Big Think Interview With Robert Greene
Author and public speaker Robert Greene attended U.C. California at Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he received a degree in classical studies. He has worked in New York as an editor and writer at several magazines, including Esquire, and in Hollywood as a story developer and writer. In 1995 he was involved in the planning and creation of the art school Fabrica, outside Venice, Italy.
He is the author of numerous volumes on power, strategy, war, and seduction, including the international bestseller "The 48 Laws of Power," "The Art of Seduction," "The 33 Strategies of War," and "The 50th Law," co-written with rapper 50 Cent. Greene currently lives in Los Angeles.
Question: Did you learn about power and seduction through research or practice?\r\n
Robert Greene: A combination of both. I’ve been working… My girlfriend and I once counted that I’ve had in my life 80 different jobs, never very long. I think the longest job I ever had was about 10 months, but in all sorts of different things from working for a detective agency to working in Hollywood and I’ve seen a lot of manipulative power moves enacted on other people and enacted on myself, so I had a storehouse of all this experience and all of this kind of bitterness and then I got the opportunity to write the first book and I just knew. I’d done a lot of research in Hollywood and in academia. I love research and so I wanted to kind of ground the book in history, in things that I read that were universal and timeless and then kind of let my own experiences sort of filter through all of this history.\r\n
Question: Do you still practice your own techniques, or are you detached from them?\r\n
Robert Greene: Well it’s a combination. I mean as a writer you know you don’t have to deal with a lot of the crap that most people deal with, the political things. Every couple of years when your book comes out then you have to go into these fights with the publisher and the publicist and then maybe I bring sort of my knowledge of power into play. I’m kind of a combination. I mean some of the things like crush your enemy totally I don’t practice that in my real life. Get other people to do the work, but take the credit, that was done to me. I don’t do that to other people, but some of the things like from The Art of Seduction and other particular laws of power that I usually rely upon, so it’s a mix of things.\r\n
Question: What’s a specific situation in which you’ve overcome powerlessness?\r\n
Robert Greene: Well you’re always feeling powerless in life, so early on when I was working in Hollywood as a writer I would work with a director or a film company and what… I would end up coming in, in the end and kind of writing whole scenes and then they would take it away from me and do whatever the hell they wanted with it or they would take my name out of the whole thing and the only thing you could do when you work for a giant leviathan like Hollywood in which they just swallow your individuality up is to leave it and I left it and I went and wrote books because… And oddly enough now I’m going back into it because we’re trying to make a film version of The 48 Laws of Power, but now I’ve got the power on my side because I wrote the book. They can’t mess with me. They don’t do what I want then they’re gone, but before there was nothing I could do, so I left. And I tell people a lot like if you’re in an abusive relationship or working for what we call a psychotic boss sometimes the only option is to leave because you’re emotions get so entangled with these manipulative people that staying there you’re just helpless because they’re good at these passive aggressive games and you’re not, so you have to leave. You know working on this… and I’m still in this situation, working on the new book. The 50th Law, I love 50 Cent. He is a wonderful person, but he is a celebrity and he is very busy and sometimes it’s difficult to get… I wanted to get more action from him on promoting the book. You know who am I to move someone like that? So I had to confront my own powerlessness in the situation and in the end he came through, but I had to kind of take a step back and just let things happen, which is often what you have to do in life.\r\n
Question: Is there something inherently unethical about seeking power?\r\n
Robert Greene: It depends. Ethics and power are separate. That’s why I separated them. Ethics and morality, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I think life would be miserable if there weren’t some kind of code that people operated by, but history is full of many, many people who have gotten power by very unethical means, people who were very ethical who get no power, people who have the most brilliant, lovely, wonderful, nice intentions and bring about horrible things in the world because they don’t know how to play the power game. The two are separate. They don’t really intersect at any point. I talk in The 33 Strategies of War, I use Mahatma Gandhi as one of the examples I look at, and he was obviously a very ethical man. I’m not ever going to deny that, but he used strategy when he tried to take on the British and get them out of India. This was a man who was extremely clever, who understood England very well. He had lived there. He understood its weaknesses, its vulnerabilities, and he attacked them in an extremely strategic manner. If he had been just simply a good, ethical man and thought that was enough, nothing would have happened. So I wanted to write a book about power. I want to write a book about seduction or about warfare and strategy. I want to focus on them as intensely and deeply as possible. I want to reveal to the reader all of the things that people in history have done, some of it dastardly, some of it not so dastardly. And then I treat the reader like an adult. It’s up to you. If you’re already somebody who has issues and problems the book might push you more in that direction. I don’t know, but you’re probably going to be doing those things anyway. I find with most of my readers are kind of like me, sort of people who were a little bit naïve in life and then learned the hard way that this is what’s going on, the political games and most of my readers write to me telling me that the book helped them open their eyes to what other people are doing to them.\r\n
Question: How can you tell if you’re dealing with a conscious manipulator?\r\n
Robert Greene: Everything depends on circumstance. A lot of people are obvious. Right away you can tell that they’re after something from you, but most people are tricky. Most people are passive aggressive in this world. I have this idea that the human being is born with a kind of reservoir of aggression. We are inherently somewhat aggressive creatures and we either channel that in direct ways or we channel it in indirect ways and we become passive aggressive and more and more people nowadays are passive aggressive, so months can go by and you’re not realizing that they are these sort of slippery snakes and I mean we’re all passive aggressive to some extent. We can’t help it, but some people just take it to another limit and there are ways you can recognize when you’re dealing with it. I give hints throughout my books. An example would be you enter a job or a new position somewhere and there is somebody who is suddenly extremely nice to you and you don’t know why. They’re flattering you. They’re praising you. They’re listening to everything you say. They want to know what you’re doing. They’re desire to be a friend is too fast. Usually you’re dealing with someone that’s up to something. This is a tactic they have used in life to get something from you. They’re winning your confidence over. They’re learning about you and they’re going to probably eventually betray you because if someone is genuine with their emotions they generally take time. Everybody is a little bit distrustful and needs to know… learn about the other person. These types that are glomming onto you right away they’ve got some kind of emptiness inside on they’re playing some kind of game and you need to be very wary of them. So the flatterers, the overt flatterers are usually hiding some kind of manipulation. I mean there are people who are genuinely like that or who have a need because they’re insecure to do that and then maybe you don’t have to worry about them. I don’t want to promote paranoia in my books. It’s not like wow, everybody is after me. You know that’s not going to be very powerful. A person like Stalin was like that and he was powerful, but it ended up completely destroying him because he couldn’t trust anyone. The idea is to be smart and not be so naïve and there are people around you who are probably playing passive aggressive games and they give off signals. You know I gave you one idea. There are many.\r\n
Question: Does megalomania tend to weaken leaders?\r\n
Robert Greene: Well you know you could say Napoleon was a bit like that. I happen to admire Napoleon a lot because he was such a brilliant strategist. I call him the Mozart of warfare. He was like a child prodigy with war and strategy, but you can divide Napoleon’s career into two halves. For ten years from 1796 to 1806 he was an absolute genius. From 1806 to 1816 at Waterloo and everything he lost it all and it went to his head. His success went to his head and instead of being enjoying the process I tell people if you want to be powerful in life you have to enjoy the process. You have to get pleasure out of making the thing that you’re making. It can be politics. There has to be that kind of purpose behind it. If your purpose is simply gaining power, if you become kind of drunk on the sensation that it gets you. I’m not making a moral judgment on it, it’s just simply if that becomes your end in life then you end up sort of destroying yourself because you lose the sense of **** and detachment that’s very necessary. You have to be detached a little bit from other people so you can see what’s going on in the world. If you’re too emotional you’re going to lose it. You have to be detached from yourself. You have to be able to look at yourself with some distance and some humor and some irony. You look at a person like Napoleon and he had that for awhile. He was a very clever person, but he was also able to criticize himself, et cetera, and then the power just became too much, and he thought he was a god and he, on the battlefield he started losing it. Stalin you know is a clear example, but you lose on a smaller scale… We’re talking about giant egos like a Napoleon or a Stalin. On a smaller scale it happens to everybody. When you have any kind of success in life, that’s like the most dangerous moment that you’re in because you’re going to tend to think wow, I can just keep repeating what I’ve done. I’m a great person. People love me. All of the sudden they’re giving me all of this attention. You get drunk on it and you lose your sense of balance and your sense of detachment. I know it’s happened to me. Fifteen years ago I was saying the same things that I’m saying now, but nobody listened to me because I was nobody. Now everybody thinks wow, he is saying this and that and what does that mean and it can go to your head and you can start thinking I’m infallible, and you have to drop that and you have to step back and look at yourself and all of that. So that’s sort of how you could become a Napoleon or a Stalin, and I think celebrities have that kind of complex.\r\n
Question: How should the U.S. handle power-mad dictators like Kim-Jong Il?\r\n
Robert Greene: Well you’re giving me like a pretty tough example. You know somebody once did the same thing with Israel and Palestine, like I’m going to be able to solve that problem. Give me a break. Kim Jong-il, you know, we’re dealing with these kind of closed systems of power like the Soviet Union was for many, many years, a world mostly you put a group of people together and politics intervenes. I say put three people together and people become political and they start thinking in political terms. You get a place like the Soviet Union or North Korea, these closed systems, it becomes completely political, but it’s not based on who is the smartest, on who has the most skill, who is the best leader to logically lead our country to power and success. It’s all about these little political games that people are playing. You can’t enter that world from the outside and tell people in North Korea what to do. A closed system like that… I used in The 48 Laws of Power, I talk about Athens and Sparta in ancient Greece. Athens was this very fluid democratic capitalistic environment. Sparta was this closed world. For hundreds of years they tried to create the system and they didn’t want it to change and eventually it just fell apart on its own because you can’t keep something closed in this world. North Korea has to just fall apart like it will eventually. Kim Jong-il will die. Somehow people will reach a level of dissatisfaction. You can’t force history. That’s sort of what we tried to do in Iraq. We’ll see what happens. Many people like myself years ago were predicting failure. You can’t force history. Things like that have to come up from below, from the people themselves, so my advice, unfortunately, to people in North Korea is to wait for when that moment happens. It’s interesting to see a place like Iran where it’s really happening now and it’s very interesting and very exciting where you have a group of people that are trying to put the lid on change and on history and a lot of very brave people are trying to struggle and fight against that because they’ve reached a level of disgust. They just can’t stand it any longer and so it’s coming up from the bottom. I don’t see any signs of that in North Korea, so it might be another 50, 100 years. Who knows?\r\n
Question: What propelled Obama and not McCain to power in 2008?\r\n
Robert Greene: Well you know a lot of things in history are timing, and it’s very peculiar because in retrospect things… people can look more brilliant or necessary than they actually were. So the fact that Bill Clinton faced George Bush, the first George Bush in ’92, was just the perfect moment for him in that sense. People were really bored with the Reagan era. They didn’t like Bush. He was unpopular and it was timing. W happened to have the good fortune of facing Al Gore in the year 2000 for all the virtues of Al Gore, and we love him, ran probably one of the worst campaigns, and he is not a good campaigner. In retrospect it looked like W, you know Karl Rove, that great genius, was able to do this electoral magic, but in fact, he happened to have the good luck to face two very weak candidates in Gore and in Kerry. Obama, I’m not saying Obama had luck, but the moment was totally right. People were just viscerally nauseated by W. They had enough of the wars, the incompetence, Katrina, the secrecy, but what Obama did that was brilliant, and I talk about it in The 50th Law to a little extent, is he understood that the timing was right and a normal person would have waited. I even thought he should have waited and I was wrong at the time, that it was too early for him. Nobody knew him. He had no record. He was a black man in America. You know what are you thinking? Give it some time. He understood that this was the moment. If he waited to 2012 that moment would have gone. He would have… Hillary would have won. She would have been in a position of power. He would have never had a chance. This was his moment. He opposed the Iraq war. He had momentum and he ran a brilliant campaign. It’s a question of obviously facing a very weak candidate in John McCain. I don’t know who they would have put up, who could have possible posed a greater threat, but Obama was brilliant in how he saw that this was the one moment he had and then he ran… For a Democrat, because Democrats generally are pretty incompetent when it comes to running elections. I’m a Democrat myself, so I say that with you know a little bit of I’m upset to hear that, but someone like John Kerry… Typically Democrats don’t understand strategy. They’re always reacting to news events and tacking there here and there depending on what is happening. They have no sense of the larger picture. Obama was the first person in my lifetime… I can swear the first candidate in my lifetime who I could say this man understands strategy. He ran a brilliant campaign, a lot of it based on a consistent message, which is one thing I preach, which was his opposition to the war and change, very well marketing wise. It was brilliant. This was the first man in my lifetime who I could compare to FDR or John F. Kennedy, two other brilliant campaigners in history.\r\n
Question: In what areas, if any, has Obama ceded power since 2008?\r\n
Robert Greene: You know, it’s a little hard for me because I have a problem, which is I like him a lot and I normally don’t have this problem because I normally don’t like politicians, so I can view them with some distance, so I’m giving that caveat that I have this problem. I’m not completely objective. He has run up against some things that he hadn’t expected, which for somebody at his age, with his level of executive experience, which wasn’t any is going to encounter. So he is at a crossroads. He is a very intelligent man who is very capable of learning from experience. He is finding out what FDR discovered when he became president that suddenly you’re ruling over hundreds of people with their own agendas who come at you with their own little power bases and their own games and it’s chaos and it’s madness. Now FDR evolved a very brilliant way of handling it. He had also been governor of New York. He had some executive experience. It’s not been even a year that Obama has been as president and so I preach the idea of patience. Let us see how a man or a woman evolves over time in this position because that’s what shows how great a leader they’re going to be. He is at a kind of a crossroads. If he becomes consumed by these pressures from outside he could end up being a mediocre president. That is always possible. I have faith that he probably could go in the other direction, but an example would be Afghanistan. He inherited this situation. It wasn’t his creation and he inherited a military complex that’s peopled with generals that he had nothing to do with who bring in all kinds of pressures. It’s an extremely complicated situation and it’s filled with all kinds of landmines. If he disregards what his generals are saying it’s going to start looking like the Democrat who is weak, who doesn’t… who is against war, who doesn’t understand hard political realities, the right will eat him up and so he is between a rock and a hard place and some of these generals that he has inherited are not very cooperative with him. I’ve heard from people that I know. I don’t have a lot of connections, but I have some, that there is some friction from the old guard who were there in the Bush years. He is facing a very complicated problem in how to manage the military brass. I don’t think people understand how difficult and chaotic and complicated it can be to be the president of the United Stated inheriting what he has inherited in the year 2009 and so we’re going to measure him in the next year. I say give him another year. I’m kind of sick of all of these progressives who are just piling on him. Let’s just see things. I don’t think he is necessarily someone who is selling out, but it’s possible. Let’s give it some more time.\r\n
Question: What would you advise people trying to find or maintain jobs in the recession?\r\n
Robert Greene: Well I’m a big believer in being an entrepreneur. It’s easy for me to say because I work for myself and I am someone who likes that process, but I think most people in the world today understand that working for a company is a very insecure position to be in. You have no control over your destiny and things are changing so quickly in the world where a promising field five years ago doesn’t exist anymore, so it’s very complicated. You’ve got to play a double game. On the one hand you have to be aware of putting food on your table, of making a living in the here and now and you have to be smart about it and you have to choose the right field for you, but on the other hand you have to juggle your longer terms goals, particularly if you’re younger, where you want to be in ten years. I always tell people that it sounds hokey, but I believe it, that everybody was born with a kind of uniqueness. There is never going to be somebody else with the same DNA as you, with the same experiences. There is something that you were meant to do as an individual. You have some kind of creative skill. It can either be creating your own business in some level, creating your own project, being a writer, an artist, whatever, or it can even be working within a company itself because some people like that security, but from within that company you’re creating something. You’re doing something from within that makes you excited that fills you with passion because we all know when you’re doing something that you like everything changes. You have an energy that you don’t have and so you’ve got to juggle these two things. If you’re consumed only with the big dream you’re going to die because you won’t be able to feed yourself or you’re going to be losing your job, so you’ll just be sitting in your room dreaming, but if you’re only thinking of that job now and holding onto these crap jobs that keep you just above of the water you’re going to be unhappy. In 15 years you’re going to be burnt out, washed out. Life goes by very fast, so you have to think of the two things at the same time. If you’re in a job that’s not exactly what you want in life you can mix the two together. You can try finding things that you can do from within there where you’re learning about that business, taking on more responsibility, taking on a project that nobody else wanted to handle and then learning some self reliance, learning some skills as an executive or as an entrepreneur from within that company and getting more responsibility so it’s not a drudge work. The worst thing in life that you can have is a job that you hate, that you have no energy in that you’re not creative with and you’re not thinking of the future. To me might as well be dead. I’m sorry to say that. So even if you’re forced now to get a job at a Starbucks or whatever there is something within Starbucks I hate to say that you can learn about that business, get a sense, always be observing and learning and not allowing I call it in The 50th Law I call it dead time or alive time. If you’re just letting the time pass at your job it’s just dead time and you’ll never get it back. If at that job you’re learning and you’re observing and you’re seeing about people and connections and how the business is run it’s suddenly alive time and it’s all up to you and how you approach it.\r\n
Question: How can employees negotiate the power dynamic of asking for a raise?\r\n
Robert Greene: Well you know we can talk for several hours about all of these things here, but it’s all about timing and the amount of importance you put on things. If you’re in your early twenties don’t think of… don’t put so much importance on the money, on the raise. You know getting an extra thousand dollars a year, if it’s that important, okay, I don’t want to deny that for you, but the real thing is the responsibility and the power and the experience that you’re learning, the larger picture that I was talking about. When you want to ask for a raise you don’t want to be seen as someone who is asking for it for the wrong reason. It has to be necessary. It has to be right. You have to have proven that you are essential to this place, that they can’t get rid of you, that they need you, that you’re necessary and you have to have a track record and then it’s logical and it fits and then you can ask for it and it makes sense. You don’t have to wait three years. You could go a little bit early. I’m all for boldness in that area, but the worst thing is to sit there and whine and complain and obsess about money as if that were the only sign of your worth. If people are giving you positions of responsibility, that’s worth $5,000 that you may not be getting right away because you’re learning something, and if you’re able to stop being so impatient because people… We’re impatient creatures by nature, but my God, people now don’t have the patience for like three months to go by, you know. Just calm yourself down and say the best the thing you can do in a workplace is to impress your boss and show him or her that they need you, that you’ve created… You know in The 48 Laws of Power I have a chapter about learn to keep people dependent on you, a very important chapter because the idea is people will get rid of you the moment they don’t need you. You create this thing where they need you. You have a skill that no one else can. You’ve impressed them. You’ve got a track record. Then go for that raise and get as much as you can, but be patient and be willing to let that build through a process.\r\n
Question: Do men and women seek different kinds of power in relationships?\r\n
Robert Greene: Well, yes and no. I mean if you are coming from another planet, an extraterrestrial, and you arrived on the planet Earth and you saw these humans moving around you wouldn’t see much difference between men and women as opposed to fish or dogs or whatever. We have an essential human relationship to power that we want. Seduction, we have a certain relationship to the need to have love and things in our life and the psychology of seducing a person I maintain is pretty much the same whether you’re a man or you’re a woman, you’re gay, you’re transgendered. I don’t care. Of course there are differences and it’s the weird thing is you’ll find men who respond to things like sex more like a woman and you’ll find woman who are more like a man. It’s all mixed up. Everybody is different and is individual, but of course there are things that a woman has different biologically and psychologically. I just think people focus too much on the differences and what fascinates me in the world is what the human animal and what unites them, what makes a black guy from the hood like 50 just like me in some elemental way, but you know you have to understand if you’re trying to seduce a woman for instance, taking the man’s point of view that they are obviously different and the main problem that a man would have in a seductive situation is he is too impatient. The only thing he is thinking about is sex. He is not willing to spend two months courting a woman knowing that in the end the sex will be a million times better if he just calms himself down. He can go home and take care of himself on his own if he needs to. Just spend those couple months, whatever is needed to court her, to make her feel like she is an individual, like she is worth it, and you know it’s going to pay off. On the other side a lot of times a woman all she thinks about is the relationship. Is this going to…? My boyfriend, you know, is he going to be committed? They’re thinking about that after one week and it frightens the man away. The woman has to calm down. The woman has to be more patient. She has to let the man trust her more and not feel like she is coming at this with this need for a relationship right away. Both sides have to learn patience, but for different reasons.\r\n
Question: How can understanding power dynamics help people in long-term relationships?\r\n
Robert Greene: Well you have to be careful on the one hand because if you get kind of excited by seducing, you’re going to want to move onto the next person in line and you’re going to get bored. So if it’s somebody that you really love and you want to have a relationship with you have to, first of all, kind of calm down a bit your seductive desires for new meat or however you want to put it and realize that you… The worst thing that can happen is you’re a great seducer and then you have a relationship and then suddenly you stop trying. You know you no longer dress like you used to. You just wear your pajamas and your T-shirts. You don’t take here… I’m taking the man’s point of view, but you can turn it around. You don’t take her to a nice restaurant anymore. You just want to eat in all the time. No more movies. No more travel. No more flowers or whatever the… I hate to be so cliché, but whatever it is that is… that worked in the first place you stop trying and everything… You start taking the other person for granted and everything becomes familiar and the whole spark and the mystery is gone and then forget it. So you want to keep some of that seduction still going, but not too much of it because a relationship after all is a degree of stability. You don’t want too much drama, but you still want some drama. You still want some mystery. You don’t want the other person to know everything about you. You still want to keep trying. You still want to do the things that you did before, but maybe a little bit differently. That’s the way to keep seducing the same person and believe me I’ve dealt with hundreds of people coming to me with the same problem. I tell them the same thing. You’ve stopped trying. It’s not their fault necessarily. Maybe it’s both of your faults, but you have to keep that enchantment thing going.\r\n
Question: What’s an effective “opening move” for a would-be seducer?\r\n
Robert Greene: Oh boy. It really depends on what you’re after and where you are. You know, if you’re in a bar you can ask certain things that might work for a one night stand that if you tried in a library would earn you like a book hit over your head, so it really depends on where you are. You know the thing is in seduction… I’m kind of avoiding your question, but I’m not. The thing in seduction is everybody that you’re dealing with is an individual and you’re problem is you’re bringing with you your baggage, your past, your stereotypes about who a man is or what a woman is like. The other sex is almost Freud said is like another country. You know you don’t really understand them in any way, so you bring with you all of these stereotypes, the preconceptions and you just throw them on that person and then you also have these lines that you learn from Robert Greene’s book all right the Game or some other stupid thing like that and then you know it’s like you’re not dealing with that person as who they are and they know it and they feel it and it feels empty and mechanical and so I preach it in the Art of Seduction is knowing that person, gathering intelligence on them. I hate to put it that way. Figuring out what makes them tick, who they are, what they’re needs are, what they’re missing in life, what they want, then when you reach that point and you know who they are then you can make something a little bolder. Sometimes being bold in that first time you meet somebody can work very well because it shows that you have a level of confidence, that you’re not nervous and it can kind of infect the other person, but it depends on the woman you’re trying to seduce. Your boldness can seem arrogant. It can seem cocky. It can seem like you’re just thinking about yourself. If you’re able to make that person feel like an individual and that they are wanted and desired for who they are then you’re going to seduce them whether your try boldness or whatever it is. So it’s more like individualizing the people you’re trying to seduce or reach in life.\r\n
Question: Can a would-be seducer gain power by appearing to yield it?\r\n
Robert Greene: Very much so, in fact, that is the better way to go than the boldness initially. In fact, my book is filled with that because I believe that is the best thing to do because what you want in life is you want that other person to come to you. You want to do it… be so clever and such a brilliant seducer that they are the ones that actually do the bold move not realizing that you’re the magician who completely set it up and so the initial chapters in The Art of Seduction I have the first part, which is about the character types and how to be a more kind of natural seducer, which sounds like a contradiction, but you have to read the book. The second half is this kind of process of moving through a seduction and in the initial ones I have a whole thing about being indirect. The person doesn’t even know that you’re pursuing them. You become their friend. It’s something called friend to lover strategy where you become their friend and there seems to be nothing sexual about it and you develop this rapport and these ties, but at the same time you’re learning so much about the other person and you can then move to this other position. There is the chapter about weakness and appearing vulnerable as if you’re almost kind of too emotional or sad or even pathetic and then the woman wants to take care of you. In Dangerous Liaisons, my favorite book, the one I use a lot in The Art of Seduction the great **** Valmont who can seduce a beetle if he needed to, he was so good, is trying to seduce the one woman that’s impossible to do it because she is a prude. She is so religious. And he does. He seduces her by appearing to be so weak and vulnerable and he can’t control himself and he is crying and he is so in love with her. The problem is he ends up… In the book he really is feeling weak. He really is in love with her and it turns against him, but he is able to seduce her by being weak, which is a typical thing that a man can use on a woman. So to answer your question the indirect, the stepping back, the using weakness particularly for a man is by far the better strategy in life.\r\n
Question: What new insights about power came out of your research for “The 50th Law”?\r\n
Robert Greene: Well I wanted to look at something kind of really underneath it all because The 48 Laws of Power I’m looking at these games that people are playing in this kind of court like atmosphere with all these politics going on and strategies being used and all of that. I wanted to like dig underneath it and go into the mind and the guts of what makes a person powerful or successful. Not just with money, but just in the sense of feeling like you’re a powerful person and I had the chance to work with 50 Cent. He was a fan of The 48 Laws. A lot of rappers are. I’ve met quite a few who feel like they’ve used the book to help them. He was one of them. We met. We found we had a really interesting rapport. We felt very comfortable with each other as if we had known each other for many years and so we did this book together, but for me the idea was here is somebody who comes from the absolute bottom of America, Southside Queens in the crack era when an African-American male is not supposed to live past the age of 25, particularly one who is dealing drugs and who is dealing with all the violence. Not only did he manage without a mother or father in his life. He never knew his father. His mother was murdered when he was eight. Not only did he manage to be a hustler, but he managed to get out of the hustling racket. He managed to get into music, but he managed to survive that horrible world of music with the crap political games that go on within. He not only survived, but he was able to become successful, but he kept building on it and building on it. It’s a typical American rags-to-riches story. I wanted to know why. What’s underneath it? What was that quality that maybe we could learn? And in spending time with him I felt like if I could summarize it in one word it’s that this is a man who comes to life without fear. So it’s not just fear of death or bullets. That’s the obviously thing we’re talking about. I’m talking about here is a man who is not afraid of change for instance. If something happens where a situation is new, he has lost a job, he has been cut off of his record contract or something happening he doesn’t get upset or worried. He is calm. He deals with it in a fearless manner. He takes risks, but the risks are controlled, but he is not afraid of failing. He is not afraid of being criticized. He is not afraid of being different from other people. When I thought about that it’s just how powerful you could be in life if are not afraid of the things that happen to you. You’re able to feel balanced and in control and make decisions not based on exaggerating risks etcetera, but on reality. I just thought it was an incredibly powerful way to be in the world. I could feel it myself influenced by him and seeing myself going forward and when I looked at all the people I’ve studied in history, Napoleon Bonaparte, Franklin Eleanor Roosevelt, Catherine the Great, Cesare Borgia, all of the thousands of people I’ve studied, they all shared that quality and it’s like a… It’s a way of being in the world. When you’re afraid and fearful it’s like your mind close… the aperture of your mind closes up to this and you stop looking at the world around you. You want everything to be comfortable and familiar and the same. You stay in your house. You watch the same TV shows. Everything just… The circle closes up. When you’re not afraid and we’ve experienced it all in our lives. When suddenly you’re in a new country and you just don’t… You’re traveling and you feel open. You’re mind is active and alive. You become creative. Everything changes. This is the key to feeling powerful, but also to being creative in the world, so I wanted to get underneath all of the other things, the power, the seduction, the strategy and see that quality that lay underneath it all.\r\n
Question: Is fearlessness innate or cultivated?\r\n
Robert Greene: Well it’s… I don’t want to get angry here because it’s not about you, but I get so annoyed with that argument about it being innate. How could something like that be innate? Sure we’re all individuals and somebody because of who they are and their DNA and their experiences are a little more timid than other people, but nobody is born without fear. We are all born into this world screaming and crying, a bloody mess. We’re terrified of being away from our mother for a few minutes. We’re afraid of the dark. We’re afraid of dying. We’re afraid of being beaten up in school. We’re afraid of failing. There is not an individual on this planet, I don’t care who you’re talking about who hasn’t felt a lot of fear. What differentiates people are those we find who tend to deal more with fearful situations and don’t… and understand that it’s hurting them in life. That by becoming fearful they’re maiming themselves and they learn to move past these fears. That’s what separates people. That’s what separated 50. He saw being on the streets if he was afraid it was just going to mess him up. People could read it off of him. He’d get conservative. It wouldn’t work and so he learned that he had to teach himself to not be fearful in any circumstance in life. That’s what the book is there for. Certainly some people don’t have as much clay to work with or they’re older and they’re… and things are set, but everybody has the capacity to be more realistic and realize that the reason they’re holding onto that bad job it’s not because they’re being realistic or prudent or being a good worker. It’s because they’re afraid. They’re afraid of change. They’re afraid of leaving something. They’re afraid of anything unfamiliar. It’s fear. When you understand the fear then you can begin to move past it. So when I hear the people say it’s innate, you can’t learn it, I just want to hit them in the head. I don’t know.\r\n
Question: Can fearlessness become a liability for powerful people?\r\n
Robert Greene: Yes, of course it can. I mean we talked about it earlier with Napoleon where it goes to your head and you lose a sense of proportion and you start thinking of yourself as a god, and a lot of rappers have that problem. The money comes. It comes too fast and then it goes just as fast because they don’t understand that a lot of it came by a bit of luck, by accident and now once you have success you got to be careful. You got to take a step back and be strategic. They don’t know that and they lose it. 50 is a very strategic person in life. He is also a human being who has weaknesses and limitations as well, so I think he will always land on his feet like a cat in this world because he was shot and nearly died and he knows a sense of proportion. I’ll always have millions of dollars that’s never going to go away what do I have to worry about? You know I already faced death. Every day to me seems like I’m on borrowed time. I’m just happy to be alive. I’m making money and I’m ambitious, but it doesn’t matter. You know you have that kind of attitude you’ll land on your feel. Sometimes he’s had problems. His records aren’t doing so well. I don’t know what his new record is doing. I haven’t been following it. He has dealt with mistakes he’s made, but I’ve seen him… I’ve seen him time and again, he’ll be upset for a day and then next week he is completely forgotten it and moved on. He’ll land on his feet.\r\n
Tiger Woods, you know, to play golf on that level. I’m kind of fascinated with it. It’s going to be sort of the subject of my next book. I’m not writing about golf, but I’m writing about the mindset of somebody who is powerful and is able to focus deeply on something. You know playing golf and running your personal life are two different skill sets, so they don’t necessarily translate one to the other. In fact, they can kind of clash, which is what we’ve seen. On the golf course his boldness, his aggression, his strategic genius, his attention to detail and how much he has mastered all the small parts of golf, it all comes to, just channels into this one beautiful flow turning into this supreme Da Vinci of golf Tiger Woods, but you can control a game like golf, which is a very uncontrollable game with all of this practice and this effort and this talent. You can’t control your personal life in the same way, and in fact, feeling like you’re aggressive and ambitious means he has to attack a new woman almost like he is attacking Augusta… you know the Masters, and he needs these new challenges, and so the two don’t necessarily mesh well, and that’s not a question of something except of a person’s character and how they’ve learned their experiences in life.\r\n
You take someone like a John F. Kennedy who you may or may not revere. I happen to think he was a very smart man and would have been if he had lived longer, a great president. He made… He was having dalliances left and right and center. We only know about it now, but if he had been living in the Internet age, forget about it. You know, Tiger Woods doesn’t have that room to learn and experience and grow in his character because it’s all out there in the public naked for us to see. It’s a terrible thing for someone like that, so you know he is probably chastised. He is probably learning that he shouldn’t have married this woman. He should have been single and sowed his wild oats, and now he is going to do this or whatever. He has to learn to bring those two worlds and make it something that has that flow like he has on the golf course, and he will. He is a great man.
Recorded on December 14, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen
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Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.
- Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
- Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
- It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
The bristle worm, also known as polychaetes, has been around for an estimated 500 million years. Scientists believe that the super-resilient species has survived five mass extinctions, and there are some 10,000 species of them.
Be glad if you haven't encountered a bristle worm. Getting stung by one is an extremely itchy affair, as people who own saltwater aquariums can tell you after they've accidentally touched a bristle worm that hitchhiked into a tank aboard a live rock.
Bristle worms are typically one to six inches long when found in a tank, but capable of growing up to 24 inches long. All polychaetes have a segmented body, with each segment possessing a pair of legs, or parapodia, with tiny bristles. ("Polychaeate" is Greek for "much hair.") The parapodia and its bristles can shoot outward to snag prey, which is then transferred to a bristle worm's eversible mouth.
The jaws of one bristle worm — Platynereis dumerilii — are super-tough, virtually unbreakable. It turns out, according to a new study from researchers at the Technical University of Vienna, this strength is due to metal atoms.
Metals, not minerals
Fireworm, a type of bristle wormCredit: prilfish / Flickr
This is pretty unusual. The study's senior author Christian Hellmich explains: "The materials that vertebrates are made of are well researched. Bones, for example, are very hierarchically structured: There are organic and mineral parts, tiny structures are combined to form larger structures, which in turn form even larger structures."
The bristle worm jaw, by contrast, replaces the minerals from which other creatures' bones are built with atoms of magnesium and zinc arranged in a super-strong structure. It's this structure that is key. "On its own," he says, "the fact that there are metal atoms in the bristle worm jaw does not explain its excellent material properties."
Just deformable enough
Credit: by-studio / Adobe Stock
What makes conventional metal so strong is not just its atoms but the interactions between the atoms and the ways in which they slide against each other. The sliding allows for a small amount of elastoplastic deformation when pressure is applied, endowing metals with just enough malleability not to break, crack, or shatter.
Co-author Florian Raible of Max Perutz Labs surmises, "The construction principle that has made bristle worm jaws so successful apparently originated about 500 million years ago."
Raible explains, "The metal ions are incorporated directly into the protein chains and then ensure that different protein chains are held together." This leads to the creation of three-dimensional shapes the bristle worm can pack together into a structure that's just malleable enough to withstand a significant amount of force.
"It is precisely this combination," says the study's lead author Luis Zelaya-Lainez, "of high strength and deformability that is normally characteristic of metals.
So the bristle worm jaw is both metal-like and yet not. As Zelaya-Lainez puts it, "Here we are dealing with a completely different material, but interestingly, the metal atoms still provide strength and deformability there, just like in a piece of metal."
Observing the creation of a metal-like material from biological processes is a bit of a surprise and may suggest new approaches to materials development. "Biology could serve as inspiration here," says Hellmich, "for completely new kinds of materials. Perhaps it is even possible to produce high-performance materials in a biological way — much more efficiently and environmentally friendly than we manage today."
Dealing with rudeness can nudge you toward cognitive errors.
- Anchoring is a common bias that makes people fixate on one piece of data.
- A study showed that those who experienced rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to bad data.
- In some simulations with medical students, this effect led to higher mortality rates.
Cognitive biases are funny little things. Everyone has them, nobody likes to admit it, and they can range from minor to severe depending on the situation. Biases can be influenced by factors as subtle as our mood or various personality traits.
A new study soon to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that experiencing rudeness can be added to the list. More disturbingly, the study's findings suggest that it is a strong enough effect to impact how medical professionals diagnose patients.
Life hack: don't be rude to your doctor
The team of researchers behind the project tested to see if participants could be influenced by the common anchoring bias, defined by the researchers as "the tendency to rely too heavily or fixate on one piece of information when making judgments and decisions." Most people have experienced it. One of its more common forms involves being given a particular value, say in negotiations on price, which then becomes the center of reasoning even when reason would suggest that number should be ignored.
It can also pop up in medicine. As co-author Dr. Trevor Foulk explains, "If you go into the doctor and say 'I think I'm having a heart attack,' that can become an anchor and the doctor may get fixated on that diagnosis, even if you're just having indigestion. If doctors don't move off anchors enough, they'll start treating the wrong thing."
Lots of things can make somebody more or less likely to anchor themselves to an idea. The authors of the study, who have several papers on the effects of rudeness, decided to see if that could also cause people to stumble into cognitive errors. Past research suggested that exposure to rudeness can limit people's perspective — perhaps anchoring them.
In the first version of the study, medical students were given a hypothetical patient to treat and access to information on their condition alongside an (incorrect) suggestion on what the condition was. This served as the anchor. In some versions of the tests, the students overheard two doctors arguing rudely before diagnosing the patient. Later variations switched the diagnosis test for business negotiations or workplace tasks while maintaining the exposure to rudeness.
Across all iterations of the test, those exposed to rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to the initial, incorrect suggestion despite the availability of evidence against it. This was less significant for study participants who scored higher on a test of how wide of a perspective they tended to have. The disposition of these participants, who answered in the affirmative to questions like, "Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in his/her place," was able to effectively negate the narrowing effects of rudeness.
What this means for you and your healthcare
The effects of anchoring when a medical diagnosis is on the line can be substantial. Dr. Foulk explains that, in some simulations, exposure to rudeness can raise the mortality rate as doctors fixate on the wrong problems.
The authors of the study suggest that managers take a keener interest in ensuring civility in workplaces and giving employees the tools they need to avoid judgment errors after dealing with rudeness. These steps could help prevent anchoring.
Also, you might consider being nicer to people.
So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
At least 222 typefaces are named after places in the U.S. — and there's still room for more.
- Here's one pandemic project we approve of: a map of the United Fonts of America.
- The question was simple: How many fonts are named after places in the U.S.?
- Finding them became an obsession for Andy Murdock. At 222, he stopped looking.
Who isn't fond of fonts? Even if we don't know their names, we associate specific letter types with certain brands, feelings, and levels of trust.
Typography equals psychology. For example, you don't want to get a message from your doctor, or anybody else in authority, that's set in comic sans — basically, the typeface that wears clown makeup.
A new serif in town
If you want to convey reliability, tradition, and formality, you should go for a serif, a font with decorative bits stuck to its extremities. Well-known examples include Garamond, Baskerville, and Times New Roman. Remove the decoration, and you've got a clean look that communicates clarity, modernity, and innovation. Arial and Helvetica are some of the most popular sans serif fonts.
There's a lot more to font psychology, but let's veer toward another, less explored Venn diagram instead: the overlap between typography and geography. That's where Andy Murdock spent much of his pandemic.
Mr. Murdock is the co-founder of The Statesider, a newsletter about (among other things) travel and landscape in the United States. He remembers his first encounter with a home computer back in 1984 and learning from that Macintosh both the word "font" and the name for the one it used: Chicago.
A map of the United Fonts of America — well, 222 of them.Credit: The Statesider, reproduced with kind permission.
You can see where this is going. Mr Murdock retained a healthy interest in fonts named after places. Over the years, he noted Monaco, London, San Francisco, and Cairo, among many others. "And then, the question of how many fonts are named for U.S. places came up in an editorial meeting at The Statesider," Mr Murdock says.
It's the sort of topic that in other times might never have gone anywhere, but this was the start of the pandemic. "I was stuck for days on end, so I actually started looking into it. At some point, I realized that I could probably find at least one per state." Cue the idea for a map of the "United Fonts of America."
Challenge turns into obsession
But that was easier said than done. Finding location-based fonts turned out to be rather time-consuming. "I definitely didn't realize what I was getting myself into," Mr Murdock recalls. "I could quickly name a few — New York, Georgia, Chicago — but I had no idea that I'd be able to find so many."
What started as a quirky challenge turned into an obsession and a compulsion that would have the accidental font-mapper wake up in the middle of the night and think: Did I check to see if there's a Boise font? (He did; there isn't.)
"The hardest part was knowing when to stop," said Mr Murdock. "Believe me, I know I missed some." In all, he found 222 fonts referencing places in the United States and its territories.
For the most part, these fonts are distributed as the population is: heavy on the coasts and near the Great Lakes, but thin in most parts in between. California (23 fonts) takes the cake, followed by Texas (15), and New York (9).
Some of the fonts have interesting back stories, and in his article for "The Statesider", Mr Murdock provides a few:
- Georgia was named after a newspaper headline reading "Alien Heads Found in Georgia."
- Fayette is based on the handwriting of the record-keeper of a place called Fayette, now a ghost town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
- Tahoma and Tacoma are both pre-European names for Mount Rainier in Washington state.
Mostly, the fonts repeat the names of states and cities, but some offer something more interesting, such as the alliterating Cascadia Code or the lyrical Tallahassee Chassis. Other less than ordinary names include Kentuckyfried and Wyoming Spaghetti.
Capturing the spirit of a place
As an unexpected expert in the geographic distribution of location-based fonts, can Mr. Murdock offer any opinion on the qualitative relation between place and typeface?
"Good design of any sort can capture the spirit of a place, or at least one perspective on a place," he says, "but frankly, that only occasionally seems to have been the goal when it comes to typefaces."
In his opinion, the worst fonts reflect a stereotype about a place, rather than the place itself: "Saipan and Hanalei are both made to look like crude bamboo. Those are particularly awful. Pecos feels like it belongs on a bad Tex-Mex restaurant's menu."
California (lower left) is a rich source of location-based typefaces.Credit: The Statesider, reproduced with kind permission.
"Santa Barbara Streets, on the other hand, is quite nice because it captures the font that's actually used on street signs in Santa Barbara. I prefer the typefaces that have a story and a connection to a place, but it's a fine line between being artfully historic and being cartoonishly retro."
Let's finish off Route 66
Glancing over the map, some regions seem more prone to "stereotypefacing" than others: "Tucson, Tombstone, El Paso — you know you're in the Southwest. Art Deco fonts are mostly in the east or around the Great Lakes. In general, you find more sans serif fonts in the western U.S., and more serif fonts in the east, but that's not a hard-and-fast rule."
Noticing a few blank spots on the map, Mr. Murdock helpfully suggests some areas that could do with a few more fonts, including the Carolinas, the Dakotas, Maine, Missouri, West Virginia, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.
Oh, and Route 66. Nearly all of the cities mentioned in the eponymous song have a typeface named after them. "We need Gallup and Barstow to complete the set."
And finally, America's oft-overlooked overseas territories could be a rich seam for type developers: "Some of these names are perfect for a great typeface — Viejo San Juan, St. Croix, Pago Pago, Ypao Beach, Tinian."
To name but a few. Typeface designers, sharpen your pencils!
Map found here at The Statesider, reproduced with kind permission. For more dispatches from the weird interzone between geography and typography, check out Strange Maps #318: The semicolonial state of San Serriffe.
Strange Maps #1090
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.