Wanting to stay in the know about the things that capture hip hop’s imagination, I seek out The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene on my latest trip to the bookstore. After I fail in my attempt to locate the book on my own, I enlist the help of a sale associate. As he leads me to a table at the front of the store, he asks over his shoulder, “Now are you just interested in The 48 Laws of Power because Greene also wrote The Art of Seduction and The 33 Strategies of War.”
I think I already don’t like this fuckin’ book. But I don’t take out my rising disgust on the friendly sales associate. “Nah,” I say. “No more war. Too much damned war as it is.”
He laughs sympathetically, and we arrive at the table. I pick up The 48 Laws of Power and start to browse. Running almost five hundred pages and using a small font, the book is thick and dense. Greene does not merely state the supposed law, explain it in simple language and provide a contemporary scenario that exemplifies its application as one might expect in a typical business tome. Rather he goes to great lengths to anchor the law in historical context both by quoting other strategic minds (such as Sun-Tzu who penned The Art of War, another favorite among hip hop heads) and offering multiple examples from how Ivan the Terrible “disappeared” for a month to make Russians appreciate his dictatorial reign when he returned to how Count Victor Lustig used “selective honesty” to dupe five grand out of none other than Al Capone.
This trek to the Strand was inspired when a friend forwarded me an article in the Los Angeles Times about the hip hop community’s embrace of The 48 Laws of Power. I had heard of the book but never had any interest in it. When it comes to books about how to handle my business, I’m more interested in titles like Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline and even Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements. I strive to be a holistic person, and books such as these possess sound advice about how to live one’s life to achieve wealth beyond that which is material.
In the article, journalist Chris Lee had written, “. . . [A]nd now, largely as a result of rap artists' growing sense of themselves as an entrepreneurial warrior class, [The 48 Laws of Power] is finding new life as the bible for behavior in the hip-hop world.”
Yeah, we’re doing that now. Keeping shit close to the vest. That’s probably why he hasn’t been able to fuck us over.
Damn, why didn’t I do that? ‘Cause I was trying to be real with her, that’s why. Oh, well. So far, no drama. Hopefully, things’ll turn out all right anyway.
Seem dumber than your mark? That might work for a man, but. . . OK, actually that can work for a woman, too. Maybe even better because they expect inferiority from a woman.
And then I recall a situation in which I violated Law # 3: conceal your intentions. According to Greene, it should’ve been a wrap for me. But the truth was that the results were nothing but positive.
This is a manual for oppression.
The underlying assumption of every law is that man’s strongest and most natural impulse is to destroy and dominate. Life is constant warfare in pursuit of material ends. In a world that operates along The 48 Laws of Power, there is no such thing as healing, peace, community, justice or even love. Some laws need no explanation to demonstrate this.
Law # 7: Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit.
Law #27: Play on people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following.
Law #14: Pose as a friend, work as a spy.
In fact, the assumptions and values that drive many of these “laws” have been used throughout the history of humankind to justify and execute all kinds of domination and exploitation including imperialism, slavery, and even genocide.
Law #37: Create compelling spectacles i.e. use “striking imagery and grand symbolic gestures” to create “an aura of power.” The Ku Klux Klan and Nazis had that on lock.
Law #17: Keep others in suspended terror: cultivate an air of unpredictability. This is how terrorists of all stripes operate be they a racist police force to Al-Qaeda –
Law # 4: Always say less than necessary. The name of George W. Bush immediately should come to the mind of any independent-thinking American. The examples from his administration are endless, but I’ll offer just one: the humongous lie upon which we invaded and continue to occupy Iraq.
Granted, the back cover boasts, “The bestselling book for those who want POWER, watch POWER, or want to arm themselves against POWER.” Theoretically, the emerging “entrepreneurial warrior class” comprised of mainstream hip hop artists could be turning to The 48 Laws of Power in an effort to learn how oppression functions in order to protect themselves against it. But let’s be real. We all know that’s not their agenda. They don’t study this book with the intention of disarming the ruling class never mind defeating it.
They embrace this book because they want to join it. And in order to become a member of the ruling class, one must become an oppressor. Should this hip hop warrior class succeed and rise to power, who are they supposed to oppress?
It sure as hell ain’t going be Lyor Cohen.
Then again, probably few if any hip hop heads know who that sister was even though she did more for the liberation of Black people than any business guru of the month.
* A previous version of this blog was posted at http://www.blackartemis.com/ on July 21, 2006