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How to Read the 48 Laws of Power?

The 48 Laws of Power is a great book that contains tremendous insight into cunning, deception, self-deception, and power. Greene weaves short historical anecdotes to support his arguments in each chapter. And each chapter is a proverb or recommendation. There is something unfashionable and intrinsically distasteful about blanket statements that tell you how to live your life people have become allergic to static rules in world that is becoming more complex and dynamic.

But it is not that proverbs are stupid, but that people are stupid. Especially when they expect proverbs to reveal a final truth about reality. There is no point to any book, or any wise saying, other than to reveal a hidden aspect of reality that you may not have considered before.

When you read The 48 Laws of Power, it isn’t that this book has truths about how the world works, it’s that this book has taught you about something that you have not considered before, because you are used to taking what you know at face value. When this aspect of reality is revealed, it gives the impression that you now have knowledge of the reality beneath the appearance, but that is false. You simply have gained access to another appearance of reality.

That is why you should think of knowledge the same way you think of tools. A tool helps you do something better. It reduces the amount of time you need to solve a problem. Knowledge does the same. It shortens the distance between where you are and where you want to go, by helping you construct multiple simulations and understanding which set of tools to use for each simulation, thereby increasing the chances of succeeding when you are presented with a real-life situation. Your knowledge, rather than your ignorance, can better inform your decisions.

If you want to know whether you should trust someone or even yourself, you would be foolish not to learn about human psychology and human malevolence. To refuse to discover the true nature of oneself is a form of escape from reality that is more pernicious the ugly side of human nature. It is denial that is the most dangerous state of mind to be in. Many disasters have been committed because people refused to acknowledge their shadow, their dark side. The terrors of the 20th century were a result of people refusing to acknowledge what they knew deep down inside that they were not different than those they wanted to persecute. That is why individuation has emerged as in important meme.

So how should you read the 48 Laws of Power?

Here are 5 Rules to Follow to get the most out of this book:

Rule 1: Do Not Expect Consistency

You should understand what the book is made up of.

Each chapter contains a proverb, a few stories to affirm the proverb, and limitations if they exist.

For example, or Law 7:  Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit  and Law 3: Conceal Your Intentions  may conflict with Law 5: So much depends on your reputation, guard it with your life .

If you conceal your intentions to your team or your business partner, you may find yourself constantly in conflict with them. This may harm your motivation. When you are at odds with others because you are at odds with yourself, you may dig yourself into a hole that you cannot get yourself out of.

If you take the credit of others, you may be found out one day, and this will set you back. Others will not want to work with you for fear of being taken advantage of, and some will lose respect for you and your work.

Another example, Law 16: Use Absence to increase respect and honor contradicts Law 18: Do not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself – Isolation is Dangerous

I will stop here, but the point is not to treat this book as a coherent or consistent philosophical set of premises that build on each other. There is a lot of contradiction, but that is okay.

Rule 2: No Law is Absolutely True

This brings us to the second thing that you should keep in mind. None of these laws are absolute. They are proverbs that are meant to elucidate one way of dealing with a situation, and while on the surface, it seems immoral, it may be pragmatic and thus merits consideration.

It is important to keep in mind that each author has the intention of selling books. This is not something to be reprimanded – it is simply a result of capitalism. If you want to survive as an author, you must understand how to court attention. Incidentally, one of his laws reveals this to us (Law 6: Court Attention at all Costs).

“At all costs” includes attaching a dishonest description of your content so that it can be more easily marketed. In an ultra-competitive environment, many individuals and companies find themselves in a position that forces them to exploit human weaknesses and irrationalities. One of these weaknesses is that people look for certainty, they need and crave it. So, if you can position yourself as someone who has the answers to their deepest questions, and you seem certain, then you will have a great chance of attracting their attention. Greene understands this facet of human psychology and even has a chapter about creating your own cult in a few easy steps. (Law 27: Play on people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following ).

Rule 3: Know How to Benefit from the Laws Practically

There are two ways to benefit, you either do them yourself, or recognize when they are being done to you by others or by yourself. People naturally are deceptive, so you are likely to fall prey to their tactics. The value in the book is both offense and defense. The defense is in recognizing when others are trying to take advantage of you. In this sense, Greene is a true pacifist –someone who has tried to disarm the perniciousness of deception by uncovering its secrets.

By studying these laws, you will learn how to unmask the behavior of others, to know what their intentions really are, and how they are manipulating you, either consciously or unconsciously.

The second way is to use the laws yourself.

Take two laws, Law 14: Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy   and  Law 33: Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew – They are more pernicious than other laws because they preach covert deception. Most people are uneasy about taking advantage of other people, but here is a morally acceptable way of using these to attack others. If a group of harmful people are sabotaging your life, and the lives of others, then there is use in befriending them, getting to know them, so that you can collect valuable information about them. This will teach you about their weaknesses (their thumbscrew), which will make it easier for you to gain leverage over them. Again, this is a form of self-defense, but it is active in the sense that you are on the attack and taking initiative rather than observing the actions of others.

Greene’s work was once stolen by his boss, which is why his first law is Law 1: Never Outshine your Master ,

Greene realized that the corporate world was made up of people who behaved the same way monarchs, courtiers, and queens behaved centuries ago all over the world. There was nothing unique in the way they took advantage of other people and manipulated them to their own benefit. Himself a victim of such transgressions, Greene was determined to teach the world what he had learned, even if these laws were not true, or reliable guides for conduct. The point is to be effective at the risk of being wrong.

One can go through each law, as I have done with some, and point out some of their shortcomings, and remark how there are many situations where this law does not apply or point out how there are no scientific experiments that have been conducted to prove or disprove any of these laws. But these objections should not diminish the fact that using some of these laws selectively, at the right time, can be an effective way of meeting your goal. In any case, it is not possible to construct a social experiment for many of the proverbs that Greene uses.

Rule 4: Use the Rules on Yourself  

Much of the advice given in this book is not about manipulation at all, but how to become a more powerful individual. Much of the work required for this has nothing to do with others. For example, when starting a new project or career, think about the destination, don’t take short cuts, and understand how you will meet your goal. Law 29: Plan all the way to the end 

Once you make a decision, you are more likely to lose from hesitancy and indecision than overconfidence (even if you are wrong). Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness 

In the modern world, technology is developing at an accelerating pace, and the nature of jobs is changing as well. It is pragmatic to learn how to apply Law 25: Re-create Yourself 

Rule 5: Understand the General Intention of the Book

To understand how deception works. Think of this, not as a book of how you should live your life, but if you were a complete psychopath who wanted to get what they wanted and really did not care how as long as you get what you want, then this is the kind of manual you would use. Realistically, no one can use these rules on a regular basis and not get socially ostracized. But that is not the point, this is no substitute for religious or philosophical guides to moral behavior. This is a text that will help you understand how those who are more deceptive than yourself get what they want.

What is truly insightful about this law and many others is not that you should never aim for the limelight or to aim for attention or glory. Indeed, if you are going to “court attention at all costs” you may need to outshine your master. But rather, to put aside for a moment what we desire, and to consider the perspective of the other side. Once we understand that the world is bigger than us, and that the emotions of others, including our superiors are real things that have real consequences, it should get us to pause and think before we try to show our brilliance. There is another law, “Law 21: Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker  – Seem Dumber than Your Mark “  

Again, it is tempting to always be the smart ass, to leap forward and try to impress and swoon others with our insights and ideas, but we forget that people do not care about our vain desires. They are far too preoccupied with their own vain worries. And when we display to them their own shortcomings by impressing upon them our own impressive abilities, we invite scorn and condemnation, rather than respect.

I have mentioned that one can play defense or offense with Greene’s laws, but the point is not simply to defend or attack, but to understand. The secret message that is contained all these laws, is that human psychology is fragile, and that people are very insecure about their abilities and talents. When strategizing about our behavior, we should tailor our actions to the personality and character of the person we are approaching. A boss with a fragile ego should not be challenged often. A friend who is insecure about their intelligence should not be given lengthy lectures about complex ideas. There is no point at being yourself at all costs, or being truthful at all costs, but there is a point in being pragmatic at all costs.

Rule 6: Choose What You Like

48 is a large number of laws to memorize, but thankfully, there is no need to.

Take note of the laws that you think best fit your situation, whether they are about self-improvement or dealing with others and make a list. Re-visit them every now and then to remind yourself of what you have learned. The point is to purposefully indoctrinate yourself with ideas that can replace other less useful ideas that you are already indoctrinated by. It is programming your brain to think more effectively and realistically.

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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