Laws of power vs common laws of sharing power

self detective
7 min readJan 29, 2022

In 1998 Robert Greene wrote a book called The 48 Laws of Power. Using examples of tactics and behaviour from infamous historic characters, the author devised a way for individuals to gain and maintain power over other people using methods of coercion, manipulation and deception.

At Self Detective we believe these laws could act as a useful yardstick when it comes to empowerment. Firstly, by understanding how tyrants operate, we can avoid being sucked into their web. Secondly, by looking to act in the exact opposite manner, we may find ways of being that are pro-social and beneficial to all.

So instead of seeking guidance from Al Capone and Henry Kissinger, we could take inspiration from, say, Hannah Arendt and Emma Goldman. Instead of promoting power-mongering and abuse of power, we can highlight ways of sharing and sub-dividing power for the common good.

See what you think…

‘48 Laws of Power’ according to Robert Greene vs ‘48 ways of sharing and sub-dividing power’ as suggested by Self Detective.

1. “Never outshine your master.” vs Seek ways to achieve mutual respect — without the need for hierarchies or inequalities.

2. “Never put too much trust in friends. Learn how to use enemies.” vs Learn to trust those who are trustworthy. Learn how best to utilise precious time spent with others.

3. “Conceal your intentions.” vs Be as open, transparent and accountable as you possibly can be.

4. “Always say less than is necessary.” vs Say as much as you need to say. Encourage others to have an equal say.

5. “So much rests on reputation, guard it with your life.” vs Avoid putting yourself under pressure to appear as anything other than what you are. Look to explore yourself in environments where you will not be judged for doing so.

6. “Court attention at all costs.” vs Conversational narcissism creates attention imbalances. Functional encounters with people involve a two-way communication that is mutually beneficial.

7. “Get others to do the work for you — but always take the credit.” vs Share the work and share the spoils.

8. “Make other people come to you — use bait if necessary.” vs Let people come to you on a voluntary basis. Contact with others will only be meaningful and authentic if they can come and go on their own free will.

9. “Win through your actions, never through arguments.” vs Let your opinions and actions be no more and no less important than anyone else’s.

10. “Avoid the unhappy and unlucky.” vs Reach out to those who are struggling. Reach out to others when it is your turn to struggle.

11. “Learn to keep people dependent on you.” vs Seek ways to ensure the autonomy and independence of everyone you meet.

12. “Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim.” vs Try to be authentic in all that you say and do. Treat others as your equal.

13. “When asking for help, appeal to people’s self-interest, never their mercy or gratitude.” vs When asking for help, appeal to people’s humanity and desire to be of use.

14. “Pose as a friend, work as a spy.” vs Being a true friend can be tremendously rewarding for both parties.

15. “Crush your enemy totally.” vs Avoid adversity and look to resolve conflict where possible.

16. “Use absence to increase respect and honour.” vs By stepping back, encourage others to take more responsibility and to learn through experience. Use your presence to increase the power of the shared experience.

17. “Keep others in suspended terror: cultivate an air of unpredictability.” vs Unsettling behaviour is an abuse of power and a sign of sociopathic behaviour. Seek to create a nurturing environment, which is safe and secure for all concerned.

18. “Do not built fortresses in order to protect yourself — isolation is dangerous.” vs Isolation can be both harmful and protective. Striking the right balance is a fluid and life-long process.

19. “Know who you’re dealing with — do not offend the wrong person.” vs Do not look to offend anyone. Creating hostilities creates stress and discontent for all.

20. “Do not commit to anyone.” vs If you never commit yourself to anyone or anything, you may experience a lack of purpose, motivation and stimulation. Conversely, staying with a person or a project you are no longer committed to is counter-productive.

21. “Play a sucker to catch a sucker — appear dumber than your mark.” vs With intelligence comes a responsibility to teach others how to improve their learning so that they can increase their capacity for knowledge, for the benefit of all.

22. “Use the surrender tactic: transform weakness into power.” vs If you are not in a battle with others, you do not need to be strong or weak, nor do you need to win or lose.

23. “Concentrate your forces.” vs Share your strengths with others to harness your combined powers.

24. “Play the perfect courtier.” vs Being inauthentic leads to disruptions in wellness.

25. “Master and create an identity of power.” vs Exploring and experimenting with your personality and identity is one thing, adapting your ‘self’ to be all-powerful is quite another thing.

26. “Keep your hands clean.” vs Avoid scapegoating or blaming other people. Take responsibility for your actions.

27. “Create a cult-like following by playing on people’s need to believe.” vs Help other people break free from the clutches of false prophets.

28. “Enter action with boldness (which helps to hide mistakes).” vs Learn from your mistakes. Allow other people to do similarly.

29. “Plan all the way to the end.” vs Planning can sometimes be useful, but so can spontaneity.

30. “Make your accomplishments seem effortless.” vs People will only put up with so much falsehoods before they stop engaging with you.

31. “Control the options: get others to play with the cards you deal.” vs Help to clear obstacles blocking people from having a maximum array of choices.

32. “Play into people’s fantasies.” vs Keeping things real avoids people getting into trouble. Look to help people by meeting their realistic needs.

33. “Discover each man’s thumbscrew.” vs Help people to work through their insecurities so that they can become stronger and more resilient.

34. “Act like a king to be treated like one.” vs Act like an equal and others respect you. Act above others and they will despise you.

35. “Master the art of timing.” vs Master the art of being true to yourself.

36. “Disdain things you cannot have: ignoring them is the best revenge.” vs Be open to your dark side. You do not need to act upon urges and desires that may have negative consequences.

37. “Create compelling spectacles.” vs If you are creative, you can make compelling spectacles for the delight and joy of all who witness such an act.

38. “Think as you like but behave like others.” vs Think as you like and behave as you like, so long as you don’t harm anyone else.

39. “Stir up waters to catch fish.” vs Help those who are hot-headed by joining with them in finding the cause and the solution to their distress.

40. “Despise the free lunch.” vs A free lunch and hospitality is an opportunity for you to return the favour at a later date and develop bonds.

41. “Avoid stepping into great man’s shoes.” vs Stepping into people’s shoes is an opportunity to empathise with what they are going through.

42. “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter.” vs The cause of oppression, discrimination and exploitation is known to all: the ruling classes. Single-issue politics will only get people so far. An all-out attack on the common enemy would create a greater, more meaningful amount of progress.

43. “Work on the hearts and minds of others.” vs Work on your own mind and heart and others will follow your example.

44. “Disarm and infuriate with the mirror effect.” vs As Nico sang: “I’ll be your mirror, reflect what you are, in case you don’t know.”

45. “Preach the need for change, but never reform too much at once.” vs The eternal process of change is vital to any community wishing to be functional.

46. “Never appear too perfect.” vs There is no such thing as perfection. Once you reach it, it becomes imperfect and redundant. However, there is no harm in striving to be the best you can be and attempting to fulfil your potential.

47. “Don’t go past the mark you aimed for: in victory, learn when to stop.” vs There is no such thing as victory.

48. “Assume formlessness — powerful people are always in flux.” vs Assume formlessness: let power flow in and out of you just as it is flowing in and out of others. Do not try to own power, let it remain fluid.

Q: Are any of these ‘laws’ of particular interest to you?

Q: How many of these ‘laws’ might you struggle with?

Q: What values and beliefs do you possess when it comes to power?

Q: How many of your own values and beliefs could have been shaped by others with their own vested interests?

Q: Would it be an interesting exercise to audit your values and beliefs?

For more resources on the study of the self visit https://selfdetective.net

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