Power, Seduction & War: The Blog of Robert Greene

The Power Breviary

Keep things simple and direct: One of my greatest pet peeves is airy abstractions and unnecessary complications; I like to keep things brutally simple. Here’s how I see it: People want power in their lives. They hate the feeling of not having control. They do whatever they can to get power–consciously or not. Some of this involves manipulations. These manipulations can be analyzed and charted; they are not limitless in number. We are creatures that are often motivated by ego, insecurity, vanity. Mistakes in the power game come from not taking these elemental truths into consideration. In writing the books, I wanted to constantly bring the analysis to something more and more real–and so I would relate anecdotes, stories from history, etc., that would give you concrete examples, removing the above mentioned ideas as much as possible from pure speculation.

Why am I reminding you of this? Because in some of the threads I am noticing my pet peeves rearing their ugly heads in the form of airy abstractions about culture, gender, social factors, on and on. I not only find this confusing and irritating, it is also a kind of power move in and of itself. It is easy to constantly remain on that abstract level, where any idea can have a semblance of truth to it. It is a disguise for the inability to bring ideas to the concrete, to provide examples. Providing examples for arguments is a kind of politeness to the reader, because not everyone shares your experience, and knows automatically what you mean. Telling us stories or anecdotes does not limit your argument, but strengthens it and allows us all to absorb and respond.

The inability to do that to me signals the inability to think things through; and to disguise this with all kinds of interesting language that says nothing. You have a problem with the Seduction book, or you are troubled by how people are using it? Well, share with us some real life examples and we will know what you mean. Put some flesh to the bones. You want advice on a power or seduction problem? Give us the specifics. Keep things concrete, simple, direct. Be as brutally honest as these books have tried to be.

Judge people by the results of their actions and maneuvers, not their words. Machiavelli calls this “the effective truth,” and it is his most brilliant concept, in my opinion. It works like this: people will say almost anything to justify their actions, to give them a moral or sanctimonious veneer. The only thing that is clear, the only way we can judge people and cut away all of this crap is by looking at their actions, the results of their actions. That is their effective truth. Take the Pope, for instance. He will sermonize forever about the poor, about morality, about peace, but in the meantime he presides over the most powerful organization in the world (in Machiavelli’s time). And his actions are basically concerned with increasing this power. The effective truth is that the Pope is a political animal, and that his decisions inevitably involve maintaining the Catholic Church’s preeminent place in the world. The religious verbiage is simply a part of his political gamesmanhip, serving as a distracting device.

When I was working in Hollywood not so long ago, I would notice the following phenomenon: some higher up in the company, a director or producer or whomever, would espouse all of the right liberal ideas, attend the right fundraisers, make films that were very p.c., talk a lot about art and film. But these same people would be incredible assholes when it came to dealing with the people who worked for them, or their spouses. And behind the scenes, they were doing all kinds of masterful, manipulative maneuvers to get ahead. Their effective truth was their obsession with power, and how to get more of it in the Hollywood system. I learned to ignore their words, their framed photos with Sting and Bono, and look squarely at their actions and the effects of their actions.

The idea was crystallized in The 48 Laws of Power in the following way: life is like a game, a constant game of power. The people around you are your fellow players. When you are playing any kind of game, you do not worry about people’s intentions, or what they say about themselves, or how nice they are to you. You look at their moves and from their moves you judge their true intentions, their real character, how nice or not nice they are to you. You keep your eyes focused on the “effective truth.” And this truth shall liberate you.

Most people have a terrible problem disassociating their emotions from the work world or the realm of power. They take everything personally. They are constantly deceived by what people say. They feel hurt and disappointed. What happens when you react this way is that you only hurt yourself, and make it harder to respond in a way that is strategic and smart. Judging people by their actions and not taking them personally will free you up, help you keep your emotional balance.

What I would like to see in these forums is a discussion of the effective truth–readers sharing stories of things people have done, manipulations and what not, and peeling away all of the distracting stuff to arrive at what is really going on, the power game behind the explanations.

Strategy above all else: On the radio today, I heard Senator Harry Reid of Nevada enumerate the Democrat’s strategy for taking back Congress in 2006. It included the usual Democratic laundry list of health care, education, minimum wage, the environment, on and on. This is not strategy, but the usual slicing of the salami, the usual tactics disguised as strategy. It has been a monumental failure for the Democrats for god knows how many years.

If it were not for the personal charisma of Clinton, this would be more obvious than it is. Have they learned from its ineffectiveness? No. Strategy on this level would mean an all encompassing vision for America, one in which the various Democratic causes would find a nice home. A way to relate this all to the voters in the Red states. A philosophy that makes it clear to one and all, yes, this is what the Democrats stand for, and I can choose sides. A strategy for broadening their appeal. Something similar to what Kennedy did in 1960 in which he excited and unified Americans around certain themes. Being strategic will win you elections.

Some people have written about the current crisis in the Middle East and have questioned the Israeli strategy in their heavy bombardment of Lebanon. I am not doubting that this is a legitimate question, but one must first understand the Israeli strategy and why they are doing this. If they do not weaken Hezbollah in any noticeable way, there is no room for negotiation and everything returns to status quo ante. But to really damage a powerful group like Hezbollah, you have to isolate them, cut off their supply routes, hit their command centers, inflict some real pain. Hezbollah has cleverly hidden itself among the civilian population, making it inevitable that the Israeli strategy would involve civilian casualties.

Now, one can argue that this strategy is flawed, that in the end it may very well strengthen Hezbollah’s hand, and not advance Israel at all in this war. But then, what is the correct strategic response? Endless negotiations have gotten nowhere. Pulling out of Lebanon has made the Hezbollah stronger. Let us keep the argument on the level of strategy and not get caught up in the daily news and the back-and-forth tactics that are so distracting. I love to talk about strategy with a capital S. I hope you do too.

I leave you with a quote from Marcus Aurelius: In the ring, our opponents can gouge us with their nails or butt us with their heads and leave a bruise, but we don’t denounce them for it or get upset with them or regard them from then on as violent types. We just keep an eye on them after that. Not out of hatred or suspicion. Just keeping a friendly distance. We need to do that in other areas. We need to excuse what our sparring partners do, and just keep our distance–without suspicion or hatred.

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