Robert Greene: The Psychology of Power & Social Status | #66
Updated: Apr 14
Full episode transcript below. Beware of typos!
Robert Greene, thank you for joining me.
Robert Greene 4:55
Well, thank you for having me, Nick. My pleasure.
Nick Jikomes 4:57
Can you start off by just telling everyone who you are are and what you do and what you're known for.
Robert Greene 5:03
My name is Robert Greene, I'm an author written, I have seven books out there currently working on my eighth book.
The first book was the 48 Laws of Power. And that kind of created a template for the other books that I've written. I'm kind of fascinated by aspects of human behavior and human psychology, that aren't really generally covered in a similar way, not in the kind of depth that I like to go into, and not from a somewhat neutral non judgmental position. So I've written books on seduction, on strategy and warfare, which is quite fortunately very relevant. Now. I did a book with 50 cent, kind of our book together on on the power of being fearless. I wrote a book on mastery called Mastery, which is about how the brain operates when you become using to vote 10,000 20,000 hours to one kind of creative outlet or arena, and how the brain is transformed by that and how anybody can reach that level. And then the last book I wrote was the loss of human nature, which was kind of my in depth look at the human animal, and all of the kind of sort of the dark aspects of our behavior that are kind of wired into our brains and how we can overcome some of these darker qualities through self awareness. And then my favorite book came out last year called the daily laws, which is kind of a compendium of all my books, one day for each day of the year, kind of a meditation, that can help you dealing with all the different aspects of life that I just mentioned. I'm more than that, because I'm a human being and I have a life. But that's sort of my work.
Nick Jikomes 6:59
Yeah, and I, I discovered you not that long ago, even though you've been writing for for quite a while at this point. I was I so I read your first book, The 48 Laws of Power. And I came to that because I had been reading a little bit more about political science, political strategy, history stuff, which is a little bit outside of my main focus. I'm typically pretty squarely in the sciences in terms of my interests. But I read a book called The Machiavelli ins which was about a number of Italian political thinkers. Machiavelli being one of them. And you start out the introduction, or at the end of the introduction to this book, you have a quote from the prince that Niccolo Machiavelli wrote, and I wanted to read that, and then ask you about it. So in the book, the prince which you quote, he says, Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin, among the great number who are not good. Hence, a prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity, requires. So who exactly was Machiavelli? And what was he trying to say here?
Robert Greene 8:08
Machiavelli is interesting, because people know the name and the reputation which is associated with things rather dark and evil. But few people know about his actual story. He was from the city state of Florence, was born in the fifth 15th century. And in the late 15th century, he became a Florentine diplomat. He represented Florence in all the different city states at the time, dealing with the Pope, dealing with Venice, dealing with Naples, cetera. And he did some negotiations, he was a low level diplomat, he never had a lot of power. He was involved with negotiations with Cesare Borgia, who is a rather notorious figure in Renaissance Italian history, who is sort of kind of the figure behind the prints, a very dastardly, very a moral character. But people have to understand that books back then weren't written how books are written. Now, there's a level of irony to this book, which is the fact that shortly after he had been involved with Borgia, there was a revolution in in Florence, which had been a republic, a very democratic republic, and the de cheese came back into power. And Machiavelli was on the side of the Republic of Florence. He was not in favor of the muddy cheese. And because of that, he was banished from Florence. He had it was kind of humiliating, and he had to live in the village outside of Florence. And as somebody who was sort of obsessed and fascinated by power, it was a terrible experience. So he wrote the prints as a way to get back back into the good graces of the muddy cheese, right. So there was a strategy behind it. So it doesn't necessarily represent all of his own views, right. And he kind of exaggerated. And there's definitely levels of irony as there are in all of Machiavelli's texts. But it since became because of the sort of brutality of his language and how he communicated, which was very, very unusual for the time. So for instance, he's the he was analyzing the Pope and the Vatican, through the lens of power, not through the lens of Christianity. He was saying that this is this is a nation, a state that is obsessed with power, that is extremely strategic that uses its power. And he analyzed it. And that kind of of frankness, and coldness, if you will, was very startling. And over the years, over the centuries, the book has had tremendous influence is influenced people on the dark side of human nature, undoubtedly, people like Stalin, etc. But it's also been something that American early American presidents who founded a republic, read and FDR randoms, very much influenced by. And even a lot of left wing politicians were obsessed with him. So he's a he's a very interesting character, probably one of the most influential people in history. But the strange thing is, he never had much power throughout his whole life.
Nick Jikomes 11:32
Yeah, I. So I came to your book from this other book called The Machiavelli ins. And prior to doing that, I sort of just had the, the cartoon notion of Machiavelli, that I think a lot of people have this name, like, Oh, this guy must have been completely power hungry, he was advocating for a completely amoral, detached way of being in the world. And when I read about him, I had this sort of mental flip that happened, where, apparently that isn't the case. He was really a political scientist and early political scientists. And he was he was simply interested in understanding the nature of power and how people come to acquire and wield it. And, and he decided that the best way to actually understand it, apparently was to take the viewpoint of a scientist to be detached from your subject, and to watch it and observe it as it is. And describe that. Is that is that your reading of him as well?
Robert Greene 12:24
Yes, very much. So. I mean, I don't know if he science back in late 15th century, early 16th century isn't what we call science today. But there really wasn't anything that we would call political science and nothing like that existed. So he was kind of charting new ground. Of course, there's never anything totally new in the history of mankind. So we can go back to ancient Greece, and through acidities, who was a historian, ancient Greek historian who had that kind of approach, or to read Latin writers like takhat, as a Tacitus. And there were precursors, of course, but to give you an idea of his perspective, one of his most interesting ideas, is what he calls an effective truth. Very tired effect, while and basically the idea is, you don't, when you're looking at analyzing power, you don't look at what people say, you don't look at their reputation. You look at their actions that would, that's what you analyze, of course, you look at what they say, but you look at that through the lens of that is an action that is either propaganda or something that they're using for power purposes. So as I gave go back to the Pope, for instance, the romantic, the non effective truth would be, you know, it's all about Christianity and spreading the word of Jesus Christ, etc. But the effective truth is, look at their actions. Look at the Pope's power moves, particularly, particularly through the lens of the times he lived in. And you must understand, the Pope's, at that time were incredibly corrupt. And a Borgia, a relative of Cesare Borgia was the pope at the time, an extremely corrupt man very much involved in power politics, but nobody had the guts to even analyze it that way. So he, for some reason, he is the first person to kind of think of history in those terms.
Nick Jikomes 14:24
And you mentioned the structure of your books. And the structure of this book was very interesting. I'd never read anything quite like it. So can you describe that structure for people? And what led you to write a book with this kind of unorthodox composition?
Robert Greene 14:37
Well, that's a good question. structure has always been very important to me, because I think structure communicates as much as anything. So when I'm watching a movie, or I read a novel, The structure of the organization where the ideas flow is a form of communication. And I wanted to create something new. That kind of reflected how I think how my mind works. And so the first thing that I decided upon and this kind of grew organically because it was my first book. And as you say, there's nothing else that else out there like that, for better or for worse, just the way it's structured the way it looks on the page. I was obsessed with stories. So for instance, I had been living in France in Paris in the early 80s. I was working in a hotel there was very young. And one day the owner of the hotel who was very literary man, told me the story about Louie the 14th. And his finance, miss, then administer Nicolas Fouquet. And how Nicolas Fouquet through this incredibly lavish party to impress the king, and maybe influence the king to appoint him as his Prime Minister. And the party was such a success. And everybody, it was probably one of the greatest parties ever held in the history of mankind. If we actually read the details, the fireworks, the plays by Moliere, the other things going on. And so the entertainment,
everyone was complimenting for K, the next day, Louie the 14th, had him arrested, and he spent the rest of his life in prison. I thought, God, that is such an interesting story. There's like a paradigm there. There's like a lesson. And there's something that says about human nature. And that kind of registered in the back of my mind. And I always thought of that story. And so when it came time to write a book about power, that story came right back to me. And I go, Well, really what happened with with Fouquet in the with the 14th, was that he gained too much attention at the expense of the king. And that made the king inadvertently insecure, that maybe this man was more loved by his subjects than the king. And this deeply offended him. But he couldn't admit it. He couldn't tell anybody that. So we had this Fouquet arrested for corruption, for taking bribes, and threw him in one of the darkest prisons in France, and he never emerged from. So my idea was things obviously, we don't throw people into prison. Now, if we, if they hurt our egos, you know, if you you're in a work situation, but what we will do is we will fire them, we won't have Cesare Borges brutality, where we literally execute somebody to try and use as a scapegoat. But we will, a politician cannot thrive without having convenient scapegoats. So we humans in the 21st century operate on a more metaphorical level, we use the same strategies, but they're a little bit more concealed, they're not as brutal. And so I want to tell stories, in my book, each chapter is introduced by one of these kinds of paradigms, one of these kinds of archetypal stories from history. And they're not like kings and queens, they're a con artist, I have lots of stories of con artists, because I believe we live in a time of con artistry, where politicians and business people are basically doing competence type games, I have stories of magicians, I have stories of entertainers of actors, etc, the whole gamut. But I wanted to create this kind of circus, this panoply of human history of all the power players, those who have succeeded, and those who failed, and kind of rooted in this history, and tell the lessons of power, that I have learned through my research through the lens of all of these different stories. So I tell the story, I kind of interpret the story, and then maybe tell the second story. And then I go into the ideas and the philosophy behind it, also sometimes illustrated with stories. And at the end of each chapter, I have what's called a reversal, which means this law, I call these laws, like never outshine the masters, the first one, you may want, this one might be completely useless, I might have the totally wrong idea. Let's look at it from the opposite angle, maybe the opposite idea is correct. Because I don't like people who are so rigid in their thinking, who just apply exactly what I'm saying? Maybe doing the opposite is what you need to do in certain situations. And then on the margins of each chapter, I have fables from LaFontaine, from Isa, stories from history that are kind of entertained that are quoted on the sides that illustrated so it's kind of a full picture where it's taking you in all sorts of different directions. And quite frankly, it could have completely failed when it came at 9098. Because it is so different and weird. But in some for whatever reason, it hasn't it's the opposite has happened.
Nick Jikomes 19:43
Yeah, it is a very unique structure. I want to emphasize that to people. For me, at least it did a great job at holding my attention because we're never sticking with one one story for too long. And you did a great job at sort of pulling out some of the psychological principles that were common to it with other otherwise be seen as just completely unrelated historical scenes and things. And, you know, while we're, while we're just starting here, I wanted to ask you the simple question, what is power. And to do that, I want to read just a sentence you have towards the beginning to get started there, you say that power is a game, this cannot be repeated too often. And in games, you do not judge your opponents by their intentions, but by the effect of their actions. And so I just want to kick it back to you for that for the question of what is power and, and see what you have to say,
Robert Greene 20:32
well, it's a notion that comes from Marcus Aurelius, or it's an idea, the great Latin writer, philosopher, stoic, who had this metaphor that when two people men are in a boxing ring, and they're hitting each other, and it's getting violent, and you're trying to, like knock the other guy out, if somebody hits you, you don't stand back and claim, why did you do that you should, you're not being fair. That's not don't hit me the rules of the game, but this is what the arena is like. This is what life is like. So don't complain, just learn how to play the game well. So my idea of power is that I basically kind of rooted in very elemental human psychology, going back, I believe, hundreds of 1000s of years, we humans, as an animal cannot stand the feeling of having no control or influence over our environment. This is what has stamped us as a species. This is how our brain operates. And when we get in a moment where we feel vulnerable and helpless, all kinds of emotions are turned up motions that can get us in trouble, as we struggle to gain some kind of power or influence over the situation, right? So.
So the idea is that these kinds of situations, so the idea for you listening out there, if you have no way to influence your children, your spouse, your boss, your career going forward, it is the most miserable emotion that you can have, right? And it's going to cause you to act in ways that can be very counterproductive. So power is the ability to have some degree of influence or control over these various different elements, you can never have complete control, that's not possible. Nor is that desirable. Human beings are very complex, you can have a margin, the ability to persuade people that you have a good idea, the ability to get somebody interested in your project, your business, your screenplay, the ability to get your children to perhaps listen to you and direct their attention in some way. And in order to have that kind of power or control that I say, is built, it is a desire that we all share. If you completely if you allow these emotions that that turn up in moments of vulnerability, powerlessness, you're going to make very bad decisions. So you need to have some distance, you need to have some detachment, which was sort of going back to how Machiavelli looked at it. So if it's like a game, if you're playing chess on this board, with your career, with all the different Machiavellian characters in your office, I'm not saying everybody in your offices, Machiavellian, maybe only one out of 20 or 10 is like that. But they can cause a lot of trouble. The ability to see that as like a chess board, as opposed to personal, I'm trying to get you out of the idea of thinking, everything is personal, everything is about me, everything is about my emotions, first of all, it's going to wear you down, it's going to make you sick, you're going to get all kinds of diseases, etc. But second of all, it's going to make you act in ways that are not strategic, not rational, it is a game, it is a chessboard that you're playing, and you have to make the right moves. And in order to make the right moves, you have to think in a certain way, with that level of detachment with a level of distance, that does not mean that you are completely cold, and that you are brutal, and that you push people around, which is a complete misconception about my book. There are many, many chapters are part of that game is understanding the people you're dealing with their psychology, their needs, and winning them over to your side in a way that is not that that is in their interest as well. So you know, chapters about appealing to their self interest, as opposed to thinking of yourself interested cetera. But all of the laws have the sense of, I'm looking at my life and my career and people I deal with, from a sense of detachment, and I'm analyzing, and I'm saying this is what I've done, right? This is what I've done wrong, how can I do better, etc. And to me, I mean, it's kind of a verbose way, but that's sort of how I would define Power.
Nick Jikomes 25:01
Yeah, and you do point out at multiple places in different ways that it's a mistake to believe that the ultimate form of power is independence, like you're unconstrained by by relationships and other things. And you can just sort of do whatever you want if you were the, the ultimate, powerful person. And that power involves relationships between people. So So what is, what is the important point there about the role of relationships?
Robert Greene 25:28
Well, we're a social animal to the core. And there is no such thing as somebody who can operate in a vacuum who can have power, without having to deal with people on some level, I mean, even the worst kind of tyrant, and to deal with all the core tears around them, and all kinds of threats and conspiracies, etc. So, you know, I have several laws in there about the dangers of being isolated, and not having information that's, that's very direct from what's going on around you the dangers of offending the wrong person of offending people in general. Right. So it's incredibly complex social game. And it's all about your awareness. So if you're always thinking of yourself, which is the problem that most people have, in the power arena, if you're inward, and you're thinking about what you need to get, and what people would you deserve, and the recognition attention you should have, and whether that person is mean and is trying to hurt you, etc, you're not able to kind of step back and have the analysis that we that we're talking about, right? So I want you to get out of yourself, I want you to see it as a prime as a pre eminent social game, for going back to the game metaphor. And every move that you make, you have to constantly deal with the complexities of all the different people that are going to be influenced. So one action that you take on one person around you, is going to have reverberating effects on all the other people around you, they're going to react and they're going to do something to you, instead of they're going to create these waves that are going to continue on in the future, you have to be very aware that it's not about you, but that it's about this intricate, intricate layers of different social levels that you're dealing with. And so, you know, for instance, you look at an example right now, the war in Ukraine, something I'm following very closely. And you see, someone like Putin, who has had to deal with a social game, in the power politics of Russia, and the power politics of Russia are very brutal. It's something I've been there. I've studied it quite closely. Right. And so he's had to learn over the years, how to kind of manipulate all these men, mostly men around him, and make them completely subservient to him. And it creates this kind of grandiosity in a figure, which is very dangerous. And I have many examples of emperors of rulers and even presidents who succumb to this kind of grandiosity, like, I have so much control over these people that I can do anything I want. And here he launches a war. I'm simplifying things, obviously, to some extent, but he's not seeing all of the other layers of, of, of consequences that are going to come back at him, like his reputation in Europe, how the Germans are going to react, how the Americans react, the economic sanctions, the people of Ukraine, and how their, their morale and how they react to this is the most important factor of all, he's so locked in himself that he's not seeing the social aspect, and all the different little triggers that could cause them too much problems that he had never foreseen. So power depends on your sensitivity to every single person around you. And one of the figures in the 48 laws. One of the art types is King Louis the 14th, who I talked about in the beginning. And Louie the 14th saw the world is this kind of one large palace, literally embodied in the Palace of Versailles, in which there were 1000s of courtiers who lived there at the same time, and including the staff at the palace, the housekeepers, the valets, etc. His mentality was, I have to be aware of the psychology of each person around them. If I start offending the cook or the housekeeper that's going to reverberate to other layers of this palace of Versailles, it's come back to hurt me. I want everybody on my side. I want everybody to love their King, obviously, for purposes of power, so it's not all philanthropic here. But somebody like that was powerful because of He was sensitive to all the different social dynamics in one place in that palace of Versailles.
Nick Jikomes 30:08
Yeah, I mean, this is sparking, I think questions about the role of deceit and also self deception in power dynamics. And, you know, if we if we go back to the Machiavellian idea of distinguishing between the formal and and effective truths, you know, what people are doing versus what people are simply saying, you know, it brings up ideas here around the role of language and deception. So language is arguably the quintessential thing that humans do that other animals can't do. And deception is also a very human thing, other animals deceive each other, but not in the same kinds of ways that humans are capable of. So can you speak a little bit about the role of language and deception and human power dynamics
Robert Greene 30:54
are the only slight correction I would give there, because you're totally right, is that chimpanzees and higher primates reveal levels of deception that are on much higher plane than other animals. So it's clearly something that's very much involved in primates. And there are many people have called chimpanzees, the Machiavellian animal, and that we've descended from that. So there are many species that evolved complicated forms of deception. And primates are sort of supreme at that. But part of the problem for the human animal is that we're gifted with consciousness and rationality. But at the same time, we're governed very much by emotions. And are you a neuroscientist? Yeah. Okay, well, so I'm probably gonna be making a fool of myself in this explanation. So please correct me. But basically, emotion, emotions, create kind of chemical and electrical responses in our body physically, that are much more powerful than the little things going on in our neocortex than other kinds of thinking and thoughts. When you have an emotion, it releases these powerful hormones, etc, even adrenaline into your system, that and you don't even know necessarily why they're being why the source of them, and then you start thinking about them afterwards. And you kind of ascribe a purpose or a context to them that may not necessarily be there. Because the idea that our emotions are random, or that we don't control them is deeply disturbing to us. But we are largely governed by emotions more than by our rationality, because they're much more powerful. And so when we're looking at people, and we're looking at the world around us, we're not necessarily reacting to we're not analyzing what is really going on, what is really what is the thought behind this person saying that are behind their actions, we're looking at the surface, we're looking at the words, they say, we're looking at the tone of their voice, we're looking at how pleasing and charming they are, we're looking at their smiles, we're looking at whether they like us, or whether they don't like us, it's the animal part of our nature, to react to the appearances that we see in the immediate environment, as opposed to stepping back and going. Appearances can be very deceptive. And so you have people in this world, and I'm not gonna say that percentage of some people have estimated is 5% of the population. It's just a number, that understand that humans are very easy to deceive. And they actually want to be deceived. They like fiction, they like stories, they like stories that kind of fit into what they want to believe. Right. And so if you give them the appearances, that pleased them, that satisfy them, they will believe anything that you you say they will be distracted from your actual actions, right? Which is how magicians are able to work. They're constantly kind of distracting you, through their words through their other things for what they're actually doing for the tricks that they're playing. That's how I met magicians over the Tao Canos operate in the book, I analyze the con game itself and how you have a front that kind of impresses people like Wow, this looks like a real bank, I'm gonna go put my money into it. Whereas this great Congress, Yellow Kid vial, created a fake bank, he took a bank that have gone out of business, he then rented it for a cheap price. He then filled it with all of his actors, as if it were a real bank. He opened it up, and people came in and they invested like 1000s 1000s of dollars. And then he just took it and ran away with his with the gains that he'd made. Because he created this front this illusion of something real. If you create the appearance of reality, because people are so attuned to how things look to how they feel. You can then easily deceive them. So we are creatures that unfold Fortunately, are incredibly gullible. We're wired for gullibility, and I wanted to make a point here in power, that you need to try and get rid of that a little bit. I don't want to make you cynical, I don't want to make you think that everything around you is conspiracy, that everything around you everybody's using power moves. But I want you to be aware that maybe what this person is saying, isn't the reality of what they're actually feeling. Maybe they're thinking something else. Maybe they're trying to charm you, because secretly, they envy you. I want you to open up your eyes to the fact that appearances are not reality.
Nick Jikomes 35:39
Yeah, the example the magician is powerful, because it sort of makes it very clear what the power of the presentation is, and, and having the right presentation in conjunction with the ability to draw people's attention to one place and Miss direct their attention from another place so that they don't actually see everything that's going on, and they see only what you want to present. I wanted to ask you a little bit more about, you know, the role of attention or capturing and directing people's attention. You know, I think from an early age, we all understand that everyone wants attention, we all want some amount of attention, to come to ourselves. And it's very clear now that with technology and social media, especially we live in what people often call the attention economy, and we're all very, very clearly competing with everyone else to capture as much of that attention as possible. So what is the role and importance that attention and capturing attention plays in acquiring and maintaining power or status?
Robert Greene 36:35
Well, it's absolutely critical because, you know, if, if power is often a game of appearances of the ability to manipulate appearances, it all depends on how many people you can get to recognize you to look at what you're doing right. And so there's the famous quote from PT Barnum. PT Barnum is one of the art icons in the 48 Laws of Power, that no attention is no controversy is bad controversy or no attention is bad attention. In other words, if I create something that is obviously repulsive, that's obviously I'm bamboozling the public and all the press gets said he doesn't care, because they're talking about him. If they're talking about it, people are gonna Wow, that barn and He's so clever. And it was, you know, his strategy. So I have a chapter in the book called called attention at all cost. And it's kind of saying it's a bit of a zero sum game. There's not an infinite amount of attention out there. Even though with social media, it is certainly gotten exponentially a lot greater, but it's not infinite. So whenever there's a tension on you, there's not going to be attention on somebody else. Right? So you want to somehow try and monopolize that attention. And, you know, one of the one of the weird examples in recent times for me, was the phenomenon of Donald Trump. People often was saying to Donald Trump worry, the 48 Laws of Power. And I would say, I don't think Donald Trump reads books, quite frankly. And I don't think he's read my book. He doesn't need to read my books. And as much as I cannot stand the guy, and I'm, I've admitted many, many times, he was absolutely perhaps the greatest genius, at this idea of courting attention about cost of playing the PT Barnum, through infuriating people with things that he would say that were outrageous that would get under their skin, that would go them, but they will continually talking about him. They were obsessed with him. And that was his idea of power. Of course, it's a limited form of power, because it can't that can't be your only game. But I remember traveling at the time when he was president, to the far corners of the planet. And people were talking obsessed with him. They were, that's all they could talk about. So that is an incredible form of power. Right? So it's not just simply getting attention. It's the quality of that attention and how easily people are distracted. And the problem with social media and I have a lot of celebrities who come to me for advice on this is how do you keep that attention, right? It's so evanescent now, it's not the same as it was 5060 100 years ago, right? You're in the limelight. Now, people are following that somebody younger comes along, they're not paying attention to you. It's humiliating. And then if I keep doing the same things, I look desperate etcetera, etcetera. So, the attention game is part of the power game. So if you're looking at check the chessboard analogy to go back to let's just to give a bad example, let's just say attention is one of the pieces on that chessboard, right. You must not think in terms of, I just have to do anything. You have to be strategic about that. So sometimes being outrageous, will get you at Tension, sometimes being the cloud will get you attention, like it were with Donald Trump. But then it's hard to hold that, right? And then people will, will get tired of you, and they'll go on somebody else. So you have to look at that as another kind of power game. And how can I change my game up? I think the people who are most brilliant at the attention, power dynamic, are able to surprise the public, they're able to do go here, and then suddenly come from an angle and go here, they surprise, they do something different. They have a different approach to get attention for something else. You know, you're, you're a businessman like Elon Musk, you get attention for, for doing saying something kind of outrageous, that offends people on Wall Street, everyone's talking about you, then you do something much different from a different angle where you're suddenly giving to Ukraine, all of these, this new satellite software system, you've got like eight different moves in your arsenal, and you're coming at the public from different directions, you change it up. That's the kind of attention that you can sustain. It would take a whole new book for me to write about social media and the power game, although I think the rules that I wrote about still largely apply. But it is much more complicated in this day and age to keep that games to sustain that kind of level of tension.
Nick Jikomes 41:23
You mentioned, PT Barnum, and he comes up quite a bit in the book. Can you remind people who he was and more specifically, you give examples of the book of things that he did, which would seem completely weird or counterintuitive to most people. So for example, he would, he would take his worst critics, he would take journalists writing terrible reviews about his shows or whatever. And he would then invite him to his shows and give them the best seats in the house. So what on earth was going on when he was doing those kinds of things? And what was that actually doing for him?
Robert Greene 41:51
What was the cool thing about PT Barnum is he's a quintessential American, is a quintessential sales and showman, one of the great Shamans in history. And it's kind of an archetype that's very, very, very American. And PT Barnum learned very early on in his career, I don't remember the exact anecdote, where he did something that got very bad press that people thought was really vulgar and stupid. And yet it made the public kind of flocked to his Exhibit, he goes well, that shows that anything that I do or say that gets attention will work to my benefit. And he would do things like this. He had a Museum in New York, the American something Museum, which he would show, things that were really kind of strange oddities like something from Ripley's Believe It or Not, like bodies with two heads and things like that, some of which were completely fabricated. He would claim that this creature been taken from the sea, but actually been sewn together cleverly by some scientists to look like the real thing. So he had this museum that people flocked to for that reason. And he knew that, for some reason, the attention some days was at work, people weren't going as into it as much as he wanted. So we did things like he hired the worst musicians he could find, to sit outside, nearby the museum and play the worst music, so irritating and annoying. And in order to escape the music, people have to go inside of his museum, because the only place that they could escape hearing these horrible sounds, you know, things like that. Were kind of tricking people to enter his museum, you know, and, and so his thing was, if I'm outrageous, what happens? Even if I have, you know, I have an exhibit of the oldest human being 200 years old. And people know that there's no, he's 20 years older, that can't really be true, you know, but apart, people were still sort of entertained by the idea of it right, by the idea of these oddities. So once he created his reputation, anything he did, people would go, there must be some trick up his sleeve, there must be something behind it. And even if people saw through him and saw that he was a fake, they were still fascinated to see what kind of fakery he would do next. So we're talking about appearances. I have a chapter on reputation. And this kind of goes back to if you create a reputation for like that. It's like a magnet of attention in power, because people are always thinking, what will you do next? I'm fascinated by and once you fascinate people, and you get guessing, what is this guy up to? What will he do next? You've won the attention power game in my mind.
Nick Jikomes 44:44
Yeah, so a lot of this reminds me of and you also mentioned Elon Musk, who runs the company, Tesla. So remind me a lot of the historical scenes that you described between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison in the book, which are fascinating if people haven't read or heard about that. It's a very interesting part of history to read about. So the name Tesla today is very famous because of Elon Musk's car company. But the story of Nikola Tesla is a famously tragic one, because his competitor, Thomas Edison, sort of won the battle in many ways at the time between DC and AC current. And I believe Tesla ended up dying in poverty and sort of what's what's so curious there that I want you to comment on is, you know, almost anyone who's probably knew them at the time or looks back on the history would agree that Tesla had the superior intellect and superior scientific mind, he was just brilliant, almost savant like person, but sort of Edison ends up winning in many ways. So what did Edison understand about marketing and power that Tesla did not?
Robert Greene 45:45
Well, yeah, I mean, you're very right, Tesla was one of probably one of the great geniuses he had like this visual imagination that was something uncanny, where he could see the workings of some elaborate machinery or motor in his mind, and all the moving parts, and then he could put it on paper, the kind of eidetic imagery that is just very, very rare. It is a savant like power. Okay. The point that I'm making in that story, and that I make throughout the book, and that I make in all of my books, and I tell people is that the talented, the creative, don't often win in the game of life, don't often win the power games, that often, it's the ones who are the least creative, who are the producers of a movie, and not the actual writers, or actors, etc. They're the people who steal your ideas, who are waiting in the wings, you come up with something clever, they buy you out, like Google or, or Facebook will do, etc. So the creative, the talented, in many cases don't win because very talented, creative people like a Tesla are naive. They think that the world operates only by, you know, your talent by your ideas that results matter, right. And in an ideal world, if we humans were more like angels instead of primates, that is how things should operate, that a Tesla is rewarded for his creative thinking for all these great ideas. And Edison, who was a, who was a good scientist, but was not on his level, will not be rewarded as much, right. But that's not the world we live in. So Tesla was easily duped into see time and time again, by Thomas Edison, who understood that to be a successful scientist, wasn't, you know, this was a period in American history where or inventions were incredibly important. And there was a very creative period in American history. Just think of all the incredible things like the phonograph, the telephone, the movie camera, things that Tesla himself, were involved in, just incredible ferment of these inventions going on at one point. But he realized that it doesn't help to have some great idea. If you can't get financial backing, if you won't get people interested in it, if the public doesn't care. So if you get the public interested in an idea where they're clamoring for this invention, then you'll find the investors. So it doesn't mean you can't be just like the scientists thinking that all that matters, is think my little notations on paper and my equations, etc. It has to have a marketing dynamic, right? So when he was trying to influence investors in the light bulb, which is probably his greatest invention, people thought it was ridiculous, it was very impractical. He would put on the shows for the press. And for the financiers, they would show these incredible light shows with showing them what a whole city, he would have the whole city of a model of the whole city of New York, lit up by these, these this electric light. And he gives a visual impression of it. Well, that really impressed people. And then it created this momentum in the public and in the press, that we need to have this product, right. So he understood that you had to have this element. And even he understood that if he had a rival, and there were other rivals on the scene, doing light bulbs or still doing gas lantern lighting, that he had to crush them. He had to humiliated push them off the stage that only he could have the attention. And so we played that game with a Tesla in a very kind of cruel way. Because Tesla was creating a different form of electrical charge. I believe it was DC as opposed to I can't remember which and Edison to show that his form of his electrical current was unsafe. He had he had cases where animals were being electrocuted by that DC charge, as if people were going to be electrocuted if they bought Tesla's invention, which is totally bogus, but it created these very kind of a moral exercises to kind of turn people away from Tesla, and think that only Edison's form of the electrical current was proper, on and on and on and on. And Tesla, who, as I said, was one of the most brilliant people in our history. He basically lived in poverty.
Nick Jikomes 50:34
Yeah, so you, you draw this analogy between hunters and scavengers, you say at one point, they may have even been around the story of Edison and Tesla, you know, the world of power has the dynamics of the jungle, there are those who live by hunting and killing. And there are a vast number of creatures who live off, live off the hunting of others. You talk about vultures, for example, as as a very successful scavenger in the world of animals. So what more can you say there about, about that analogy, especially from the perspective of how one would best protect oneself and prevent yourself from being tricked or conned by other people?
Robert Greene 51:12
Well, everything in the game here, but keep coming back to this theme, is your level of awareness and your level of detachment, your ability to analyze, and not taking things personally, and not being so wrapped up in yourself. So realize that if you have an idea, somebody out there is wanting to try and steal it probably. Right. And there are people like that who thrive and are not very creative, but are the people that had the money, the producers of something, etc. They literally thrive on scavenging other people's ideas. And I have a chapter in there called get other people to do the work, but always take the credit, which unserviced is a very kind of cruel law. But I wrote that, looking at it from the other side of the coin. So I had been working prior to writing that book in Hollywood. And Hollywood is a as an arena, that absolutely depends on that law, where hundreds of people are doing all the dirty work, the electricians, the directors of the DPS directors of photography, the writers, the the cast, and crew, etc. But in the end, nobody ever hears about them. Nobody ever knows how incredibly creative perhaps the production designer was, or had the, the Director of Photography had the great look of the film doesn't come from the director comes from this person. And only the actors, as a director are getting the attention for they're the ones that get all the credit, right? It happened to me time and again, where I was working for a director and a writer. And I would write whole bits of dialogue for him because I was very good at dialogue. And nobody ever knew that nobody ever knew it. He put his name on it as if he had written the whole thing. And it was infuriating. And it was kind of humiliating for me. And it made me very bitter. And I realized later on, as I was writing the 48 Laws of Power, that being bitter, and resentful was the wrong approach, that I was violating my own laws, that if I step back, and I realized, first of all, this is part of the game, it's natural, it's normal is in this environment, just accepted. Just bide your time and don't take it personally. Perhaps I could have made it clear to him, that I was really good at this at this writing this kind of thing. And maybe he would have said, Robert, I want you to write a screenplay for me, maybe I could have parlayed that into something powerful. But by being resentful, and taking it personally, I closed off all sorts of avenues and strategies. Sometimes you have to accept the fact that this is the dynamic that when you're young people are going to exploit you they're going to use your your youthful energy for their own purposes. How do you deal with that? Can you deal with it not getting all emotional upset? That sort of, strategically, what can I get out of it? Maybe in my writing that dialogue, I was gaining some skills that I can use later on for my own purposes. And other times, you have to be very wary. And you have to understand that there are people out there who are going to steal my idea who's going to buy my company out, you have to protect yourself, you have to find avenues of defense, we have to not be so trusting. You know, a common problem that I deal with in my consulting work is somebody is looking for a business partner. Right? And they hire someone who they think is very charming, and very pleasant to be around and who has a good resume. They hire them in and this person proceeds to steal the company from them. Right? And if you just been a little bit more wary and you realize that there are people like that out there who are looking to ride off what you build Old, maybe would have been more careful in hiring somebody like that. So I just want you to realize that there are these sharks, these vultures out there. And to not necessarily not become paranoid, but the person that you're maybe partnering with that person who might be interested in your project, they might also be interested in stealing your project. That's the main idea.
Nick Jikomes 55:24
Another thing that you emphasize well in the book is the power of kind of mental or strategic fluidity of not being completely, completely locked into one strategy and to always be, be analyzing things in a context specific manner just because the world is ever changing. You have a famous Napoleon quote at one point that says the laws that govern circumstances are abolished by new circumstances. So what does that mean? And what is the importance of this kind of flexibility in your thinking?
Robert Greene 55:54
Well, it's a form of strategy and thinking that I'm generalizing here, but I find is more Asian than Western. So Asian forms of strategy, going back to Sunsoo, but even in like Taoism, etc, are much more looking at life in the context sense of looking at things as being completely fluid is set in stone, that the circumstances we're dealing with are complicated when we're only seeing one part of the picture. And that if we follow a linear form of approach to something, we're probably not taking into consideration all of these complex ideas, all the different circumstances. And so somebody like a Sun Tzu said, you have to be like water, you have to be fluid, you have to conform to each situation, right. And so, one of the icons in the 48 Laws of Power is one of the greatest samurai warriors in Japanese history, called Miyamoto Musashi. And back in those days, we're talking about 17th 18th century Japan, you're in a sword fight to the death. So one wrong move, and you're dead. And this man was in like 5060 sword fights through his life, and he won every single one of them. He was absolutely unbeatable. And what was his method, he never repeated the same strategy twice. Each time he faced an opponent. He looked at them in the eye, he looked at their psychology, he looked at their spirit, he had a word for I can't remember the Japanese word, but he would catch their spirit, he would catch how they were thinking, he would go inside their mind, he would feel what they were feeling. And based on what he intuited, he would then completely adopt his strategy to that, and never repeated it. So people never knew what he was going to do next, right. So the idea is that you're kind of trapped in this sort of linear way of thinking, we're so black and white, we're so linear. And it's something very much embedded in Western ways of thinking. And it comes out in the different forms of warfare that we use, which we kind of want to bomb the other side, we want to just brutalize them and destroy them, and not be so creative. Napoleon was very kind of Asian his thinking he was very fluid. And that's what made what fascinates me about him, and why he was probably the greatest general Western general in history. But if you're able to see that what you're, the circumstances you're facing now, are not what you faced a month ago, or a year ago, particularly the way the world is now that you have to be in the moment you have to be fluid. And so that in Zen philosophy, because I'm very much in fascinated, but Zen Buddhism is called stopping the mind. Whenever your mind fixates on an idea or an emotion, it stops in the mind that what's happening is just fluid. It's like water is continually changing, but you're stopping here. And the moment your mind stops, you're disconnecting from the circumstances around you, you have to move with each second of each circumstance, he was never stop the mind. You must flow with everything that's going on around you, and adopt your strategies to that. And the greatest disasters in human history come from people like in warfare, who think that the last battle that I won the last war that I fought is exactly what I must apply. This time. It's also all the disasters in business. And I think this is definitely coming out this way, in excuse me, in Putin's war in Ukraine, where he saw that this strategy that had worked Syria that had worked to some degree in Georgia, and worked in Chechnya that it worked in the Crimea, you can now apply it to the Ukraine, without considering the fact that circumstances were African pletely different. So it's a trap, to always have the mind stop and fixate on what happened six months ago, because the mind memories are generally embedded with emotions, the strongest memories are embedded with emotions. So if something you did six months ago was successful, it resonates in your brain with this extra aura of wow. And it's charged with emotions of success of elation. And you're naturally the brain will naturally return to that feeling, the same thing will happen the opposite, when something bad happened, the fear element will embed that in your memory, then you won't do that, even though that might be exactly what you need to do at this moment. So you in order to be a strategic strategist and play the power game, you almost have to work against the inclinations of the brain that want to draw you into the past.
Nick Jikomes 1:00:56
So you in many ways, this is kind of a history book, you cover so much ground historically, so many different episodes, and different kinds of people from different periods and places in history. What, you know, how did you cover so much ground? What was your research process like that allows you to stitch all these things together?
Robert Greene 1:01:15
Well, I had worked for many years prior to writing the 48 Laws of Power, I'd done research, I've been a journalist, and then working in Hollywood, people would often hire me on some kind of historic film to do all the research for, and I'm, I'm not, there's not a lot of things that I'm good at in life, I can't dance or sing, etc. But I am good with libraries and research back in the day, it was libraries. So I knew how to navigate that world very well. And believe it or not, it is a skill, it's a skill, almost like playing a violin, I learned how to find one book, in one section of the library that like, would open up this like treasure chest of other books, right, one thing would lead to another, and I had an eye for looking for things. For books that nobody had read. For 60 7080 years. I remember I had one book that I thought was fantastic called power of the charlatans is the history of all the greatest Charlaine in history. And I use that book, a lot of examples in the 48 laws. I looked in the back where all the dates were stamped on that book was like two stamps in it like nobody had read this book for so long, because nobody's heard of it. Unfortunately, the internet, I do a lot of research now on the internet, it doesn't have that kind of richness, where you can find that book that is completely forgotten. But it's sitting there on the bookshelf that you're I will catch you go out the power shot, what a great title. You pick it off, and you look at it, you see it's filled with incredible ideas. And so I had an eye look for things that are traumatic, that are exciting. So I want something that I can tell the story with because the story kind of nails the idea in the readers mind. If it's entertaining, if it's got a kind of a timeless lesson to it, then it's I think it's gonna resonate with them. You know, like I have a story. In Renaissance Italy, which was love stories come from where there's this great mercenary soldier that's known as a condo tearing, back then, who had fought for I forget which town it was maybe Siena, or Milan. And he'd won all these battles for them. And he was getting more and more powerful. And the citizens of Siena, whatever time it was cold. How can we reward this man for all that he's done? And somebody says, Well, I think we should execute him and make him a saint. Yes, that's the right idea. And then like the next day they executed, and the idea was, he'd become so powerful, but he became a threat. Right? And he no longer needed him. Because there were hundreds of other condo theories, who are younger, who are less expensive, who are less grandiose that they could replace him. So if you don't make yourself indispensable in the situation, if you get too tied up a story in your own myth, you're headed for a disaster, you won't be good, you won't have your beheaded like this man. But something terrible will happen. Stories like that I looked for Right. And, and then I wanted to make this a book that covered the sweep of human history. I mean, it's ambitious as grandiose on its own terms. So it meant delving into change in Chinese history into stories. Looking at the the Indian Machiavelli, a man named cotillion, his writings. Look at the history of Japan, looking at the Zulus in Africa, looking at Haley Selassie in Ethiopia. So people don't say Oh, this is just a book about white men and power. No, I have stories of women. I have stories of of all cultures of all periods of time. So, it was a lot of fun. The research aspect was a lot of fun, I must admit.
Nick Jikomes 1:05:06
So, you know, the book really is evocative in many ways of something like the article by Sun Tzu or something like the Prince by Machiavelli, were books like that explicit influences for you
Robert Greene 1:05:18
very much so. So the prints was something that I had read when I was 16, or 17 years old. I still have a copy of it. It's one of those really cheap paperback books. And I obviously probably didn't understand any of it. Because I was too young. I didn't have any life experience. But I thought, Wow, this way of looking at the world is fascinating. Because as a as a teenager, I could, I could see very well, the world of adults was incredibly hypocritical, and it annoyed the hell out of me. People would say something that they had these values, but their behavior would never match with it. But the reputation is what they said. And I thought they were just everybody read all the adults around me was so hypocritical. And he was a man analyzing the discrepancy between appearances and reality. And this is so refreshing. And it stuck with me for all those years. And there are other writers like that, who are like these incredible realists? Because, honestly, we live in a world with so much fakery with so much bullshit. So many Proclip people proclaim that they're graded this, there's so many people proclaiming that they're saints that are so virtuous. And the reality is so different than when you read a writer, I don't care if it's 2000 years ago, 500 years ago, or 20 years ago, kind of shines and looks as this is what's really going on. It's like a slap in the face goes. Yeah, yeah, man, that is Wow, things are that is the reality. How refreshing How exciting. You know, maybe the human animal isn't this angel. Maybe we do have a dark side. It's not all we have. But let's look at it. Let's examine it. Let's not be embarrassed about who we are. And so there are other writers like that Sunsoo had a way of analyzing war in that light. There was a great Spanish writer named Baltazar Gracia, who's kind of a kind of a Machiavelli in 17th century Spain, someone I use a lot. I think Friedrich Nietzsche, and Arthur Schopenhauer, two German philosophers, who definitely kind of embodied this way of looking at the world, there are other people in modern writers as well. And I've just incredibly attracted to those kinds of writers, because I find it's so refreshing. And when I wrote the 48 Laws of Power, I must admit, there was an element of kind of anger behind it, in that a lot of self help books, which unfortunately, this kind of got classified as there's so mushy, there's so like, looking at, it's as if we're also cooperative. We're all, you know, putting our better sides into play in the work environment. And I had so many different jobs in Hollywood journalism, working in hotels, working in a detective agency, doing construction work, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, where I saw that that's not true. That's not the reality. Let's be real, let's say people who have power bosses, etc, can be very, very manipulative sometimes. And so that's the kind of writers who inspired me who kind of had that same sort of feeling that I did.
Nick Jikomes 1:08:34
One of the things? Well, you mentioned an anecdote earlier about an episode that you had when you were younger, in Hollywood. I was wondering if you could maybe give some more examples of that kind of thing, perhaps. What are some salient aspects for how you conduct yourself today, in your professional relationships that you, you wouldn't have been tuned into when you were younger?
Robert Greene 1:08:57
Well, I made many mistakes, and some of the mistakes inform the 48 Laws of Power. And I've made I've been very frank about this before, I'm not. I'm similar to Machiavelli. I'm not as as brilliant as he is. But I'm similar in the way that I came from places that I was not powerful at all. I have never held a position of power in my entire life, even though now maybe I'm close to that in kind of, through my books. I was an observer and I made many mistakes. So law number one is never outshine the master. And on several occasions I had outshine the master. So I was working on a television show, who I won't mention who the producers are. And our job. My job was to find stories that this television show could use as a researcher, true stories. I was by far the best person on the staff. If if if 10 stories have been found for for us Season seven or eight of them would have been mine. Right? As I said, I'm not good at a lot, but I was good at that. And so I thought that that's all that mattered, was just getting results, getting things done. And then lo and behold, the boss starts getting really pissy with me. And it was a woman. And she's like, making it clear that she doesn't like me that she thinks I have an attitude, that something is wrong with my work. And if somebody keeps acting like that on you, say you have an attitude, you're not a team player, it kind of has a self fulfilling aspect, you kind of gain an attitude, because they keep saying that you have one. So I probably got a little bit negative towards her in some ways. And then I got fired, like, Whoa, I was by far the best person on that staff. And you firing me and you fire me because I had an attitude. And then later on, and I made the mistake a second time, because I wasn't aware later on in analyzing it. Probably as I was writing the 48 Laws of Power. I think, just prior to that, I realized that I had probably made her in this one case was a woman that excuse man, I had made her insecure, I had made her think that I was better than her, like Nicolas Fouquet. And that Louis the 14th story, and that I triggered her insecurity. And then triggering her insecurity she made, she kind of didn't want to admit it to herself. Because we humans are very good at self deception. She doesn't want to admit that some low researcher person is making her producer feel insecure. She develops this idea that he has an attitude. He's an he's an eight, he doesn't like me, it's a negative person. And then she found an excuse, like, maybe the fourth team did, to get rid of them, and to fire him. And so my emotional response to her getting kind of negative with an attitude was what made things worse. Now, in the end, I was happy that she fired me because I hated that job to be honest with you. I did not like working with her. But if I could, if I had been calm, and rational and I could analyze it in the moment, a, I maybe wouldn't have reacted in ways that made it worse. And be once I was fired, I would have said, Thank God, thank God, you fired me, I hated this job. It's a blessing in disguise, as opposed to being kind of bitter and upset and angry. You know, like, fuck you. Why the hell did you do that, to me, I was doing the best results. So I had violated that law. And there were other laws along the way that I had violated as well. I don't want to go on and on and on about this. But
so a lot of my experiences, not just from my mistakes, but mistakes of other people that I viewed that went into the book. So for instance, working for a director in Hollywood, whose name once again, I won't mention, he had written a screenplay that he wanted to direct. But he knew that if he asked the producer of the film, can I direct this film, that would have looked like he was asking for too much? You know, like, he was too power hungry that he would have too many fingers in the pie. And so his strategy was because a very strategic person was okay, the producer doesn't want me to direct it. He said as much. All right, what I'm going to do is, I'm going to go out and I'm going to hire a director to do it. Somebody who's young, is 2008, I think at the time, who had kind of some success in film school, who was sort of hot, but who seemed kind of weak as a character. And I'm going to hire them knowing that they can't handle it. They're going to screw the job up. And sure enough than a week, things completely fell apart on the set. I was there with the seeing it all. And then this man comes in and says does producer look, we've got all this money committed, we have to shoot this film. I'm gonna come in and direct I'm gonna save it. Right? He's set the whole thing up. And he kind of ruin this man's career in spends young man's reputation and had devastating emotional effects on him, because he realized that he you know, he kind of melted under the pressure. But the idea that that could be happening, you could be a patsy in a situation. Somebody might be hiring you, for purposes you don't realize, or the actual reality, right? And so I've seen time and again, where people were naive in these different situations and the trouble that got him in, and that includes me, I mean, I could go on and on. But I've had my girlfriend and my wife and I just once she sat down can I've had like 60 to 70 different jobs prior to writing my book. So I had seen it all and I could give you more and more examples, but that's the tip of the iceberg.
Nick Jikomes 1:15:00
So, one of the I think a major thing, a major theme in the book is this difference that we mentioned at the beginning, the effect of truth and the formal truth, the way things appear and the way things actually work, things are often not what they appear. And I wonder if I guess the question is, you know, if I, if I think of the average person, who sort of is just watching current events on the world stage, you see, you know, the President of the United States, you see Vladimir Putin, the leader of Russia, you see Xi Jinping, or this, that and the other leader, this then the other organization, there's a lot of you no obvious, low sigh of power, we think all of its concentrated. But given the theme that things are not always what they seem, and that, you know, we're often being misled, and misdirected. And power can be hiding in places and often is camouflaged in ways that allow us to miss it, when, based on your research and your knowledge of this area, when you sort of look at the world stage, are there any individuals or organizations you see as being enormously powerful that perhaps the average person wouldn't think of that way?
Robert Greene 1:16:07
Well, she's no longer in power. But I have thought of Angela Merkel, as being a very, very astute player of the game, she had limitations. And she made mistakes. And in retrospect, I would maybe bring her down a notch or two, in some things. But when I looked at her, how she projected, she was basically the dominant force on the European continent, for an incredibly long period of time. This woman who was not charismatic at all, as a scientist, essentially a chemist, right, and was not a good, necessarily good speaker or anything, she was kind of bland, she totally dominated the scene. And one thing I say in the 48 laws, is often the people who appear to be the most powerful, who appear to be the most charismatic aren't the ones that really have the power. It's the dull ones. It's the ones who aren't necessarily getting the headlines, who really control the strings of their like the puppet master, right. And so she kind of impressed me that way. As somebody who it was a consummate player, the game, she was very calm, she always understood the real interests involved in her for her country, what really mattered. And she was very, very, very strategic in her maneuvers. I remember.
So this is, she had a way of thinking that I, that's what I glom on to. So there was a famous meeting between her and Putin because she was not friends with him. But she kind of understood him, and was trying to work with him for various reasons. And Putin, in this meeting, very cleverly, brought his dog there, knowing that Angela Merkel had a tremendous fear of dogs, right. And this would upset her and put her on the defensive. And in this particular meeting, he would get all emotional, right. And the moment he brought the dog, and she recognized the ploy, she recognized what he was up to, and she stayed calm, and she didn't let it happen. But that awareness of oh, maybe, you know, he just bought dog, he had no idea, you know, it's just a mistake, then you get all fearful, etc. No, I know this man. I know how fucking clever he is. I know. He's always thinking of moving ahead. He's always trying to put you on the defensive. He is deliberately bringing that dog into upset. That's brilliant. Another time she's in a meeting with the French president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, who's this one of the typical short men, Napoleonic complex, a Cronus, a bit like that right now, who thinks he's so powerful and in control, etc. And he projects that is trying to intimidate her, and he's in the meeting and his legs are crossed, and his foot keeps nervously going like this. And she realizes this guy's is shivering, his nervous, his face projects, all of this power, but deep inside, he's actually kind of frightened to pivot. So that ability to read people to kind of step back, that is a rare skill. When I read about anybody in the news, now I'm constantly analyzing them through that lens. And she's the one that stands out as someone who's who's very good at the game. Most people have limitations. And that's an idea that Machiavelli has, I think, is one of his most brilliant ideas of all, I continually come back to it's in the prints. And the idea is, people will often rise to a position of power in any area, based on one quality that they have, whether it's aggression, whether it's being a total social charmer, whether it's being good at with a charismatic and then they reach a level where that that one strength is is no longer effective because circumstances change. And someone who's aggressive, suddenly has to become someone who's flexible. And they can adapt, adopt, adapt, and they're crushed. Right. So these are most of these people that I see have a flaw of something that they're not so good at. So Boris Johnson, in the UK, he's very clever. He comes from a background in journalism, he's very good with marketing and publicity. He knows how to be kind of a clown and make people laugh, his self deprecating humor, but he's also got a blind spot in his personal relationships, he hires bad people who are going to embarrass him, etc. So most people in positions of power, and I do a lot of consulting, people in these different areas have like an Achilles heel, that is generally their downfall. And so they're very few people you can point to and say, they're kind of a well rounded leader. They know how to be aggressive when it's necessary. You know, how to be soft. They know how to do with Napoleon said is, and to put your iron fist inside of a velvet glove, so that people feel the soft velvet, this of your touch. But inside is like this piece of art that's firm, etc. Most people aren't good at that. And so it's a rare figure on stage that would be
Nick Jikomes 1:21:20
interesting. What about what about the opposite? What about, you know, offices or institutions or individuals that are popularly perceived to wield a lot of power, but maybe, in fact, do not?
Robert Greene 1:21:35
Yes, there are many examples of that. You know, I think we often look at the figureheads, because we're appearance based. So when George W. Bush was president, I think became quite clear that he really wasn't the person that was controlling everything. It was the Cheney's, and the people behind the scene, that were kind of pulling the strings, right. And oftentimes, in business, I was on the board of directors of a publicly traded company for many years. Often in business, the CEO isn't really the person that's controlling things other than the public face, they're the ones getting all of the attention. It's really the figures behind the scenes, the board members, the Chief Financial Officer, et cetera, et cetera. There's a notion in sociology, that even the person on the top is just as dependent on the people below, as people below are on person on top, that it kind of flows in both directions. I forget what the word of that is. But so you look at somebody like Putin, who clearly has all the power in Russia. But his power depends on these people who are known as the silho Vickie's the men of force, who are not the oligarchs, but the people in government, who kind of control all the different intelligence agencies defense, the military center, he dominates them, he controls them in very ways. He and I've looked at how he does that. It's very powerful. It makes them dependent on but he is equally dependent on them, and they pull the strings. So if they wanted to get rid of him to tomorrow, they could do that. So the game goes both directions as well, you have to see power, as this kind of continuous game of flux. And the appearances are deceptive. And the person who seems to control everything is not necessarily the person who does that it shifts day by day, there are balances that the person who controls actually has to depend on other people who kind of have other degrees of influence, etc. So it's a fluid game that's continually changing. And you know, there are plenty of examples, particularly in history of rulers who we think were very powerful. But in the end, we're just kind of great figureheads, and it was others behind the scenes who really controlled it. Even Louis the 14th. Prior to that was kind of a reshoot that afternoon for Louis, the 14th, Cardinal, Missouri, and other ministers were the ones that were really wielding the power in France at the time. So it's the quintessential man or woman behind the throne, who's really the one in power. So that's where you need to analyze it through that lens of Machiavelli the effective truth, who effectively really controls it, who if they decided to withdraw, their approval of the leader would destroy him, you know, look at the levers of power, and analyze it as brutally as you would a scientific formula, because that's how power can be.
Nick Jikomes 1:24:45
And we mentioned we mentioned earlier, one last current thing I'd like to ask you about before we wind down is, did you see the recent news that Elon Musk bought quite a substantial stake in Twitter? Yes, I did. What do you make of that move and what might be going on there?
Robert Greene 1:25:04
Well, I haven't really studied in depth that there was an article in the paper today, and I didn't have a chance to read it. But it's clearly a power move. Clearly, there are things about Twitter that he doesn't like, and that he's bumped up against. And so he's bought a 9% share in it, which is gonna give him a degree of influence and control over it. And he's somebody who has a kind of a libertarian ideology, both politically and otherwise, where he believes that it should be complete freedom of expression, he has an idea that the internet should be this area where ideas just flow back and forth, there shouldn't be any kind of filtering going on, everything should be direct. And so he wants to have the power to kind of bring this to Twitter. And the little bit, I read it made out as if he had already discussed this with the CEO of Twitter, and that they had approved it. But my little Machiavellian brain goes, I don't think so I don't believe that they're quite so happy about this. As he makes out, he's branding this as if he's going to revive Twitter, he's going to bring it back to its roots. And maybe he's right about that. But there's a lot of power that's extremely important, which is preached the need for change, but never reform, preach the need for reform, but never change too much. So people are essentially conservative. They like the idea of reform, they like the idea of change. But we don't like our habits being broken up. We think we know how to do things best. And if somebody comes in saying, we're going to change all of that we're going to have you do something different. And I see this time and again, in the newspaper in history, where the reformer is somebody who ends up being ousted, because nobody can stand that much change. I have a feeling that the CEO is not so comfortable with this move as they're laying out playing out, you know, of course, he has to admit, yes, I think Elon Musk on the board is fantastic, as well. So you can say that, I think they're kind of quaking in their boots, that change could be coming. And I don't know if so totally untethering. And giving complete free speech is definitely going to be a good thing for Twitter. But Elon Musk is definitely somebody who has an agenda. And buying a position on the board is, is a quintessential power move. It's not a move where he wants to just be an advisor, he wants to be able to control and change the direction of Twitter.
Nick Jikomes 1:27:39
So you've written many books, and you gave us an overview at the beginning? Are you working on any big book projects right now? And if so, what are those,
Robert Greene 1:27:48
I'm working on a book. Now that's very different, because in a totally different direction. It's something I've written about briefly in the 50 cent book and in my laws of human nature, in which I have a chapter on confronting our mortality, and death, and how it can lead to what I call the sublime. So I'm writing a book on what I call the sublime. And it's a little bit complicated to explain that I personally had my own near death experience, three, three and a half years ago, I suffered a stroke, which I'm very lucky to be who taught you, first of all, that I'm alive, that I wasn't alone when it happened. Number two, I didn't suffer permanent brain damage, which I came very close to, but I still can't really walk very well, etc. But experience like that changes, you changes your brain change the wiring of your brain changes, I looked at the world. And it is mostly a positive change, in that it opens your mind up to things that you completely take for granted in the world. And books that I write are basically kind of targeted at what I see are problems at the time that I'm writing. So power was, but all the hypocrisy and self help books. Mastery was all about how people don't really understand how the powers of the human brain and what it takes to master something, et cetera. This book is people's thinking about the world has become more and more limited, more and more constrained. We all live in these narrow, narrow little worlds, on our smartphone, the little echo chambers and social media that we inhabit. And at the same time, science is opening up this incredibly awesomes what I call sublime realm of things going on around us having to do with Big Bang theory of physics and astrophysics and and you know, being able to see photographs of a black hole, or distant stars, things in biology, kind of trying to cover the secret of the origins of life, and evolution of why the dinosaurs disappeared. The chatroom writing about right now is about the brain and the mind wasn't the brain. And I'm going to be interviewing Dr. Joe Jill Bolte Taylor, for this particular chapter who's kind of a hero heroine of mine because she also suffered a stroke. We live in this time, this vast expanse of knowledge that should make us all it would almost have, should have an effect on us. That's like religion. Oh, my God, how insane it is to be alive right now. How incredible it is that humans have reached this point, how this tiny little weak primate who has very limited senses, who can't perceive certain forms of light in his limited in their South cetera, can now look out to the furthest reaches of the universe. It's an insane story. But we don't think about that, because our worlds narrowed so much, so much. And I'm not just saying intellectually, but also emotionally, right? And the brain operates by this kind of repetitiveness, once a habit takes hold, and certain pathways are established, we just go over the same pathways over and over and over again. And I want to work against that. And I want to expand your mind, expand it, instead of going like that, I want to open it up to all of these questions. So each chapter is kind of hitting you in the face with aspects of our daily life, that are so utterly confounding so utterly impossible, that you can't like narrow your world anymore, right? So I narrate the last days of the dinosaurs, for instance, once that meteorite struck Yucatan, and like the brutality of it, and and then just imagining that, if that media had been pushed, just ever so slightly off, it wouldn't have landed where it landed, perhaps, and it wouldn't have had the devastating consequences it did, because it hit in this one spot, where there was lots of bits of limestone that emitted all this gas that poisoned all the animals in the area, or would have missed Earth completely. dinosaurs would still be walking around the planet or the course of evolution would have been completely changed. Right? So going into that, and that's sort of the book that I'm writing after. I'm in the fifth chapter about that. And I want you to sort of get the idea that the world isn't what you think it is. It's actually more insane and improbable than you've imagined.
Nick Jikomes 1:32:31
Interesting. Well, we'll leave it at that. And I look forward to checking that out when you finish it. So Robert Greene, thank you for your time.
Robert Greene 1:32:37
Thank you very much for having me, Nick. I appreciate
Unknown Speaker 1:32:39
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