The 48 Rules of Power; Viable?

post by Raw_Power · 2011-05-27T01:36:48.891Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 52 comments

This is not a thesis post, it's an open-question, discussion-provoking post. That's why I'm posting it as Discussion, since this is what appears to serve the function of forum on this site. I am not looking for ratings, but for answers. With everyone's collaboration, they should present themselves, at least in outline. Please don't hesitate to point it out if you think i have completely misunderstood the purpose of the Discussion section and if I should refrain from this sort of posting in the future.

So, here is a summary of the rules the book proposes. Here is a little more expanded text.

To be honest, my first reaction to reading this was visceral rejection ("Preposterous! Try to act by those rules and you'll be labeled a psychopath, people will know not to trust you or deal with you."). The second was consternated acceptance ("But people do seem to behave in the way this book suggests... wouldn't it be better to adapt to a reality we have no power to change?"). This is the result of the third approximation: confused questioning.

The question I'd like to ask is this: are they rational? As in, would everyone's lives improve or worsen from following this? Unlike riches and actual achievements, competition for power does seem to be a Zero Sum Game, at least in a society that isn't expanding (demographically or by conquest or otherwise). Not only that, it appears to be a resource-intensive game, one that even gets in the way of doing actual work.

What is remarkable is that, when I think of my experiences in hindsight, Real Life does appear to work this way, and these would explain many behaviors people demonstrate that are out of synch with what they profess. This is especially egregious if you compare it with fiction, in which such behavior isn't used except by the most magnificent bastards, and even then it is portrayed as extremely questionable, and common moral philosophy, that seems to preach the opposite.

However, everything seems to indicate that this is definitely not the optimum way for things to work, in a utilitarian sense. If everyone followed the rules of this book, would we ever get anything done?

So should these social, anti-productive tendencies, be fought with education, or should they be embraced? Is there a way to harness them into a motivation for productive work, the way Capitalism advocates harnessing human greed?¹

 


1.Remarkably enough, lust for power can and does get in the way of greed for riches and even welfare. As does pride in scrupulous, principled, but materialistically impoverishing behavior.

 

52 comments

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comment by AndyWood · 2011-05-29T18:00:07.012Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's important to understand the intended context of these rules. They're mostly about how to rise within established hierarchies. At one time that would have meant the nobility of a country. In modern developed nations, that means a large corporation, or a governmental bureaucracy. Anyone who has spent time playing inside that kind of game will recognize most of these rules and understand what they're about.

The rules can't be gotten round, because anybody who comes in and plays by them will beat out anybody who doesn't. It's just game theory. It can't be circumvented, because in an environment like a large corporation, there are always real limits on how many people each person can know well enough to trust. Absent intimacy and trust, the dynamics revert to each person playing a hand that only they can see.

In such a hierarchy, the question of whether this behavior is optimal, or "good" or "evil" is, in practice, moot. If you don't figure out and follow the rules, you'll be trampled, and pushed either down or out. If you discover a different set of rules that work better, then you can write a book about it. And yes, it is zero-sum. It has to be zero-sum, because there is much less space in the top of a pyramid than there is in the pyramid. There's no outcome where everybody gets to be a boss.

Unfortunately, I don't think you're likely to get much informed insight on this topic on LW, given our apparent demographics. College students taking math and physics just won't have the experience. Internships aren't enough. I've only scratched the surface myself, just from studied observation during my 5 years at Microsoft. You need to talk to some 30-50 year old general managers / executives that have risen through the ranks of an organization like IBM, Lockheed, Microsoft, Citigroup, etc.

comment by bogus · 2011-05-30T19:40:38.345Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's important to understand the intended context of these rules. They're mostly about how to rise within established hierarchies.

Upvoted. This actually reveals how dysfunctional established power hierarchies often are, and how often they encourage pointy-haired boss types. Ironically, these supposedly hard-nosed, Slytherin types are easily mesmerized by sales folks peddling the latest technology "innovation" or management fads, because they do not understand their job very well, and are often more focused on stroking their own ego than actually accomplishing important things.

Of course, Robin Hanson's prediction markets hold great promise here, because they make it feasible to spread info within the organization, rather than channel info towards the top. But really, this is a feature of modern infotech and business processes which could be exploited by other systems, such as "learning organizations" as defined by Peter Senge. Applying rationality to the workplace and similar orgs is yet another underexplored area here at LessWrong, although there has been some exploration of basic issues such as groupthink.

I'm not sure whether the same sort of pathology also occurs in politics, but similar issues have been invoked to explain the behavior of the Bush Administration, especially wrt. the Iraq War and response to Hurricane Katrina.

comment by Manfred · 2011-05-27T03:51:06.127Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have an exercise for you - I often want to recommend it to people, so now I've given in and done it. It seems like you aren't generating many ideas when you think "how could this be wrong?" If you aren't asking "how could this be wrong" (or incomplete) in the first place, that's easy to fix - start doing that. But if you already are and don't find that ideas come easily, try this exercise:

Manfred's magical exercise of power: Find an interesting-looking item nearby (for example, on my desk is a small tube of epoxy putty, which hardens when the two colors are molded together). Name, out loud, things it could be (It is a stick of high explosive. It is a dog treat. It is a piston for an engine. It is a meal in a can. It is sidewalk chalk.) until you can't think of any more ideas, even silly ones, or maybe especially silly ones, within 20 seconds. Then stop and think until you find one last idea. Repeat with more objects.

This exercise comes from an improv game I've played that I found helpful to my idea-generating ability. In the improv game the object is passed around in a circle. (It is an ant monolith. It is frozen colored milk. It is the finger of an alien. It is a pawn in a chess set.)

comment by rysade · 2011-05-27T09:16:08.316Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can definitely see where you are going with this: That the 'laws' are really just vague descriptions of social situations designed not to outline a strategy, but to be a lightning rod for creative thinking. I identify with your sentiment. They are certainly vague, and I have struggled for years to define the borders between these so-called laws.

However I must ask you if you think our very own Sequences differ very much. For example, plenty of posts in Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions I find it hard to distinguish between. Each has one core idea that the post could be distilled to, but when read through they have nearly the same message.

One of the key strengths of the Sequences is that they are there good for reference. They can be used as a physical (ok, well virtual) touchstone to get a point across to someone else or to yourself. You can meditate on them. The same is true for all of Robert Greene's books about strategy.

...

I've spent the better part of today trying to decide exactly how to react to the fact that someone posted the 48 Laws up on Less Wrong. I think this is going to be something I'll need to come back with a larger, more well thought out post for. The two main things I want to say about the books are these: One, if you're any kind of social awkward at all, after you read these books then you will realize just how far away from the 'other end of the spectrum' you really are and if you are a rationalist you will also realize that it is extremely hard to find evidence of the sort of power games described by Greene in the world around you. Two, I am convinced that the practices of seeking power and being rational can be reconciled (indeed they must be, or we're screwed) but it would likely take a smarter man than I to do it.

comment by Manfred · 2011-05-27T09:30:14.081Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I actually wasn't talking about the "48 laws" in this comment - this was talking about RawPower's post about them, based on my suspicion that he found the idea that "real life works like this" plausible because he didn't think of things when he tried to think of things that didn't work like this. For what I think about the "48 laws," see here.

Feel free to use me to project onto though, if an interesting post comes out of it :D

comment by rysade · 2011-05-27T09:35:43.554Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah! I apologize! I thought that you were making a general statement about how the 'Laws' worked their 'magic.' I assumed you were treating them like they were horoscopes or something.

Now where would I get that idea?

Also, I am faced with the truly daunting task of asking myself if believing Robert Greene is really rational or not. It's not looking pretty.

comment by Manfred · 2011-05-27T03:35:51.094Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is remarkable is that, when I think of my experiences in hindsight, Real Life does appear to work this way

A common effect for all sorts of things. However, to the extent that we manage to create any wealth at all, to the extent that the nouveau riche these days have made their money by starting companies rather than by parasitizing "the master," etc, real life doesn't work this way.

I would agree that manipulation, market norms and ruthlessness can sometimes help, but specifically these 48 vague dictums are not a complete theory of how to get ahead, and calling them the "laws of power" is needless - it's as if they were written by a self-help author just trying to sell books. Oh wait.

comment by Raw_Power · 2011-05-27T09:24:41.413Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Writing a comprehensive theory of how to get ahead would be a titanic task, don't you think? Anyway, the intent with which the book was written doesn't invalidate the content, and at least you should agree this isn't the usual self-help book, which tend to advocate Lawful Good attitudes..

comment by Manfred · 2011-05-27T10:08:05.473Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Writing a comprehensive theory of how to get ahead would be a titanic task, don't you think?

I agree, it would. I just don't think someone should go around calling what is at best a tiny part of being powerful the "laws of power," and I think that doing so is evidence that these guys are trying to sell books before trying to actually find laws of power.

genetic fallacy

I prefer the term "evidence" :D The percentage of self-help books (even unusual ones, I'd bet) that get things right in a big-picture way is pretty low. Being right can be tested the same regardless of origin, but when strong tests are impractical and we have to reason with the information we've got, we can't ignore that whether something is true is correlated with how reliable its source is.

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2011-05-27T20:08:25.031Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Of possible interest: Eliezer Yudkowsky did a bloggingheads.tv diavlog with Robert Greene, co-author of The 48 Laws of Power. The diavlog was mostly about Greene's sequel, The 50th Law, co-authored with rapper 50 Cent.

(They must say what happened to the 49th law, but I don't remember it.)

comment by djcb · 2011-05-28T11:24:24.345Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, thanks, great to see, how could I have missed that? Entertaining to see how Eliezer somehow gets Greene to elaborate on really how much work it took to find a fitting anecdote after he'd stated some 'law'.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-27T20:26:34.040Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The diavlog was mostly about Greene's sequel, The 50th Law, co-authored with rapper 50 Cent.

Has anyone read that book? I must say I haven't been inspired to myself. Purely because of a prejudicial indifference to what rappers have to say.

comment by djcb · 2011-05-28T11:29:22.940Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unless you are interested in 50-Cent, the book does not add much to the 48 Laws. Robert Greene is a master at finding anecdotes to -cough- proof his 'laws', and 50-Cent's life seems to be a good source for those.

More cynically, the book seems a bit like a marketing ploy to reach a different demographic for his books - I can almost imagine kids running around with "48" tattooed in big Fraktur letters on their upper arms..

comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-27T13:02:43.939Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The question I'd like to ask is this: are they rational? As in, would everyone's lives improve or worsen from following this? Unlike riches and actual achievements, competition for power does seem to be a Zero Sum Game, at least in a society that isn't expanding (demographically or by conquest or otherwise).

Completely aside from any relevance to Greene's book I don't like what you have done to the word 'rational'. That isn't what the word means. 'Rational' does not mean 'good, prosocial and the sort of thing the in group must endorse'. It means 'can doing X be expected to maximise the satisfaction of the agent's inclusive preferences?'. If you want to talk about social good that's ok, just call it social good!

comment by Raw_Power · 2011-05-27T19:11:51.275Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What are inclusive preferences? And is that the definition we have given the word "rational" here? Because I know for a fact that there are a few other definitions out there, for "rational" and for "rationalism". I guess I should ignore them for the sake of precision, but...

Anyway, if the little I understood of Timeless Decision Theory is right, isn't "a rule that everyone would like everyone else to follow" rational?

comment by Larks · 2011-05-27T19:23:28.583Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What we mean by Rationality.

No, that is not what TDT says. As a first approximation, TDT is closer to CDT than Kant. You only need to start thinking about "what if everyone did this thing" if you think you're running the same decision algorithm as them.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-27T19:46:13.616Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What are inclusive preferences?

What you prefer, including things like "but I want them to get what they want too!"

And is that the definition we have given the word "rational" here? Because I know for a fact that there are a few other definitions out there, for "rational" and for "rationalism".

Basically, yes. If you are talking about making rational decisions it means making a decision that best achieves the assumed goal. It doesn't mean making a decision that conforms to any set of cultural norms.

Anyway, if the little I understood of Timeless Decision Theory is right, isn't "a rule that everyone would like everyone else to follow" rational?

No, not at all. There does happen to be a small set of problems in which TDT agents will cooperate with each other while cruder agents will not but that cooperation gets no special privilege. It does whatever is going to win.

comment by rwallace · 2011-05-27T11:43:53.201Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think, if in doubt, you could do a lot worse than use this as a list of guidelines for what not to do. It's designed to sell by masking itself as frightfully hard-nosed realism while actually appealing to the audience's baser instincts.

What does 'baser instincts' mean? Recall that in the Stone Age, life was mostly a zero-sum game. Wealth was mostly foraged, not farmed or manufactured. You spent your life in the tribe you were born in, which was unlikely to grow or find new opportunities except at the expense of another tribe. You couldn't win except by making somebody else lose. None of these things are anywhere near true anymore, but evolution hasn't caught up; we still have instincts honed for that environment, against which our main antidotes are a sense of moral value together with a widening of the scope of what we consider our tribe. In other words, if you feel a sense of moral revulsion when presented with what looks like hard-nosed, realistic advice, it's quite likely that your visceral reaction is correct and the advice is wrong.

"Never outshine the master"? Wrong. A master worth having, would have it no other way. A master not worth having is, well, not worth having.

"Conceal your intentions"? Wrong. Make your intentions clear, then follow through on them. It attracts those who would deal honestly with you, and deters would-be aggressors so that a fight doesn't have to start in the first place.

"Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit"? Only if you want your employees to be those who know they can't find work elsewhere. The competent are no longer permanently stuck in the positions into which they were born.

"Learn to keep people dependent on you"? Then you'll be able to keep them in the mud and your boots on their faces slightly higher in the mud - meanwhile, those who fostered independent allies, will be climbing the highest peaks.

"Play a sucker to catch a sucker: play dumber than your mark"? Only if you want to become entangled with suckers. If your own self-interest really matters to you, don't exploit suckers, just stay away from them.

(Okay, granted there are a few pieces of often-good advice, like "Always say less than necessary" and "Do not go past the mark you aimed for; in victory, learn when to stop". You can't literally use this list as anti-advice. But on the whole, it's bad.)

Caveat: if your life's ambition is to become chief of your tribe, then to a certain extent you are playing a zero-sum game after all, and perhaps this advice may serve you well. But outside that, if you ever find yourself in a situation where it starts looking like good advice, that may be a warning sign you have stumbled into a zero-sum game. In that case, don't spend your efforts on becoming good at it. Spend them on getting the hell out of it.

"A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."

comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-27T15:12:45.960Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In other words, if you feel a sense of moral revulsion when presented with what looks like hard-nosed, realistic advice, it's quite likely that your visceral reaction is correct and the advice is wrong.

Nonsense. If you feel a sense of moral revulsion when presented with what looks like realistic advice then it is far, far more likely that you are naive, sheltered and yet to escape the moral programming used to keep the lower status folks in check. Or, for most people, the visceral moral revulsion is at the idea of publicly declaring pragmatic behavioural strategies when you are supposed to be speaking bullshit but acting practical.

For approximately the above reasons I consider rwallace's advice in the parent to be outright toxic for a broad class of recipients. In particular, those that lack talent for keeping actual decision making divorced from signalling beliefs.

"Never outshine the master"? Wrong. A master worth having, would have it no other way. A master not worth having is, well, not worth having.

This isn't about "Master Yoda", the mentor. This is (obviously) advice about interacting with employers or equivalent leaders in other social contexts that are important.

A mistake that many intelligent people fall into is in thinking that making themselves look good is always the right thing to do. But a lot of the time that is reckless and short sighted. Most bosses like to look like the impressive ones. Your job is to make them look good in front of their superiors and peers in way that they feel inclined to reward you for. Outshining them is seldom the optimal way to do this.

But outside that, if you ever find yourself in a situation where it starts looking like good advice, that may be a warning sign you have stumbled into a zero-sum game. In that case, don't spend your efforts on becoming good at it. Spend them on getting the hell out of it.

In general I share this attitude. I am willing to sacrifice some potential status and power in return for freedom from playing the game optimally. I also find that people underestimate the options they have for finding political situations which suit them.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-05-27T15:23:07.508Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I consider rwallace's advice in the parent to be outright toxic for a broad class of recipients. In particular, those that lack talent for keeping actual decision making divorced from signalling beliefs.

This class can't follow the Rules, either. We're better off being idealists (and out as such, since we're open books). We get suckered sometimes, but we attract allies because we're trustworthy and non-threatening, and we can ally among ourselves.

Your job is to make them look good in front of their superiors and peers in way that they feel inclined to reward you for.

Upvoted.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-05-28T03:57:47.409Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

you are an idealist to the ingroup and a hard nosed realist to the outgroup. everyone else understands this, when you don't do it they think there is something wrong with you and deny you ingroup status.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-27T16:54:25.500Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This class can't follow the Rules, either.

Some of them, for sure.

We're better off being idealists (and out as such, since we're open books).

So long as you can convey that you are the right kind of idealistic. That is, it is important to be clear that cooperation is conditional. Because it is just a pain in the ass to actually have to @#%# people over when they try to defect. (Even thought it is sometimes profitable!)

comment by Raw_Power · 2011-05-27T19:53:13.262Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

it is important to be clear that cooperation is conditional

Your cooperation or theirs?

comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-27T19:58:49.058Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your cooperation or theirs?

Make it obvious that you will not keep being nice to them regardless of what they do. If they 'defect' then 'defect back if convenient' is the ideal that you hope they will attribute to you.

comment by Raw_Power · 2011-05-27T19:51:20.370Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your job is to make them look good in front of their superiors and peers in way that they feel inclined to reward you for. Outshining them is seldom the optimal way to do this.

According to some people I know, you should also tell their bosses how much your bosses suck and how much get in the way of your work and how in spite of that your work is the awesomest and you should definitely be promoted to their level or over it.

To which I answered: "But then the climate at work must suck, everyone will hate each other! Plus, if it's the Standard Operating Procedure on how to treat a boss, how come anyone wants to be boss at all?

To which they answered: "I know, but it's stablized this way, and there doesn't seem to be the incentive or impulse to change that".

Then I just shut up and put on a raeg face.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-28T07:28:21.955Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have never actually seen this done in 5 years of experience in management. Yes, you occasionally signal this very subtly to your boss's boss (mostly happens when you need to extricate yourself from some fix). But mostly you network with and depend on your boss simply because he has a lot more ways and opportunities of representing your work as stupid to his boss than you ever will of doing that to him.

I worked in a manufacturing set up though, where the number of managers in the whole country was about 200 and most of them, including the top management, knew you at least by name. I guess it could be different in a more competitive new economy/banking sort of workplace or a larger organization.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-27T20:24:34.539Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

According to some people I know, you should also tell their bosses how much your bosses suck and how much get in the way of your work and how in spite of that your work is the awesomest and you should definitely be promoted to their level or over it.

I advise people against this tactic. Because there is a chance that it'll work. Then you end up in middle management!

comment by Raw_Power · 2011-05-28T06:38:56.814Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't that the only way to get to upper management?

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-05-27T14:30:22.214Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Learn to keep people dependent on you"? Then you'll be able to keep them in the mud and your boots on their faces slightly higher in the mud - meanwhile, those who fostered independent allies, will be climbing the highest peaks.

Not incompatible. Strong allies will be independent of more people, but you still want them to depend on you. Dependence isn't necessarily coercion; it's hard to keep strong allies by threatening them (prolly why you equated strong and indepedent). Make them dependent by finding what they want and making sure only you can offer that - or better yet, make them want what you can offer in the first place.

comment by Raw_Power · 2011-05-27T19:40:29.242Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Game of Thrones, right? (Actually in that particular case, given that it's a Crapsack World, it's in fact a negative sum game).

I like your post very much, you're right in that these rules really seem to encourage incompetence and mediocrity. Some of the alternative you suggest feel a bit ShinkiAndWH40k, shounen-manga kind of larger-than-life... but I love that as well.

comment by gjm · 2011-05-27T23:33:28.973Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The "strange game" quotation is from the movie "War Games". (The game in question is Global Thermonuclear War.)

comment by Raw_Power · 2011-05-28T06:45:43.562Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I know, but I like the Game of Thrones better: ""Kings and queens, knights and renegades, liars, lords and honest men...all will play the 'Game of Thrones'.[...]When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground. " Hence, negative sum. Though DEFCON(i.e. Global Thermonuclear War, the Game) is on an entirely different scale, I guess.

comment by gjm · 2011-05-28T11:49:05.576Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Butbutbut in "the game of thrones" winning is an option, whereas the whole point of the "strange game" quotation is that there is no winning move at all (other than not playing in the first place). It's not just negative-sum; it's unwinnable.

(Whether that's true of actual global thermonuclear war is of course a separate question.)

comment by virtualAdept · 2011-05-27T14:19:17.187Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you really think saying less than necessary is good advice? That one seemed intuitively good to me at first glance, but then I thought about it a bit more. If I seek to communicate clearly, I should definitely say as much as necessary.

Otherwise, I heartily agree with you.

comment by rwallace · 2011-05-27T14:25:35.892Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well not literally of course, but I consider the useful meaning to be: beware of the intuitive tendency to assume it is necessary to say much, when saying a little would actually suffice. It's a guideline rather than a rule, not always applicable, but often enough to be of value.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-27T15:49:07.299Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or in the words of William Strunk Jr., "Omit needless words."

comment by virtualAdept · 2011-05-27T14:37:32.069Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair. That's how I took it at first, and why I liked it more then.

comment by Raw_Power · 2011-05-27T20:00:20.085Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, but then you end up talking like Roschach, or, less extremely, like Batman. That, in itself, can be felt as very rude by those that talk more openly, especially if their speech methods have a strong aesthetic component besides the bare utility.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-27T20:31:51.631Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, but then you end up talking like Roschach, or, less extremely, like Batman. That, in itself, can be felt as very rude by those that talk more openly

Or sexy, mysterious and intriguing. ;)

comment by Davorak · 2011-05-27T13:59:21.138Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It brings to mind knowing about biases can hurt people. When I read those 48 I got the impression of lessons being repeated out of context and with out the reasoning that actually formed them. Looking at wikipedia at the Sources and Inspirations it looks like they were gathered second hand. Looking at Greene's wiki biography#Biography) I do not see the kind of success that would make me believe that he understood the lessons he gathered.

If you can not regenerate the lesson then employing it might hurt you or people around you and caution is warranted when experimenting with it.

edit: 201105281449 grammer and fixed link text.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-27T13:04:57.069Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The laws aren't much more than basic elements of strategy combined with basic status manipulation - there really isn't anything among them that should be controversial at all.

Two of possible points of confusion are 1) They are descriptive, not prescriptive and 2) It's important to know which are about status and which are about strategy, since that helps guide where they should be applied.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-27T13:17:34.238Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Two of possible points of confusion are 1) They are descriptive, not prescriptive and 2) It's important to know which are about status and which are about strategy, since that helps guide where they should be applied.

Curiously some of the most valuable rules are about strategies for navigating status by not getting too much of it. The only law I bother remembering specifically is the first, "Never Outshine the Master". Obvious to me now, but would have been nice to know 15 years ago!

comment by [deleted] · 2016-01-14T03:41:16.411Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

5 of the 48 Laws of Power aren't immediately intuitive yet highly effective

  • 32-play to people's fantasies;
  • 2-never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies
  • 10-infection: avoid the unhappy and unlucky;
  • 41-avoid stepping in to a great man's shoes;
  • 1-never outshine the master

in that order

comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-27T12:59:19.151Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Please don't hesitate to point it out if you think i have completely misunderstood the purpose of the Discussion section

No, this is what the discussion section is for. But I do think you have completely misunderstood the purpose of the book "The 48 Laws of Power". Taking it as a literal list of rules to be followed is a subversion of the intent. Greene spends as much time explaining when the rule works and even when to do completely reverse the rule as he does on the straightforward application itself.

The rules listed there are best considered mere chapter headings. To be full specifications of rules you would need to add all sorts of details like "If X && Y && (K <23%) then RULE elseif J then -RULE else null".

I don't endorse the wikipedia rule list but I certainly recommend reading the book. It's entertaining, insightful and useful for building one's social awareness and competence.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-27T13:12:36.851Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If everyone followed the rules of this book, would we ever get anything done?

I would expect a massive increase in productivity (among people local in personality space). In part due to working around the worst of why our kind can't cooperate.

So should these social, anti-productive tendencies, be fought with education, or should they be embraced?

Education is definitely not the right term for what you describe. At least, not without enclosing the description in quotation marks.

comment by Raw_Power · 2011-05-27T19:19:55.481Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(among people local in personality space)

? You mean people with similar personalities?

I thought education was the process of formatting humans for the sake of making them functional in a certain way for the sake of fitting into and/or exploiting the shit out of a target social system? That includes morals, taste, gender identity and other forms of internalized categories, a selection of acceptable life goals, a variety of languages, verbal and non-verbal, and of course the cornerstones of the imperfect copy of the universe we carry on our head and the skills to simulate scenarios with it.

comment by Barry_Cotter · 2011-05-28T14:30:20.673Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not wedrifid.

(among people local in personality space)

? You mean people with similar personalities?

Idealistic nerds with akrasia issues, seeing as we are hugely over-represented here in comparision to our share of the population.

As to education, in theory it's about making people more knowledgeable, possibly more capable. What you describe is indoctrination/socialisation, and the reason it'd be "education" and not education is because "education" doesn't make someone an all round more capable person, better able to get what they want, it makes them a more valuable, useful puppet.

Education makes self-actualisation easier, "education" may sometimes have that happen as a side effect.

comment by Raw_Power · 2011-05-29T00:28:36.198Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hm. I had always assumed Education was the social equivalent of "Boot Camp", while I refer to the actual teachings of skills and theoretical knowledge as Instruction.

According to etymology both terms are vague enough that they could work. Instruction would be like "inbuilding" and "education" would be... "drawing out"?

Words are weird. They start as silly metaphors and then get so twisted and dried up in the sands of time we don't even know what they feel like anymore.

That was needlessly hammy.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2011-05-27T05:32:04.057Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sounds like Slytherin to me.

Use it if you need it, but don't pretend that it's actually creating value.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-05-28T03:59:04.538Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

who, whom?

comment by MinibearRex · 2011-05-27T03:27:49.789Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do think these rules probably work, in general. However, they're probably unlikely to make you all that happy in the long run. I don't want to be constantly suspicious of others. However, if you do have something to protect, and the best way to protect that involves manipulating others, then I suspect you ruthlessly manipulate. The few times in my life that I have actually needed to get something done by deception and manipulation, I've gotten them done.

True, you should avoid being despised, and you should ensure that people generally like you. But do you need to obsess about your public appearances in order to ensure that you're sending the right message? Usually no. Just make sure you can influence the people you actually need to, and you'll do fine.

comment by wilkox · 2011-05-27T08:42:28.240Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The link "summary" and the link "Here is a little more expanded text" seem to point to the same place, in my browser at least.