By Ox Drover
Many times on Lovefraud, bloggers have joked with me that a particular phrase or behavior “came out of the ‘Psychopath’s play book,’“ the kind of book in which a football team would write all their usual plays.
I recently bought a book entitled, The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene, because it sounded like an interesting book. But the more I got into it, I realized that the heretofore-thought-mythical “Psychopathic Play book” does exist, and this is it!
Robert Greene, by the way, also wrote The Art of Seduction.
Here’s what the jacket blurb on the back of The 48 Laws of Power says about its content:
The best-selling book for those who want POWER, watch POWER, or want to arm themselves against POWER. Amoral, cunning, ruthless and instructive, this piercing work distills three thousand years of the history of power into forty-eight well explicated laws. As attention-grabbing in its design as in its content, this bold volume outlines the laws of power in their unvarnished essence, synthesizing the philosophies of Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, Carol Von Clausewitz and other great thinkers. Some laws require prudence, some stealth, some total absence of mercy, but like it or not, all have applications in real-life situations. Illustrated through the tactics of Queen Elizabeth I, Henry Kissinger, P. T. Barnum, and other famous figures who have wielded, or been victimized by power, these laws will fascinate any reader interested in gaining, observing, or defending against ultimate control.
The 48 laws are listed in the contents
Law 1: Never outshine the master
Law 2: Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies
Law 3: Conceal your intentions
Law 4: Always say less than necessary
Law 5: So much depends on reputation—guard it with your life
Law 6: Court attention at all cost
Law 7: Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit
Law 8: Make other people come to you—use bait if necessary
Law 9: Win through your actions, never through argument
Law 10: Infection: avoid the unhappy and unlucky
Law 11: Learn to keep people dependent on you
Law 12: Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim
Law 13: When asking for help, appeal to people’s self-interest, never to their mercy or gratitude
Law 14: Pose as a friend, work as a spy
Law 15: Crush your enemy totally
Law 16: Use absence to increase respect and honor
Law 17: Cultivate an air of unpredictability
Law 18: Do not built fortresses to protect yourself, isolation is dangerous
Law 19: Know who you’re dealing with—do not offend the wrong person
Law 20: Do not commit to anyone
Law 21: Play a sucker to catch a sucker—seem dumber than your mark
Law 22: Use the surrender tactic: Transform weakness into power
Law 23: Concentrate your forces
Law 24: Play the perfect courtier
Law 25: Re-create yourself
Law 26: Keep your hands clean
Law 27: Play on people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following
Law 28: Enter action with boldness
Law 29: Play all the way to the end
Law 30: Make your accomplishments seem effortless
Law 31: Control the options: Get others to play with the cards you deal
Law 32: Play to people’s fantasies
Law 33: Discover each man’s thumb screw
Law 34:Be royal in your own fashion: Act like a king to be treated like a king
Law 35: Master the art of timing
Law 36: Disdain things you cannot have: Ignoring them is the best revenge
Law 37: Create compelling spectacles
Law 38: Think as you like but behave like others
Law 39: Stir up waters to catch fish
Law 40: Despise the free lunch
Law 41: Avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes
Law 42 Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter
Law 43: Work on the hearts and minds of others
Law 44: Disarm and infuriate with the mirror effect
Law 45: Preach the need for change, but never reform too much at once
Law 46: Never appear too perfect
Law 47: Do not go past the mark you aimed for; in victory, learn when to stop
Law 48: Assume formlessness
Perfect advice for psychopaths
The preface of the book gets right down to business:
No one wants less power, everyone wants more … in the world today, however, it is dangerous to seem too power hungry, to be overt with your power moves. We have to seem fair and decent. So we need to be subtle—congenial yet cunning, democratic, yet devious.
This game of constant duplicity most resembles the power dynamic that existed in the scheming world of the old aristocratic court(s).
The author, Greene, then goes on to perfectly describe the psychopath’s ways, without naming him such “…those who make a show or display of innocence are the least innocent of all.” What else but a psychopath could “recognize…by the way they flaunt their moral qualities, their piety, their exquisite sense of justice … but (they) are merely throwing dust in our eyes distracting us from their power plays with their air of moral superiority….you will see they are often the ones most skillful at indirect manipulation, …and they greatly resent any publicizing of the tactics they use.”
In directing his readers how to master the most important skills in acquiring power, Greene tells them that the most important foundation is to “master your emotions.” He states that an emotional response is the single greatest barrier to gaining power. In this particular thing, I totally agree with him, because if we are emotional about a situation, we lose sight of the ultimate goal, and as he says, “cannot prepare for and respond to it with any degree of control.”
Greene goes on to say that anger is the most destructive of emotional responses, and “clouds your vision the most.” Again, I totally agree with Greene in this statement, but then he goes on to add what I would think is directed more toward the vengeful psychopath than to less pathological people, “If you are trying to destroy an enemy who has hurt you, far better to keep him off-guard by feigning friendliness than showing your anger.”
Psychopaths have been described by many writers as “wearing a mask” or even “the mask of sanity.” Greene seems to be very aware of this “masking” when he advises his readers that, “You cannot succeed at deception unless you take a somewhat distanced approach to yourself—unless you can be many different people, wearing the mask that the day and moment require.”
Psychopaths tend to project blame for their behavior on to other people, to refuse to assume responsibility for any of the things they have done. They lie “when the truth would fit better.” Greene says, “Power requires the ability to play with appearances. To this end you must learn to wear many masks and keep a bag full of deceptive tricks.” He goes on to say, “Playing with appearances and mastering arts of deception are among the aesthetic pleasures of life. They are also the key components in the acquisition of power.”
Green does not seem to view deception or the acquisition of power as anything immoral, and he actually says, “Power is essentially amoral…power is a game…and in games you do not judge your opponents by their intentions but by the effect of their actions.” He goes on to advise the reader to not be caught by assuming that someone has good intentions, or that their good intentions matter. Greene advises his readers that some sets of moral judgments are “really an excuse for the accumulation of power.” I can definitely agree with that last statement. Frequently, religion and moral judgments are used as justification for a power stance that has no other legitimacy, and does great harm to the victims.
For each of the 48 laws of power, Green has a short chapter that consists of the name of the law, the first being, “Never Outshine the Master.” Then he has a section called “Judgment,” in which he explains more fully the named law of power. The first law is reasonably self-explanatory and makes sense, really, because if you show your boss you are superior to him/her, then he/she will resent you.
After giving several good examples of using this law, or failing to use this law, Greene finishes up Chapter One by saying, “You cannot worry about upsetting every person you come across, but you must be selectively cruel. If your superior is a falling star, there is nothing to fear in outshining him. Do not be merciful—your master had no such scruples in his own cold-blooded climb to the top. Gauge his strength. If he is weak, discreetly hasten his downfall: Outdo, outcharm, outsmart him at key moments.”
While this book seems aimed at the “amoral-wannabe-politician on the way up,” rather than the psychopathic “wannabe-gang-banger thug” on the corner who is illiterate, I think that those of us who have had or even will have associations with psychopaths, or “Snakes in Suits” (to highjack the name of the book as a noun), should read this to learn how to discern when we are being played by the power-seeker. If we can recognize the masks for their deceptive cover, we can avoid the consequences of being played, or possibly turn the play back on to the player.
Disturbing, but necessary, reading
Frankly, this book made me uncomfortable while I was reading it, I think possibly by showing me “red flags” of power plays that I had experienced in the past, but had not quite recognized at the time I was being played. However, I do think the knowledge I gained by reading this book is well worth the slight discomfort. It isn’t a book that you can “zip through” quickly, but one that must, like the textbook that it is, read and ponder, and even re-read, and ponder again.
The most personally disturbing part of the book was one in which he was discussing the siege of Troy, and he said, “Image: The Trojan Horse. Your guile is hidden inside a magnificent gift that proves irresistible to your opponent. The walls open. Once inside, wreak havoc.”
We must learn to protect ourselves from those power-players who have no conscience, the power players who will use calculated acts of kindness or proffered gifts to earn our trust. Selective kindness can be the biggest part of the arsenal of deception. “Aimed for the heart, it corrodes the will to fight back.”
The 48 Laws of Power is available on Amazon.com.