Mini Book Review: The 48 Laws of Power

I’m proud to say I’ve been sticking with my little goal over the past few weeks and have managed to (finally) focus myself enough to finish a whole book! As a result I’ve spent much less of my life scrolling through Facebook and more of it just chilling out, taking the time to be present and to forget about the world around me for a wee while.

This week I finished reading The Concise 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. It consists of 48 chapters, each introducing and explaining a different ‘Law of Power’ or way to deceive, manipulate or eliminate people to get what you want. Here is a (very) tiny review of an extremely interesting and thought-provoking book which is both depressingly cynical and darkly funny…

In the preface, Greene explains that everyone needs to have (or at least feel like they have) a certain amount of power and control in their lives:

The feeling of having no power over people and events is generally unbearable to us – when we feel helpless we feel miserable (p.xi).

According to Greene, this extends to having a certain amount of control over the actions of other people. I completely agree with his thinking on this one after experiencing the frustration of feeling totally powerless in my own life. However, the entire message of Greene’s book seems to be that the people around us are nothing more than pawns to be used in our personal power games and, perhaps more interestingly, that we shouldn’t feel guilty about thinking this. For example, Law 7 shamelessly proclaims:

Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause. Not only will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, it will give you a god-like aura of efficiency and speed. In the end your helpers will be forgotten and you will be remembered. (p.25)

I wasn’t sure how to react to this so tried to picture a real-life scenario in which Greene’s advice could be used. All that came into my head was the idea of people plagiarising work (e.g. a poem, an essay, an idea etc.) and passing it off as their own. I couldn’t see how such a brazen act of dishonesty could ever come good for the person who dared to try it. Even if an individual did manage to make people believe a plagiarised piece was their own work (and miraculously avoided being confronted by the genuine author or artist), what would be the consequence for their sense of self-worth? Surely each time an individual resorts to wrongfully gaining credit for the work of another person they are simply reinforcing a belief that they are not talented or intelligent enough to produce their own work.

Law 11 states we must always keep people dependent on us “for their happiness or prosperity” or we “will be done away with at the first opportunity” (p.42), which I suppose makes sense in a business scenario but seems so pessimistic when applied to a friendship or relationship. It seems that, if you want to catapult yourself to power, you must forget about forming genuine, nurturing relationships with people and view them in a depressingly twisted way. I’d rather live with the belief that every relationship I form is based on wanting to know that other person for who they are and not for what they can do for me. I’d also rather not believe that every person I meet has the capacity to remorselessly toss me aside without delay. In the same vein are Law 2: “Never Put Too Much Trust In Friends, Learn How To Use Enemies”, Law 14: “Pose As A Friend, Work As A Spy” and Law 20: “Do Not Commit To Anyone”.

Similarly depressing is Law 12, which instructs us to “use selective honesty and generosity”:

Open-hearted gestures of honesty and generosity bring down the guard of even the most suspicious people. Once your selective honesty opens a hole in their armour, you can deceive and manipulate them at will (p.45).

Although I found it extremely cynical, I realise that instilling faith in the goodness of fellow humans probably wasn’t Greene’s aim with this book. However, there are many ‘Laws’ which I thought seemed liked great advice. For example, Law 4: “Always Say Less Than Necessary” makes perfect sense to me, particularly when Greene reminds us that “the more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish” (p.13). Another good one is Law 18: “Do Not Build Fortresses To Protect Yourself – Isolation Is Dangerous” and Law 19: “Know Who You’re Dealing With – Do Not Offend The Wrong Person”.

Most of these ‘Laws’, however, seem to come together to form one message: to gain power over other people we must detach ourselves from notions of fairness and decency, blunt our morals and subscribe to the depressing idea that many of the world’s most powerful individuals lack honesty and integrity. Considering the overwhelming dishonesty of many politicians and world leaders, I can only subscribe to it too.

 

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