Eve Online: you’re trapped on a server competing with hundreds of thousands of sociopaths; there are no rules, no laws, and no justice besides what your power can take. All the Sun Tzu quotes in the world won’t help you navigate New Eden (inappropriate Sun Tzu references are one of the signature moves of victims in EVE, much like World War II analogies), but Robert Greene’s ‘The 48 Laws of Power’ just might save you. It’s one of the most requested books in American prisons - and the only thing closer to EVE than a Freedomland slammer is Somalia, and they don’t have library statistics there.
‘48 Laws’ is an ugly book. It is florid, pretentious, repeats itself unnecessarily, and yet is the best compilation of unapologetic Machiavellianism you’ll find on the market. It begins with demolishing a central conceit of modern society - that our social structures have changed radically or ‘advanced’ beyond ancient monarchal structures. Almost every institution in modern society has a hierarchy within it, a ‘court’ surrounding a ‘king’. The ‘48 Laws’ illustrates the unspoken rules of these hierarchies and how to advance within them, so - unlike the Art of War - ‘48 Laws’ can apply to almost every aspect of a person’s social life as well as competitive games.
Identifying the actual rules of human behavior is critical to a person’s success, because we collectively spend so much time lying to each other and to ourselves about how and why we do things. Consider the following assumptions of American life: Corporations are people, money is speech, the government is a democracy, the rich earned their money through working harder than anyone else, America is the ‘best’ nation, and we go to war to protect freedom. Not a one of these things is true, yet most citizens reading the previous sentence will have an immediate kneejerk defensive reaction as their upbringing is challenged. Just as in real life, EVE is full of marks and victims, not because these people are inherently foolish, but because they come to the game with illusions - illusions that many of us have been spoonfed from an early age and actively attempt to reinforce in one another. In a world where no one was charged with a crime in the 2008 financial crisis yet the public is convinced that Bernie Madoff had something to do with it, a world where ‘elections matter’ yet nothing changes, a world where both Orwell and Huxley were right, we need books like ‘48 Laws’ - even if you will be criticized just for reading it.
Yet ‘48 Laws’ is not a revolutionary book, but rather a useful compilation of notes from across a field of superior sources - Machiavelli, Balthasar Gracian, Talleyrand, Louis XIV, Schopenhauer, Cosimo de Medici, etc. Each “law” is illustrated with a number of historical examples. The real utility of ‘48 Laws’ is bringing all these sources together to make it easy for a reader to do their own, more detailed research. The book is not perfect; it could be organized better and some of the laws overlap substantially. After reading it, I made my own notes and cut its maxims down to about thirty.
Some examples of the ‘laws’: Conceal your intentions. Always say less than necessary. Never outshine the master. Control your feelings and never display anger. Induce others to talk about themselves, rather than indulging in talking about yourself. Get others to do work for you, then take the credit. Convince through actions, not trying to win an argument. Always appeal to a person’s self interest, not just to their principles. Never be the bearer of bad news. Use a hatchetman if you must do something unpleasant to keep distance. Know when to stop after a victory and consolidate. Make your accomplishments seem effortless.
Some of these laws may seem obvious, but others are counterintuitive. ‘48 Laws’ is full of the kind of advice that contradicts what you were taught as a child, yet the truth of it can be seen everywhere if you have the courage to drop your blinders. In the real world, assuming you live at a comfortable socioeconomic level, you can stumble through life and function with your illusions intact, but in EVE (or if you dare venture outside the ‘approved’ career paths in the real world) you will be chewed up, spat out, and ruined unless you know how the world really works.