I once lived in a rather dysfunctional apartment. One of my roommates kept the "National Bestseller," The 48 Laws of Power in the bathroom to read while he was on the toilet. During my shift in the loo, I would look over the book as well and it provided a lot of insight into its owner’s personality. The book dispenses ideas from Machiavelli, Henry Kissinger, Louis XIV and other wells of wisdom and gives advice on how to be more "powerful" in your daily life with such aphorisms as, "never put too much trust in friends," "crush your enemies completely," and "discover each man’s thumbscrew."
The book is complete crap. I always found it somewhat humorous — in that "it would much funnier if I didn’t have to actually live with the person reading this book" sort of way — that my 21 year old roommate thought that advice given to a monarch half a millennia ago on the virtues of totally crushing ones’ enemies was highly relevant and applicable information.
I think that my roommate liked the book because it helped him rationalize being nasty to other people as a strategically important move in a bid for power. People seem to like books that explain why their faults are, in fact, strengths. If being petty and cruel is among you’re faults and you’re not itching to change, this may be the book for you.
Last time I was in a bookstore with friends and came across this book, my friend suggested that the rules sounded a lot like the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition from the Star Trek television series. I don’t have a TV but I’ll betray my geekiness and admit that I’ve certainly watched my share of Star Trek anyway. For those that don’t know, the Rules of Acquisition are the religious or societal underpinnings of an alien race that is basically Star Trek writers’ imaginative rendition of a people who have made greed, selfishness and pettiness their raison d’etre. I went ahead and looked up the rules and it’s true.
Here are three pairs of laws/rules:
- Robert Greene and Joost Elffers say: "Law 1: never outshine the master."
- Ferengis say: "Rule 33: It never hurts to suck up to the boss."
- Robert Greene and Joost Elffers say: "Law 2: Never put too much trust in friends."
- Ferengis say: "Rule 99: Trust is the biggest liability of all."
- Robert Greene and Joost Elffers say: "Law 19: know who you’re dealing with — do not offend the wrong person."
- Ferengis say: "Rule 194: It’s always good business to know about new customers before they walk in your door."
It’s uncanny; you can find a match for basically every "Law" in the book.
It’s a bit depressing when you find pillars of fictional dystopias being reproduced by folks with a straight-face in your own bathroom and on the New York Times bestseller list.