Monday, June 6, 2011

Heroes: Robert Greene

Robert Greene [left] with rapper and entrepreneur Curtis Jackson, stage name 50 Cent
 It is to him who understands the world—not to those who disfigure it—that we owe our reverence. —Voltaire

Conflict is a constant irritation in life. We feel conflict between our ideas and what actually happens, conflict between what we want and our abilities, and of course conflict with our enemies. I prefer to avoid confrontation, and I dream of a position that would protect me from all conflict. This does not appear to exist, however. In fact, the more success I have achieved, the more conflict has entered my life. I did not prepare well for conflict, growing up. No one told me when and how to fight. If fighting is not advantageous, what exactly to do? These questions influenced my most important needs and wants: making a living and attracting women—seduction being a form of conflict. Now I have a family, and I could describe every minute of my day as a battle. 

Four years ago I discovered the writing of Robert Greene by accident. At the time, I was caught in a fight. There was no negotiating around the problem or convincing the enemy to retreat with niceness. I was outnumbered, and several people close to me said I had no hope, yet I knew I had to win. Intrigued by one of Greene's interviews, I bought a copy of his book, The 33 Strategies of War. 

Through extensive planning, indirect maneuvers and controlling my information, I won. As you might imagine, this outcome confirmed the value I found in the book. I devoured Robert Greene's other books, The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction and The 50th Law. I read them through four times and explored many books in their bibliographies. I typed hundreds of pages of notes. I will probably read them through again. Greene patterns his work on Niccolo Machiavelli's. Both authors looked to history to obtain their strategies for success. History is the next best thing to a laboratory experiment, when we study Greene's favorite subjects, Power, Seduction and War.

I offer some favorite quotes from the books below.

Law 40
Despise the Free Lunch
What is offered for free is dangerous – it usually involves either a trick or a hidden obligation.  What has worth is worth paying for.  By paying your own way you stay clear of gratitude, guilt, and deceit.  It is also often wise to pay the full price – there is no cutting corners with excellence.  Be lavish with your money and keep it circulating, for generosity is a sign and a magnet for power.
Understand: With one exception — death — no lasting change in fortune comes quickly. Sudden wealth rarely lasts, for its is built on nothing solid. Never let lust for money lure you out of the protective and enduring fortress of real power. Make power your goal and money will find its way to you. 

Law 29
Plan All the Way to the End
The ending is everything.  Plan all the way to it, taking into account all the possible consequences, obstacles, and twists of fortune that might reverse your hard work and give the glory to others.  By planning to the end you will not be overwhelmed by circumstances and you will know when to stop.  Gently guide fortune and help determine the future by thinking far ahead.
Most men are ruled by the heart, not the head. Their plans are vague, and when they meet obstacles they improvise. But improvisation will only bring you as far as the next crisis, and is never a substitute for thinking several steps ahead and planning to the end.
What good is it to have the greatest dream in the world if others reap 
the benefits and the glory? Never lose your head over a vague, open
ended dream-plan to the end. 

There is a simple reason why most men never know when to come off the attack: they form no concrete idea of their goal. Once they achieve victory they only hunger for more. To stop — to aim for a goal and then keep to it — seems almost inhuman, in fact; yet nothing is more critical to the maintenance of power. The person who goes too far in his triumphs creates a reaction that inevitably leads to a decline. The only solution is to plan for the long run. Foresee the future with as much clarity as the gods on Mount Olympus, who look through the clouds and see the ends of all things.

Remember: it is the form that matters, not the content. The less your targets focus on what you say, and the more on how it makes them feel, the more seductive your effect. Give your words a lofty, spiritual, literary flavor the better to insinuate desire in your unwitting victims. 

If no resistances or obstacles face you, you must create them. No seduction can proceed without them. 

Eva Peron’s voice could make audiences weep; because of this, people saw in her great charisma. She never forgot the experience. Her every public act was framed in dramatic and religious motifs. Drama is condensed emotion, and the Catholic religion is a force that reaches into your childhood, hits you where you cannot help yourself. Evita’s uplifted arms, her staged acts of charity, her sacrifices for the common folk—all this went straight to the heart. It was not her goodness alone that was charismatic, although the appearance of goodness is alluring enough. It was her ability to dramatize her goodness. 

To promote any value, even peace and pacifism, you must be willing to fight for it and to aim at results—not simply the good, warm feeling that expressing such ideas might bring you. The moment you aim for results, you are in the realm of strategy. War and strategy have an inexorable logic: if you want or desire anything, you must be ready and able to fight for it.

Judge people by their actions. The brilliance of warfare is that no amount of eloquence or talk can explain away a failure on the battlefield. A general has led his troops to defeat, lives have been wasted, and that is how history will judge him. You must strive to apply this ruthless standard in your daily life, judging people by the results of their actions, the deeds that can be seen and measured, the maneuvers they have used to gain power. What people say about themselves does not matter; people will say anything. Look at what they have done; deeds do not lie. You must also apply this logic to yourself. In looking back at a defeat, you must identify the things you could have done differently. It is your own bad strategies, not the unfair opponent, that are to blame for your failures. You are responsible for the good and bad in your life. As a corollary to this, look at everything other people do as a strategic maneuver, an attempt to gain victory. People who accuse you of being unfair for example, who try to make you feel guilty, who talk about justice and morality, are trying to gain an advantage on the chessboard. — Robert Greene 

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