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Social Chess: The 48 Laws of Power

01/09/2010

In college there was this huge buzz around campus about the book “The 48 Laws of Power”. It seemed like every business major, aspiring politician and frat boy was carrying around a copy of the 48 laws. Everyday on the yard there were heated discussions about the use and value of the laws, application of the laws, explication of the laws; but in all of that dialog there was a lot of misunderstanding about what the 48 laws of power actually represent.

Most of everyone i have ever had the chance to discuss the 48 laws with has equated them to some kind of jedi mind trickery, some kind of social kung fu with out all the training and cultivation.

What are the 48 laws? The 48 Laws of Power was published in 1998 and written by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers. The 48 Laws is thematically similar to The Art of War (Sun Tzu) and Machiavelli’s “The Prince”. The Prince is a political treatise, the art of war addresses battle tactics and the 48 Laws are of a personal nature. The book speaks on social and personal interactions, whereas the other books, similar in nature address the personal and social metaphorically.

I think therein lies the common misperception of the 48 laws. People want to wield power over their co-workers, friends and enemies and this book expressly states and fortifies those intentions with its directness rather than allaying them through metaphor.

The people i have spoken with about the laws want to read the book then point their forehead at someone and SHAZAM! Right?

As someone with a lot of interpersonal awareness i am very cognizant of the precepts of the 48 Laws, naturally. Learning how to motivate people with their own aspirations, creating movement and belief in organizations, finding peoples strengths and weaknesses. The dangerous part about the 48 Laws is they are written in a negative tone, sardonically derisive of the theoretical people it is suggesting you manipulate.

I have met many people who have read the book yet remain socially unobservant, they do not have the knowledge of self to observe situations and apply some kind of strategy with out completely negating the other person’s intelligence. And this is my qualm with the 48 laws, giving people these sardonic rules to go out and try to manipulate people through “fight and feign”. It’s like watching the Colbert Report with someone who does not know that the entire show is satire; they end up arguing with the TV or quoting it.

Like someone learning Kung Fu or rock climbing or playing chess, having knowledge of that thing is not the same as actually participating in that activity and the realizations that you achieve from doing said activity.

I just started playing chess, a little more seriously, and after playing for a few days i started looking at all kinds of different things in relation to chess. Thoughts that came from actually playing and getting better at chess and not just knowing about how to play the game. Same thing with rock climbing, every climb is a puzzle waiting to be unlocked but you have to actually do the lock picking not just know what happens when someone picks a lock somewhere.

The Laws of Power are no substitute for actual social skills, they require social skills to execute and inculcate into your life. I just wish it was written in a more positive tone.

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