am 17. April 1999
Jaguar Mark 2? Pshaw! Chateau Latour '49? Snort!
You'll have to excuse me, I'm practising Law 36: "Disdain the things you cannot have". Frankly, it doesn't work.
However, it's fortunate for people as ambitious and venal as you and I, that most of Robert Greene's other laws are ideal guides for modern behaviour, particularly in business or politics. Indeed, we can quickly build careers based on Law 7: "Get others to do the work for you but always take the credit."
With the morals of vultures but the faces of angels (more of that asset later), we will quietly circle a stooge before winging down and tearing off gobbets of glory. Our hero should be Thomas Edison who allowed a naïve European scientist named Nikola Telsa to work 18-hour days, on the promise of a $50,000 bonus, to redesign Edison's primitive dynamos. When Telsa finally produced the new product and asked for his money Edison explained: "You don't understand our American humour", and offered a small pay rise instead.
Guglielmo Marconi joined in the Telsa-baiting fun by broadcasting a signal across the English Channel in 1899 while making use of a patent Telsa had filed two years previously. Once again Telsa received no money and no credit.
Law 7 segues nicely into Law 26: "Keep your hands clean". By using scapegoats and cat's-paws, our hands will never be soiled by mistakes or nasty deeds. The term cat's-paw, incidentally, comes from the fable in which the Monkey grabs the paw of his friend, the Cat, and uses it to scoop chestnuts out of the fire. While scapegoats are easily found (in fact I can loan you a couple), cat's-paws are more of a challenge to identify.
Don't be put off. Follow the example of Cleopatra who had a double success with the cat's-paw method. She convinced Julius Caesar and later Marc Antony to decimate her unruly family members at little risk to herself.
Mao Tse-tung also recognised the charm of Law 26. During the civil war, he convinced his rival Chiang Kai-shek to join forces against the invading Japanese. Chiang thought Mao had gone soft. Chiang believed that, once the combined Chinese forces had defeated the Japanese, the Nationalists could get back to the task of trouncing the Communists. With that delicious prospect in mind, Chiang agreed and ordered his troops into a conventional, debilitating war against the Japanese. The Communists on the other hand used less demanding hit-and-run guerrilla tactics to harry the Japanese.
After the Japanese were finally shooed from the country, the weakened Nationalists found themselves confronted and finally beaten by the fighting-fit Communists.
But what if prissy onlookers, watching you and I behave Monkey-like on the corporate or political stages, take umbrage at our anti-social, insensitive lifestyles? Well, phooey to them. In fact the angrier our enemies become the calmer and more objective we should stay. That's the essence of Law 30: "Stir up waters to catch fish". Be aware that anger and emotion are strategically counter productive. Tantrums neither intimidate nor inspire loyalty, they only create doubts and uneasiness about your power. Green points out that Napoleon lost more than his cool when, in front of his government ministers, he screamed at a serene Talleyrand: "You, by the way, are nothing but shit in silk stockings!" As they watched the apoplectic Napoleon become more and more unhinged, the ministers realised Tallyerand had successfully humiliated their leader by not responding in anger.
While we are on the subject of counter-intuitive behaviour, remember the paranoid and the wary are often the easiest to deceive. Even if they hate you, pretend to be their friends. This is Law 3: "Conceal your intentions". Win your opponents' trust in one area and you have a smoke screen that blinds their view in another.
Haile Selassie adopted this approach throughout his political life, luring his victims with sweet smiles and obsequiousness before attacking. In 1927, for example, the future Ethiopian emperor found only one warlord, Balcha, opposed him. To show his apparent willingness to be flexible, Selassie invited the recalcitrant Balcha to a banquet. Balcha sensed a plot and, leaving his army near Selassie's fort, brought along 600 loyal fighters to the event. But the extravagant banquet was trouble-free and a cocky Balcha saw an opportunity to return to crush seemingly intimidated Selassie.
But when Balcha reached to his army's base, he found it deserted. While Balcha was at the banquet. another army allied with Selassie had arrived at the base with gold and cash, and bought all the weapons carried by Balcha's troops.
Then, as Balcha and his remaining men attempted to flee, they found the escape routes blocked by the allied army and Selassie's soliders.
Selassie, knowing that Balcha would sense the banquet was ploy and would bring his best fighters, had check-mated his enemy. Balcha was forced to surrender and enter a monastery. Not that your enemies are always the real threat. Author Greene, whose work in Hollywood and the media no doubt made him wary of the Janus mentality of friends, encourages those of you without enemies to make them. Once again, if you're running short, I can loan you some.
Despite Green's often prim writing style (possibly be an in-joke as his sentence structure often resembles stiff translations of the works of Machiavelli and Sun-tzu) he is eminently readable. He has an excellent eye for a salutary history lesson. For example, he outlines how Talleyrand turned to his most hated enemy Fouché, head of the secret police, in an attempt to overthrow Napoleon. Bound by a common cause, rather than friendship, the two men went about their dastardly, if ultimately unsuccessful, deeds.
Greene's sharply cynical offering, which is slightly at odds with his observation: "Do not be the court cynic ... you will irritate (people)", is crisply packaged by book designer Joost Elffers. The black and red typefaces - fit for a wiley Cardinal - are austere and elegant.
But enough about them, let's talk about you and your angelic face. I'm going to let you into one of Green's little secrets. He believes you are perfect for the power game. The mistake many people make is to assume that deceivers are distressingly obvious as they spin their elaborate lies. In fact, the best deceivers utilise a bland front and avoid suspicion-raising extravagant words and gestures.
That's why, armed with this book and with an eye on the Main Chance, you and I will be an unbeatable team.
It's just a pity I can't trust you.