We, humans, created a society reliant on power, and those that hold or distribute power make the rules. This ongoing “power game” happens both subconsciously and consciously, depending on the situation and who’s playing. At least that’s what some people think… 

Personally, I think it’s mostly bullshit. 

I realize power dynamics are inevitable in some relationships, especially when it comes to “business” relationships, but that doesn’t have to always be the case. We (society) have accepted an outdated model of interaction based on our ancestor’s behaviors, which centered around war and worshiping royalty. The only hope we have to evolve into a next-generation civilization is to figure out a less narcissistic way of behaving. 

This week we dove into the game of power collection and distribution in the book “48 Laws of Power”. The book is structured into 48 chapters sharing the laws, as well as a bunch of ancient stories with con artists, royalty, or warlords. 

The context

This book has been recommended to me many times, but over the last four years, I’ve heard it less in the circles I spend my time in, which is a reassuring feeling. Let me explain… 

Roughly six years ago I tried reading this book twice, but both times I couldn’t convince myself it was worth the effort. I would always get about 50 pages in and realize it’s complete bullshit and that no one actually thinks this stuff is useful. 

But in the last two months, I’ve been thinking more about societal structure, the interaction between companies and governments, and who makes the decisions that impact all of us. The more time I spent thinking about this topic, the more I realized it revolves around power in its many different manifestations. With that said, I knew there was a fundamental flaw in this system, but I couldn’t put my finger on it… This is where I came across Daniel S. and his work on understanding societal collapse, as well as future civilizations.

At the end of the below talk (01:09:55), Daniel begins to talk about power and his perspective on it, which helped uncover the confusion I had. 

Here’s my butchered version of Daniel’s main point – We’re currently living in an ecosystem that values power and this power is accumulated through zero-sum games. The people willing and wanting to play this game tend to be narcissists, not critical thinkers. 

From my personal experience, I’ve never encountered a genuinely good critical thinker, someone that views a problem from all sides willing to play these power games. Instead, they opt out and do their absolute best to avoid the game altogether. The reasons for opting out are similar, some examples are… 

  • Time – They realize it’s a waste of their time and they would rather spend that time interacting with people that don’t concern themselves with power. Also, they tend to be more interested in doing and making, rather than thinking about power dynamics. 
  • Feeling – The two common feelings I hear are disgust and guilt. Most people either feel gross or guilty for playing games where they consciously know the other person playing will lose out (e.g. zero-sum). 

Sadly, since we’re immersed in a society that relies on power those critical thinkers that opt out inevitably hand over power to the narcissists playing the power game. This realization acted as a forcing function pushing me through reading the entirety of this book. When reading this book I wanted to view it as an anthropologist trying to uncover why people buy into the power games and how its played.

My thought process is simple…

By opting out and allowing narcissists to collect more power our civilization will never evolve into something more than just status-seeking and resource collection. We’ll never be able to think past our short-term perspective of a single lifetime, hurting future generations based on our shitty decision-making. But! If we’re able to understand why and how people collect power, that’s one step closer to creating a society centered around “we” (today/tomorrow), instead of “me” (today). 

Fundamental flaws

This book is based on two false assumptions. 

Inevitability – At the beginning of the book the author mentions these laws are based on a single premise – “Certain actions almost always increase one’s power, while others decrease it and even ruin us.”. This quote is similar to a quote I’m sure you’ve heard… 

“If you look around the table and you can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you.”

The assumption is that a power game is always being played, so if you don’t play, then you’re going to lose. But that can’t be further from the truth… Power games aren’t inevitable, we can change the system we’re immersed in.

Virtue – Throughout the book, the author is constantly placing power brokers on a pedestal of virtue, showing that people with power are “better” than those without it. This needs no explanation… We both know it’s complete crap. 

Some examples

I won’t pain you with listing out all the laws, but by seeing a few you’ll realize how ridiculous some of them are. 

  • Don’t trust friends, use your enemies 
  • Pretend to like people 
  • Play to other people’s fantasies
  • Create a cult-like following
  • Let others work and you take the credit

If you think I’m cherry-picking take a look at the infographic below

There was one law that I actually felt was reasonable, but the way this author applied it was not and that’s “gathering intelligence”. In the book, he mentions the importance of gathering intelligence on your “target” (great word choice) and leveraging it against them. Gathering intelligence is important, not to harm others, but to provide more value. 

In my life, I’ve used this “law” many times when aiming to provide more value to those with little time and attention… By taking the time to research them, their interests, and problems I’m better able to help them. 

Bridging the gap

We need more critical thinkers to make more sacrifices by playing this game because if we all opt out, then we’re accepting the decisions made by the narcissists enjoying the game. 

Trust me, I know it’s not attractive, but it has to be done. If you’re a critical thinker and see a similar problem then this is your mission… We need to collect and divert more power away from the system we’re baked into, creating new structures of interaction focused on the “we”, not “me”. 

Good luck my fellow Wanderers!