Law 18: Do Not Build Fortresses To Protect Yourself Isolation Is Dangerous
48 Laws Of Power Summary Series
“The world is dangerous and enemies are everywhere — everyone has to protect themselves. A fortress seems the safest. But isolation exposes you to more dangers than it protects you from — it cuts you off from valuable information, it makes you conspicuous and an easy target. Better to circulate among people, find allies and mingle. You are shielded from your enemies by the crowd.”
This law especially pertains to those who enjoy being alone, such as myself. It applies to people who often find themselves slipping into bouts of solitude filled with the daily grind of life. In other words, this law is critical for those who have a tendency to be a recluse. Many artists and entertainers lean on this tendency in order to cultivate their creativity.
When you’re constantly building and refining projects it’s very easy to lose contact with the people close to you. By maintaining minimal contact for weeks and months on end you can fall into a very detached state from the surrounding culture and it’s people—AKA “the streets”. It’s clear there are many benefits to to having such tendencies, though the setbacks should be outlined.
Imagine one day popping your head out of the cave that you’ve created for yourself to find the people around you have dramatically changed. Imagine the feeling of missing countless opportunities because you were too busy in your tunnel. You may be one of the many that happily accept this fate in exchange for the peace and silence. Or you may not be comfortable with the feeling of missed opportunities and information. Whichever camp you lay within, it’s more often than not intelligent to poke your head out of the cave every now and again keeping your ear to the streets and remaining aware of your changing environment.
Observance Of The Law
In the 1660's Louis XIV had the palace of Versailles built for him and his court. He purposefully designed the palace so his nobility remained close to him. The king’s bedroom occupied the literal center of the palace as the focus of everyone’s attention.
Every single morning he would see individuals and groups of people in a precise order, first the king’s illegitimate sons and his grandchildren, then the princes and princesses of the blood, and then the physician and surgeon. There followed the grand officers, the king’s official reader, and so on and so forth from government officials to entertainers. This ritual was known as ‘the lever’. By the end of the ceremony the room would be packed with over a hundred people. The day was organized so that all the palace’s energy was directed at and passed through the king. Louis XIV kept a very close ear to his surroundings. It’s much more difficult to plot an assassination of such a king.
“There was no possibility of privacy in the palace, not even for the king — every room communicated with another. Everyone’s actions were interdependent, and nothing and no one passed unnoticed”
“Louis XIV very early grasped the truth that for a king to isolate himself is gravely dangerous. In his absence, conspiracies will spring up like mushrooms after rain, animosities will crystallize into factions, and a rebellion will break out before he has the time to react.”
Now this is all well and good, but you’re not a king, I’m not a king, I don’t imagine there are any actual kings reading this. Regardless, this message is relevant to anyone who has attained any respectful level of power and authority. Whether this be within an organisation, team, or social group, it can be dangerous to isolate yourself.
We’re not just talking about the physical isolation, but rather the mental and emotional isolation of not listening to those who surround you. You separate yourself and build distrust once you begin to disregard what even the lowest ranks of your group believe and think. If you are someone with significant power over others isolate yourself with tact, find ways to remain connected to ‘the streets’ in small ways reminding people you still care and appreciate them or risk being undermined and overthrown.
Keys To Power
“Machiavelli makes the argument that in a strictly military sense a fortress is invariably a mistake. It becomes a symbol of power’s isolation and is an easy target for enemies”
King’s and Queen’s are not the only one’s to have fortresses, we all do — our home is our fortress.
“Because humans are social creatures by nature, power depends on social interaction and circulation.”
A set of 3 brilliant quotes from Greene that need to be outlined:
“The danger for most people comes when they feel threatened. In such times they tend to retreat and close ranks, to find security in a kind of fortress. In doing so, however, they come to rely for information on a smaller and smaller circle, and lose perspective on events around them. They lose maneuverability and become easy targets and their isolation makes them paranoid. As in warfare and most games of strategy, isolation often proceeds defeat and death”
“In moments of uncertainty and danger, you need to fight this desire to turn inward. Instead, make yourself more accessible, seek out old allies and make new ones, force yourself into more and more different circles. This has been the trick of powerful people for centuries.”
“Never imagine yourself so elevated that you can afford to cut yourself off from even the lowest echelons. By retreating to a fortress, you make yourself an easy target for your plotting subjects, who view your isolation as an insult and a reason for rebellion.”
This reminds me of musicians who take long periods of time to separate themselves from society to work on their craft. By not remaining active on social media and steering clear of media are they not contradicting this law? Frank Ocean depicted earlier is a prime example of this.
In the lead up to the release of Ocean’s highly anticipated second studio album his only outlet to the world was his Tumblr blog, albeit which he rarely posted to. He had millions of fans impatiently waiting when his album ‘Blonde’ would release.
Donald Glover, a prolific artist and actor also shares Ocean’s tendency to disconnect. This time, Glover’s only outlet is Twitter, though you will almost always see all his Tweet’s deleted.
Both these individuals are extremely successful in their field — they are in the top 1% at what they do. Yet both use extreme isolation for the sake of peace, creativity and happiness. Seemingly, it’s worked pretty well for them. But at what cost? You wonder what potential impact they could be having by staying somewhat connected with their audience. What potential opportunities are they missing? A trade off I’m sure they have considered, but accept.
If connection, relationships and overall impact is a priority to you, not staying in contact with the lower echelons, the ‘die hard fans’ who trust and look up to you can easily grant more harm than good.
In the 1545 Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici decided that to ensure the immortality of his name he would commission frescoes for the main chapel of the church of San Lorenzo in Florence. He picked Jacopo da Pontormo. Pontormo wanted to make these frescoes his ‘chef d’oeuvre’ (masterpiece) and legacy. He had extreme expectations do outdo Michelangelo himself with this piece of work. Jacopo sealed off the chapel walls with partitions and blinds. He wanted no one to witness the creation of his masterpiece or steal his ideas.
Pontormo worked on the chapel for 11 years, rarely leaving it, since he had developed a phobia for human contact and was afraid his ideas would be stolen. Pontormo died before completing the frescoes. The great Renaissance writer Vasari, a friend of Pontormo’s who saw the frescoes shortly after the artists death left a description of what they looked like.
“There was a total lack of proportion. Scenes bumped against scenes, figures in one story being juxtaposed with those in another, in maddening numbers. Pontormo had become obsessed with detail but had lost any sense of overall composition. Instead of crowning Pontormo’s career, the work become his undoing.”
“These frescoes were visual equivalents of the effects of isolation on the human mind: a loss of proportion, an obsession with detail combined with an inability to see the larger picture, a kind of extravagant ugliness that no longer communicates. Clearly, isolation is as deadly for the creative arts as for the social arts”.
“Artists who hole themselves up in their fortress lose a sense of proportion, their work communicating only to their small circle. Such art remains cornered and powerless.”
Continuing with the music anecdotes, this lesson can be expressed through Kid Cudi’s latest album ‘Speeding Bullet To Heaven’ (SBTH).
SBTH is almost nothing like Cudi’s previous work. He’s taken a very different turn to what people are accustomed to hearing from him. As a result, the reception from the public was resounding dissatisfaction and hate. By the sound and direction of this body of work it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume Cudi solely relied on information from his inner circle as he lost perspective on the overall composition of his album. Cudi is known for blocking people on social media for expressing negative opinions on his work. The frequency at which he has done this suggests that he is pushing out all opinions that aren’t towards his contention, even if it’s constructive. This is a prime example where isolating yourself can become dangerous. You end up with tunnel vision as you create a body of work that few value.
“Machiavelli could write The Prince only once he found himself in exile and isolated on a farm far from the political intrigues of Florence.”
Previous examples of Frank Ocean and Donald Glover are testaments to this. They use temporary isolation to provide them perspective and creativity.
Temporarily isolation can be amazing for growth. Kanye West’s critically acclaimed magnum opus ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ was created through months of isolation in Hawaii as he and his team exiled themselves from everything. The reality is this world is very noisy. It holds a lot of chaos that can be very overwhelming at times. Isolation has it’s place to keep one’s sanity and peace.