Thursday, December 28, 2006

The 48 Laws of Power, pt. 2

by Robert Greene
Laws 14 – 18

I don’t know if the editors of the 48 Laws of Power did it by design or not, but the Laws are certainly getting progressively more interesting. I’m beginning to feel as if I should apologize for my earlier dismissal but it’s early yet and I haven’t even gotten half-way through the book. Let it be sufficient for me to say that I am certainly beginning to read The 48 Laws of Power with more respectful eyes.

I still stand by my earlier statement that attaining “Master”-status power is too much ruthless work. But oh, what interesting reading it doth make. One of the stories I have made it my business to remember is that of Wu Chao, daughter of a duke and member of the emperor’s royal harem (from Law 15: Crush You Enemy Totally). The story of this woman’s rise to power is absolutely amazing. She begins by seducing the emperor’s son in the “royal urinal”, escapes from a convent, and over the course of several years falsely befriends the emperor’s wife, the empress.

Then, Greene writes, “In 654 Wu Chao gave birth to a child. One day the empress came to visit, and as soon as she had left, Wu smothered the newborn – her own baby.” The empress is framed for murder, executed, and Wu is made the new empress. During her reign as “Empress Wu”, she poisons her niece as well as her own son, the heir apparent. She exiles the other son and, following numerous failed coups, has herself declared Divine “Emperor” of China and rules for forty years.

Now how could you not enjoy a story like that? Many of the historical examples in Laws 14-18 seem to come from China. It has made me realize that I need to brush up on my knowledge of Chinese history, which is sadly lacking. In fact, what I do know about Chinese history could probably be traced back to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Hero.”

To be fair, the Laws themselves are getting more interesting as well. Law 15 (see above) is a ruthless edict but I can certainly see it usefulness when Greene reminds us: “Your enemies wish you ill. There is nothing they want more than to eliminate you. If, in your struggles with them, you stop halfway or even three quarters of the way, out of mercy or hope of reconciliation, you only make them more determined, more embittered, and they will someday take revenge.” It’s brutal but I can’t deny that Greene has a point. I could argue that mercy is just as likely to inspire gratefulness as it is to bitterness but certainly, expecting the worst is the safer course to take.

I can see the wisdom in Law 16 (Use Absence To Increase Respect and Honor). Greene’s examples of romantic seduction and product availability work really well here. And if you really want to read about the wisdom of Law 18 (Do Not Build Fortresses To Protect Yourself – Isolation Is Dangerous) read Mark Bowden’s “Tales of the Tyrant” in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2003.

No comments: