Welcome to PS&W: The Introduction to My Blog

When I was fresh out of college and starting my writing career at a magazine in New York, I will never forget a particularly lovely spring afternoon in which the editor of the magazine invited me for lunch to discuss my latest article. I thought it was a good piece I had written and was expecting some praise. Instead, he proceeded to dissect the article, explain why it was so bad, why I would never be a writer, and what other careers I should think about.

This of course shocked me. But instead of thinking of myself, I couldn’t help study the man who was saying this. He was downing one gin and tonic after another, in the middle of the afternoon. The following image came to me, one I remember to this day as vividly as ever: this man was like a house that looked okay from the outside, but on the inside, all of the beams and supports were rotting and termite infested…from alcohol, from his own sad life. I also had the feeling that maybe some twenty years earlier another editor had given him the same ugly talk, and it worked, and so instead of being a writer, he turned into a dried-up editor, full of regrets. His way was not to help others avoid the same mistake, but to do the opposite.


I went home and thought about this, a lot. Yes, my writing could sometimes be a little chaotic and all over the place, but I was young, finding my voice. Deep down inside of myself I had faith. I was different and weird, and I would express it in words or go down in flames. But why was this man deliberately trying to sabotage me? Why not be constructive and helpful? It soon dawned on me that this was not an objective opinion on his part, but some twisted need to put down other young writers. Working with mediocre writers made him feel better about himself. With such writers, he could do a lot of editing, which was obviously his big joy in life. Analyzing it in this way, I felt I had absorbed my first body blow in the work world and had survived.

Over the years, I collected many more body blows from idiotic editors, manipulative bosses who took credit for my work, sadistic managers who wanted to show their power, saboteurs of all kinds (what can I say, I worked in Hollywood for several years.) But for some reason this first one has always stood out, because it taught me something I will never forget: there are ugly people in the world.

They manipulate, play political games, etc. Their first concern is not doing a good job but protecting their egos, assuaging their insecurities. It is not my role in life to figure out what their problem is, or what made them this way, or how I can help them. I am not a social worker. I will not get sucked into their dynamic, or allow my emotions to be entangled in their games. It is nothing personal. Their problems go way back, to mommy and daddy, no doubt. I will get out of their way, or I will find ways to protect myself, or even return their blows if necessary. It can be rough out there, and I am not going to whine about it or complain, I am going to succeed and have the last laugh in this life.

I can honestly say that this turned into my creed, my motto over the years. And out of this eventually emerged The 48 Laws of Power, and The Art of Seduction, and The 33 Strategies War, and the others that will follow. I may write about the Borgias and Ivan the Terribles, but I am always thinking of these real-life characters, that first editor and so on, who 500 years ago would be putting people to death who crossed their path, instead of putting them down.

The reason I write this here, on my first real blog entry, is that I want this to be a place where all of you can come to share your own similar stories of games that have been played on you, intrigues, weirdnesses of all kinds. This can concern office and work issues, all of the political crap that gets in the way of doing a good job. The more personal the better. But it can also be about things in the news–I plan on using this forum to expose and dissect the various maneuvers of public figures who outwardly seem pleasant enough, but who behind the scenes are doing things right out of the Sopranos. (Karl Rove will be a major figure here.)

I want this to be the ultimate forum for revealing and discussing in depth the dark side of our culture and our relationships, but not to revel in it, but to help all of us deal with the inevitable power games we encounter. We don’t talk about vengeance or violence here, but strategy, because defeating our opponents with intelligence is the ultimate victory in life. Our guiding spirit is Sun-tzu, not Attila the Hun. However, softies and moralizers are not really welcome unless you are masochists.

So it is up to you, really. This blog will be a forum for my thoughts, but much of what I write will be answers to questions or situations that my readers pose. Please help me in this by supplying your own stories, honesty, hard knocks, and I will do my part to return the favor. This is warrior training and, to quote a friend, what does not kill us makes us stronger. Nitor in adversum.

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29 Comments

  1. Mark C

    Although not a personal story, what do you think about the way Neal Cassady inadvertently became an “ideal lover” for Jack Kerouac and came to shape the ideals of a whole generation? In fact, the particular lifestyle Cassady embodied is still pined after by many to this day, and in many ways he is the perfect example of an individual who seamed to manipulate all of those around him for his own happiness.

  2. niobe10

    Dear Robert,

    I am seeking a stategy to help me get rid of a woman that is trying to interfear in my marriage.

    She attends our church under the guise of being religious and flirts with my husband. i have knowledge that she thinks my marriage is “fake” and that she doesn’t believe in marriage (or have any respect for it). she calls him and invites him to functions ( he swears she invites us both but i’m not buying it)

    I’ve tried to become her friend to deter her from whatever she is plotting but she’s the type of woman who has no female friends.

    she thinks she “gets” men. how can i get rid of her and still save face? Sincerely, Candice

  3. Brett Pierson

    I eagerly await the discussions that will take place on this blog. I am desperately trying to gain your works and do hope to find them as intriguing as I have found you. I will also say that I will be sincerly dissappointed if you do not live up to your promise to look deep into the dark side of human nature for that is, at the very least, half of our humanity.

  4. Dan K

    In your interview published here, you talked about asking yourself what the “essence” of Napoleon’s strategy was before writing 33 Strategies.

    In so many fields, I think that there are entire systems that can be derived as “ways” to achieve success, but usually these systems are built on fundamentals: like, for example, magicians always rely on showmanship and misdirection as their primary skills.

    If you could identify one “fundamental” skill that brilliant players and power have, what would it be? No one better to ask.

  5. Great anecdote. I believe the overarching morality that is present in those who are not cursed with an overabundance of self-awareness or direction is basic egoism. If something serves their self-interests, then they do it. Unfortunately, many realize too late, normally when they’re watching a chick-flick on TV, or are at church, that all they’ve done is live an empty life designed to screw anybody who gets in the way. There are genuinely evil nihilist bastards who plow over us all with no thought whatsoever, but they are the general exception. It has been my experience, after two tours in Iraq, that the vast majority of evil in the world is incidental. Lemme ‘splain:

    Most people generally are not calling their shots from two months out to achieve success or anything else. It’s true, few people can see that far, and almost no one can manipulate people well enough to achieve their dubious designs in a non-linear, complex system of emotions and individual aims. So what comes about is that most make convenient decisions that meet two overarching qualifications: 1) It serves their self-interests; and 2) The decision will result in little or no confrontation. Weakness of character has borne more evil than pure malignance by a factor of ten…trust me.

    What it comes down to is something that Hobbes talked about four-hundred years ago: we live in a world of intersecting interests, wills, purposes, and desires in which few can survive unscathed without adopting alliances with like minded, competent individuals. So what you end up with is chaos…in your daily life. The traffic, the job, the fam, it matters not. You have so many things moving at cross-purposes each day that you tread the planet that only a MENSA candidate can predict any outcome.

    But Hobbes (and Nozick) hit the solution on the head. You have to find alliances…build teams…unite purposes. Achieve buy-in from the people around you. You had it right in your blog entry, it ain’t about Attila, it’s about sending the water down the path of least resistance. That path exists by convincing each person who you are responsible for, or who can help you achieve your mutual aims, to believe that their success is possible on terms as you see it. Without being overbearing, but rather with the aid of logic and reason.

    I see the basic flaw in mankind, but I have experienced the joy of being able to achieve cohesion in such a way as to subordinate the will of individuals to the success of the group. That is a beautiful thing. It is one of the things that I am most proud of.

    As the leader of that group, my loyalty to those individuals was nothing short of fierce, as it must be…the individuals comprising the group must know that and absolutely trust it. That is the good side that balances the disloyalty that you described above. I hope that you can experience something as satisfying as what I have described.

    Mahalo,

    Unclean

  6. backwards7

    Hello Robert,

    I had a similar experience to the one that you describe, although the context is slightly different.

    In the early part of 2000, I was studying towards an NVQ in Journalism. For three and a half months, my life revolved entirely around work – from the moment that I got out of bed in the morning, to the moment, 18 hours later, when I would collapse, often fully-clothed, onto the mattress in my squalid rented room, in South London. I wasn’t unique in this respect. Everyone on the course was in exactly the same situation.

    A large part of our training involved researching and then writing news stories, against very tight deadlines. This was followed-up by weekly peer-on-peer criticism sessions, in which we would pick apart one another’s work and make suggestions as to how it could be improved.

    One afternoon myself and five others gathered for one of these sessions. None of us wanted to be there, since we all had plenty of work to do and the whole exercise was felt to be superfluous.

    Early on in the session a couple of people told me what I already knew, making comments to the effect that the news story I had submitted wasn’t great. I accepted their criticism, perhaps a little too meekly, without making any effort to defend myself. Then something very strange happened. Without warning, what had begun as a discussion of a 200 word news story, which I had written in very dry, objective prose, gradually transformed into a deeply personal attack on me, in which everyone took part and which went on for a good quarter of an hour.

    I was neither expecting this, nor had anything quite like it happened to me before. As a result I was rendered utterly speechless and couldn’t quite accept what was happening – That these people, who I had worked side-by-side with, under extraordinary pressure, had viciously rounded on me and almost seemed to be taking pleasure in putting the boot in.

    I was so taken aback by the experience that I didn’t come in to work the next day. By then, it wasn’t so much out of hurt pride, as it was confusion. Everything that I thought I knew had been turned upside-down. In replaying the scene over and over again in my head, I think I was addressing a need to make sense of what happened so that I knew where I stood, before I went back.

    What eventually dawned on me was that, for almost two months we had been living on top of each other. Because the training was so consuming, no one had an outlet for their stress. It had to come out at work.

    I was also reminded of something that I had learned while studying the psychology and dynamics of social hierarchies. Within a social group, someone is often singled-out as the whipping boy – the person who is on the receiving end of the belittling comments and who soaks up some of the ambient frustration felt by the other individuals. It’s helpful for the group as, by focusing on one relatively weak person, they are able to preserve their integrity and stop what might be more damaging rifts from developing between other more senior members.

    Maybe if I had been less vague and had taken more of the initiative during the early stages of that criticism session, I would have been able to control the situation. For instance, if I had started out by saying what troubled me about the story and then asked what could have been done to make it better, I could have kept everybody focused on that. Instead I let my guard down and allowed everyone to take their best shot at me.

    Generally we all got on well; I like to think what happened was a result of everyone feeling tired, stressed and pissed off. Of course there is alternative explanation – that I was an unbearable arsehole and my co-workers finally lost their patience.

  7. Deco

    You’re probably going to need a message board to properly do what you’re planning on doing, Mr. Greene. You should probably take the matter up with Tucker. Get a provisionary thread up for yourself and eventually get yourself your own separate message board. Getting people to put their problems in your comments section can take you only so far.

  8. Jane Anon

    Dear Mr. Greene,

    First of all, I just want to tell you that I am a huge fan. Your work has helped my life greatly. I first read Seduction about six months ago and have since read it about 3 more times. As an attractive, smart, funny, outgoing, and successful 23 year old I have realized that in order to truly seduce a man, the above attributes are not enough. Seduction has helped me greatly in my life but I still find that I fall short. Since I am new to this process, on a few occasions I have acted very anti-seductive; and by that I mean that I have been insecure and defensive to the object of my desire. I realize that I never should have behaved that way in the first place (I am still learning how to make Seduction my own), but I was wondering how to repair the damage. In the most recent case, a guy that I have been seeing for about a month recently put some distance between us for a few days. I was confused since he had been after me with constant phone calls, emails, and dates. I became insecure and defensive and haven’t really heard from him in two days. Is there a way to repair this damage, or should I simply give up?

    Thank you in advance for your time.

  9. Desimo

    I finished the article expecting to find a slew of “I’ve been there” and “that happened to me” comments. There were far less than I expected, so I will proceed with the small flag-waving excerise of telling you my own. I was in private college, I loved to write, and did so with no small amount of success. My grammar is ridiculous but science follows art, not the other way around. My tenured profession of advanced writing didn’t find my manner of expressing myself agreeable. As what appeared to be an ex-alcoholic he would lay into us and demoralize with grim efficiency. I love to write, I loved to write, but he effectively destroyed me. Reading your article I’m forced to silently murmur expletives because I realize what I let him do. My only consolation is that I’m still fairly young and my ability to write is still present. I could look behind me and wish I managed what you had but in reality I was in my early 20’s and very unsure of my ability. I want to thank you for nothing more than showing me there was a different way to suffer that attack. I will keep reading, and I plan on rebuilding.

    Thank you.

    -D-

  10. Desimo

    ^professor, not profession. So much for my proofreading skills . . .

  11. GOLDENCHIMP71

    I’m looking forward to reading this blog. It always suprised how people’s own failures to understand themselves leads to behavior that is disappointing and manipulative. It’s nice to recongnize their “game” in real time. Fascinating.

  12. sh0ter

    Karl ROve is the antichrist…

    I look forward to reading your site. Best of luck.

  13. Your words changed the way I live my life. Thank You for allowing me to find my voice by inviting yours into my mind… Please visit my site and give me your honest opinion of what I need to work on and even if you dont read a thing let me know you at least read this comment.

  14. “When I was fresh out of college and starting my writing career at a magazine in New York,”

    Yes, I too got a job at a magazine in NYC right out of school, and yes it was a cutthroat world.

    I’ve read all your books and I am looking forward to keeping track of your blog. I hope you get a feed soon (I didn’t see one in the link you provided).

  15. Joe

    Hmmm…if this is going to be the ultimate forum for discussing the dark side of relationships and culture you may want to add a message board. While this comment feature is OK it may be difficult to discuss points. So maybe get your own message board like Tucker or have him put a PS&W section on his message board. Just a thought…

  16. After reading your material, there’s something I wished to ask you.

    You stated that your role model (or something similar to it) was Napoleon, for his ability to defeat massive opponents.

    Napoleon may have been a great tactician, but he allowed himself to be set upon by united enemies, with far stronger manpower, and the ability to outlast him. The only thing needed to bring his downfall was a small mistake in his part, a misjudgement in battle, and he would be gone. My point is, Napoleon was a great military tactician, but as a master of strategy, his skill was not overly impressive. Someone like Bismark could easily be considered far superior in strategy.

    So my question is this. Why and how do you consider Napoleon a great strategist?

    On a side note, regarding your editor and the posts of “been there”, how do you know that it wasn’t simply his way of motivating you to improve? I used to have a violin teacher that told me I was a complete idiot every class, yet he taught me how to play great music.

    To Desimo, I just wanted to say that I think you misinterpreted things. Your tenured professor had to be good at his job to get a tenure position, and he most likely knew his stuff. He wasn’t trying to assauge his own ego, though that may be part of it, but he was also trying to help you become a better writer by showing you how much you lack.

    What I dislike about these books on strategy inn life etc is that often times people misjudge situations. Using Greene’s use of psychology, it’s due to the reflexive action of people to make themselves victims in order to comfort themselves.

  17. Genesis

    Three wise men still sit by my side. Thank you for writing them and for everything else.

    x

  18. McCready

    As a young business profesional who works for & with some of the most corrupt, twisted, egotistical pricks I have ever met I look forward to the learning about how to become my own “rock”.

  19. asdf

    Awesome. I have nothing but high expectations – and no complaints – so far.

  20. Dear Robert,

    I’m not sure how you knew all the backstory, but you have managed to write about my life and my editor when writing about your own. This is a great consolation to me right now. Thank you.

  21. Annon

    Your books are gospel. I can’t wait to see what you unleash on us in this site. I am eagerly anticipating your next release. Keep up the good work.

  22. David

    In some ways, your basic philosophy makes me deeply sad. I always liked the quote by Ghandi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I want to live in a world filled with peace and love where people are honest with one another and work together. So, that is the life I lead. Or to quote Jesus “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    If you live a life filled with lies and deceit where you are always trying to screw the other guy over, you help create a world and a culture where these actions are valued (and more importantly, increases the amount of this kind of behavior.) Your whole philosophy, IMHO, is morally vacant, and can only increase the misery in the world.

    If someone tries to hurt you, don’t try to crush them (you may say you aren’t like Attila, but your philosophy espouses the “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, etc.” creedo, which he certainly would have agreed with).

    Look at Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. We can be strong and bring about great changes through love and tolerance. Manipulation and trying to create a cult of personality around yourself are, quite frankly, evil acts.

    I know you’re excited about what you’re doing, but I think you are doing a great wrong, and I feel sorry for you, and those following in your footsteps.

  23. C. T. Barbarian

    It took you 48 Laws to sum up this as the ultimate in power?

    “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women!”

    Just another bunch of Rand-ian wankery.

  24. Mike

    I am in the middle of dealing with a power game you might find interesting. I am a student studying abroad in Japan. Every so often we have to deal with the international office, and this has become a problem, as the center wants all business, and conversation conducted in Japanese. For several of us, the current level of language ability is great for asking about music, or finding out what someone is doing Saturday night, but is ill suited to asking about insurance forms, or dorm bills. There is a woman in the office who spent three years working in The US, and speaks native leval English. Unfortunately, she also went to a much better school then any of her superiors, and thus they feel the need to make their superiority known, and the only way to do this is to forbid any of us to speak in English, even if it`s mearly light conversation, which happens quite often, as she is a wonderful person. Like I said, this poses an interesting problem, as there is no way I can get anything done with my current language ability, and this is the kind of skill that takes a bit of time to develop. Any thoughts?

  25. WERNER

    Interesting is the thought, and the madness surrounded by the small Hitlers, the damaged egos, and the bruised shells of men that see it as their only possible manner of ‘changing’ others that are stronger… to bring them down below their own level.

    First, they try to mentally compete. They fail. Next, they try to verbally assault their enemy. That usually fails. Last, on the list is the tell tale of any true loser. The act of war, or physical assault. We see it everyday. The weaker the ego and mind, the quicker this list gets pushed through! Afterall, don’t most losers out there love to see the GIANT stumble? EVEN IF THEY KNOW NOTHING ABOUT HIM, HIS ACCOMPLISHMENTS, HIS CHARITABLE NATURE, HIS EMPATHY FOR OTHERS LESS FORTUNATE? To the losers in life, it doesn’t matter.

    I believe you are very correct in your opinions of man and their inherent and SOMETIMES negative push to become ‘better’ than others. Often times it is blatantly obvious, for instance, when someone gets frustrated on the sports field and resorts to fighting.

    While these actions are a ‘black eye’ to humanity, they are true and they are human nature. We will never change. So, your books of learning others’ behaviors, schemes, and ways to defend and ultimately defeat those out there that are competing with us are a must read.

    Lastly, I feel, these books are not for the weak minded that are attempting to besmirch and tear down the stronger. They are for us that are protecting ourselves, our families’ reputations,our pride, and our goals against the entropy that is seemingly always out there!

    I appreciate your hard work.

    Jon Werner

    Cedar Rapids, IA

  26. It seems that most of the analyses of power and its purpose by commenters are incomplete.

    On the one hand are the amoral power seekers who feel that life is a game of crushing your opponents, but viewing the world like this seperates your soul from compassion and those without compassion will never achieve true power because they will be broken down by a resentful world and the echoing resentment of the souls of those they have trampled will course through their minds to bring them into final annihilation.

    On the other hand are the moralists who see the world as a place of love but see power as an anti-thesis to compassion, but they will never have the power to help those they care about. Their love and compassion will be broken down by the amoral ones who will trample them and destroy their hearts and turn them to bitterness and hatred.

    In the final analysis however, power and compassion are not divorced and one finds ultimate power out of ultimate compassion and ultimate compassion through ultimate power.

    Power becomes morality and morality leads to power.

    When one finds one has ultimate power one’s anger dissipates and love and compassion will fill your soul for it is impossible to remain wrathful to those who have no power over you.

    All conclusions are the same in the final analysis. All opposing viewpoints merge into one.

    The one exception in the 48 Laws of Power is a mistake of incompleteness, the one in law 27:

    “In the absence of organized religion and grand causes, your new belief system will bring you untold power.”

    Grand causes and religious quests are the ultimate power. There is no real power in the absence of religion.

    Have you ever done any work on the essence of religious creation?

  27. LKLIII

    Robert,

    Thanks for adding the blog. I was referred here by Tucker Max.

    Your personal experience & thoughts have already had a great impact on me. I’ve already ordered your books via Amazon.

    I have two personal stories. One general, and one specific.

    The first general story is this: self-confidence is KEY. I won’t go into the mommy/daddy issues. But I’ve learned over 31 years that it’s better to respectfully disagree with parents & to follow your own passion than it is to submit to their imagined, “path,” for you. In short: Don’t be afraid to piss off your parents, (or anybody else, for that matter), in the short-term to ensure your own happiness in the long-term.

    I grew up a people-pleaser. I think it was born out of lower self-confidence. Don’t get me wrong–I knew I was smart, talented, personable, and could basically do whatever I wanted. But somehow I just wanted to avoid conflict & please the people around me—essentially supplicating my own happiness for the sake of being, “liked,” by others. I thrived on validation.

    But over the years, I have learned at least one lesson: trading social status for social validation DOES NOT WORK. Being overly nice to people without expecting anything in exchange might be an OK strategy in the short term–you can then call in the favor. But if you do it repeatedly over the intermediate or long term, you gain NOTHING.

    My belief is that we all subconsciously TRAIN other people how to treat us. If we constantly knuckle-under and kiss up to them, they will learn to EXPECT that behavior. So, after a long period of time, instead of calling in a favor from that person, and that person thinking, “Wow, XYZ person has hooked me up so much, so many times, I’m OBLIGATED to return the favor,” instead, the thinking is, “What? XYZ person has stopped supplicating themselves to me? What is this new attitude problem they have?”

    ****

    A more personal story:

    I’m a young attorney. I share a secretary with another senior attorey. This is the fist time I’ve ever had a secretary under my supervision. At first, my strategy was this: I’ll be a cool guy. I’ll be as self-sufficient & non-demanding as possible. I’ll basically treat this secreatary w/ kid gloves and almost NEVER give her work. That way, when I DO need to give her work & make her stay late, she’ll know that I’m serious. Bascially, it’s the opposite strategy of, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” So I go on for maybe 2-4 months giving her nothing to do. I let her go early. I sympathize w/ her stories, etc.

    Then, one night, I need her to stay late. It’s an emergency. I need to her to stay till 8, maybe 10pm. Do I get compliance? Do I get, “Hey, no problem…I know you’ve let me off light all those other weeks. It’s my turn for payback…”?

    No.

    Instead, it’s indignation. Shock. Defiance.

    I was late turning in my project. I got chewed out by the partners, but kept my job.

    A few weeks later, I had the firm let her go. But that was one of the first lessons I’ve learned about confidence & interpersonal relationships: manage expectations. Be firm, but fair. You can be friendly, but not friends. From day ONE of a relationship (whether it’s professional, neighboorly, romantic, friendly, etc.), people are sizing you up. Do not back down. Set boundaries. Be willing to either punish or walk away from a relationsihp if it is unbalanced and unfavorable.

    That’s all for now.

    LKLII

  28. LKLIII

    Dan K

    “That path exists by convincing each person who you are responsible for, or who can help you achieve your mutual aims, to believe that their success is possible on terms as you see it. Without being overbearing, but rather with the aid of logic and reason. ”

    ****

    Dan, excellent comment. I think that highlights the importance of rhetoric when dealing with people….a willingness to achieve the ends regardless of the means. One might argue a point that he personally disagrees with. But if it convinces a potential ally to join the ultimate end, then it’s a path he should take.

    PS: Will there be an RG or Power,Seduction,War discussion board anytime soon? I think it’d be a better forum to discuss this.

  29. Andrew

    Hi Robert

    I would like to know more about your past and your history and what are the events that shape who you are today.

    I have read your first 3 books and I have always been intrigued by your acute sense of observation with regards to human psychology and your impeccable ability in describing them in words.

    Where did you get your source of knowledge from? What got you started in thinking about such fundamental issues about human beings?

    Would you mind sharing?

    Andrew

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