What Robert Greene Taught Me
“Most people are generally timid and conservative.” They avoid confrontation. They don’t take risks. There’s no theater. There’s no emotion. Nothing exciting.
In mankind’s early days — or the “bawling and fearful infancy of our species,” as Hitchens puts it — fear was important. It protected us from big scary tigers and shit. From that fear came religion and other belief systems.
“We are all too afraid — of offending people, of stirring up conflict, of standing out from the crowd, of taking bold action.”
Kidnap fear. Put duct tape over its mouth. Strap it to a chair in your basement. Torture it for a few hours. Then kill it.
Burn the corpse as a cleansing ritual, much like you would burn a letter.
Fear creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. “As people give in to it, they lose energy and momentum. Their lack of confidence translates into inaction that lowers confidence levels even further, on and on.”
“If we give in to the fear, we will give disproportionate attention to the negative and manufacture the very adverse circumstances that we dread.”
Fearlessness will free you from that cycle. You can deal with fear in 2 ways: actively and passively.
If you do it passively, you’re just trying to avoid the thing that causes anxiety. One example is when you try to make everything comfortable and nice and safe. You do this because you think you are fragile.
The active way of dealing with fear is often something thrust upon us: The death of a loved one. A natural disaster. The loss of something.
In those moments we find that we are stronger than we thought. You can not avoid those things when they happen. The only choice you have is to face them.
Greene says that we should look at crises as opportunities. Every crisis is a challenge. It’s an opportunity to prove yourself.
Homer Simpson calls it a crisitunity.
Realize that the crises and fears of your life can bring you power. No one is born tough. No one is born fearless. “It is unnatural to not feel fear. It is a process that requires challenges and tests.”
Don’t be conventional. Attack life “with a sense of boldness and urgency and an unconventional approach, [create] new models instead of following old ones.”
Kicking the shit out of fear.
Frederick Douglass was born a slave and understood that “slavery was a system that depended on the creation of deep levels of fear.” So is your job. Your boss needs you to be scared of losing that income. Otherwise you’d quit and follow your own path.
When Douglass fought back against his masters, he was whipped less often.
Never knew his father. Mom got murdered when he was 8. He had nobody to depend on. Remember the saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? In other words, everything makes you stronger. Except rainbows and fairies. Those make you weaker.
He started hustling on the streets at an early age, and had to confront fear, violence, and aggression on a daily basis. Seeing fear “so routinely, he understood what a destructive and debilitating emotion it could be.”
“The first time he faced someone with a gun, he was frightened. The second time, less so. The third time, it meant nothing.”
One thing that traps a lot of hustlers is the fear of leaving the streets. 50 confronted that fear. He attacked the music scene with “a frantic, bold energy that got him noticed.” He got a deal with Columbia Records and made an album, but wrote a song that pissed off a rival dealer. It’s possible that the dealer ordered a hit on 50, and right before the album launched, he got shot 9 times. One of the bullets hit him in the mouth, which is why he has such a mumbly rap style. That same bullet came within a milimeter of killing him.
Columbia dropped him, not wanting to be associated with violence, and apparently not realizing that gangsta rap sells like fucking crazy. Maybe the numbnuts had never heard of Dr Dre…
Anyway, he got dropped from his label and was now broke. He had come face to face with death. He realized that life could be extremely short, so he broke with music industry tradition: working within the industry, making music that white men in suits thought would sell. He started making mix tapes and either selling them or giving them away for free on the streets.
Get your fucking name out there. Make good shit. Give it away for free. Make people want more.
Working this way, outside of the industry, he could go his own way.
“He felt a great sense of freedom — he could create his own business model, be as unconventional as he desired. He felt like he had nothing to lose, as if the last bits of fear that still remained within him had bled out in the car that day in 2000.”
50's fearlessness is what Greene calls his Power Center of Gravity. Having gone through so much shit so often, and having come literally an inch from death, he lost all fear.
No matter what you’re afraid of, you’ll probably never be an inch from death. Writing is not usually that kind of profession. So Greene would probably accuse you of being a scared little pussy bitch who needs to grow a fucking pair and stop pissing his pants. That’s very mean of him. I would never do that. I would never accuse you of being a weak pussy bitch.
The times are changing.
“We are living through strange, revolutionary times. The old order is crumbling before our eyes on so many levels.”
Yet many people (especially leaders of industries) are scared of the changes and clinging to those old models. Book publishers don’t know how to do their one fucking job: sell books, which is why Amazon has put them out of business, just like iTunes put record stores out of business.
You already know all that. But are you acting on it?
Do what people are afraid to do. Do what you’re afraid to do. Are you afraid to hit Publish before consulting your god-fucking-damned Chicago Manual of Style? Do it anyway.
People like 50 Cent find that “the chaos of the times suits their temperament. They have grown up being unafraid of experimentation, hustling, and trying new ways of operating. They embrace the advances in technology that make others secretly fearful.”
Let go of the past. Create your own business model. Go direct.
“The greatest fear people have is that of being themselves.” -50 Cent.
By committing bold acts, the people who see you will think your confidence is justified. You will eliminate obstacles.
People want to conform to those around them. They do it out of fear. People try to micromanage everything in their immediate environment. They do it out of fear. But when lots of unexpected things happen, they lose their control.
If we are fearless, we will embrace change and chaos. We will be fluid. We will cultivate a mindset that converts bad situations into positive ones.
Piracy is an example. Embrace it.
“Having a brush with death, or being reminded in a dramatic way of the shortness of our lives, can have a positive, therapeutic effect.”
Psychedelics (especially the uber-chic ayahuasca) can induce a near-death experience that many describe as the single most important event of their life, the equivalent of 30 years of therapy in just one night. No, I’m not saying you need to take mushrooms in order to be a better writer or to have a better life. But, if you do want to be a better writer and have a better life, the therapeutic properties of psilocybin will kick your ass and bring you to reality. (BTW, Greene embraced psychedelics in his days growing up in Berkeley. He did “lots of psychedelics,” especially peyote. I can guarantee you they changed his perspective and brought him to reality. And his work is all about embracing reality.
Don’t be a people pleaser.
Trying too hard to please people can push them away. You probably have a friend or two that are too eager to please. It’s gross. Don’t be that chick.
“Your attitude has the power of shaping reality in two opposite directions — one that constricts and corners you in fear, the other that opens up possibilities and freedom of action. It is the same for the mind-set and spirit that you bring to reading the chapters that follow. If you read them with your ego out in front, feeling that you are being judged here, or are under attack — in other words, if you read them in a defensive mode — then you will needlessly close yourself off from the power this could bring you. Similarly, if you read these words as narrow prescriptions for your life, trying to follow them to the letter, then you are constricting their value — their application to your reality.”
The quote is from Greene’s The 50th Law. So read the book fearlessly (which means be willing to modify and experiment with the rules Greene lays out).
When you bring fear to any encounter, you limit your range of options. You limit your ability to act and to shape events.
Chapter 1 of The 50th Law is titled See Things For What They Are — Intense Realism.
Don’t waste time wishing things were different. Accept them. Use your current circumstances to your advantage. Embrace them.
Focus on how the people around you act; it will give you an insight into what makes some people advance while others languish in the mud.
See through people’s manipulations in order to get what you need from them.
“The firmer your grasp on reality, the more power you will have to alter it for your own purposes.”
The life of an inner-city drug dealer is dangerous. That danger forces him to focus intensely on his surroundings. You need to know this stuff more than 50 Cent did. His world was harsh and violent, forcing his eyes open. Your world seems more comfortable, nicer. But our world is just as fast-paced and competitive as his.
Realism is a muscle that you make stronger with use. By using it, “your eyes are fixed on the world, not on yourself or your ego.”
America is caught in a wave of escapism. “A tide of fantasy and escapism” as Greene puts it. a) There’s nothing you can do to stop it. “But you can stand as an individual bulwark to this trend and create power for yourself.” b) “You were born with the greatest weapon in all of nature — the rational conscious mind.” c) By turning inward and being afraid of reality, you render that weapon dull and useless.
Learn to read people and understand their motivations. Do not be fooled by their public face.
Cultivate a sense of detachment from your own actions so that you can read yourself the same way you can read others. Don’t always be detached from your acts, though. Sometimes you need to act with heart and boldness and emotion. Learn to turn the detachment on and off.
Get your ego out of the way. This is where I say the word entheogen again. Wanna learn how to separate yourself from that intrusive ego?
Rely on yourself.
Working for others is a way to avoid your fears.
“You came into this world with the only real possessions that ever matter — your body, the time that you have to live, your energy, the thoughts and ideas unique to you, and your autonomy.”
When you work for others, you give all that away.
My Marxist friends would agree. You sell your time, your labor. Though my Marxist friends are equally opposed to entrepreneurship as to selling your labor to capitalists… so you’re damned if you do and fucked if you don’t, and you’re a horrible oppressive capitalist pig-dog if you use the means of production (a laptop) for your own benefit. Also, you’re white, so we wouldn’t expect you to understand (said the white trust fund baby with dreadlocks who has never worked a dishwashing job in his/her entire life).
By working for others, you waste valuable time you’ll never get back; time that you could have used building your own empire. You must take ownership of the only possessions that truly matter:
“Your body, the time that you have to live, your energy, the thoughts and ideas unique to you, and your autonomy.”
You own almost none of those things when employed by others. They own you.
“True ownership can come only from within. It comes from a disdain for anything or anybody that impinges upon your mobility, from a confidence in your own decisions, and from the use of your time in constant pursuit of education and improvement.”
Realize that you are alone, but don’t let that scare you. Let it free you. Prove to yourself that you can get things (and get things done) on your own. Don’t wait for people to do this or that for you, which is a frustrating and infuriating experience.
Self-reliance case study:
Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was a successful boxer who was falsely convicted of a triple homicide and spent 19 years in prison. That would crush most people. But not him. He knew that some day he would be released, and he had choices about how he would act when that day came. He could spend the rest of his post-prison life crushed by the experience. He could become a career-recidivist. So what did he do?
He used the time behind bars to continue acting as a free man. He didn’t wear the uniform or the ID badge. He didn’t go to parole hearings. He didn’t eat with the other prisoners.
Yes, he was punished for these small acts of freedom, but he was not afraid of solitary confinement or any other punishments. He shunned TV. He began reading and writing. Like many other prisoners, he studied law while in lockup. He tutored others. He looked for ways to get his conviction overturned.
“When he was eventually freed, he refused to take civil action against the state — that would acknowledge he had been in prison and needed compensation. He needed nothing.”
It’s easy to become dependent — on “experts,” drugs, entertainment, jobs. Dependency is a prison. Wean yourself off dependencies. Listen less to the voices of others and more to your own voice.
Your boss does not care about you. Your boss only cares about your boss. You’re only employed because they need you, but as soon as they find someone cheaper, you’re gone.
“Your life must be a progression towards ownership — first mentally of your independence, and then physically of your work, owning what you produce.”
Seth Godin analyzes the old Marxist stuff about “the means of production.” He says that in the past, the means of production was a factory. Today we have another means of production: the laptop.
For any Marxists reading this, I don’t want to hear the argument that not everyone can make a living by using a computer. You guys are absolutely right, but those people aren’t reading this, and I’m not writing a book called The Inclusive Collective Revolution Masterclass.
Nobody would read that book.
Greene’s 4 steps for beginning your “progression towards ownership.”
1: Reclaim dead time. 2: Create little empires. 3: Move higher up the food chain. 4: Make your enterprise a reflection of your individuality.
Reclaim dead time. You can do this even while working for others.
(There’s a quick story about Cornelius Vanderbilt, who worked for his dad’s shipping business. The job sucked, basically, but he made a tiny change in his mindset and decided that he would open his own shipping company. That little shift made him want to learn everything about the business. He paid attention to every part of the process.)
Pay attention to the political games in the workspace. Pay attention to how the company responds to the larger chess game within the industry.
Absorb as much information as you can. It will help make the otherwise unrewarding work more bearable, and “in this way, we own our time and our ideas before owning a business.” Your boss does not want you to have all the information. He needs to keep you dependent on him until the inevitable layoff. You must act as a corporate saboteur/spy within the company.
Create little empires. Take on extra responsibility. Do tasks that others have left unfinished. But don’t do too much — you don’t want your boss to become suspicious of you.
Move higher up the food chain.
Make your enterprise a reflection of your individuality. You can try to copy others and emulate the steps that made them successful, and you might even get some dollars along the way. But that won’t get you far enough.
You are unique. Your perspectives and experiences are your strengths, not your weaknesses.
Everybody told Miles Davis to make music that sounded like the popular stuff of his day. He didn’t listen.
Don’t go overboard and be deliberately eccentric. That’s just affectation. Be relentlessly yourself.
Those who are self-sufficient are usually more comfortable with themselves and don’t spend time trying to get what they need from others. Their independence is attractive. Conversely, “the needy, clingy types — often the most sociable — unconsciously push us away.”
Those who are self-sufficient are sociable merely because they desire pleasant company or conversation and want to be around people who spend their time uplifting each other.
Don’t think any of this is easy. It takes practice. If a self-help book tries to tell you how easy something is, it’s a shitty book. Easy come, easy go.
Be an opportunist.
The word “opportunist” was/is a derogatory term used by the upper classes to describe anybody below them who dared to seek something better. Those on the bottom are Macchiavellian and immoral, whereas the ruling elite are seen as smart and resourceful.
“Turn Shit Into Sugar”
A lot of people like to complain about their shitty situations. Greene and 50 suggest you turn that around and make it into a strength.
It doesn’t get much shittier than being shot nine times and being dropped from your record label, does it? Yet 50 Cent took that shit-lemon and turned it into sugar-lemonade. (I’m mixing metaphors a little too wantonly.)
He heard fake gangsta rappers on the radio and knew he was the real deal. Plus, the bullet that hit his jaw changed his voice. He had to rap slower. The whole situation made him seem more menacing. The songs came pouring out of him. “He fed off all the anger he felt and the doubts people had about him. He was also consumed with a sense of urgency — this was his last change to make it and so he worked night and day. Fifty’s mix-tapes began to hit the street at a furious pace.”
He didn’t have enough money to distribute his music on a large scale, and this was before the internet was the distribution platform it is now, so he encouraged bootleggers to pirate his stuff.
The things that happen to you aren’t positive or negative. They’re neutral. To misquote Arnold J Toynbee, your life “is just one damned thing after another.” To correctly quote Johnny B Truant, “the universe doesn’t give a flying fuck about you.”
Shit just happens to you. It’s up to your mind to interpret those things as good or bad. It is your fearfulness that makes you think obstacles are negative. Instead of getting discouraged or depressed by “bad stuff” that happens to you, see those things as a wake-up call. You must see everything around you as an opporunity.
Do not wait. Never wait. Act now. Act boldly. Do it before you’re ready to.
“Keep your eye out for any kind of shift in tastes or values. People in the media or the establishment will often rail against these changes, seeing them as signs of moral decline and chaos. People fear the new.”
Things change rapidly. Trying to micromanage things will make you lose even more control over them. Move with the chaos.
“If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change.” — Miles Davis.
The old symbols of power are the rock and the oak tree. Rigid, unmoving, unchanging things. But water is much more powerful. It is formless, it moves with the world. It adapts to everything.
The world is full of people who are too conventional and who respect the past too much. “Most people in life are rigid and predictable; that makes them easy targets.”
In the Taoist philosophy, the best strength is a softness that allows you to bend and adapt. You have to adapt your strategy to the constantly changing world.
“One’s victories in battle can not be repeated.” -Sun Tzu.
Momentum is gained not by doing the same thing over and over — it comes from increased movement, increased fluidity.
Change your opinions as you learn. “Experts” are trapped in cognitive ghettos that keep them from seeing outside their discipline. They get locked into rigid ways of thinking. Their philosophies always depend on forcing everyone to think like they do.
Leaders often try to make everyone under them the same. People confuse that for strength, but it is the opposite. It is a fearful and weak move.
Do not fear the unpredictable. When you have to work with or lead others, let them bring their creativity and experience to the project. They will feel more invested in it and motivated to produce better work.
Develop ways to gently divert their energies in the direction you want. Miles Davis again: He saw his former bandmate Charlie Parker get destroyed when, after inventing bebop, the genre became conventional rather than radical. Miles understood that America does not honor any contemporary black musicians working within styles that are consumed by black people, so he radically changed his sound every four years. He knew he couldn’t settle on just one style; tastes shifted rapidly in jazz.
You too must periodically reinvent yourself. Don’t just copy new trends, find elements of contemporary culture that you like, and incorporate them into your style.
Otherwise you become the 60 year old woman who dresses only in leopard print and has never heard a song that wasn’t written by Zep.
Tyrants are those who force people to live by dead concepts. They try to prevent the change that every society periodically needs.
Know When To Be Aggressive.
People who pretend to keep order are actually just trying to hold on to their power and get more of it.
50 Cent is a fucking genius. Here’s the story: He spent a year in rehab for dealing. While there, he befriended the leader of a group of stickup artists. (Artists?) He made a deal with them: rob all the corner dealers in my neighborhood, including me. You get to keep all the cash and the jewels and shit. Just give me the drugs when you’re done.
It caused panic among the dealers during the following weeks. Some of them decided they needed to carry guns for protection. So they did. And some got arrested for loitering with a gun. So they had to stay on the move. The situation made their jobs much more difficult.
You might consider 50 a market disruptor. The old way of doing business had become moldy and static. He reinvigorated it. By the time anybody figured it out it was too late.
He had learned that talent and good intentions are never enough. You have to be fearless and strategic. The world is competitive. People always want to block you. This fact will never change.
People are aggressive, but society tells them to be civilized. But instead of being civilized, they just become passive-aggressive.
Passive-aggressive people are trying to get what they want while also avoiding conflict. They are weak and fearful. You will defeat them by being more assertive.
Don’t waste time complaining about human nature; just get better at protecting yourself. If people think you’re submissive, they’ll exploit you. You must show them that you will not be pushed, that some lines shouldn’t be crossed. But you don’t have to say a single damn word for them to get it; your attitude can speak volumes.
Trying to please people makes them respect you less.
Some common foes and scenarios you’ll have to face: aggressors, passive aggressors, unjust situations, static situations, and impossible dynamics.
Aggressors. Attack them like a fox would. Work behind the scenes to bring them to collapse. If you aggressively attack an aggressor, you are forced to fight on their terms. Do what you can to make them more emotional and reckless.
Passive aggressors. They use disguises. Sometimes they’re weak and helpless. Sometimes they’re moral and holier than thou. Sometimes they’re a little too friendly. You’ll often have conflicting emotions about them.
Detach your emotions as much as possible, because they win their battles by getting your emotions engaged. Do not fight on their terms. Do not get drawn into their endless dramas and intrigues. “They respond only to power and leverage.” Win over their allies, then lead a coup.
Do not be fooled by them when they wear their kind, moral, or friendly disguises. Those are costumes they wear to hide their true nature.
If you have to engage in warfare, do so with the above rules, but if you can get yourself far away from them, that’s the better strategy.
“Cut the cunts out of your life.” -Joe Rogan.
Unjust situations. “If your goal is to end an injustice, you have to aim for results, and that requires being strategic and even deceptive.”
Static situations. Shake things up. A general rule in life is to be less respectful of rules that other people have set up.
Impossible dynamics. Leave. Leave the person, the company, the team, the situation. Leave as quickly and completely as possible, and do not feel guilty about it. Move on with your life.
Lead From The Front
Those who lead from behind are trying to avoid accountability, scrutiny, and danger. It stems from fear and leads to disrespect among the troops.
Don’t get comfortable. Anything titles, money, or privileges you have should be seen as the hindrances they are. They fill you with the illusion that you deserve something. You deserve nothing. You must constantly prove yourself.
Play your role. There are four main roles you must play at times as a leader: visionary, unifier, role model, and bold knight. Invent a cause for your people to believe in. Do as Louis XIV did: Make your empire the center of all [refinement] and [civilization]. (Insert whatever words you like in place of refinement and civilization.) Your subjects should believe in the greatness of [France] itself. Build a mythos for your empire, a lore.
The word authority comes from the Latin word autore, meaning author or someone who creates something new. New values systems, innovations, new ways of operating in the world.
People want to follow someone who knows where they’re going. “If people mistrust and resist your authority, you only have yourself to blame.”
Know Your Environment From The Inside Out
Get inside your customer’s head. Greene says a lot of people make the product before finding an audience. He advises building the customer base first, and then giving them the exact product they want.
Their are 2 types of hustlers. Those who stay on the outside, and those who move to the inside.
Outsiders are afraid of getting too close to the customer. But “the superior hustler moves to the inside.” He’s not afraid. He wants to get inside them and understand their needs/wants.
Offer up a “tester” to a few people. A free batch of your horrible-awful-naughty-illegal-illicit-narcotic-drugs. They’ll tell you whether they like it or not. If they do like it, they’re somewhat more likely to tell others about it.
“You must always operate with feedback on the quality of your product.”
“The public is never wrong. When people don’t respond to what you do, they’re telling you something loud and clear. You’re just not listening.” -50 Cent.
A word of advice to “introverts.” This is coming from me, not Greene: you’re not an introvert, you’ve just used your social skills muscle less than others. Introversion is not cancer, it’s just social laziness. I say this as a recovering introvert.
Connecting with your customers means moving outside of yourself. The ego will resist. You must train yourself to pay more attention to people. Do not live in your head.
You must “break down the distance between you and your audience.” Seek maximum interaction, learn to thrive off their feedback and criticism.
Then Greene offers 4 strategies to get closer: crush all distance, open informal channels of criticism and feedback, reconnect with your base, create the social mirror.
Don’t be “ afraid to have your whole personality shaped by these intense interactions.” You must “assume a radical equality with the public.”
If people don’t like your book, if you get bad reviews, find out why. Engage those people.
But what if they’re just haters? That’s possible. Filter out the critiques made by real people from those made by damaged little warthogs who spend all day giving one-star reviews. Usually people who give a book one star give everything one star. Don’t believe me? Go check their review history.
Mirrors. You use physical mirrors to correct your physical appearance. You can use a social mirror to correct your public image. People’s criticisms of you are social mirrors. Do not get angry about it. Use their thoughts in order to perfect your work.
Respect the process. Become a master.
“Master the instrument. Master the music. Then forget all that shit and play.” -Charlie Parker.
“Don’t be hasty.” -Treebeard.
Greene gives two bits of advice that might seem contradictory or opposed, but I don’t think they are. He says not to be afraid of boredom. And he says to pick a discipline that excites you.
Don’t be afraid of the possible boredom that comes with mastering a craft deeply. But at the same time, if you’ve picked something that excites you to the point that you need not create a dividing line between work and pleasure, boredom is less likely to become a threat.
Your pleasure should come from the process of mastering the craft itself. Develop a sense of urgency, but embrace the slowness that always accompanies mastery. The mind does not want to go all the way to the end of a task. It wants to jump from project to project. Mastering something can often be drudge work. Repetitive. Tedious. Therefore, everything depends on your level of dedication, your level of desire. No plan B.
Five strategies for achieving mastery: progress through trial and error, master something simple, internalize the rules of the game, attune yourself to the details, rediscover your natural persistence.
If you have a project you want to start, “begin by immersing yourself in the details of the subject or field.” Understand the materials you have, the tastes of the audience, the technical advances in the field. “Take pleasure in going deeper and deeper into these fine points.” Do intense research. Become single-minded in your focus.
“Remember: anything will give way to a sustained, persistent attack on your part.”
Push beyond your limits
Your personality was shaped by hundreds of interactions you’ve had with others since birth. But that’s not necessarily who you are. You are a mystery to yourself.
For example, a lot of writers like to spew the bullshit line, “I’m an introvert.” No you’re not. You’re not an extrovert either. Your personality is whatever you invent. So invent a good one.
“Shyness is a fluid quality — it fluctuates according to the situation and the people you are around.”
You’ve internalized a whole lot of nonsense about who you supposedly are.
“Conforming to people’s expectations is safer and more comfortable, even if doing so makes you feel miserable and confined. In essence, you are afraid of yourself and what you could become.”
The theme of The 50th Law is fearlessness. So be fearless in your approach to your life, as well; your approach to your personality. You can consciously alter it. While you must not take criticism personally, you must use it to judge how people respond to your work so that you can improve it. If you take it personally, “you will wilt under criticisms and soar too high with any praise.”
Those who disparage ambitious people do so “from an unconscious guilt and desire to keep other people down. To those occupying a position of privilege, the ambitiousness of those from below seems like something scary and threatening.”
If you think badly of power and ambition, you will always be two-faced. You will always be seeking to make a power play while at the same time pretending to be humble. But “if you see it as beautiful, as the driving force behind all great human accomplishments,” then you will (1) accept reality as it is, (2) not feel guilty pushing people out of the way if they block your path.
People will always attack you. They’ll try to make you feel guilty, they’ll say your writing style is clunky, ham-fisted, overwrought, or a million other words they don’t understand. They’ll say your plots are elementary, you’re a shitty painter, blah blah blah. They may tell you they’re being objective in their evaluation of your work, but their motive is political. The point is to keep you down.
Often those people will be competing “artists.” They’re using method number 2 in Vaynerchuk’s Two Ways To Built The Tallest Building metaphor. Method number 1 is to simply build the tallest building. Method number 2 is to demolish all the buildings around yours.
On luck. Shitheads like to argue that everything is luck. They drag out all kinds of stats and studies linking social mobility to this or that. They choose to focus on circumstance and environment. Their philosophy depends entirely on denying freedom. They want to diminish individuality and say that we’re all just products of social forces.
They don’t espouse their philosophy with the intention of keeping you down. They’ve just done a lot of studying and have forgotten that every second of every day you can choose to do something that defies how you were raised, how you were encultured. (Or is that incultured? I always get confused with the stultifying language of Critical Theory. Enculture is one thing, inculture is another. Problems are one thing, problematics are another. On and fucking on.)
The only thing keeping you from taking unexpected actions “is not mommy, daddy, or society, but your own fears.”
Another five strategies: defy all categories, constantly reinvent yourself, subvert your patterns, create a sense of destiny, bet on yourself.
People want to see you as macho, sensitive, tough, shy, outgoing, et cetera. They want to be able to predict you.
Your uniqueness is what gives you power. People judge you based on your appearances. (And they judge your books by their covers, too.) They judge you by your clothes, actions, words, and style. Dress the way you want to be judged. Act the way you want to be judged. Et cetera. Take control of how they see you.
But… big butt here. You are changing every day. So don’t be static in appearance and words, etc. Express those evolutions. Reinvent yourself “as if you were the author writing your own drama.”
Confront your mortality
35.2. Approach your impending, encroaching, inevitable, inescapable, other synonyms death with fearlessness. You have a limited number of days to live. Do not run from that reality.
“The more you contemplate your mortality, the less you fear it.”
“Perhaps we only see a part of what is happening around us because our mental powers are determined by habits and conventions. There could be a reality we are missing.”
See the following writers on consciousness: Oliver Sacks, Sam Harris, Graham Hancock.
The 48 Laws of Power
A quick bit of background:
The 48 Laws of Power was published in 1998 and has become a megacultclassic. It’s the most requested book in prisons, it has been mentioned by a whole shit ton of big rappers, (like 50 Cent, Kanye, Jay Z, Busta Rhymes).
Dov Charney, the rape-y founder and ex-CEO of American Apparel, appointed Greene to the board of directors because he loved the book. While at American Apparel, Greene met Ryan Holiday, the company’s former marketing director (and author of the fan-fucking-tastic books, Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions Of A Media Manipulator, Growth Hacker Marketing, and The Obstacle Is The Way). Greene became a mentor to Holiday, who conducted research for The 50th Law, and who was instrumental in the marketing behind Tucker Max’s I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell
It’s pretty controversial. In addition to the prison thing and the rappers thing, a bunch of no-names came around reviewing his book and trashing it. They don’t like Greene’s research methods, they think the book is naughty and will make the influential youths have the sex and do the drugs and whatever.
They say it’s a bad book, and yet not one of them has ever written anything better. And I highly doubt any of them (ANY of them) has done as much first- and second-hand research as Greene. So that’s what critics are worth. Keep that in mind when people start criticizing your work.
Now let’s get to the meat of the book, starting with the Preface. Greene starts by saying that power today is mostly hidden. People don’t make overt power plays. People are friendly on the outside while, inside, they craft devious plans.
The power games today resemble court life in the old aristocracies. People would gather around a king or queen or khaleesi. The courtiers were always in a dangerous position. They had to make the leader like them and act in their favor, but making moves that were too obvious could get you in trouble with other courtiers who were doing the same. To get the leader’s support, you had to be subtle.
It was a treacherous, backstabby environment. And yet it was supposed to be the most refined and civilized place in the kingdom. Violence at court was frowned upon. Thus the courtier’s dilemma: “while appearing the very paragon of elegance, they had to outwit and thwart their opponents in the subtlest of ways.”
Every move had to be indirect. Rather than being coercive or aggressive, the courtier had to win through “seduction, charm, deception, and subtle strategy, always planning several moves ahead.”
Greene calls it civilized war.
If you haven’t read Game Of Thrones, do so.
“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good.” -Niccolo Machiavelli.
The public face of the court was that of refinement, but underneath the surface, things were very different. It’s the same today.
Some people like to say that consciously playing power games is evil or sociopathic or asocial. Beware of those people. They, too, are playing a power game and are trying to keep you from entering the arena.
I’ve only ever found one place that seemed to actually operate according to what we might consider decent, purely moral rules. But they decided not to let me be an intern because I was a straight white guy. (Quick side note: Anybody who knows the left will understand, before I even say it, that the decision was made by a bunch of other straight white guys. Yes. Four straight white guys in this organization was apparently the limit. Five straight white guys would be too many. It was the Professional Leftist version of the No Homers Club.) I still have great affection for that little nonprofit, but I experienced something extremely telling about my beloved far left in those days. A rule I’ve since learned is: never trust in the morality of someone who’s exactly like you (straigh, white, male, in this case) telling you that you can’t do something because of how you were born.
People who make public proclamations on the evilness of power and ambition are often those who believe their weakness or laziness or lack of power is a virtue.
“True powerlessness, without any motive of self-interest, would not publicize its weakness to gain sympathy or respect. Making a show of one’s weakness is actually a very effective strategy, subtle and deceptive, in the game of power (see Law 22, the Surrender Tactic).”
These “nonplayers” due to their haughty morality like to demand that everything be equal for everyone in every area of life for always ever ever forever always. But the fact remains that some people are better at certain things than others. They want to elevate people who suck at things and suppress people who are better at those same things.
The people espousing such beliefs might actually believe it. Nonetheless they are deploying a strategy: “redistributing people’s rewards in a way that they determine.”
Those who say “honesty is the best policy” are full of shit. First of all, they’re usually not 100% honest, or even 70%. I pulled those numbers out of my ass, but they’re every bit as reliable as any poll ever conducted. Secondly, those people are indeed making their own power play. Their strategy is to convince others how moral and righteous and selfless and good-hearted and honest they are. It’s a form of persuasion and even coercion.
People who pretend to be naïve about power are also making their own power plays. The supposed nonplayers are easy to spot. They flaunt their morality, sense of justice, et cetera. They’re just using indirect manipulation. It may be unconscious, but it’s manipulation nonetheless.
Do not try to opt out of the game. It will leave you powerless and therefore miserable. It’s better to excel at it. Dealing well with power will make you a better person, a better husband, wife, lover, friend. You will make people feel better about themselves. You will become a source of pleasure to those around you. They will come to desire your presence.
“If the game of power is inescapable, better to be an artist than a denier or bungler.”
Learning the game might take years of practice and might require you to shift your perspective. The single most important skill in this game is to master your emotions. Anger is the most destructive emotion. All emotions cloud your vision, but anger does so the most.
You can not avoid feeling your emotions, but you can control how you express them. Learn to distance yourself from the present moment.
Imagine every problem that might arise. Don’t dream about your happy ending. Calculate the problems that might keep you from it and plan to crush them.
Look always at the future and the past. Don’t live in the past, don’t waste time remembering grudges. That will only eat away at you, clouding your vision. Instead, you are looking back in order to constantly educate yourself. “This is the most vital school you can learn from, because it comes from personal experience.”
Greene writes the phrase “power is a game” over and over. It can’t be repeated too often. It’s a game.
Again, it’s a game.
In a game you sit across from your opponent. You observe the rules of the game. You make a play and observe your opponents reaction as calmly as you can.
Ignore their stated intentions. Observe the effects of your opponents acts, not his intent.
Judge all things by what they cost you. Some might wish to keep you busy fighting a battle of attrition.
Don’t waste your time, your peace of mind, or your emotional energy on the affairs of others. Life is short. (“Cut the cunts out of your life,” says Joe Rogan. The drama queens, losers, the jealous bags of slop.)
Being a master player in the game of power means you have to be a master psychologist. You have to look behind the mask and see people’s motivations. You must clear away the cloud of dust they throw up to hide their actions. By understanding hidden motives, “it opens up endless possibilities of deception, seduction, and manipulation.”
Your moves must always be indirect. Develop them in the least obvious way.
Never Outshine The Master.
Always make him feel superior and more brilliant. Use his ego against him, or rather, use his ego to benefit yourself.
Every time you show your talent, others will feel jealous and insecure. Don’t worry about people’s petty feelings if they’re below you. But if they’re above you, that’s when you take a different approach.
Lots of writers are vicious fucks. The most vicious ones are also the ones whose writing sucks the largest number of ballsacks. Yes, they may have written 20 books, but all 20 stink like dogshit. When you engage with them on their blogs or their Facebook/G+ groups, they are the master.
Everyone is the master of her own blog. Ingratiate yourself to her. If she becomes an actual friend of yours, great. If not, no matter. What’s your goal here? A guest blogger spot? That’s pretty boring, but okay. Another tactic is to engage her fans. Send them direct messages trying to engage in a deeper conversation about whatever they commented on. Deepen the relationship.
If you’re smarter than the master, act dumber. Ask for help. Masters love helping out the little people. On social media groups, you will get in trouble if you post too much good advice. It’s better to ask questions than to offer your knowledge. (On your own blog, obviously you can offer all the advice you want.)
If you do want to give advice, make it seem like you’re echoing something the master (or group admins) said. “Probably the best thing I learned from ______ is to always” blah blah blah. You give some helpful advice to writers while also flattering the master. But too much flattery can get you in trouble.
None of this makes you weak. Disguising your strengths is itself a strength if the result gives you more power. You remain in control as long as you know how to use their insecurity for your own benefit.
Never Put Too Much Trust In Friends, Learn How To Use Enemies.
Friends are quick to envy. Former enemies turned allies are better than friends, because they have more to prove.
“You have more to fear from friends than from enemies. If you have no enemies, find a way to make them.”
“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” -Abraham Lincoln.
Employing friends is dangerous. You don’t know them as well as you think. It’s better to hire the best person. That should be pretty obvious to anyone coming from the US.
“Without enemies around us, we grow lazy. An enemy at our heels sharpens our wits, keeping us focused and alert.”
Therefore some enemies should stay enemies, and not be converted to allies. Competition makes you stronger, makes your product better.
Conceal Your Intentions.
Never reveal your motives. Take seduction for example. Seduction is a war, and every detail must be planned in advance. You can never come right out and state your intentions openly. That’s game over. You must only make hints. You must misdirect.
Before getting to this part I would have said that it’s better for everyone to just be open and honest. Just come out, be an adult, say what you want, get the person’s response, and be done with it. But as I read this chapter, I’m changing my mind.
The point of seduction is that it’s fun. It’s fun for the pursuer and the pursuee. Obvious people are boring. The chase is part of the romance and the intrigue. People often realize they’re being seduced, but they let it happen because of the pleasure involved in the hunt.
I don’t care how much Dworkin you’ve read, (most) women want to be hunted, pursued. Not in a rape-y way, but in a playful way.
The pattern of seduction (decoys, indifference, hints) both confuse the… let’s say the victim. The mark. They confuse the victim and excite them at the same time.
Set up red herrings to confuse your enemies. Make it known that you want to attain something, a thing you don’t actually want. Your enemies will devise plans based around that thing. They will head in the wrong direction.
“Win the victory before you declare the war.” -Ninon de Lenclos.
Those who claim to care greatly about honesty may actually be using this very law. They may be misdirecting your attention. Remember, you can read The 48 Laws of Power in many ways. One way is as offensive tactics. Another way to look at it is to realize that these are the games people will play against you. They will set up red herrings and send you on wild goose chases. Know how to defend yourself. Usually you can just cut that person out of your life, but that’s not always possible.
Red herrings and smoke screens are two tactics to deploy if you’re playing Law 3. There are several types of smoke screen: poker face, noble gesture, pattern, seamless blend.
Always Say Less Than Necessary.
“A person who cannot control his words shows that he cannot control himself, and is unworthy of respect… The human tongue is a beast that few can master. It strains constantly to break out of its cage, and if it is not tamed, it will run wild and cause you grief.”
Andy Warhol learned that it was usually impossible to get people to do what you want by talking to them. They’re jumping at the chance to disobey. “You actually have more power when you shut up,” he said to a friend.
The Shut Up Principle can be be applied to your oh-so-important High Art. The less you talk about your stuff, the more others will. The more vague you are in interviews, the more people will try to interpret it. The more people talk about it, the more valuable it becomes.
It’s more dangerous to say something stupid than to do something stupid. Once you’ve said it, you can’t take it back.
“Be particularly careful with sarcasm: The momentary satisfaction you gain with your biting words will be outweighed by the price you pay.”
Playing stupid can be a smokescreen tactic. The court jester talks and talks, and everybody thinks he’s just a harmless fool. People who talk too much are seen as helpless, unsophisticated. By talking more, you seem stupider than your mark. Deception becomes easier.
So Much Depends On Your Reputation — Guard It With Your Life.
“As Cicero says, even those who argue against fame still want the books they write to bear their name in the title and hope to become famous for despising it.” -Montaigne.
You can attack someone else’s reputation, but there are dangers — you may be sued for slander, you might come off as a prick. Do it with humor, parody. Become a mere entertainer poking holes in your rival’s reputation.
It’s easiest to judge based on appearances. So that’s what everybody does. Dress and act like a king to be treated like one.
Once you have a reputation for honesty, you can practice all kinds of deception. Cultivate your reputation. Base it on one quality; honesty, efficiency, generosity, insolence, arrogance, etc. And beware of people who have such reputations.
Court Attention At All Cost.
Never get lost in the crowd. Stand out. Be conspicuous. At least when you’re starting out.
“Court controversy, even scandal. It is better to be attacked, even slandered, than ignored.”
Don’t let your audience get too familiar with your work. Pull a Picasso and change up your style dramatically every now and then. “People feel superior to the person whose actions they can predict.” Play against their expectations.
Say little about your work. Tease. Contradict yourself. At the very least make yourself less obvious.
Get Others To Do The Work For You, But Always Take The Credit.
One way to do that would be by stealing somebody’s idea before they can use it. That’s what Thomas Edison did. Or you could go the Tim Ferriss Method: Pay some Indian virtual assistant a shit wage to write your books.
Another way to do it would be by hiring people who are better at certain aspects of your job than you are. Cover designer, editor. If you suck at reading, hire a researcher. If you suck at writing, hire a ghostwriter.
I can sit here all day feeling superior, but you’ll be a happy parasite producing more books than I
Steal from the best. Shakespeare stole from Plutarch, so you may as well steal from me ☺
Make Other People Come To You — Use Bait If Necessary.
It’s often best to make the enemy fight on your terms and on your ground. But sometimes its wise to attack without notice, so suddenly and so aggressively that you demoralize them. It all depends on your strength relative to your enemy. If you are both at equal strengths, it may be best to draw them into a trap — aka wait and bait. If time is against you, or if your enemy is weaker, a rapid attack may serve.
Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument.
Your words are never neutral. Your arguments always insult the intelligence of your opponent.
“Each man believes that he is right, and words will rarely convince him otherwise.”
I (the author, Brandon T Springer) have read great examples of people actually changing their minds on an issue. Richard Dawkins writes about an occasion where one of his professors (or maybe peers) had based his entire academic career on some scientific principle or another. This professor attended a lecture by a representative of an opposing hypothesis. The evidence presented at the lecture was overwhelming and the professor was compelled to change his stance. In fact, he stood up and approached the speaker. He shook his hand and told him that the lecture had changed his mind. Everybody in the audience applauded the man for actually being a scientist and moving with the evidence.
This almost never happens. Not even with scientists, who, according to their own dogma, are the ones who should be most open to changing their minds.
Change the phrase “not even with scientists” to “especially not with scientists,” because science is some of the most dogmatic-est shit around.
Nonetheless, we should all strive to be that professor. He came around to the correct position when faced with evidence that contradicted him. Almost nobody does that. When faced with evidence, they double down on their nonsense beliefs. We must understand this fact and strive to be the exception that proves the rule.
Understand that most people are guilty of doing what ex-President Bush does according to Stephen Colbert: they believe the same thing on Wednesday that they did on Monday, regardless of what happened on Tuesday.
Everybody thinks they’re a paragon of reason. Obviously Greene is talking about all this with regard to power, but I’m taking it just slightly further. I’m saying it can be largely applied to all discussions.
Greene quotes the fuck out of some Renaissance guy called Baltasar Gracian. I think he’s in damn near every chapter. Must look him up.
There may be times when you want to argue: in order to draw somebody into a trap. Get them caught up with the argument while you outmaneuver.
Avoid The Unhappy And Unlucky.
Emotions are infectious. So is drama. Some people have bad things happen to them through no fault of their own, but others bring it upon themselves.
People in the first category deserve help. People in the second are… how can I put this as gently as possible… shitbags. Walking human garbage.
You might want to help people in category 2. Don’t.
You might think that they will get a clue, that they will be better off if you can infect them with your positive intentions. You’re wrong. You can’t fix them, but they can and will destroy you. They will destroy your good mood, they will eat away at your time.
We humans are more affected by negativity than positivity. That’s why the happiness we feel at 100 great reviews on Amazon can be immediately annihilated by that one bad review. Therefore, TwatCopter Jane’s shitty attitude will harm you more than you can ever help her.
People who like to paint themselves as victims are often the ones who inflict their misfortunes on themselves.
“Never associate with those who share your defects — they will only reinforce everything that holds you back.”
Learn To Keep People Dependent On You.
Power (and freedom) comes from making people need you. Can authors turn their fans into addicts?
If you don’t like that question, remember that you’re probably addicted to your fans, too. What would you do without them? That’s right, you’d go through withdrawals. For example, if I never get to read The Winds Of Winter, I will absolutely start vomiting shit all over the place.
It’s wiser to make yourself indispensable to weak people. The strong don’t need you, so you won’t be able to make them depend on you. (Yep, you predicted me: If you appear weak, others will seek to make you dependent on them.
It’s better to be the right hand to the king than to be the king. Having a weak master who “serves as your front” will mean you’re the big cheese. The big cheesy cheese.
There are many ways to make someone on you. One of the best is to “possess a talent and creative skill that simply cannot be replaced.”
Make the master your slave, but let him think he’s the master.
Use Selective Honesty And Generosity To Disarm Your Victim.
The Trojan horse, for example. Earning your enemy’s trust can be a powerful weapon. If you already have a reputation for dishonesty and deception, you have to play the rogue. When people suspect everything you say of being false, you can deceive them with the truth. Tell them something real, and they might think it’s fake.
When Asking For Help, Appeal To People’s Seld Interest, Never To Their Gratitude Or Mercy.
“Gratitude is often a terrible burden” that people want to discard. Don’t expect people to be grateful to you for past generosity. Most people are pragmatic, and will rarely work against their own interest. Don’t confuse your needs with someone else’s.
Don’t be subtle in your approach. “You have valuable knowledge to share, you will fill his coffers with gold, you will make him live longer and happier.”
Get inside the person’s head and understand what motivates them. Vanity, reputation, social standing, enemies, money, power, etc. Some people pretend not to be motivated by self interest. They like to think that they’re motivated by charity or altruism. That’s just their own special way of feeling superior to everyone else. So their self interest lies in feeling superior.
Use that against them. Helping you would be such a noble deed. Make sure to point out that their generosity will be highly publicized.
Again, understand your victim. If he’s all about greed, don’t appeal to his sense of charity. If he’s eager to be seen as altruistic, don’t appeal to his greed.
Pose As A Friend, Act As A Spy.
With many of these laws, Greene likes to boil them down to their essence and then write provocative things. He begins this law (14) with a story about an art merchant who wanted to make some guy buy exclusively from him. So the dude spent years learning all about his “victim’s” tastes in paintings. Then one day the mark came to his… studio? Office? Anyway, the guy was blown away: everything in the place was exactly the kind of thing he’d want to buy.
No amount of tweaking to Amazon’s also-bought system will ever be as good as that.
So yeah, you can view these laws as negatively or as predatory as you like. Or you can see it the way Greene does, by using these laws in the right combinations at the right times, you will make yourself highly pleasurable to be around. Your public persona will be magnetic and people will benefit from being around you. Another way of stating this law would be: Know Your Customer Thoroughly.
Another strategy: Talk less and induce others to talk more.
Crush Your Enemy Totally.
Some enemies you can win over; you can make allies of them. But others will always be your enemies no matter what.
Use Absence To Increase Respect And Honor.
“Create value through scarcity.” This applies to relationships as well. Roman poet Sextus Propertius may have written the earliest variation on the phrase “absence makes the heart grow stronger.” Napoleon said, “if I am often seen at the theater, people will cease to notice me.”
“Extend the law of scarcity to your own skills. Make what you are offering the world rare and hard to find, and you instantly increase its value.”
Some rappers have used this law to great success. “I’m retiring from rap. This is my last album.” The media starts talking about it, fans buy more copies. Then the rapper comes out of retirement and people buy even more copies of the new album.
But don’t apply this law too early. It only works when you’re already known.
“When you are first entering onto the world’s stage, create an image that is recognizable, reproduceable, and is seen everywhere.”
In the beginning make yourself omnipresent. Give people time to love you. Then put this law into effect.
Keep Others In Suspended Terror: Cultivate An Air Of Unpredictability.
People who can predict you can control you. Plus, it’s fun to speculate about why people do things, so let people speculate about you.
Do Not Build Fortresses To Protect Yourself — Isolation Is Dangerous.
The military application is obvious. Let’s turn to the interpretation for artists: Jacopo da Pontormo. You’ve never heard of him. I’ve never heard of him. Nobody has ever heard of him.
He was commissioned by an Italian king (one of the Medicis) to do some painting for a very important event. He shut himself up in his studio working on it and avoiding all human contact for fear of somebody stealing his ideas. He was painting some religious thing for a chapel. So the paintings and frescoes involved god and Jesus and other figures from his preferred mythology.
Yes, Jacopo, very original. Imagine the horror if some other painter made a religious fresco. You’d be fucking ruined. Imagine if a rock band came along singing about sex and drugs (and cocoa puffs). That one band from the 70s would be positively out of work.
Ridicule of Jacopo aside, none of those works exist today. Destroyed or lost or whatever, who cares. But someone did manage to sneak a glimpse of the precious images. It was a friend of the dude’s. He basically said the work was “hot steamy dogshit.”
That’s a direct quote. I swear it on your mother’s grave.
It lacked all sense of proportion and had terrible composition. The artist basically went mad during those 11 cloistered years inside his mind and his art.
Moral of story: don’t do that. Get feedback on your work. Change it according to constructive criticism. Don’t lock yourself in your workshop. Use isolation only as a last resort, and only in small doses.
Know Who You’re Dealing With — Do Not Offend The Wrong Person.
Some types of people and how to deal with them: a) The arrogant and proud man. b) The hopelessly insecure man. c) Mr Suspicion. d) The serpent with a long memory. e) The plain, unassuming, and often unintelligent man.
From a purely strategic standpoint it’s stupid to be a dick to others, because they might remember your insult and plot revenge.
Take the measure of people you’re dealing with. Understand what motivates them and what upsets them. Study your opponent. For more in this realm, see The Art Of Seduction (by Greene) and check out the Art Of Charm podcast by Jordan Harbinger. Lots of “ART” apparently. Don’t be fooled by the titles. Those resources aren’t just for pickups. They’re for understanding people generally.
“What possible good can come from ignorance about other people? Obey this law to its fullest extent.”
Do Not Commit To Anyone.
Don’t side with people when their nonsense drama comes up. Don’t even side with them in the real dramas.
Commit to nobody, but be courted by all. Don’t discourage anyone’s hopes of having you. When you hold yourself back from people or groups, they don’t get angry, they actually respect you more. Your reputation for independence will grow and people will want to be the one to make you commit.
“Remember though: The goal is not to put people off. You need to stir the pot, excite interest, lure people with the possibility of having you.”
Seem interested in their petty squabbles. Seem supportive. But remain neutral. Remember that you can never win. You’ll just get emotionally entangled, and their dramas will never end. You will never win and the conflicts will just multiply.
You will offend people if you stand aside completely, so sometimes you will need to appear to take a side. You can make supportive gestures, but never ever engage your emotions. You will lose energy for your own projects.
We’re given very little time and energy in this life. Every second you spend emotionally involved in other people’s bullshit is a complete waste. It subtracts from your own strength.
Play A Sucker To Catch A Sucker — Seem Dumber Than Your Mark.
Everybody wants to think they’re smarter than everybody else. Let them. Once somebody is convinced they’re smarter than you, they will never again suspect your intelligence. That frees you up to do a lot of scheming.
With that said, the following things are true about me: I like sugary cereal, Katy Perry songs, Lady Gaga songs, Britney Spears songs, I’m not convinced that science in 2015 knows a damn thing about consciousness, I think garlic and sleep are more important for your health than going to the doctor every six months. I’m stupider than you. So please think I’m stupid. I’m so stupid.
I can only assume Sarah Palin is the universal grandmaster of this law. She applies it perfectly at all times.
“Subliminally reassure people that they are more intelligent than you are, or even that you are a bit of a moron, and you can run rings around them. The feeling of intellectual superiority you give them will disarm their suspicion muscles.”
This is good advise. Your under advicement to take it. Make other peopel thinking you are a dummer than they is. This smart thing to say for you reading book!!!!
Taste and sophistication are closely related to perceptions of intelligence. So if you like (or pretend to like) silly, trivial, base things, people will think they have better taste than you.
I like Eminem and I think the Star Wars prequels are more fun to watch because they’re prettier than the old ones.
By playing up your tastelessness and stupidity, people might keep you around because it makes them feel better about themselves. Other times it may serve you to appear authoritative and knowledgeable on a topic. Appearances are what count, so sometimes you might want to appear smartier than you are really being okay!
Use The Surrender Tactic — Transform Weakness Into Power.
Weakness is a strength, if you know how to deploy it.
Fuck honor. If your opponent has nearly defeated you, pretend to surrender. It will give you time to plan your next move. (And remember that people who spew shitvomit out of their fat mouth-holes about “death before dishonor” and whatever… that’s their pathetic little power play. Being a Man Of Honor is a way for them to feel superior to you. Crush those people on principle alone.)
“Never sacrifice long term maneuverability for the short-lived glories of martyrdom.”
Sometimes people want you to meet their aggression with your own. If you give in (ie surrender), it puts them off guard. When you yield you gain control of the situation because you can lull them into believing they’ve beaten you.
Martyrs are selfish and arrogant. They believe their honor and glory are more important than their followers are.
Law 23 is Don’t Argue With Idiots.
That’s not true. It’s not actually law 23. But it should be.
Don’t argue with idiots. There’s no winning. Actually, that makes me think maybe the idiots are on to something. Maybe they know something we don’t.
The real law 23 is Concentrate Your Forces.
Rome, Athens, and the Chinese kingdom Wu all overextended their reach.
(Hold on a second, history nerds. Everybody already knows that the downfall of Rome and Athens, etc, were manifold and complex and labyrinthine and myriad and other words that fake smart people throw around like chimps lobbing their own shit grenades at other smarter chimps. But I’m an idiot, so don’t bother arguing with me. Observe Fake Law 23.)
Apply this law to your mental forces as well. Focus. Concentrate totally on your goal in order to gain an advantage against people who are less focused, people who are distracted.
“Concentrate on a single goal and beat it into submission.”
More gold from Baltasar Gracian: “Prize intensity more than extensity.”
You can’t be the best at everything. Rather than wasting your time trying to do it all, double down (or triple or quarduple or quintuple down) on your strengths.
Greene recommends having one patron who pays incredibly well for your skills. I guess if that’s an option for you, give it a shot. I’ll ignore this aspect of the law. I’ll instead apply the reversal, looking for diverse income streams. Can Amazon (or rather KDP Select) be thought of as the fat cow? The rich patron? If so, then what I advise is you take him for all he’s worth and produce other content under pseudonyms for smaller patrons (Kobo, iBooks).
“Even if you concentrate on the single source of power, you still must practice caution, and prepare for the day when your master or patron is no longer there to help you.”
Play The Perfect Courtier.
People like to pretend that human nature has changed since the courtier days. Greene says the laws of power are still the same. People think the sun revolves around them; they have always thought like that and always will.
Now for some general rules about court life:
Don’t be ostentatious. Don’t blabber about yourself. You’ll make others envious. Talk more about others than about yourself.
Be nonchalant. Don’t let people see how hard you work. Make your accomplishments seem effortless. Work is another form of ostentation.
Don’t flatter too much.
You must be seen. Don’t be too brazen with your image, but find a way to distinguish yourself subtly from others.
You have to change your style and language depending on who you’re dealing with. “The pseudo-belief in equality — the idea that talking and acting the same way with everyone, no matter what their rank, makes you somehow a paragon of civilization — is a terrible mistake.”
“Never assume that your criteria of behavior and judgment are universal. Not only is an inability to adapt to another culture the height of barbarism, it puts you at a disadvantage.”
Never be the one who delivers the bad news. Kill-the-messenger syndrome is real. “Bring only good news and your approach will gladden your master.”
Your boss is not your friend. He doesn’t want a friend. He wants a good doggie who picks up the newspaper. Never approach him as a friend. If he decides to deal with you like this, “assume a wary chumminess.”
Don’t criticize your superiors. If things need to change, make your comments as indirect and circuitous as possible. Be subtle. Be gentle.
Don’t ask for too many favors. People hate turning you down. Don’t make them.
“Never joke about appearance or taste.” Those are two extremely sensitive areas.
Don’t be a cynic. Nobody likes cynics. Instead, express modest admiration for the actions of others. “The ability to express wonder and amazement, and seem like you mean it, is a rare and dying talent, but one still greatly valued.”
Be your own mirror. Observe yourself well.
Control your emotions. Become an actor. Master your face. Don’t let your real emotions surface. Disguise your anger, frustration, contentment.
Some people like to call that lying. Go ahead and be one of them if you like, but don’t get upset when others call you out for being arrogant and annoying. Blunt honesty is a shitty weapon to wield.
Live in the year you live in. “Fit the spirit of the times,” as Greene says. Keep up with the zeitgeist. Don’t be too much of a product of the past OR the future. Being too forward-thinking will make it so nobody understands you.
“Be a source of pleasure.” This is my favorite point, and I feel it’s the crux of Greene’s whole thesis with The 48 Laws of Power. By obeying these laws in combinations that are appropriate for your given circumstances at any given moment, you will be somebody who others want to be around. They’ll wanna be around you because you are impressive, pleasant, and you build them up as well.
Honesty is not always the best policy. The guy who says it IS the best policy is an arrogant man. He thinks others give a shit about his opinions, his truths, his point of view.
Make yourself an interesting character in (sigh) the opera of life. Let no one dictate the limits of your character(s).
“Understand this: the world wants to assign you a role in life. And once you accept that role you are doomed.”
Staying in that role limits you. It limits your movement, it limits your power. When you decide your role, it makes you responsible for your own creation. Your public persona can be your own work of art.
“As Diderot said, the bad actor is the one who is always sincere.”
“Drama takes place over time.”
Agreed. And without even trying, Greene has made the best argument for television dramas being more dramatically engaging than movies. What can you do with two hours? Nothing. Breaking Bad would have been a shitty movie.
Overacting can turn people off. The actor Richard Burton attracted attention to himself on the stage by standing still the whole time.
Keep Your Hands Clean.
Don’t make mistakes. If you do, conceal them. If you can use a scapegoat, use a scapegoat.
Does this work at a societal level? I think so. Nobody wants to believe they’re responsible for their own misfortunes. Rich people can blame everything on high taxes and poor people, while poor people blame everything on the untaxed rich.
That way I’m not at fault and everything is out of my hands. I don’t have the power to change anything, so I can just continue happily in my misery.
“It is an extremely human response to not look inward after a mistake or crime, but rather to look outward and to affix blame and guilt on a convenient object.”
People want to exteriorize their own guilt and responsibility. That’s a fact of human nature. Use it to your advantage. Yes indeed, parents of the early 2000s, everything is Eminem’s fault. Marilyn Manson caused Columbine.
Play On People’s Need To Believe To Create A Cultlike Following.
People want to believe in something. Why else would pieces of dogshit like The Secret get so popular? Most people want to believe that things will be easy.
“Just draw the picture of the house you want, and in 2 years, you’ll have it.” -Some lying douche in The Secret.
People always want some new get-rich-quick scheme, some new faith, cause, art movement, etc, to believe in.
Remember that Greene is keeping morality out of his books. He’s not trying to tell you how to be The World’s Nicest Lady, he’s giving you what he considers to be the keys to power. If you use them offensively or defensively, that’s on you. He’s doing something very few other writers do: He’s treating you as an adult.
Emphasize enthusiasm over clear thinking. Having served several years worth of hard time in the nonprofit sector, I can tell you that’s how they operate. Because if you’re overcome with enthusiasm for helping the poor, then you won’t dig into the company’s financial records.
Greene mentioned on the Joe Rogan Experience that one great way of building a cult-like following is by introducing numerology. The 48 Laws of Power for example, or The 33 Strategies of War.
Dummies like to get caught up in numbers. Tupac was hit with seven bullets on the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh protozoic cycle of the seventh star of Aquarius. Tower Seven was hit by seven meteors during the 7 millionth second of the Bush Administration. Don’t ya see, man? It’s all connected! Chemtrails!!!!!
The stupider the lie, the more passionately people will believe it. -Chemtrails, man!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
-All you have to do is think about what you want and your actions will change unconsciously so that you achieve your dreams.
-Everybody has a novel inside of them.
-The talking snake from that one fable with the two naked people was a literal talking snake.
People want to believe that their problems have a simple solution.
Appeal to the senses. Use soothing music, colorful charts and graphs.
Use exotic things and customs from strange cultures, to focus people’s brains deactivated and to make things seem extraordinary.
The structures of organized religion are very successful at making people comfortable and turning their brains off. Organize your followers into a hierarchy, giving them titles based on attained levels of sanctity.
“Set up an us-vs-them dynamic.” Your followers are members of an exclusive club. There’s a devious enemy out to crush your movement. Anybody who criticize you or your followers is a member of that enemy force. (Scientologists call the enemy Suppressive Persons. In my leftist days, anybody with opposing views was “privileged.” Right wingers call all opponents “liberals” or “RINOs” who are trying to “destroy America.”) Your followers will tighten in the face of an enemy, real or imagined.
“The charlatan achieves his great power by simply opening the possibility for men to believe what they already want to believe.” -Grete de Francesco
Enter Action With Boldness.
“Timidity is dangerous.” So it’s better to be bold. “Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid.”
As opposed to “the meek shall inherit the Earth.” So it’s Jesus vs Greene? I’ll go with Greene.
If you back down, retreat, and compromise, you will be pushed around.
When you spend too much time thinking, you give time to your enemy to think as well.
The consequences of timidity are worse than the consequences of boldness.But you can’t be bold and audacious all the time. It’s a tactic to be used as the situation requires. Understand when boldness is appropriate and when it’s not.
The reversal of the boldness tactic is to feign timidity. See Law 22, the Surrender Tactic. True timidity has no place in the realm of power. Feigned timidity is not timidity at all.
Plan All The Way To The End.
Most people are trapped in their emotions and in the moment.
“Your clarity will rid you of the anxiety and vagueness that are the primary reasons why so many fail to conclude their actions successfully. You see the ending and you tolerate no deviation.”
Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless.
Don’t let people see all the toil that goes into your product. The magic is ruined when people see the process.
The Cushion Law. The emperor was gonna go to Some Dude’s house to have tea. The night before he arrived, Some Dude saw that it was snowing. He had circular cushions that were the same size as circular stepping stones leading to his front door. He put the cushions over the stones as the snow fell. When he woke up, it was no longer snowing, so before the emperor arrived, he carefully removed the cushions, giving the walkway an elegant and unexpected look.
Had Some Dude removed the cushions right as the emperor arrived, the scene would have been far less impressive, the magic would have been ruined.
I love the Cushion Law.
Some people think that when you expose your hours, months, years of labor to the public, it makes you look more honest and forthcoming, but it just makes you look weaker. People will think anybody can do what you do, and with less effort.
A bolt of lightning, a flash flood. They awe us with their sudden and graceful appearance. We don’t see the processes behind them.
Renaissance artists kept their works secret until the big reveal. They practiced sprezzatura, making difficult things look easy. This is a good argument for keeping your work under wraps and not, for example, posting every single draft of your novel on your blog.
An interesting reversal of Law 30 is what Johnny B Truant, Sean Platt, and Dave Wright did with Fiction Unboxed. They wrote a novel in a month and gave backers access to every step along the way, including story meetings, all drafts, all edits, etc.
It’s a far more interesting argument than that bullshit intellectual property nonsense bullshit dogshit barfshit. Nobody’s going to steal your fucking idea, genius. You’re not that interesting or important.
Power depends on appearances. It’s tempting to show how clever you are. Avoid that temptation.
If you have time, study the fuck out of Talleyrand.
“The more mystery surrounds your actions, the more awesome your power seems.”
Daft Punk, for example.
You should appear to be the only one who can do what you do. BUT, your secrecy should seem lighthearted, because otherwise you could come off as if you’re taking the game too seriously (which of course you are, but that’s not how it should appear).
Remember Pontormo? The painter who locked himself up with his “masterpiece” for years until it was complete, almost never leaving and never letting anybody in? Don’t be him. Don’t play the secrecy game like he did.
Sometimes it may be beneficial to expose parts of the creative process. See the marketing for Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. Even if you don’t like them, their marketing effort was fucking genius.
Control The Options: Get Others To Play With The Cards You Deal.
Give people false options. Set it up so that all options benefit you in the end. Make the alternative option much too unpleasant for them to refuse the first one.
Tell people things will fall apart without you. Give them a choice: Either banish me and suffer the consequences that will befall you, or give me dictatorial powers.
That’s stretching it a little, but you get the point.
“Words like ‘freedom,’ ‘options,’ and ‘choice’ evoke a power of possibility far beyond the reality of the benefits they entail. When examined closely, the choices we have — in the marketplace, in elections, in our jobs — tend to have noticeable limitations: They are often a matter of a choice simply between A and B, with the rest of the alphabet out of the picture.”
But that fake choice we’re given often keeps us from seeing how limited the options really are. So go ahead and keep voting Democratic. Either way, the people who buy the politicians win.
Limited choices actually comfort people. Unlimited choices would paralyze them.
Professional warmonger and all around shithead Henry Kissinger was smarter than his boss, Nixon, by several orders of magnitude. But Nixon was insecure as fuck, so Kissinger had to tread carefully. Whenever he would brief the President, he always presented three or four of the best courses of action, always making the one he himself preferred seem the wisest, but not telling Nixon that’s what he was doing. Nixon always fell for it.
We can assume this is what has happened in most presidential administrations.
Play To People’s Fantasies.
Nobody likes the truth. The truth hurts. If you are a bringer of truth, you will hurt people. Remember that Kill The Messenger Syndrome is real.
Yes, my dear constituents, tax cuts will solve all your problems.
“Never promise a gradual improvement through hard work.”
That’s exactly what it takes to be a writer. I’m disobeying Law 32 by telling you that, but it’s true. Nonetheless, if you buy 1000 copies of all my books, you’ll be a famous writer in no time! Don’t wait and miss this opportunity, buy now!
“The reality: Change is slow and gradual. It requires hard work, a bit of luck, a fair amount of self-sacrifice, and a lot of patience.”
“The fantasy: A sudden transformation will bring a total change in one’s fortunes, bypassing work, luck, self-sacrifice, and time in one fantastic stroke.”
For example: This one weird trick will help you lose weight fast! Click here!
“The reality: Society is fragmented and full of conflict.”
“The fantasy: People can come together in a mystical union of souls.”
Fantasy isn’t always fantastical. Lincoln sold himself as a homespun, down to Earth, by golly small town lawyer.
Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew.
Everybody has weaknesses. Some people try to disguise their weaknesses, and those are often the people who are easiest to crush. Gather intel by always seeming interested and by getting people to blabber endlessly (which is what they want to do anyway).
Be falsely genuine. Confide in someone, tell them a secret about yourself. The secret can be a lie or something that you don’t mind others knowing. Your target will lower his guard and reveal things he considers of equal or greater importance and genuineness.
People who try to exaggerate a personal trait are often trying to cover up the opposite. The big tough guys are trying to cover up their true cowardice. The Republican Christian family man goes out twice weekly to get coked up and to pay for male escorts. Andrea Dworkin was screaming (on the inside) for somebody to fuck her. Prudes are the kinkiest. The uptight want adventure. Religious nutjobs want to sin all day along. Shy people are dying for attention.
There is a Karl Rove for most George W Bushes: Someone who secretly holds the power because the puplic figurehead is his puppet. You should leave Bush alone and focus on winning Rove’s favor.
There are two main emotional voids that most people have: insecurity or unhappiness. Fill your victim’s emotional void.
Many feelings, the base ones, are uncontrollable. Paranoia, fear, lust, greed, vanity, hatred.
Cardinal Richelieu saw everything as a military campaign. His most important objective was always to find the enemy’s weak spot. What are your weak spots? Study yourself even more closely than your enemy does. How would someone use The Thumbscrew Law against you?
Study the part of a person that is most visible. His fear. His greed. Exploit it. Duh. If you make people feel better about themselves, they won’t care that you’re exploiting them. Or maybe they won’t even notice.
Be Royal In Your Own Fashion: Act Like A King To Be Treated Like One.
Set your own price.
Radiate an aura that says you’re destined for great things. People will think you must have a reason for being so confident.
Believe so firmly in your destiny that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. It may be self-deception, but as you start to demand more and as you appear to be someone who deserves to demand more, people will treat you as someone who deserves it.
Cultivate a sense of entitlement. If that word scares you, then just understand that the entire point of you flinching at the word “entitled,” is a mechanism of social conditioning that is meant to keep you powerless. It’s the lower classes who are taught to be deferential and not to interrupt and wait in line. The rich, the powerful, have none of those self-imposed barriers between them and what they want.
If your parents have taught you to be deferential and not interrupt, they were unwittingly grooming you for a life of servitude.
Do not confuse your newfound sense of entitlement with arrogance. There’s a reason the word “arrogant” is always thought of in conjunction with the word “prick.” Your bearing should be royal, not arrogant.
Anger is a sign of insecurity. Instead, radiate grace under fire, dignity under pressure. “It is as if nothing can affect you,” because you are the one who’s in control. You have all the time in the world to respond to whatever situation.
An aristocratic front can intimidate.
If you ask for less, you will always get less. If you ask for more, even a king’s ransom, people will think you’re worth it. Even if they don’t buy your product, they will respect your confidence, and that will pay off in other ways. Don’t take this law too far. Don’t humiliate others with your superiority.
Master The Art Of Timing.
Never appear to be in a hurry.
Fuck. I’ve fucked this law up so many times. I always walk too fast. I always think I’m in a big fucking hurry. Being in a hurry shows you lack control over yourself and over time. Be patient, or at least appear patient.
Apart from immediate physical things like walking too fast, you can also apply this law in the Treebeard sense: don’t be hasty. Don’t rush your product. Don’t move too soon.
But when the end nears, move swiftly. Think of a hawk circling the sky for hours, seeking prey. It is the paragon of patience. But when the moment comes, the hawk swoops down with incredible speed.
You must control your time. When and whether you move quickly or slowly, you must be the one to make that decision. Likewise, you must try to control your opponent’s time. Throw them off balance by forcing them to make rash, emotional decisions.
Disdain Things You Cannot Have: Ignoring Them Is The Best Revenge.
“You choose to let things bother you. You can just as easily choose not to notice the irritating offender, to consider the matter trivial and unworthy of your interest. That is the powerful move. What you do not react to cannot drag you down in a futile engagement.”
Create Compelling Spectacles.
They can be used as distractions.
People don’t always want to be rational. Sometimes they want you to appeal to their emotions. I’ll go a step further than Greene and say that they almost always want you to appeal to their emotions.
“Words offend us, stirring up associations unintended by the speaker.”
The visual is important. For example, why spend time talking about how professional you are and how well-organized? Just wear a suit and tie. Plan the visual aspect of all your work.
Think As You Like, But Behave Like Others.
“The reason arguments do not work is that most people hold their ideas and values without thinking about them. There is a strong emotional content in their beliefs: They really do not want to have to rework their habits of thinking, and when you challenge them, whether directly through your arguments or indirectly through your behavior, they are hostile.”
A quote from Voltaire: “If Machiavelli had had a prince for a disciple, the first thing he would have recommended him to do would have been to write a book against Machiavellism.”
This is what Greene’s apprentice, Ryan Holiday, did to market his books and a Tucker Max movie.
Flaunting your differences too openly is an attempt to show that you’re superior. This will cause feelings of jealousy or insecurity in others.
Stir Up Waters To Catch Fish.
Emotions make people stupid. Strive to control your feelings, but make others emotional.
“To show your frustration is to show that you have lost your power to shape events. It is the helpless action of the child who resorts to a hysterical fit to get his way.”
Instead of getting angry, examine the situation and learn from it. The example Greene gives is Napoleon who, when he learned that two of his advisers were plotting against him, threw a big public shit fit. What he should have done was to examine the situation and figure out why the two men conspired against him. Why did they want him out of power? Where had he gone wrong? Was it possible to win their allegiance again? At the very least, if he could not win back the men, he could have made a silent and ominous show of his power by calmly imprisoning, executing, or banishing them.
Uncontrollable emotions are pride, vanity, love and hate. Or at least they’re uncontrollable for most people. You, of course, will learn to control them and learn to stir up those emotions in your enemies.
Anger is a sign of helplessness. How can you control those “uncontrollable” feelings? Greene says not to simply repress them, because repression leads people to do all sorts of stupid shit. (Think of religious nutjobs in the Middle East or the south of the US. They put women in beekeeper suits because sex = naughtybad and they hate them fags because sex = naughtybad. Also, the regions that consume the most gay porn? Duh, the southern US and the Middle East.)
Instead of repressing feelings, shift your perspective. Realize that nothing is personal. Nothing in the social realm is personal and nothing in the realm of power is personal. People’s shitty comments and their general angst with life and their insecurities, blah blah blah, none of it has anything to do with you. Everybody comes to every interaction with tons of problems from their history: shitty parents, ex spouses, low self esteem, etc.
Don’t be so vain as to think that people explode in anger because of something you did. Most people don’t spend time thinking about anything but their own shitty life.
People’s shitty comments about you aren’t about you. They’re just a subconscious attempt to gain power over you. People unknowingly use their anger as an attempt to control or punish you, or to feel superior.
Shift your perspective, don’t get emotionally engaged in their bullshit drama power games. Use their instability against them. “Keep your head while they are losing theirs.”
Anger limits your options, and you need to be able to play the game with all possible options on the table.
Despise The Free Lunch.
Free things are rarely actually free. They have a psychological price tag.
Some people appear generous. They might make public displays of generosity to hide their power plays. Some people appear greedy, viewing everybody as numbers. Con artists can easily take advantage of the greedy.
“Powerful people judge everything by what it costs, not just in money, but in time, dignity, and peace of mind.”
Bargain hunters waste valuable time searching for 5% off. Plus, bargain items are usually bad quality and quickly need expensive repairs.
Financial sadists play power games with their money. If they owe you, they always promise to pay next week. They criticize your work in order to get a discount. “Sadists seem to think that paying for something gives them the right to torture and abuse the seller.” If you find one, it might be better to just accept a financial loss rather than to continue with their power games.
Some people are way too generous. It stems from insecurity. So while it might be tempting to make one of them your mark, remember that their gifts will come with heavy emotional baggage.
Money should be spent on gifts for others rather than on material items for yourself. It should be spent to grow your influence. Make use of sudden, unexpected, one time gifts loaded with sentiment or a good story.
Avoid Stepping Into A Great Man’s Shoes
Rich kids usually squander the wealth their parents hustled for.
Strike The Shepherd And The Sheep Will Scatter.
AKA, the bad apple spoils the bunch. So find the apple and throw it away. In Spanish it’s muerto el perro, se acaba la rabia. When the dog dies, so does his rabies.
“In every group, power is concentrated in the hands of one or two people, for this is one area in which human nature will never change: People will congregate around a single strong personality like planets orbiting a sun.”
Pretending people aren’t this way is a waste of time. Figure out who controls the group dynamic. It does not matter how much any given group talks about how non-hierarchical. Every group has a power center of gravity. Find those people.
Work On The Hearts And Minds Of Others.
Coercion makes the coerced feel bad, which is why you should only use it if absolutely necessary. It’s better to make others want to follow you.
People will almost never help you unless it’s in their interest to do so.
When people meet someone new, many will waste time talking about themselves. They don’t really pay attention to the other person. When you focus all your attention on that person and try to really figure them out, they melt.
Emotions will always trump reason. Sure, people might talk about how much they value reason, but all you have to do is play on their love of reason, and their internal computer breaks. People who spew words about blah blah reason facts blah are attempting to gain power via their enormous and impressive and amazing intellect. They don’t know it, but they are even more governed by emotions than the rest of us.
Those who fetishize reason are the most immature of all, because they’ve not experienced truly unexplainable things. They’ve not had their enormous ego ruptured, they’ve not had their intellect deeply challenged or wounded.
(Those who use the word “immature” are gross. Avoid them if possible.)
Create pleasure, allay fears, promise security. Those are simple ways to make people love you. The last two are especially great if you’re running for office and want votes from idiots. Muslims are scary. Vote for me.
The more of this book I read, the more I realize why that the people behind the Republican party are fucking geniuses. Karl Rove, for example.
“At all times you must attend to those around you, gauging their particular psychology, tailoring your words to what you know will entice and seduce them.”
(Like all 48 laws, realize that someone might be applying one or several to you. This book is even more useful for defense than offense. Using the book against somebody would be exhausting. But if you instead think how is this guy trying to gain power over me? you can decide whether to cut ties with him or reduce his influence over you.)
The more someone talks, the more they reveal about themselves.
Think about how will your next might unwittingly benefit your victim/ally. It seems that victims and allies are the same in the realm of power.
Disarm And Infuriate With The Mirror Effect.
Do exactly as your enemies do. They will not be able to figure out your strategy.
“The power of verbal argument is extremely limited and often accomplishes the opposite of what is intended.”
Do to others what they did to you. Do it in a way that makes them know what’s happening. Make them feel how you felt. Objectify the qualities you want them to be ashamed of and make them realize how their unsocial behaviors affect others. (See The 33 Strategies of War for more on dealing with passive aggression.)
Don’t impose your colors. Take on the colors of those around you, and your deceptions will be easier to pull off.
“Everyone is wrapped up in their own narcissistic shell. When you try to impose your ego on them, a wall goes up, resistance is increased.”
“People are locked in their own experiences.” Any time you try to make them aware of their faults, they will grow more resistant to your influence. “The goal of power is always to lower people’s resistance to you. For this you need tricks, and one trick is to teach them a lesson.” So instead of trying to verbalize their fault, instead mirror their behavior.
Preach The Need For Change, But Never Reform Too Much At Once.
Yes, we’re all thinking “Obama.” But he already has his power. He’s the president and you’re not. He doesn’t care what you think ☺
People pretend they want change, but they don’t. “Never underestimate the hidden conservatism of those around you.”
“Just as you cannot make people see the world your way, you cannot wrench them into the future with painful changes. They will rebel.”
Say that your grand reforms are really something from the past, something rooted in your country’s traditions. Mao always referenced earlier periods in Chinese history. My old comrades on the left did this by invoking “the timeless conflict between the oppressed peasantry and an evil emperor.”
“Among those who dislike oppression are many who like to oppress.” — Napoleon Bonaparte
Always be wary of people who use the word “oppression” too often. They usually prefer to use morality, guilt, and shame as weapons in their own grabs for power. Crush them as brutally as you can, if only to punish their hypocrisy. (People who complain about hypocrisy are usually the biggest hypocrites.)
Hack comedians will be happy to know that there was a Chinese emperor named Wang Mang. The punchlines almost literally write themselves.
“The fact that the past is dead and buried gives you the freedom to reinterpret it. To support your cause, tinker with the facts. The past is a text in which you can safely insert your own lines.”
It doesn’t say this, but you can also use the past or religion to get ideological young people to do the dirty work that needs to get done. All holy books can be interpreted however you want. “We gotta cut off American journalist’s heads because Mohammed said so.” “We gotta kill the ISIS guys because Jesus hates evil doers.”
Numbers and dates have great resonance. I used to think it was stupid to fetishize dates. Obviously it is stupid to be one of the people who gets all wiener-tingly about July 4th SuperPac For American Americanism God Bless The 4th Of July, although that would be a great name for a super pac.
Christ, I got way off topic. Anyway, I used to think that was stupid, but people really do resonate with that shit.
“Seem to be a zealot for tradition and few will notice how unconventional you really are.”
Science likes to pretend it’s looking for objective truth, but behind it are humans. Humans hate change, no matter how “rational” they wanna say they are. Science is not an exception to this law.
As always, be taoist in your approach. Don’t be rigid. If you live in tumultuous times you might want to preach a return to the comfort and stability of the past. If you live in a time of stagnation you might consider preaching a revolution. Always examine the situation and don’t assume this moment is the same as the last one, even if they may appear similar.
The past is important for art as well. No matter how much you try to push the envelope in your art, there will always be someone younger and hungrier who’s able to push things further than you did. Instead of entering that pissing contest, build your works on something more solid. Tinker with tradition, play with convention, learn the rules in order to break them, study the past in order to change it. Use the past for your own purposes.
Never Appear Too Perfect.
It’s dangerous to appear better than others or to appear to be without flaws or weaknesses. People who envy you are dangerous enemies.
Not everyone can succeed in life. When you start to get more recognition, money, success, it will inspire feelings of envy in your friends and acquaintances who are stagnating. Crabs in a bucket. It’s the world’s truest metaphor.
You must occasionally dampen your brilliance by revealing a flaw, real or invented. Show a defect, a weakness, and imperfection.
And if you live in Mexico, for the love of god hide your wealth. Do as Cosimo Medici did: Make your palace “all simplicity on the outside, all elegance and opulence within.”
“Never be so foolish as to believe that you are stirring up admiration by flaunting the qualities that raise you above others. By making others aware of their inferior position, you are only stirring up envy, which will gnaw away at them until they undermine you in ways you cannot foresee.”
“The master of power understands that the appearance of superiority over others is inconsequential next to the reality of it.”
“He may be smarter than I am, we say, but he has no morals or conscience. Or he may have more power, but that’s because he cheats.”
Check yourself for envy. Understand and accept that there will be people who are better than you at something. You might envy them, but turn that feeling into a desire to surpass them someday. As you gain power, those below you will start to envy you. When people envy you, they will start to work against you.
Do Not Go Past The Mark You Aimed For; In Victory, Learn When To Stop.
Plan all the way to the end, and when you make the touchdown, stop. No victory dances.
“There is nothing more intoxicating than victory, and nothing more dangerous.”
“Understand the part played by the particular circumstances of a situation, and never simply repeat the same actions again and again.”
Everything changes. As almost all the laws in this book, the final one is extremely taoist. Check out the Taoist Lecture Series by Daniele Bolelli for a great introduction to the philosophy. Those who don’t like the words Philosophy, Religion, Taoism, etc, or who want to put everything into nice little boxes should either (1) declare themselves atheist and put no more thought into the matter or (2) just attend mass at a mainstream liberal Christian church. Taoism ain’t so great. It’s just a kooky Eastern thing for new age weirdos. You’re probably better off sticking with Jesus.
“In evolution, largeness is often the first step toward extinction. What is immense and bloated has no mobility, but must constantly feed itself. The unintelligent are often seduced into believing that size connotes power, the bigger the better.”
“The need for formlessness becomes greater the older we get, as we grow more likely to become set in our ways and assume too rigid a form.”
Do not let your enemies act. Make them always react. Deny them agency, as the left would put it.
Then we get to one of the last paragraphs of the book, where Greene doubles or triples or quadruples down on his own advice by suggesting that you ignore his advice. It’s yet another extremely taoist bit of writing.
See each new situation through your own eyes and ignore the advice that other people are constantly trying to give you. Throw out all the laws and advice and wisdom that other people want you to follow. Relying on other people’s advice too much will make you into someone who is not you. Having too much respect for the ideas of others will make you have less respect for your own ideas.
The sentiment is: Each moment is different and unique. React according to the reality of every situation. Reject ideologies and dogmas. See things for how they are.
48 Laws of Power. Done.
The achievement of mastery is available to anyone in any field. It requires work, willpower, and intense desire.
Most of Greene’s books are about the most powerful people in history and how they got to that position. He saw that they all followed the same basic path to greatness in their careers, which then gave them power. They loved something as a child. It became an obsession. They learned about the subject at a faster pace than others because of their intense interest. They enter into a positive feedback loop that keeps the learning cycle going: They get better faster than the rest, which earns them praise, which makes them keep studying/practicing, which earns more praise, which makes them keep gaining more skills, etc. Eventually they begin to get creative with their knowledge. They have learned the rules so well that they now can break them meaningfully and rewrite the rules.
Most of us comfort ourselves by saying things like, “he’s just naturally a genius. He’s smarter than me. She was born privileged, so of course she’s better at X activity.”
As we get older, we lose connection with the things we loved as children. We listen to the stupid opinions of family or friends or coworkers who sometimes want you to just be comfortable and happy, and who sometimes are like crabs in a bucket. They see you climbing out, so they grab your legs and pull you back in.
“So many books we read nowadays tend to peter out half way or two thirds of the way through. Writers begin with an exciting idea, which is reflected in the energy of the first chapters. Then, they get somewhat lost in the material. The organization of the book falls apart. They start to repeat the same ideas. The last few chapters do not have the same verve of the opening ones. It is hard to maintain one’s enthusiasm, energy and freshness over the course of months and years that a book requires. If I succumbed to the tiredness cycle too soon, the book could fall apart at precisely the most important part of my argument.” — Greene’s Hidden Powers PDF.
Page 1 of Mastery: Introduction. The subtitle is The Ultimate Power. So would Mastery be the 51st law of power? If you’ve been with us on the Robert Greene journey so far, Seduction is Law 49, Fearlessness is 50. Yeah, it doesn’t really matter that much, but it’s just a thing I like to do. Moving on:
A great danger lies in feelings of boredom, impatience, fear or confusion. The process of mastery involves pushing past all that. If you give up at the first sign of boredom, you’re fucked.
When you master a skill, as I may or may not be doing with the transcriptions — learning to type faster and faster — the skill you perform. Sean Platt advises writing fast, because that’s where your most authentic voice comes from. What better way to write fast than to learn to hit the keys as quickly as humanly possible?
Don’t worry about natural talent. Outwork the “naturals” and eventually you’ll outperform them as well. Lots of children display natural talent and high IQ’s, but most of them become the world’s most mediocre adults.
“The less we attempt, the less chances of failure. If we can make it look like we are not really responsible for our fate, for what happens to us in life, then our apparent powerlessness is more palatable. For this reason we become attracted to certain narratives: it is genetics that determines much of what we do; we are just products of our times; the individual is just a myth; human behavior can be reduced to statistical trends.”
Some people think anything that requires discipline or a schedule or a work ethic can’t be art. Some people say mastery and power are evil; that stuff is for the elites, the oppressors; we should opt out of the whole system. Those people have been successfully conditioned to accept their low station in life. I take joy in their misery.
“People get the mind and quality of brain that they deserve through their actions in life.”
“People who are passive create a mental landscape that is rather barren. Because of their limited experiences and action, all kinds of connections in the brain die off from lack of use. Pushing against the passive trend of these times, you must work to see how far you can extend control of your circumstances and create the kind of mind you desire”
“In many ways, the movement from one level of intelligence to another can be considered as a kind of ritual of transformation. As you progress, old ideas and perspectives die off; as new powers are unleashed, you are initiated into higher levels of seeing the world.”
Greene brings the taoism again, reminding you to never become rigid in your thinking. Mastery is not a destination. It’s a process. You must often rethink basic assumptions about your field. Keep refreshing your knowledge, be open.
“Anything that is alive is in a continual state of change and movement. The moment that you rest, thinking that you have attained the level you desire, a part of your mind enters a phase of decay. You lose your hard-earned creativity and others begin to sense it. This is a power and intelligence that must be continually renewed or it will die.”
Discover Your Calling: The Life’s Task.
The first step on the path to mastery involves going inside yourself to rediscover what you loved as a child. I loved The Power Rangers, so my calling is to be a Power Ranger.
Greene’s disparate experiences in many industries gave him the perfect apprenticeship for The 48 Laws Of Power. I also have very disparate experiences, seemingly unconnected, as his must have in his 20s and early 30s. You must connect those experiences. What’s something that would draw those disparate experiences together logically?
I’ve got to stop using the word disparate.
Finding your calling is not a poetic conceit. It’s realistic. We live in a world (at least in the USA) where we can not depend on the government to help us. We can’t rely on corporations. We can’t really rely on family and friends either. Plus, the world is facing tons of problems that can only be solved by small groups of dedicated people who are able to move quickly and nimbly.
The world is extremely competitive and globalized. Everybody now has skills in the big, general fields: accounting, web design, etc. You have to carve out a niche. Find the niche in your field that corresponds to your uniqueness and dominate it.
Nearly all ideologies and organized religions have failed. We’re faced with a world in which we no longer have a clear understanding of some collective meaning of life, collective purpose.
“Without a sense of direction, we tend to flounder.” That’s true for the individual as well as the organization, the nation, and the human race as a whole.
“Become who you are by learning who you are.” Pindar, ancient Greek poet.
“Connecting ideas is a source of power.” So connect ideas.
“Scoff at the need for attention and approval — they will lead you astray.”
Stay committed to your Life’s Task (ie creating what you’re here to create), not to a career (ie writer). Your career will always change, and you have to go with it. You must foresee the changes in your profession and go where the puck is going to be (as Wayne Gretzky said).
Do not hold on to old ways of doing things, or you will suffer for it. Always be flexible, always adapt. “Your Life’s Task is a living, breathing organism.”
Submit To Reality: The Ideal Apprenticeship.
I’m giving myself an apprenticeship here. While I appreciate Greene’s advice on finding a real, living, breathing person to apprentice with, I’m going to mostly ignore it.
One thing he mentioned in a few podcasts is that you can’t just ask someone to be your mentor. They’re busy. They don’t have time. So you have to make yourself extremely useful to them. James Altucher suggests providing value up front for free. He has written to the heads of tons of businesses, telling them how he thinks they can improve their business model or their customer experience. Most people (obviously) ignored him or didn’t have time, but a few responded and have become connections.
If your apprenticeship takes place in a business with a number of other people, you must study the culture and understand how the place actually operates. Who really holds the power? Don’t moralize or complain about it, or try to change the culture, because you’ll just end up getting devoured or fired. Just observe.
Fuck it. I just hacked his Apprenticeship Phase. My university degree. Yes, I know it sounds like a joke, but right now I see research and writing as a calling — if only to better myself. The vast majority of my classes were heavy on writing and research, and I think I got some useful shit from my professors, so… apprenticeship done!
Plus, for a writer there is really nothing more valuable than reading as much as possible. If you can somehow do what Ryan Holiday did (apprentice under Robert Greene (or any writer you really respect)) then go ahead and do it.
Once a skill becomes hardwired, and requires very little conscious effort to perform, you can start analyzing how you work. You can examine your process for flaws. You can find room for improvement.
Flow state. Get there.
“Concentrated practice over time cannot fail to produce results.”
“If we feel like we know something, our minds close off to other possibilities.” We feel superior. These feelings of superiority sometimes stem from fear of the unknown. During the apprenticeship phase your goal is to learn as much as possible. By cultivating a sense of inferiority you can learn more during your apprenticeship phase because you won’t bring your ingrained prejudices and rigidity to new situations.
When people see someone who’s really good at something, they only see the end result. Nobody sees the process. Nobody sees the thousands of hours of practice that go into developing mastery.
At a young-ish age, John Keats decided to become a poet. He put himself through a self-directed apprenticeship: He read works of all the best poets of his time. He started writing poems imitating the styles of his favorite writers. Then he made himself write a massive 4000 line poem in 7 months. By the end of the process he hated the poem, but had gained valuable insights into the process. As a result, he inoculated himself against writer’s block.
His process was to work quickly, to focus intensely, and concentrate his work in a short time frame. Follow his method. Schedule less time to work, but work more intensely.
Most people run away from things that might be painful or difficult. The same applies to our jobs or our Life’s Calling. We get comfortable with one way of doing things, and we stop growing as a result. Instead, develop Resistance Practice: Run towards the object of your pain. Do what seems most difficult.
The first step is to resist being nice to yourself. “You must become your own worst critic.” See your work as others might. Notice your weaknesses, notice what you’re not good at. Run towards it. Try to find pleasure in that potential pain.
Develop standards of excellence that are higher than those of others. Make your 5 hours of dedicated practice the equivalent of most other people’s 10 hours. If you do it right, people will not see all the blood and sweat, they’ll only see the lovely final product.
The hacker apprenticeship, or the trial-and-error apprenticeship: Don’t follow one rigid path. Don’t just be Writer. Don’t focus only on one niche. Combine niches.
There’s no shortcut through the 10,000 hours. Don’t try to get around it. Dive in head first. “The very desire to find shortcuts makes you eminently unsuited for any kind of mastery.”
Which is why Tim Ferriss will never be a writer. But I mean no disrespect, because being a writer isn’t his goal. I shit on Ferriss too much. Must be partial jealousy.
Absorb The Master’s Power: The Mentor Dynamic.
There are people out there who know way more than we do about our field. Their knowledge has almost nothing to do with privilege or natural talent, and everything to do with time and experience.
You have to suffer on your journey to mastery. There’s no way around it. Criticisms, doubts, setbacks, failures. Get used to criticism. Confidence only serves you if it is based on a realistic appraisal of your work.
If you absolutely can not acquire a mentor, do what Edison did: Become extremely self-reliant. Read more than your rivals. Make public figures your mentors. Study them deeply.
See People As They Are: Social Intelligence.
All of Greene’s work deals heavily with this subject. His upcoming book is tentatively called The Laws Of Human Nature. The man is a god fucking damn national treasure.
Cultivate social intelligence. Use the Ben Franklin approach: Complete and radical acceptance of human nature. People are the way they are. There’s no point getting upset or emotional. There’s no point trying to change them.
Study Ben Franklin. Greene recommends: Brands, H. W. The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin.
“You must allow everyone the right to exist in accordance with the character he has, whatever it turns out to be: and all you should strive to do is to make use of this character in such a way as its kind of nature permits, rather than to hope for any alteration in it, or to condemn it offhand for what it is. This is the true sense of the maxim — Live and let live…. To become indignant at [people’s] conduct is as foolish as to be angry with a stone because it rolls into your path. And with many people the wisest thing you can do, is to resolve to make use of those whom you cannot alter.” — ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER
Children idealize some people and demonize others. Most people stay in this mindset their whole lives. Instead, be objective in your analysis of others.
Most people can’t get out of what Greene calls the Naive Perspective. They stay locked inside themselves, in their inner world. They never venture out. They don’t focus their full attention on others. To be effective in the social realm, you have to understand others, which means “getting outside yourself and immersing your mind in their world.”
The usual tactic is to become cynical in response to your previous naivete. Don’t do that. “The most effective attitude to adopt is one of supreme acceptance.”
Everybody has a dark side and a tendency to manipulate. The most dangerous people are those who repress themselves and want to repress others. They end up acting out their repressed desires in underhanded ways. Don’t try to change them. It’s impossible. Just avoid becoming their victim.
“You are an observer of the human comedy, and by being as tolerant as possible, you gain a much greater ability to understand people and to influence their behavior when necessary.”
You need specific understanding of the person you’re dealing with and general understanding of human nature:
1. Pay less attention to people’s words and more to their tone of voice, body language, etc.
2. Resist the temptation to interpret their words as having to do with you. They probably have nothing to do with you.
3. Analyze their clothes, their organization or lack thereof, their choice of spouse.
4. Notice if they’re always late, don’t pay attention to detail, or don’t return favors. Everything they do reveals deeper realities about them. Nothing is too small to notice.
5. First impressions are misleading.
6. Remember that everybody’s changing. Do not get rigid in your appraisal of someone. They might be a bit different next time.
Generalities about human nature: “Envy, conformism, rigidity, self-obsessiveness, laziness, flightiness, and passive aggression” are what Greene calls the Seven Deadly Realities. They are qualities that most of us have to some degree. People don’t like to display those traits because they’re viewed negatively by society. So instead they reveal those qualities in hidden ways.
Taking the seven deadly whatevers one by one:
Envy. Do not inspire it in others. Don’t make them envy you. If you’re dealing with someone who’s insecure, ask them for advice about how to improve your own work.
Conformism. People pretend they can tolerate and even celebrate differences, but they really can’t. Differences call into question the established norms of whatever in-group they’ve set up. “There will always be a few within the group who are the overseers of correctness and who can be quite dangerous.” As you gain mastery you can display your differences as much as you want, but if you’re underneath people in a hierarchy, mute your colors temporarily. Differences will get you fired.
Rigidity. People get hooked on certain ideas, no matter how many times they’ve been proven wrong, and will never let go. (Science is a perfect example: Any time a new theory comes up, people who are entrenched in the old way will look for any reason to attack it, not logically, but emotionally.) The more logic and reason you bring to try to convince someone that they’re wrong, the more defensive they will get, and they’ll double down on their belief. Do not argue. Simply accept that others are rigid. However, inside yourself you must resist the temptation to be rigid.
Self-obsessiveness. This one is pretty obvious, but beware of people who put up a public front of charitability. They’re often covering up their own selfishness. When asking others for help, never appeal to their sense of charity, and always to their self-interest (no matter how selfless they appear to be). As a general rule when engaging other people, make the conversation revolve around them.
Laziness. People always want shortcuts and some people will never get over their laziness. Watch out for people who say they want to “collaborate” on a project. They’re probably just looking for someone to do the hard work for them and then swoop in and take the credit.
Flightiness. People like to pretend that they’re rational, but they’re not. They’re controlled by their emotions. They’ll be excited for a project one day, then lukewarm the next. Don’t get pissy about it. Accept it and learn to rely on yourself.
Passive aggression. Most people are somewhat passive aggressive. We want to avoid confrontation. But some people are passive aggressive samurai. Avoid them at all costs. And never ever ever ever get emotionally entangled with their endless drama. “They are masters at controlling the dynamic, and you will almost always lose in the end.”
For fiction writers, if you can really get into the minds of your characters and make them come alive, I don’t need to end this sentence.
By making your writing clear and easy to follow you show that you care for your audience and the public at large. Which is why people who use works like dialectic, place, space, and intersectionality never get anywhere. Their points of view are (perhaps deliberately) hard to follow. They show how little they actually care, even if they make public proclamations to the contrary.
People are quick to find defects in others, but almost never notice their own. Criticisms can strengthen your work, making your arguments more airtight, your characters more well-rounded, etc. Expose your work to the market and use all valid criticisms to improve your work. Anticipate the criticisms and counterarguments. It will be impossible to avoid fools. There are too many of them. Suffer them gladly.
What should matter to us in our work is, above all else, “long term results and getting the work done in as efficient and creative a manner as possible.”
Fools are more concerned with short term goals, quick/easy money, attention. “They are ruled by their ego and insecurities.” They enjoy drama and intrigue. Their criticisms never relate to the overall argument or the long term vision, the big picture. You can spot them by how little they accomplish and how difficult they try to make it for others to get shit done. They worry about unimportant issues while ignoring the most dangerous ones.
Do not sink to their level. They want to annoy you and get under your skin. They want to drag you into endless petty battles. It is impossible to change their opinion or behavior because they don’t care about rationality or results. Realize that they’re just a part of life: “like rocks or furniture.” Nobody says how dare all these rocks exist?
We all have foolish moments. Recognize it in yourself so that you can accept and deal with it in others. Tolerate them as you would a silly child. “It is all part of the human comedy, and it is nothing to get upset about or lose sleep over.”
Ignore them if you can, otherwise neutralize their negative effect on you by adopting the proper attitude about them. Then go a bit further and exploit their foolishness by making them material for your work, perhaps as a cautionary tale.
Awaken The Dimensional Mind: The Creative-Active.
Do not become complacent in your knowledge as you gain mastery. Expand your knowledge to related fields. The brain’s tendency is to become rigid with age. Resist: Become more fluid in your thinking.
You must become increasingly bold. “In the end you will turn against the very rules you have internalized, shaping them and reforming them to suit your spirit.” For much of your creative life you imitate the artists you love. As your powers grow, you begin to experiment and create things that haven’t been seen or heard before.
A “Man of Acheivement,” especially in literature, is “capable of being in uncertanties, mysteries, doubts” without having to reach for fact and reason. -John Keats. (Paraphrase)
As children “we thought in ways that were preverbal — in images and sensations.” We looked at the world more directly and freer of the rigid ideas we take on as adults. As we grow up we lose those qualities and become rigid. Our only chance to revert to that childlike perspective comes when we’re not working at shitty jobs. Weekends and vacations temporarily free us from the rigidity.
Traveling abroad also forces us back into the childlike perspective because we can no longer rely on things being familiar and predictable. Travel allows you to see things more directly, and for the first time. We are struck by the oddness of the things around us.
Masters keep that childlike quality, but add their years of experience, wisdom, and deep focus in the field. They have a profound knowledge of their field, but remain open.
The Conventional Mind consumes information and spits it back out in familiar and predictable forms. The Dimensional Mind transforms the information it receives and creates something truly original.
“We all possess an inborn creative force that wants to become active.” Stifling that force is the source of so much misery.
To awaken the Dimensional Mind you need 2 things: “A high level of knowledge about a field or subject, and the openness and flexibility to use this knowledge in new and original ways.” The rules you learn during the Apprenticeship Phase can become a prison if you get rigid.
The famous Charlie Parker quote: learn the instrument, learn the music, then forget all that shit and just play.
Get obsessed. “Your emotional commitment to what you are doing will be translated directly into your work.” If you only half care, it will show. If you do something that has a strong personal appeal, “you will naturally move in an unorthodox direction.”
Always choose something that is slightly above your skill level. “You must let go of your need for comfort and security.” If you worry about failure and about the possibility of mental or financial instability, it will show in your work.
“Think of the mind as a muscle that naturally tightens up over time unless it is consciously worked upon.” The tightening comes because we want to be comfortable. We want to keep believing the same things forever.
Cultivate negative capability. Most people express opinions foisted upon them by others rather than coming to their own conclusions through observation. “The need for certainty is the greatest disease the mind faces.”
Entertain viewpoints opposite to your own. See how they feel. Do anything to break up your usual modes of thought and your sense that you already know the truth.
Don’t get too fond of your ideas. Don’t grow too comfortable in their truth. But Negative Capability can’t be a permanent state of mind, or we’d all go crazy and constantly question every damn thing. It is merely a tool to be used from time to time. Move between the Negative Capability mindset and the normal one.
One cannot focus deeply on a problem all the time. Deep focus narrows the mind and closes us off to other stimuli.
In the research stage of your project, look at things that seem a bit beyond its scope. Give your mind all the information related to your project.
Some people are afraid to speculate, forgetting that speculation is the basis of human reason. They want to stick to the micro-view and never possibly embarrass themselves by positing something that could be proven wrong.
“Sometimes this fear of speculation masquerades as skepticism. We see this in people who delight in shooting down any theory or explanation before it gets anywhere.”
They want you to believe their skepticism is a sign of how super duper smart they are, how well-versed they are in Logic and Rationality. But really they’re just being lazy, taking the easy route. It’s easy to knock down ideas. It’s much harder to go in the opposite direction — which is what all creative people must do — and examine different possibilities.
“New ideas are not generated by deduction, but by an artistically creative imagination.” Max Planck.
Shift between the macro and the micro-view.
Seek out the anomalies. We tend to ignore or explain away anomalies that don’t fit into our preconceived notions of how the world operates. But really, the anomalies offer the richest information.
Focus on what’s missing. Is there an unmet need in your field? Rather than doing what most businesspeople do, which is trying to make current products cheaper, make something that meets a need. If the need is obvious, others will already be working on it.
Reverse your emotions. Fear makes us focus on the potential dangers of an action. Boldness makes us forget the risks. If you’re feeling one way about something, try to feel the opposite for a bit, in order to see your project from a new angle.
In general, you should move toward resistance. Resistance is what makes physical exercise work, and it’s the same with the mind. The project that scares you is likely the one that you need to work on.
Reverse your potential good fortune. Someday you’ll be bigger than Stephen King. What are the potential dangers in that? Becoming soft, getting addicted to public attention. Your work could suffer. Shane Smith of Vice lays out his “dilemma” in an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience. He has enough money that he never needs to work again. When he realized that, it caused him to think about why he did what he did everyday. Why go to work? Why get up in the morning?
Anticipate those problems. Right now you’re hungry. But what will you do when there’s no more hunger?
Learn a new language. There are lots of concepts that have no word in English to describe them. We usually think verbally rather than pre-verbally, so if there is no word to describe something, we tend not to think about it.
Think beyond language. “Language is a tool that is often too tight and constricting compared to the multilayered powers of intelligence we naturally possess.” Great, you’ve learned a new language and have seen that some things just don’t exist in English. Now forget all your languages. Train yourself to think visually.
Give up. You get excited about a project. You spend immense amounts of time working on it. Then it grows stale. You give up. That’s good. Here’s why.
1. It’s a necessary step in producing your masterworks. It gives you distance from your project. You can come back later and look at it more fully, appraising it more objectively.
2. Einstein’s theory of relativity came to him the morning after he had decided to give up on it.
3. This is not an excuse for inaction or laziness. Nothing matters more than execution. So go execute as fully as possible, and then step back. Give up temporarily. Then come blazing back at full speed.
4. “Go as far as you can with your doubts, your reworkings, your strained efforts, knowing the value and purpose of the frustration and creative blocks you are facing.”
5. Zen masters would often beat their students and lead them to extreme doubt, knowing that enlightenment often came thereafter. So you should either beat yourself nearly to death with a rusty metal dildo, or engage in BDSM.
Use deadlines. Do it because they create tension. They force you into a corner. Deadlines put you on Death Ground, a strategy in Greene’s 33 Strategies of War. If you give yourself infinite time to complete a project, your brain will not kick into a higher gear. The muse will not whisper to you. You will languish.
Make creativity your goal, not comfort.
Ignore the public. No, wait, don’t. I mean, yes, do. First develop your own internal standards. Maybe you got lots of praise during your apprenticeship. Cool. Now disregard it and develop your own standards. Then you can take criticisms for what they’re worth. If you think a particular criticism is worth paying attention to, do so. If not, ignore it.
Ignore praise. Praise is more dangerous than criticism. It puffs up your ego and makes you fear trying new things. You must be motivated by the process, not the results.
Embrace paradox. Paradoxes abound in all creative ventures. For example, you must know everything about your field, know it inside and out, but also be able to question even its most basic assumptions. Be confident in your work, but also tear it apart. Work for the long term, but always be in the moment. Be able to feel optimism and doubt at the same time.
“Don’t think about why you question, simply don’t stop questioning. Don’t worry about what you can’t answer, and don’t try to explain what you can’t know. Curiosity is its own reason. Aren’t you in awe when you contemplate the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure behind reality? And this is the miracle of the human mind — to use its constructions, concepts, and formulas as tools to explain what man sees, feels and touches. Try to comprehend a little more each day. Have holy curiosity.” -Albert Einstein.
“The extreme paradox is that those who impress the most with their individuality are the ones who first completely submerged their character in a long apprenticeship.”
Your authentic voice. It does not just come from opening up and letting loose. If you pick up the saxophone without ever having played it, it doesn’t matter how much you want to express yourself with it, you lack a fundamental understanding of how to use the thing. You lack understanding of music in general. You have to learn that shit as deeply as possible, and THEN let loose. Insert Charlie Parker quote, because nothing more appropriate could go here. Learn the music, learn the instrument, then forget all that shit and just play.
Be patient. “The greatest impediment to creativity is your impatience, the almost inevitable desire to hurry up the process, express something, and make a splash.” “Love learning for its own sake. Anyone who would spend 10 years absorbing the techniques and conventions of their field, trying them out, mastering them, exploring and personalizing them, would inevitably find their authentic voice and give birth to something unique and expressive.”
Marketing is inferior to designing. Your product must be forged through a long process of trial and error. You have to work with the dough for hours and hours before you come upon a loaf that’s your own. Marketing is great for the short term, but your work needs to speak for itself. If you’re putting more work into marketing than into creation, your product will suffer.
Take more time. But wait, you say, earlier Greene said to take less time. Yep, he did. Both are true. Sometimes you need deadlines and death ground to kick your mind into high gear. Other times you need to slow down and play with ideas, form associations between ideas. Use time as a tool, as an ally. Shorten or lengthen it as you see fit.
“Creativity and adaptability are inseparable.”
Dualism is for idiots. Dualistic thinkers are creatively limited. They are unable to understand that something can be both painful and pleasurable at the same time, both good and bad, both real and unreal. Nondualistic thinking lets you see intellectual alchemy.
Fuse The Intuitive With The Rational: Mastery.
Marcel Proust saw life as an apprenticeship “in which we are all slowly instructed in the ways of the world. Some people learn to read the signs and heed the lessons from this apprenticeship, developing themselves in the process; others do not.”
His life apprenticed (mentored?) him to write Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time). Greene’s life mentored (apprenticed?) him for The 48 Laws. Amber Lyon’s for Reset.me. Where is yours leading?
Proust knew his lost time had not really been lost or wasted, as long as he knew how to exploit his past failures.
Rationality is extremely effective and has brought us great powers. We must make use of it with the intuitive feel we get after attaining mastery.
There is a living force within any field we study. It’s how it functions. It is everything involved in the field all at once. The interactions of the people in the industry, the… just everything.
A transformation takes place in the brain when it has about 10,000 hours of practice at something. (Gladwell will not be mentioned here.) Greene says another transformation happens around 20–30,000 hours. But it’s not simply a variable of time. You don’t just study a subject for 20 years and attain mastery and the rational/intuitive fusion he describes. Mastery comes as a result of time AND intensity. Intense focus for prolonged time will produce it. This is why Chapter 1 is so important: It has to be a subject that you want to live and breathe. You must internalize the information and live it.
We must not take failures personally and we must not forget about them. We must instead reflect on them and comprehend why we failed. Our field has hidden laws.
Believe in your destiny. “There is a purpose to your uniqueness.” Every obstacle on your path is a test. It doesn’t matter if it’s “the narrative fallacy” or not. Sometimes fallacies are useful. Worse than having a few pet fallacies is to commit the fallacy of thinking everything is a fallacy. And most people who trot out the word “fallacy” at every turn are likely confusing it with phallus, and so they make public declarations of the awfulness of them because they’re secretly worried that fallacies are delicious.
High level intuition is more useful than simple reasoning. [insert Master SportsMan here] doesn’t analyze every second of the game while he’s in it, he goes with intuition.
You gotta practice that high level intuition. It’s yet another skill that you acquire, not just a thing that plops in your lap. Learn to listen to your intuitive voice. Pressfield says to never say no to the ideas that are coming to you. It’s the muse, and if you disregard her, you’re fucked. Your book is smarter than you. Listen to what it’s telling you.
Many people will opt out of the market as they come to face its realities: There’s a daunting amount of information to absorb, and more info comes out every day. People wanna be comfortable and safe, they want it to be easy. They’ll fall for simple formulas that promise quick riches and easy knowledge. They’ll look for political justifications to opt out of the game rather than facing the fact that they just weren’t up to the task, they couldn’t handle the bruised ego and the battered self esteem. They didn’t want to examine WHY their startup failed and then give it another shot, and another. And another.
You must gain “a tolerance and even a taste for chaotic moments.” We’re in chaotic times, so we’d best learn to manage our anxiety.
All is connected. Our society makes the mistake of thinking that all life is essentially unconnected. This leads to the over-specialization we see in all fields and universities and sciences, etc. That specialization leads to abstract ideas that are extremely disconnected from reality. It leads to people who spend all their time thinking about why X ideology is superior to Y ideology.
Greene did a lot of psychedelics in college, particularly peyote, so he gives this stuff a little bit of the psychedelic perspective that you’d expect from anyone who truly knows their shit. See Steven Pressfield’s nonfiction for more of the same. And here Greene brings in taoism and stoicism. If you’re a gigantic cock-moron you’ll think it’s stupid. Otherwise it will hit a gong at the bottom of your soul and you’ll pay-the-fuck attention here.
Masters study deep and wide, allowing them to see interconnectedness and use it for their projects. That interconnectedness is reality. Taoism and stoicism are about seeing the universe and human nature, etc, for how it really is.
3. His ideology, or perhaps perspective, is mirroring mine now. He’s saying our society is seeing the very beginnings of a return to reality; a new Renaissance.
I’ve been seeing all fields coming together for a few years now. People are connecting food and health (what a novel fucking concept, huh?), spirituality and health, psychedelics and health, psychedelics and spirituality, medicine and food, medicine and psychedelics, medicine and spirituality, sex and all the above, etc etc etc. It’s like we’re trying to go backwards and forwards at the same time; trying to connect the good parts of the past with the good parts of the present and future.
Scientists are trying to connect their hyperspecializations together. We’re starting to see how economics, biology, and technology are related.
The word holistic is getting used more. (Though I’ll always have to giggle a little bit when I hear the word, because of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently series.)
Greene talks about a Rennaissance concept of the Universal Man — a person who connects all branches of knowledge, allowing him to approximate the intellect of The Creator.
Those trends of connection are the future. The purpose of consciousness has always been to make us see reality. The war on consciousness is coming to a close. We can participate in the wave by working towards mastery.
As we work toward mastery, our brain becomes more and more like the universe. Read the couple paragraphs or so before Strategies For Attaining Mastery for a reminder.
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Albert Einstein.
We want to believe that some people, like Einstein, were born geniuses, that they’re just naturally gifted freaks of nature who are smarter than the rest of us. This is a comforting thought because it gives us easy excuses to not commit tens of thousands of hours to a project. We like thinking that none of us can be like Einstein because we weren’t born geniuses.
Not only is this line of thought bullshit, it also robs Einstein of his true accomplishment: hours and hours and hours and hours and hours of obsessive thought and study.
Play to your strengths. Use your differences to give you an advantage.
Get lost in the details (but not too lost). Don’t do what Jacopo da Pontormo did.
The work you do has a life and a presence of its own. The presence “can be vibrant and visceral or it can be weak and lifeless.” Your characters need to come alive on the page. They must do so not through description, but by making them come alive first in your mind and fully fleshing them out. Your readers will feel the difference.
Do not project your morality and worldview on others. Instead, try to get inside them and see the world as they do. You will learn more about human nature this way.
“Synthesize all forms of knowledge.” Do the thing they talked about in the Renaissance. Become the Universal Man. Become the Universal Female Woman Person. The mind is designed to connect things. So get connecting.