: “oh hey, how are you?” Phil would always just kind of glance and give him this dismissive nod. It’s just this subtle mind game of, yeah we should shake hands because we’re eating dinner at a restaurant together and there’s no game at stake, but he always was playing that subtle game.
Robert: People who read his book — I highly recommend it: Eleven Rings came out recently. It’s a great book — people have this misconception of him as this sort of new age, touchy feely guy, but no. He’s a master manipulator and he definitely fits into that rubric of the offensive type warfare. But then the strategies get more subtle that you can use, like a counterattack strategy. I used to play backgammon every day when I lived in Greece. I was 21 years old and I would play against this guy — backgammon, if you know, is a game of a good amount of luck because there are dice — this Greek guy would beat me every single time no matter what I rolled because he always played the counterattack. [inaudible] his counterattack strategy, which means you lay back, you let the other person get ahead, you let them expose themselves, expose their weakness. At the moment that they’re not aware you go on the counterattack. In soccer, if you follow soccer, there are teams that are absolutely brilliant at the counterattack, the whole strategy. Yeah, all of these-
Aubrey: Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope. That’s a classic example.
Robert: It’s a perfect example of it. You could fit a lot of these strategies into sports very easily. I used Muhammad Ali and I’ve used sports in the book itself.
Aubrey: Yeah, right on. So then how did you get linked up with 50 Cent for The 50th Law? How did that happen?
Robert: My first book, The 48 Laws of Power, was huge in hip hop. I remember going back, I think it was 2001 that I saw an interview with Jay-Z. He was the first hip hop person that I saw quoting it. He actually quoted it in an interview. Then I’m hearing about a lot of rappers who were really into the book, and 50 was hugely into it. He told me he discovered the book around 2000, 2001. He obviously, coming from the streets, understood power games pretty well. He was a hustler. He’s things a lot worse than I’ve ever seen. He said nothing prepared him for the music industry. That was 80 times rougher than anything he saw on the streets of Queens because there, on the streets of Queens, you pretty much knew who was on your side and who wasn’t. But in the music industry you had no idea, and people were knifing you in the back left, right, and center. You never knew who was who, and he said The 48 Laws of Power really helped him and he really loved the book. So he initiated the contact with me, we met, and it was just to meet really. We saw we had a really good rapport. We come from these two obviously very different worlds, but we connect on the level of strategy. We like to look at events in life from a strategic point of view. So at the time he was going through this big beef with Game, and he was talking to me about the parameters and what I would do and what he was doing, and we just got really excited talking about it. So at that point I left the meeting and thought maybe it could be really interesting to do a book together — because we tossed that idea out — bringing our two minds together and essentially what I would do is, I kind of saw him as a Napoleon Bonaparte type. This guy is very fluid, very strategic, yet can be quite strong and aggressive. I’ve had to read books about Napoleon, I’ve never met him. I had to imagine him, and now I’ve got a real life person in front of me. Instead of books, I could study Napoleon Bonaparte in the flesh. So the idea was: I’m going to follow you, 50, see what makes you tick, then we’re going to write a book about what makes you tick. What’s the lesson we can learn? And in doing that it seemed to me that the core… I have this belief that everybody who’s successful, there’s something at the core that makes them different and powerful. I could reduce 50 to one quality, and that was his fearlessness. He wasn’t afraid on so many different levels. So that’s sort of the book we decided to write. It’s a meditation on 10 types of fear and how you can overcome them.
Aubrey: That was very apropos because I’ve looked and analyzed my own life, and so many things that you think are not fear are really just fear expressing itself in a different way. For example, stress. You think oh, I’m stressed. Well what is stress? Stress is fear of some outcome that you don’t want to happen or some loss of something. It’s fear at the very core. To get rid of the stress you have to remove the fear because that’s the real cause. You can’t just attack the stress, you know? It’s not going to solve the actual core problem. So I think in that book you do a really good job talking about all of the different ways that fearlessness can help you succeed. So I really enjoyed that.
Robert: One thing that’s sort of counter-intuitive that we also talk about in there is that people are afraid of success.
Robert: They’re afraid of the responsibility that comes from it, so they constantly do things to sabotage themselves. They’re on a job for two years and, just at the point where they can get to the next level, they quit and go I don’t like this field. I’m going to go [inaudible] They’re sabotaging themselves because they know if they go a little bit further, now they’re going to have to stick their neck out and perform and show that their experience has paid off, that they can succeed. There are a lot of people who are afraid of the responsibility and the reputation, everything that comes from success, and they’re constantly running away from it in life. So we want to show you that that’s one element of fear. Or being afraid of being alone and having to depend on yourself. You’re always waiting for someone else to get you that perfect job or to help you out or bail you out. No, that’s a form of fear. You’re afraid of being on your own, which is really a fear of death itself, because when you die you’re alone. So here’s how to overcome that. It’s not just a fear of a lion is in front of me and is about to eat me.
Aubrey: Yeah, that’s danger. There’s a big distinction between fear and danger.
Robert: Yeah. [inaudible]
Aubrey: I think the fear of death is kind of the master fear. Some of the best philosophies have really taken that to heart and used that as almost a core of their teaching. I know the samurai, that was one of the core teachings for them. To be a samurai is to basically walk hand in hand with your death, know that it’s walking with you at all times. Then the Toltec philosophy, Carlos Castaneda and Ruiz, death is your wisest adviser. If it hasn’t touched you yet, then-
Robert: Then [inaudible]
Aubrey: Yeah. A lot of different cultures have realized that, but you have to kind of cross that threshold where you get past that fear of death and then start working on the smaller fears on down the line, which are also very important.
Robert: In this book, chapter 10, which is the last chapter, is about the fear of death. I’ve put it at the end, and I’m drawing a lot on the traditions you just mentioned as well as the stoics, who have a philosophy about how to deal with death itself. It was great because 50 came this close to dying. He was shot nine times, one of them passing through his mouth. You don’t get shot in the head, usually, and survive. So he felt death. We talked about. He felt like he was dying, and it was a really strange moment to actually discuss that with him. So the sense that he came back from that was like, wow, nothing else matters in life. I’m on borrowed time now. If I nearly died, nothing’s going to phase me now. That was almost the starting point of the book. If you have that kind of power inside you — at some point I’m going to die, so why do all these other little petty fears matter? — boy, that’s a powerful position to be in.
Aubrey: Sure. So many of these things we’re afraid of are involving just fears of ego loss at a certain point. Some aggrandizement that we’ve created or some story, even the fear of success is partly a fear of the story that your ego has created having to change. If you’re the person that’s always getting slighted, never gets the break, and you’ve kind of entrenched that in yourself: I’m going to have some scotch, damn the world — and you get an opportunity to be successful, you’ve got to reverse that whole schtick that your ego has been using to support itself, and that’s scary. That’s a death of your identity of some sort.
Robert: That’s a great point. I don’t even know if I covered that. That’s really smart. I like that. One last fear that people don’t realize is the fear of chaos and uncertainty, where you always are trying to control everything. If something’s going to happen and you don’t know what it’s going to be, so you latch on to some quick formula, some easy explanation, or you don’t get into some situation because you know you can’t control it, no, you’ve got to let go of that and you’ve got to let chaos come into your life and you’ve got to be able to handle it because the world now is so chaotic that if you’re this rigid person who’s afraid of losing control over things, you’re just going to fall apart. Your armor’s just going to crack at some point. So that’s another kind of fear, but the one you mentioned is pretty good, yeah.
Aubrey: Yeah, it’s all this interesting process of just getting information more and more and realizing… It’s funny, for me and my own journey it’s been a process of, you get to a point where you’re like, yeah I’ve got it. Good. But then that’s just the summit of another hill where you realize how much more you still really don’t know. Socrates’ old wisdom of being a man who knows he knows nothing becomes more apropos because you realize there’s so much more just when you thought you’d figured it all out.
Robert: Yeah, I’m in that position. I have books that I always, I start the next one and I’m always at that point, you know?
Aubrey: Are you at liberty to talk about your newest project at all? Or do you have any themes that you’re hinting at?
Robert: We’ve skipped Master, but that’s okay.
Aubrey: I’m skipping Mastery intentionally because we’re about to be on the Joe Rogan podcast and we’re about to go deep into Mastery. I’ll cover it briefly before we close up here, but-
Robert: Well, what I do is I take a chapter from Mastery that seemed to resonate pretty well with readers, but it also resonated with myself, on social intelligence, on how to read people, how to understand the people you deal with on a deeper level than what you think you know. You probably don’t know very well the people that are around you. I had it in Mastery because the idea was that you could be the most technically brilliant person, you could know your field inside and out, but if you can’t deal with political problems and people playing games and all this other stuff, you can’t influence them. You’re going to neutralize all of your talent. So I want to take it to another level, and I’ve found it really resonated with readers, but they always said, “I wanted more. I wanted more information.” So what I’m doing is I want to create the ultimate book on how to understand people. I’m calling it The Laws of Human Nature. This is what makes human beings, going back 6000 years, when we started living in cities and civilizations, but really 2 million years ago when we were proto-human and then hunter-gatherers, our nature was pretty much set in stone. Things have changed. We dress differently. They didn’t have Facebook back in the days of the Bible, but in the days of the Bible they had Joseph and his brothers, they threw him into a ditch because they envied him. Well, on Facebook we have all kinds of envy displayed, it’s just not the same. They’re not throwing people into a ditch, but they’re doing it through social media. These elements are there and I’m going to show you what they are and how you can see them in people so that you can be a superior reader and understand-er of those people that you deal with. I had a whole theme in Mastery of mirror neurons, this great new scientific discovery which I think is going to shake the world in the next 100 years. They’re doing amazing experiments based around mirror neurons. It’s a sense of, we have a knowledge of people that’s pre-verbal, that’s physically oriented. They’ve demonstrated it through experiments. We have almost telepathic powers where we experience what another person is doing. If we’re watching a football game and what’s-his-name, Russel Wilson-
Aubrey: Tom Brady.
Robert: Yeah, Tom Brady. We’re almost there feeling it. It’s an incredible power. I’m going to show you how you can use that power in this game of reading people, etc. So I’m giving myself a very high mountain to climb.
Aubrey: Very cool. Ben Franklin was kind of one of the heroes of that chapter if I recall correctly, from Mastery.
Robert: He was the icon of it, and I love it because [inaudible] and he mastered six different fields: sciences, he was a great writer, he was a great politician, he was an incredible inventor, and on top of it all he was a master of dealing with people. I tried to show in Mastery that being good with people also makes you more intelligent on an intellectual level. It makes you more sensitive, it makes you more fine-tuned to details. Benjamin Franklin was just the ultimate icon in history. By the time he was in his 60s and 70s he had this understanding of people that was so profound that he could see right through you in an instant. He had so many experiences, had dealt so well with politics over so many years… Da Vinci was on another level when it comes to art and Benjamin Franklin was on another level when it came to people.
Aubrey: Yeah, it reminds me, one of the tools that’s helped me along my quest is that I’ve gone down to Peru and partaken in the ayahuasca tradition there in Peru. I remember one time I was on a vision pretty deep, I’m in the middle of the jungle off the madre de dios and the sounds of the icaros and two cups of ayahuasca deep, and I get a vision of flying alongside a condor. The condor is iconic for vision and sight through the world, and wisdom. The condor looks over to me to the left and says, “do you want the secret to see?” And I said, “yes.” He said, “see through everybody else’s eyes.” Just the way that he said that, I was like, of course. The best sight you can have is to use everybody else’s eyes without your own filter; actually look through their eyes. It’s kind of a cliche (walk a mile in their shoes), but just the way that knowledge came to me has always stuck to me. So in times like that, just really understanding don’t look at them, look through them. What are they seeing? What are they afraid of? What do they desire? You get so much information just from being able to do that exercise. So obviously the words point to it and sometimes you get lucky and a psychedelic fruit can help teach you some of that as well, I suppose.
Robert: Yeah, as we’ve talked about before, I’ve done psychedelics when I was in college. I’ve had experiences like that. But Mastery is about the fact that you get to the point where you’ve been doing something for 10 years, 20 years, you have a feel for it. You’re playing the piano, but you’re almost seeing the piano from the eyes of the piano. The piano doesn’t have eyes, but you’re almost inside the piano. It’s inside your head. It’s in your body. You and the piano are one. I know it’s a cliche. I’m sounding terrible right now, but it’s true. I’ve had drummers… I met this guy in London recently who’s a drummer for, my memory’s going to hell, I can’t remember. It’s a really great band. I think it’s My Bloody Valentine. He’s in My Bloody Valentine. He’s saying, “I feel that way. I’ve been drumming for 30 years. That drum is inside me. We’re like one. I don’t have to feel it in my fingers anymore.” Okay, well that’s how it is with people. The model for that is the sense of knowing people that deeply where you can almost, you’re embodied in them, you feel what they’re feeling. The mastery that you have in your field you can also have with people in a social sense. It’s very powerful if you have that because not only does it make you attuned to individuals, it can also make you attuned to the zeitgeist, to people, to the world at large, to where trends are going, to where things are, because we are social animals and that sense of being really connected on a masterful level to what’s happening in the world and society will translate into all sorts of creative and other incredible things, too.
Aubrey: Sure. There’s another teaching which you may or may not be familiar with that’s from the Hawaiian Kahuna spiritual tradition. It’s called ho’oponopono. What it teaches is that if there is something that’s upsetting you about another individual, what you want to do is go inside your own self and find that part of yourself that expresses that same way, and try to forgive and move past that part in yourself, and love that part of yourself in order to affect the other person. It’s really pretty powerful because whatever you’re upset about in that other person, if you look deep enough, there’s probably that inclination inside your very self, and working on that is often times a lot more powerful and effective than working on somebody else who you have very little control over.
Robert: Will you send me a link to that, what you just-
Aubrey: Yeah, sure.
Robert: I’m going to need to know about that.
Aubrey: Sure, I’ll make a note.
Robert: [inaudible] on that level is [inaudible] problem in dealing in the social is we get emotional and we react. We’re always going, god damn. Why did that person do this? Why are they so mean? [inaudible] in the book is that generally 98% of the time it’s not directed at you personally. It’s collateral damage. People are acting out from things that have happened to them in their childhood or somebody else pushing their buttons, so it’s not personal. You shouldn’t be taking anything personally. Rarely should you take anything personally because generally what people are doing to you is not directed at you. I want to kind of imbue you in this philosophy where you can have a little bit of distance from the social… it doesn’t mean you’re going to be cold. In fact you’re going to end up being a lot more tolerant and actually more social by doing this, but a little bit of distance where you’re not constantly reacting and taking things personally. It’s sort of a philosophy I want to-
Aubrey: Absolutely. That’s vital. Also, Don Miguel Ruiz wrote a great book, The Four Agreements, and that’s the very first one: don’t take things personally. Very important.
Robert: Make a note.
Robert: Things that might be relevant to this.
Aubrey: Yeah. I love the topic. I’m excited to have it.
Robert: I’ll give you a big mention in the Acknowledgments, etc.
Aubrey: Awesome. Thank you. So of course we’ve left a big gap in talking about Mastery, but we’ve got a great podcast coming up with Joe Rogan here on the 4th of March. So if you’re listening to this now, you’ll probably be listening to that one anyways, but if you’re not, definitely check that out because Mastery is the book that I think people should teach in schools. That’s the one where I really think every kid should be able to get that and take a look and learn how to be an individual master in their own life. It’s just a brilliant step-by-step way to get you there.
Robert: Thank you. Yeah, that would be the one in high schools that I would agree with. Not The Art of Seduction.
Aubrey: I want to have everybody learn them all, at least in my high school.
Robert: There are schools that are starting to use them. There have been some interesting art schools that have been taking the book and using it. There’s a business school that’s using it, so it is happening actually. But I agree with you, that would be the book that would help young people starting their life because nobody guides you. You leave the university and you get out in the real world. Your parents can’t really help you and they’re giving you bad advice. Nobody is helping you, and you get lost and you make mistakes, and you never recover from them. Suddenly you’re 35 and, whoa, how did I end up in this field? I don’t feel connected to it. And half your life is over and you don’t know where to go. So if you’re 18–22 it’s really important, it’s not going to necessarily give you a precise road map to where you need to go, but some general sense of direction for your 20s, those most critical years of an apprenticeship, which is what I call it. Just thinking in those terms will change the whole game for you. So it’s pretty important for the younger crowd.
Aubrey: And how. One of the things that I like to impress upon people is that it’s not too late even if you’re not in your 20s. If you’re 35, 40, 45, there are all kinds of amazing stories of people who said, “you know what? Fuck it. I’m tired of this ridiculous job I’ve been doing. I’m going to go follow my passion and my heart.” A book like Mastery, I think no matter where you’re at, unless you’re really, it doesn’t matter, even if you’re on the path it will help you refine and understand your own path to mastery, and if you’re not on it, it’s not too late no matter where you’re at.
Robert: That’s a good point. I agree with you there. Definitely.
Aubrey: Absolutely. Well, I can’t wait to expand this discussion here in another format, and I really appreciate you coming on here. What’s the best way to get a hold of you via social media, your blog, or anything like that?
Robert: I haven’t been a very conscientious blogger, but I do have a blog. It’s PowerSeductionAndWar.com. The “and” is spelled out. There are some blogs from a couple years ago and links to all the talks I’ve been giving lately, and links to the new book, Mastery. So that’s probably the best way. You can also email me through that site.
Aubrey: Beautiful. Thank you, Robert. This has been a pleasure, and one week from now we will hang out in person in southern Cali and do it again.
Robert: I’m really looking forward. I’m really happy you’re going to be there. That’s great.
Aubrey: Definitely. Absolutely. Have a wonderful week and we’ll talk soon.
Robert: Yeah, thanks a lot, Aubrey. Take care.
Aubrey: Take care.