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Law 32: Play to People’s Fantasies (The 48 Laws of Power)

Law 32: Play to People’s Fantasies

Avoid telling people the ugly truth unless you are prepared to face the anger that will result. Life is harsh and distressing. If you can conjure up a fantasy or add romance to people’s lives, people will flock to you.

Venice enjoyed a long period of prosperity and its citizens felt that they had destiny on their side. But in the sixteenth century, their fortunes suddenly changed. The Spanish, Portuguese, and then the Dutch and the English took more control over Europe’s wealth. Venice could no longer compete, and the final blow was losing Cyprus to the Turks in 1570.

Noble families in Venice went broke and the city was under a cloud of gloom and depression. They knew of a glorious past, but it was gone. They desperately hoped for their fortunes to change.

In 1589, rumors circulated about a master of alchemy called “Il Bragadino” who has a secret substance that could multiply gold. This mysterious man accumulated considerable wealth through his abilities and as more fantasies were constructed about him, his name became known to many of Venice’s citizens who dreamed of a prosperous future once again. The senate in Venice decided to invite Bragadino to the city and offered to house him in a great palace and treated him like a king. When Bragadino arrived, an alchemy fever spread throughout the city, with everyone studying up on the subject. Books were being sold in street corners. It seemed that everyone was versed in alchemy and practiced except for Bragadino. And yet this was part of his attraction. People were afraid to disturb him, fearing that rushing him would ruin his efforts to bring wealth to Venice once again.

But the city’s investment in Bragadino soon created many doubters. The famed alchemist responded ot them by saying that he had already deposited the mysterious substance in the city’s mint, and if left alone, the gold would multiply. But the process would need to take place slowly, he claimed that if left alone for seven years, the substance would multiply the gold in the mint by thirty times.

While many senators agreed to Bragadino’s demands, some were angry and refused to accept seven years of allowing this man to live royally at their expense. Finally, they demanded that he prove his skills, but Bragadino told them that he was betrayed by this challenge and decided to leave the city. He went to first to Padua, and then in 1590, to Munich at the invitation of the Duke of Bavaria. This was another city that had suffered a similar fate to Venice, knowing great wealth in the past, but having recently fallen into bankruptcy. There, the same pattern was repeated.

Mamugna was a young Cypriot who had lived in Venice for several years before changing his identity to the alchemist Bragadino. He saw how desperately the city was hoping for redemption. Mamugna knew human nature, and he made Venice his target from the start. He travelled and made a reputation for himself that he knew would spread to Venice. And from a distance, his aura of power was even more impressive. Everyone in Venice wanted to believe in a miracle, and Mamugna gave them what they wanted.

A lie is an allurement, a fabrication, that can be embellished into a fantasy. It can be clothed in the raiment of a mystic conception. Truth is cold, sober fact, not so comfortable to absorb. A lie is more palatable. The most detested person in the world is the one who always tells the truth, who never romances…. I found it far more interesting and profitable to romance than to tell the truth.

Joseph Weil, a.k.a. “The Yellow Kid”

While the honest thing to do would be to promise gradual improvement through hard work, you will not capture people’s hearts that way, and you will not rise to power. Instead, promise the moon and become the source of pleasure to those around you. They want to hear about a sudden magical transformation; you shouldn’t disappoint them.

If you want to tell lies that will be believed, don’t tell the truth that won’t.

EMPEROR TOKUGAWA IEYASU OF JAPAN

Fantasy doesn’t work by itself. It can only work in a world where everything is mundane and boring. When reality is oppressive, people starve for the magical. Those who can spin a fantasy from this oppressive reality gain access to enormous power.

As you search for the fantasy that will take hold of the masses, then, keep your eye on the banal truths that weigh heavily on us all. Never be distracted by people’s glamorous portraits of themselves and their lives; search and dig for what really imprisons them. Once you find that, you have the magical key that will put great power in your hands.

Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

Reversal

Fantasy is a game that involves two sides. For it work, the people must be willing to go along with the ruse. The temperamental Venetians welcomed Bragadino’s fantasy and even joined in on the game themselves by created a market around alchemy, but the serious-minded Bavarians were much more skeptical.

Only the desperate Bavarian duke believed in the alchemist’s powers because he was desperate. Eventually Bragadino was tested and the Bavarians demanded justice. The alchemist was finally put to death.

Read The 48 Laws of Power

"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

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