1 अप्रैल 2017

Radical realism

Radical realism  -I want to talk about three aspects of this attitude. The first is, what I call, Machiavellian realism or the Machiavellian reality. The second is existential reality, what it really means to be a human being. The third is what I call aesthetic realism.

My idea is that to the degree that you accept these realities in life, you are going to be successful and powerful. And to the degree that you deny them and you avoid them and you hate them and you are miserable about them and you try and run away, you are not going to have success in life.

Basically, I started writing back in 1996. I’ve been writing my whole life. But I met somebody, we were in Italy together at the same time, working on a project, and it was a really awful Machiavellian environment, in Italy, if you can imagine that. And all of these terrible political games were being played. And we were just miserable and depressed. This was actually 1995. He was a book packager and he asked me if I had any ideas for books. And all of this pain that I had been through in the work world with all of these political, conniving figures, it just came up out of me. It was a beautiful day in Venice, Italy, and I sort of improvised this idea for a book, and he loved it. He basically paid me to live while I wrote “The 48 Laws of Power”. And that’s where it started.
For 15 to 16 years, I’ve had this weird position in life that I don’t know how many other people have had where I have been able to devote all of my attention to studying what I consider to be the most powerful, charismatic, successful, Machiavellian characters in history and contemporary figures, like, 50.
I may not be good at many things. I can’t build things with my hands or anything like that. But I have this one expertise — why some people excel, why some people are superior in the political game or in their creativity or whatever it is.
In figuring out what I wanted to talk to you about today, I was talking with Casper, who I want to thank for helping to organize this. There is sort of a philosophy that all of these figures that I’ve studied share. And I am often asked, or people say, “I want to become powerful. What’s the secret to it?”
I don’t believe in that kind of glib four sentence or one book answer about how to be powerful. But there is an attitude towards life, a way of looking at things, a way of thinking that all of these people that I have been studying they all share this way of looking at the world.
It is what I call radical realism. And the reason I call it radical is, realism has this idea of just understanding the world and it sort of has a cynical, sometimes an edge to it. I want the idea of really, deeply understanding what life is about, how people operate in this world. And not only being realistic and understanding it, but accepting in a very deep way that this is what the world is like and actually loving it and embracing it and working with reality.
All of these figures from 50 Cent and Napoleon Bonaparte to Cleopatra to John F. Kennedy, I believe they all share this kind of attitude. So, I am going to talk, hopefully not too long, because I really want to get to your questions, and I encourage you to barrage me with all kinds of difficult questions. I want to talk about three aspects of this attitude. The first is, what I call, Machiavellian realism or the Machiavellian reality. The second is existential reality, what it really means to be a human being. The third is what I call aesthetic realism.
My idea is that to the degree that you accept these realities in life, you are going to be successful and powerful. And to the degree that you deny them and you avoid them and you hate them and you are miserable about them and you try and run away, you are not going to have success in life.
So, the first one, as I said, is what I call our Machiavellian reality. There is a concept that lately fascinates me that I have been using for my next book. It is a term called Machiavellian intelligence. And it is something that came about in the sixties and seventies, where various scientists, people studying the brain, they are trying to understand why is it that the human brain is so much larger than anything else we have in nature? How did this happen? Why did our brains develop in this way so rapidly and become so much more complex than any other animal on the planet?
And they basically went back to primates. Unless you believe in creationism, our ancestors. Basically, primates are the other animal that have this exceptionally large brain. A brain that seems to be in excess of their needs. To explain why our brains developed in this way, they looked at primates, and they came up with a really fascinating theory called Machiavellian intelligence.
The gist of it is the following. What makes primates different from any other animal is that they live in very complex social environments. There are other animals, like wolves, etc., that live in packs, that have hierarchies, the alpha male, etc. But primates, and I’m talking about chimps, baboons, orangutans, that whole group, have a much deeper, a much more complex social organization. They have rituals of grooming, where they groom each other for hours upon hours during the day, forming all kinds of friendships and alliances. They remember these friendships and these alliances over the space of 10, 20 years.
The other thing that primates have that is so bizarre and interesting is that they are the only animal we know that practice deception and games of manipulation among each other. There is no other animal on the planet that we can say that about. So, they label primates as the Machiavellian creature, the Machiavellian animal. They have shown colonies of monkeys, for instance, in Puerto Rico, where they do a lot of studies, incredible games of manipulation that are going on among these little, small communities.
One of the discoveries that they have in looking at these primates is that they possess a power that is known as the theory of mind. Now I don’t know if you are familiar with this concept. But, basically, it is the idea that only humans or primates have a concept where I can think about, perhaps, what is going on in your mind right now. Most animals can only judge another creature based on its outward behavior about what they are doing, about the threat that they, perhaps, represent. But a human and a primate has the capacity to actually, literally imagine, and I am pointing to you, because I am thinking about you right there. What is it exactly that is going on in your brain right now? What are you thinking? What are you thinking right now?
Now they have discovered that primates actually possess this theory of mind. It is related to something called mirror neurons. I am not going to get too technical with you here. I am not a neuroscientist myself. But, basically, mirror neurons is this fascinating phenomenon where if I pick up this telephone, my cell phone, they can look on a map of my brain and see that certain neurons are firing when I actually pick up this phone.
If I watch him pick up the phone, the same neurons are firing. It is called mirror neurons. So, basically, this allows me to learn by imitation. I can experience what you are doing with picking up that phone as if I, almost, myself, were feeling that.
This allows humans and primates to understand and to put themselves in the mind of another person. This allows for all kinds of complicated social behavior. It allows for us to be empathetic creatures, to cooperate. But it also allows for very deep levels of deception, manipulation, con games, whatever you want to call it. Because the moment I know what you are thinking or I can imagine what your intentions are, I can strategize. I can play all kinds of games. I can try to distract you, deceive you, etc.
So they have shown that monkeys, for instance, possess these mirror neurons. That chimpanzees possess this ability of theory of mind. And from all of this stems all of this incredible Machiavellian behavior. So the theory, to bring this all back to it, of Machiavellian intelligence is that the reason primate brains developed so rapidly is in dealing with this very complicated social environment.
An animal normally is only dealing with its physical environment. But primates are dealing with their social environment. And it is in dealing with the social problems and dealing with fellow chimpanzees and what they are thinking that the brain had to develop very rapidly in a very small period of time.
Primates started evolving, modern primates as we know them, 40 million years ago. Some six million years ago, we humans diverged from that. And we have the first, what are known as homo erectus. And our earliest ancestors have this inheritance in them. This Machiavellian intelligence. We formed larger and larger groupings. We were the first animal that actually hunted big game. And in creating, being able to hunt something like that, involved all kinds of complicated organization.
So if you map out very rapidly, and I’m skipping over millions of years of history, and a historian would be very offended with how I am doing this, but you would see an incredible increase in this social complexity over millions of years leading up to a modern era where a person who is raised as a human being in our environment is not simply dealing with a group of 20 people and having to figure out how to navigate in that world. But you are talking about people, us, who have to deal with thousands of thousands of people living in communities, in our workplace, in politics, in government, in business. All of the deep levels of manipulation, deception, cooperation, that whole element that goes into what is known as Machiavellian intelligence.
So, through this concept, the idea is that we humans, the reason why we have evolved so rapidly, why we are so clever, why we are so smart is that we are inherently social creatures. That you can’t divorce the games that we have to play, what we have to learn in how to get along with other people, you can’t divorce that from our other forms of intelligence. This is very much who we are. We are, by our nature, the Machiavellian animal. It is 40 million years of evolution starting from primates back then to who we are now. There is no way to deny that. There is no way to, in the course of 20 years or 80 years, to evolve beyond it. It is who we are.
So, this is my definition of that first basic reality, what I call our social reality, or the Machiavellian reality. Now, there is nobody out there who really talks about this. There are not many books written about it. There is nobody here at Yale teaching a class on how to be Machiavellian in the world or how to handle that kind of environment, at least as far as I know.
When you enter the real world, you are suddenly blindsided by this whole realm that exists. It is like our dirty little secret. People will talk about their sex lives. You’ll get Dr. Ruth here, we’ll go through all of that. But nobody talks about all of these power games that are constantly going on in the world. So, I just wanted to interject into this idea my own personal story. When I got out of college and I suddenly was confronted with this real world.
I had graduated, as he mentioned, with a classical background. I was immersed in studying philosophy and literature and languages. And so when I started working, essentially in magazines, I worked at Esquire magazine and a few others. I had no idea of how things operated in the real world, and I was very much shocked by all of the egos and the insecurities and the game playing and the political stuff. It really kind of disturbed me and it upset me. I can remember when I was about 26 or 27 years old one particular job that was kind of the turning point in my life.
I am not going to tell you which job this was. I don’t want you Googling it and figuring out who I’m talking about. But, basically, the job was that I had to find stories that would then be put into either film or a magazine, whatever. But I was basically judged on how many good stories I found. So in this job, I thought, I am a very competitive person, and I was doing better than anybody else there. I was finding more stories that ended up getting produced, because I felt that’s the point. You are trying to produce. You are trying to get work done. Isn’t that the most important thing? Isn’t that why we are all here?
Suddenly I found that my superior, this woman, who’s name I won’t mention, made it very clear that she wasn’t happy with me. That something was wrong. I was doing something wrong and I couldn’t figure out what it was.
So going on what I was mentioning, that theory of mind, this power that we have, I sort of put myself in her shoes. And I’m thinking, what is it that I’m doing that is displeasing her? I am clearly producing. And I figured out, well, maybe it is because I’m not involving her in what I’m doing, in my ideas. I need to run them by her. I need to make and involve her more so she feels like she is a part of the research that I am doing.
So I would go into her office and I would tell her where my ideas were coming. I was trying to engage with her, figuring that was the problem. Well, that didn’t seem to work. She was still clearly unhappy with me. Maybe didn’t like me. So, I thought, going further, well, maybe I’m not being friendly enough with her. Maybe I need to be nice to her. Maybe I need to go in and not talk about work, but just talk, be nice and talk like a human being.
Okay. So that was strategy number two. I started doing that. Still didn’t have any effect. She still seemed really cold and kind of mean. I figured, all right. She just hates me. That’s just life. Not everybody can love you. That’s just it. I mean, what the hell? I’ll just do my job. Then one day we are having a meeting in which we are discussing our ideas, and she suddenly interrupts. She says, “‘Robert. You have an attitude problem.”
“What?” “You’re not listening to people here.” “I’m listening.” But, I mean, I produce. I do my work. You are going to judge me about how wide my eyes are open and how I’m listening to people? She goes, “No. You have a problem here.” “I’m sorry. I don’t think I do.”
Anyway, over the course of the next few weeks she just started kind of torturing me about this idea that I had an attitude. And, of course, naturally, I developed an attitude. I started resenting her. And a couple of weeks later, I quit, because I just hated it. I probably quit a week before they were going to fire me anyway. And I went home, and over the course of several weeks, I thought really deeply about it. What happened here? What did I do wrong? I mean, she just didn’t like me? I think I’m a likable person.
I figured, I came to this conclusion. I had violated a law of power 12 years before I ever wrote the book. Law number one: Never outshine the master. I had gone into this environment thinking that what mattered was doing a great job and showing how talented I was. But, in doing that, I had made this woman, my superior, insecure that maybe I was after her job or that maybe I was better than she was. And I would make her look bad because the great ideas were coming from me and not from her.
I had violated law number one. And when you violate law number one, you are going to suffer for it, because you are touching on a person’s ego and their insecurities. That is the worst thing you can do, and that is what had happened.
So in reflecting over this, it was kind of a turning point in my life. And I said, “I’m never going to let this happen again. I’m never going to get emotional.” Because that it what happened. I basically reacted emotionally to her torturing me and developed an attitude. I’m never going to let that happen again. I don’t care. I’m a writer. I don’t care about these jobs that I get. I am just going to become a master observer of the game of power. I am going to watch these people as if they were mice in a laboratory, with some distance.
I developed a motto. A motto that I still use to this day, and that motto is, “It’s all material.” Everything that happens is material. Material for a book. Material for a novel, for a screenplay. I want to be the master observer of this world.
This suddenly allowed me, now, to not only observe the power games going on in the many different kinds of jobs that I’ve had. And I can tell you, I’ve had jobs from working in journalism. I worked in a detective agency. I worked for a music producer. I worked for film. Everything possible.
In having this distance and looking at the world like this, suddenly I had power. I wasn’t emotionally involved. I had some distance, and I could deal with things. From that, I developed “The 48 Laws of Power,” when I was finally given the opportunity to write the book. What I decided in “The 48 Laws,” and it’s a very much a part of me, is that this is the reality that we must all deal with. That we are social creatures. That we live in environments where there are all kinds of complicated networks. We are, in a way, defined by how we handle these environments, this reality.
There are three types of people in this world in dealing with this social reality. There are, what I call, the deniers, the people who deny this reality exists. They almost want to pretend that we are descended from angels and not from primates. That what I am talking about here is cynical. It doesn’t really exist. It doesn’t happen.
Among these deniers, you will find two types. You will find people who are genuinely disturbed by the politicking aspect of human nature. They don’t want any kind of job in which they have to do that. You will find that they are slowly marginalized. They can be happy that way. They are never going to assume a position of great responsibility because it involves all of this.
The other branch of the deniers are the people that are the passive-aggressors. I would classify this woman who had tortured me as a kind of a classic passive-aggressor. People who consciously don’t want to admit that there is any kind of manipulation involved, but unconsciously are playing all kinds of games. In my books, I often describe the many different kinds, the trickiest kind of person to deal with, the passive-aggressors.
The second type of person besides the deniers are those who love this Machiavellian part of our nature and revel in it and are master manipulators, and con artists, and connivers and are very aggressive. They have no problem handling this part. In fact, they love it. This type of person, which usually you will find one or two in an office or in an environment. They can get pretty far, but eventually they are tripped up in life because they are too Machiavellian. They don’t understand that there is the other side to that whole idea of theory of mind and the mirror neurons, which is empathy and cooperation and seducing people and getting them to work with you. They are too much involved with themselves and their own ego and they love manipulating until they go too far and they have a fall in life. There is a wall. They can never get past it.
The third type is what I am calling the radical realist. It is what I am proposing that you adopt. And it goes as follows.
This is our nature. This is how we evolved over millions of years. There is no point in denying it. It is who we are. And not only am I not going to deny it, I am going to accept that this is the human being as it has evolved over all of this time.
In fact, I love it. It’s fine. There is nothing wrong with the fact that in this world people are playing political games. There is nothing wrong with the fact that there are seducers and con artists and it is going on all the time. It is just reality. It is just the world as it is. Stop fighting it. Just accept it.
Within that accepting of it, it is not that you love it and want to go out in the world and play all of these nasty games. It is that you understand they exist. If, occasionally, you have to do them, fine. That’s okay within reason. If it is often other people are practicing them against you, which you will find a lot in your life, once you leave the confines of Yale, that’s okay.
You understand the laws of power. You understand what people are up to, and they can’t necessarily hurt you. In accepting this reality and in dealing with it and studying human nature and this aspect of what I call Machiavellian intelligence, suddenly with that attitude, with that mentality, you have all kinds of power and freedom.
Ever since I wrote my books, and they’ve been published, I do all kinds of consulting work with business leaders, political figures, artists, very powerful people. Most of them are absolutely brilliant. They are brilliant at the technical side of their business. They have figured out how to make a lot of money. They have figured out how to maybe win elections or how to create a kind of music, etc., and market it. But they inevitably come to me for advice because they have a blind spot. They don’t understand the human nature, the political games that are going on. They don’t understand why somebody who they groomed as a successor, who they brought off the streets and helped and gave money to and developed is suddenly turning against them and betraying them in a very overt manner.
It is because they have spent their whole lives studying the technical side of their field, and they haven’t spent any time observing other people. They haven’t spent any time understanding human nature and why some people have egos and how that kind of ego will operate in an environment like an office.
This is the part of the game that trips up most people. All I am trying to say is that in accepting it and in studying it and opening your eyes to this reality, you are going to suddenly find yourself 5hat there is a whole other realm of life that you are not observing, that you are not paying attention to. If you pay attention to it, suddenly the whole power game, the whole dynamic will alter in your favor.
Robert Greene 

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