The 48 Laws of Powerlessness

the great cornholio

the great cornholio

“Do not consider yourself wicked when forced to rely on your own efforts.” —Pirke Avot

“Consider the birds.” —Jesus of Nazareth

News broke this week not only that Mexican authorities had recaptured infamous cartel head El Chapo, but that during his time on the run, actor Sean Penn met the escaped narco in secret to conduct an interview for an American magazine.

As in the example of the otherwise forgotten gangster with which Dale Carnegie opens his seminal self-help guide, El Chapo’s self-image is decidedly counterintuitive. He told Penn,

Look, all I do is defend myself, nothing more. But do I start trouble? Never.

I’m not saying he’s a nice guy, but—strictly speaking—El Chapo is probably right. In places where life is as dire and cheap as it long has been in Mexico, for all practical purposes, people are little more than animals.

In contrast, the sterility of our lives in the US has retarded natural selection, proliferating cancer, androgyny, nervous ticks and strange new addictions. Decency has become lethargic and peremptory, a sort of Americanized building of communism, prodded by public service announcements and corprobureaucratic mission statements, maintained on life support with wiggle words and mealy euphemisms. The most thoroughly inculcated mental habits in the US are entitlement, deference, and delusion, the attributes of children, dogs and madmen. We call our goals “dreams” and our desires “rights.” Despite a zeitgeist of hardening cynicism we cannot untangle ourselves from the neuroses our congenital brutality as creatures entails under First World conditions, a respite which eventually reverts to war, by other means, of all against all; a melee of passive aggression.

A few years back, a man looking to make a quick buck authored and managed to have published a compendium called The 48 Laws of Power, a set of machiavellian precepts distilled from manipulative behaviors and business tactics he noted while living in Hollywood and trying to peddle screenplays to movie producers.

Of course, power is a quotient, and it’s perfectly conceivable that it adheres innately to a system of laws that might be discovered by scientific methods. Under the right circumstances, power can be applied to effect wondrous good, and its cultivation can uplift the soul. But power can also be also a soul-retarding, necessary evil that must ultimately be lamented the way aboriginal hunters used to pray for the souls of their animal victims. If living morally within its constraints can be likened to practicing a martial art for self-defense, The 48 Laws of Power, in contrast, is more like a guidebook for carrying out a school shooting. If you’ve ever felt thwarted or bullied, it’s an intriguing read. But beyond self-preservation, what can you really hope to win by the tactics it recommends? Certainly not peace of mind. Besides, very few people stand a chance of ever ruling anything worth lowering themselves to the grasping sleaze and darting paranoia prescribed by The 48 Laws of Power, which sells itself flattering the avaricious self-importance of ass-licking middle managers, foul harpies, excessive selfie attention-felchers and reality TV-like personalities.

More likely, you’ll just continue being subjugated by a web of agencies, conglomerates and remorseless, buck-passing apparatchiks—your neighbors, fellow peons and self-styled social betters—by means of transcripts, credit scores, criminal histories, licensure and various other cudgels. You’ll pay retail, you’ll pay innumerable taxes and ancillary fees with sub-Orwellian gibberish names that go to fund cheating, malingering and addiction, while precious few of the protections promised from the cryptocubicle hives those compulsory tithings funnel through will ever extend to you, unless you have a quarter-million budgeted for attorney’s fees. Should you require a hospital stay, overworked nurses may leave you to shit yourself and profit-driven doctors may fail to make more than the most cursory, mechanized inquiries into your condition. Employers and landlords will wring you dry with snickering disdain for the law. School authorities and later, cops will harass you for defending yourself, but do less than nothing (i.e., harm you somehow) if you turn to them for protection. Lawyers, creditors and sundry predators will constrain you to sign beneath utterly incomprehensible fine print, while hucksters of every variety tell you the most exquisite lies, entirely without shame, every single day.

In short, you will be reduced under absolute despotism, in America of all places. And however subconscious they may be, the by-now automated and seemingly disparate forces arrayed against you adhere giddily to an inverse-Christian theology of glad-handing, back-stabbing, inveterate insincerity, and an incentive system that punishes manful forthrightness, rewards slithering guile, demands gratitude of the exploited and remorse for the highest attributes of humaneness cultivated over centuries of civilization’s rise, unless that humaneness is pressed somehow into ulterior service. What you need aren’t laws of power, but laws of powerlessness, a guide for coping with the invisible shackles you’re dragging around, so that you can at least preserve some sense of self-worth and alertness to objective reality despite the obscurantism your many nibbling predators are constantly throwing up in attempting to convince you to hate yourself.

Here are 48 of them.

(1) In the beginning, there was you. The inscription at Delphi read know thyself, not “know everything.”

(2) Before you are reptile or mammal, hip or square, believer or apostate, right or left wing, you are a creature, a rack of meat that somehow possesses the capacity for understanding.

In the words of the poet, “He understands things only as he senses and smells them.”

Gaze past the abstruse layers of expectation built into your field of vision by education, convention and the interests of others in your interpretation of the things your vision beholds.

(3) You can take and be taken from, fuck and get fucked up, become prince or pauper. But in the end, the capacity for understanding, your independence of mind, is the only real power you ever will have.

(4) The pursuit of power over others may arise from any number of noble, guiding principles. But once that power is attained, the principle of power is power, and power alone.

(5) Despite whatever inordinate estimation you may have of your worth or prospects relative to others, chances are, you’re a nobody, and nobodies are liable to have to answer to anybody and everybody. You can try to mitigate this the sisyphean way, by pursuing power over others on contemporary American terms, or you can mitigate it in the only real way possible: by guarding your capacity for understanding from the efforts of those who seek to co-opt it.

(6) You may be a nobody, but you’re only a nobody relative to society, to the limitless world of names and masks. Give too much of yourself over to that world’s approval and even as president or plutocrat, you’ll still be a nobody. Commune instead with your own soul, and set your own terms accordingly, because they’re going to get set one way or another.

(7) You do not have rights. Rights are a pretext for arbitration, for power, like the Messiah, a fairytale to placate the powerless.

(8) What you have instead are imperatives, mainly self-preservation, the mitigation of discomfort, face-saving, and maintenance of spiritual and intellectual autonomy if yours is more worth guarding than it’s worth trading. It may not be, in which case this blog post isn’t for you.

(9) Think of it from a Marxian perspective: imperatives and the will to invoke them are raw materials. Power, on the other hand, is extracted, rationalized and propagandized into an end product to be hoarded. El Chapo possesses a great deal of raw power. George Bush possesses a great deal of refined power. When I say power here, I’m speaking narrowly about the latter form.

(10) Power is pretentious. For example, both George Bush and El Chapo are powerful Mexican druglords who’ve wrought untold death and destruction. But only one of these two claims to derive his power from, and wrecks his destruction in the name of, a lofty values system that he supposes makes the world a better place.

(11) Because in the United States power is always exercised in the name of decency and righteousness, those who exercise it tend to exhibit smug self-satisfaction. Despite what anybody says, smug self-satisfaction—not justice or decency—is a primary end to which power is a means.

(12) Imagine (1) a young guy who’s homely and diminutive but conniving, who utilizes his non-threatening demeanor to lure a self-esteem deficient young lady and obliquely impose his jealous prerogatives on her using various mind games. Now imagine (2) a mechanic trying to repair the engine in a Ford. Those who seek to transform society, devising all sorts of protocols for how “We” should order affairs, perceive themselves as similar to the second guy, the mechanic. But they’re the first guy.

(13) You are not a participant in the transformation of society—no one is—only in its composition. Society on the scale we’re familiar with is a force of nature. If you’re part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

(14) Don’t ever worry about what others do and think and say when it doesn’t impact you directly. Nobody asked you.

(15) If, like me and most other people, you simply must take an interest in the affairs of others, recognize that interest for what it is: a lurid little diversion.

(16) There is no such distinction as abuse of power. Power is abuse, domination, the divestiture of others from their will to invoke their imperatives. Like dogs, people are evolved over many generations of socialization to yield that will without first thinking. You may not have the option of exercising or getting out from under it, but you can at least peer past the euphemisms and slights of hand to see things for what they really are.

(17) Power in the current grey-race global order of mass-organization antfarms is not the triumph by force of one lowly person’s (or even El Chapo’s) imperative over another’s that conflicts with his, but a vast epistemic matrix of falsehood. Ledgers and algorithms are manipulated, fast-moving assets are transmitted and skimmed with nothing of value produced, and glittering iconographic pornoganda is deployed upon our deepest hopes and basest fears. Withdraw your assent to the premise that public life requires anything genuine from you and you withdraw your consent to this madness, clarifying your vision of the monstrous powers arrayed against the autonomy of your mind. Keep what little is yours for you: better you should be forced than be first convinced, then force yourself.

(18) Consent is the hot air that inflates power. It comes in three varieties: unconscious, willing, and forced. Though still prevalent in some sectors, forced consent is basically an antiquated business model, while unconscious consent is the most advanced and cost effective. Willing consent is more costly—because power must be delegated in exchange for it—but yields greater gains. That’s why cops and bureaucrats get such generous benefits. It’s also why whores get jewelry.

(19) Cravenness, vindictiveness and treachery are the only reasons for willing consent to power.

“We’ve got a great team here and a product I really believe in.”

“I’d do anything for Bill and Linda because they have a unique vision and they really care about their employees.”

“We’re here to demand equality.”

“You have the right to an attorney.”

…..the language of felching vermin. They would watch Bill and Linda be raped in a stairwell, and do nothing.

(20) If you don’t wish to be dealt with by power, i.e., to be rendered dependent, then don’t deal in power. Don’t accept little titles or adopt organizational prerogatives as your own. Don’t sweat other people’s business—and it’s all other people’s business.

(21) When it comes to minimizing your subjugation, no possible benefit can derive from chiming in about what is to be done, what rules should be encoded, how the common till ought to be divvied, and what should or should not be rendered unto Caesar. It’s none of your business. It’s none of Caesar’s business unless you agree to Caesar’s terms. It’s not even any of God’s business, for He left these decisions to man. When, in exchange for others taking action on what you believe is your behalf, you accept—by voting, liking Facebook pages, calling the cops—that they are better qualified than you are to arbitrate your prerogatives, you spurn God by trading His incredible gift of volition, of capacity for understanding, for a leash and a poop baggie. At least Judas got thirty pieces of silver. 

(22) Policy positions are not beliefs. Stop conflating the two.

Policy positions are not philosophical—they’re pecuniary and vindictive. Right and wrong have nothing to do with them. For nobodies like you or me, any policy position is only the starting off point of dogma, of make-work neurosis, of lending your energy to those who would usurp your imperatives and do so, despicably, in the name of the common welfare, for no purpose other than their own.

(23) Conceptualizing morality in terms of “the common welfare” is just a way of rationalizing our sense of entitlement.

For example, this week, it was publicized that the rock musician Ted Nugent had called, on Twitter, for Obama and Clinton to be hanged for treason. I, too, would love to see the crows pluck out their eyes, but what’s this notion of treason? Were you, or was the public, owed something that Obama and Clinton failed to deliver? They didn’t betray anyone: their many crimes are entirely unsurprising. To feel betrayed by them requires a babblingly delusional sense of entitlement.

This same week, a major news story has been the occupation of a federal wildlife refuge by a rabble of self-styled militiamen in Oregon. Left-leaning sorts are all over Facebook calling for them to be shot or locked away in Gitmo. Why? Who cares? Have they done you any wrong? Are they less deserving of unnatural death or imprisonment than, say, Clinton or Obama? To feel effected by the story requires a monumental sense of self-importance. And yet, thousands are clickety-clacking about it on the Twitters and the Facebooks as if they have something personal at stake.

Weird.

(24) ” But I pay taxes, I should have a say!” That’s adorable. No one cares what you have to say, obviously. Besides: a manifest dictate of self respect is that you minimize or evade taxpaying (duh). If you can’t (I certainly can’t), well… When did it ever occur to you to have an opinion about what the school bully eats or shares with you using your lunch money? 

(25) Think of the US like Wal-Mart: an evil corporation that has trademarked a name, but embodies none of the virtues—thrift, diligence, free enterprise, risk-taking—that name represents. It cannot be revived, because it is undead.

The United States, its departments and subsidiaries, may perform certain functions very well and others not so well, but it is morally bankrupt in any case. When you accord it moral legitimacy by supposing that it has any, that it should or shouldn’t do this or that for the common good, that you can improve it by putting in your two cents, you’re consenting to its meddling, not just in your own affairs, but in those of other people, of strangers who’ve never done you a bad turn.

Well that’s just not very considerate now, is it?

(26) Stalin is supposed to have said that “Gratitude is for dogs”, a sublime turn of profundity if ever there was one. Gratitude and hierarchy are well and good when love or respect are their bases. The problem is that gratitude in the global job market is really just sycophancy: submission on the part of docile rubes and ruthlessly self-interested chameleons to mass-organizations intended to be staffed by cheerfully interchangeable podlings whose allegiance to organizational prerogatives must be absolute. The employee may shift allegiances between organizations, but the essential relationship, the happy-talk lexicon, the aversion to all cognizance of certain of our basic needs and darker impulses, is always preserved.

Evola deserves quotation in this connection:

Entrepreneurs and employers have come to realize the importance of the ‘human factor’ in a productive economy, and that it is a mistake to ignore the individual involved in industry: his motives, his feelings, his working day life…. The private lives of employees are not forgotten – hence the increase in so-called personnel counseling. Specialists are called in to dispel anxiety, psychological disturbances and non-adaptation ‘complexes’, even to the point of giving advice in relation to the most personal matters.

In these circumstances, gratitude is absolute submission.

(27) Someone who tells you, “respect is earned” is probably a con-artist who wants to use you. Respect is earned, like trust is earned, affection is earned, and bread is earned. Respect can be maintained, it can be tarnished, it can be withheld or just not be established in the first place. Like love, it isn’t a constant: it germinates, it grows, it can wither. It is a prerequisite to, not just an outcome of, any non-exploitative relationship.

This is not true of things that simply must be earned.

(28) You can’t respect everybody. You can’t love everybody (if you’re a Christian, that’s what Jesus is for, it’s called outsourcing). It’s better to hate everyone and leave them alone than to love one person and push an agenda on them.

(29) People who have an agenda—naked power, “social justice,” corporate profit, “policy outcomes,” government funding, “family values,” new laws, “acceptance” (i.e., acquiescence), “a more perfect union”—are called busybodies. Busybodies are nobody’s friend.

(30) When there is no particular power above a busybody—as in the case of David Rockefeller or Bill Gates—the busybody will operate based on some lofty conception of their place in the world.

(31) On the other hand, classic gangsters and warlords like El Chapo, who proffer no morally aggrandizing rationale for fucking people over, do not usually qualify as busybodies. They are simply bastards.

(32) When you try to gain something from a busybody, you become one.

(33) Busybodies thrive on power asymmetry—the permission of those above (i.e., felching), and the sufferance of those below (i.e., leeching).

(34) No true act of friendship can obtain in a relationship of power asymmetry. When a supposed act of friendship makes its way up from below, this is called ass-licking. When it flows downward from above it’s called soliciting prostitution.

(35) Because a near consensus in this country equates morality with “the common welfare” on a scale so vast as to be meaningless, most people are busybodies of some sort, full and equal franchisees, voting and commenting on Facebook and whatnot. And because anyone who manages to have the media disseminate their grievances without being disparaged can claim the mantle of that righteousness, a visible enough busybody can get some power without really answering to anyone, at least not formally.

This is called democracy.

(36) The most despicable class of busybody, the thwarted aspirant who plateaued or didn’t have what it takes and now enforces for a higher busybody, is called a rat. Longing to sate his vindictive sanctimony by attaining a commanding position, the rat ends up worming into some middling, protected one that merely enables him to warm his ass while issuing petty directives.

(37) Power doesn’t work without rats to carry it out. So rats think of themselves as performing functions essential to the common welfare.

(38) Rats are especially characterized by the tendency to adopt the prerogatives of those who aren’t particularly interested in them and who have far more to gain, in exchange only for the smug satisfaction and protected outlet for aggression that comes with investiture, e.g., titles, badges, the conditional power to bully and extort fellow untermenschen. Even the president of the United States is a rat.

Especially the president of the United States.

(39) Power over others is compensation for uncorrected powerlessness over one’s self, for failure to maintain sole ownership of your capacity for understanding. This is why so many cops evince no critical capacity, only a rote vocabulary.

Another example: have you ever noticed the predominance of pasty, androgynous, narrow-chested sorts in government and corporate middle-management? A general, a mob boss or a CEO exudes some virility or sense of menace; an inmate, NCO or blue collar stiff displays some basic, non-negotiable dignity in the face of his lowly travails. But visit a medical billing cubicle bank, or go to the office of a government agency and locate the wall at the end of the elevator bay with the flag stands and framed portraits of their honors so-and-so, and you can’t tell the men from the lesbians. Supervisors in these environments are the types of thwarted, inadequate souls who lack all passion, but possess infinite patience to follow the scent of meniality and disaffectation straight to the easiest, most conspicuous victim. Cops do this all the time.

(40) By its very nature, the investiture of rats incentivizes bullying and mediocrity.

For example, where I work there was an on-duty supervisor who for all intents and purposes was equal to everyone, performing the exact same function alongside the rest of us. The only difference was that he received a slightly higher wage in exchange for the aggravation of making final determinations regarding assignments that couldn’t be parceled out from off-site. But recently, he has been given a special shirt, a desk and the use of a company vehicle, and exempted from the work he supervises. He’s still on-site, only now, all he does is keep tabs. Before, if he chewed someone out, it would be a last resort and in response to a near consensus among us all. Now, ostensibly, he seeks out violations, which is bad enough. But in actual practice he invents them, otherwise he’ll have nothing to show for his investiture without having to make an effort disproportionate to the power his superiors are willing to grant him.

(41) Should you be affected directly by their activities, the best way to deal with a busybody is by hammering out a vicious beating.

(42) Unfortunately, most of the time this is not feasible, as busybodies are adept at marshaling the protective energies of the authorities.

(43) Rats can be swayed by emotion, but can never be reasoned with.

Where the proverbial garbageman makes the fewest compromises with power and just settles for the shortest end of the stick, the bureaucrat or cop or simpering corporate apparatchik imbibes a whole inhuman lexicon his superiors may not even bother with, and be damned if he isn’t going to employ that impossible vocabulary to have a randy go at anyone unwary enough to become ensnared in his two-fingered jackoff web of knit-pickery.

(44) The mass media, the military, police, public primary education, the university system, the civil service, large corporations, courts of law, organized religion…. These institutions thrive on your indebtedness, and none has your interests in mind. That isn’t to say they do no good, but they thrive on power asymmetry, on leeching and felching. Never accept that this is fitting or morally necessary. Never lie to yourself at some other, more powerful party’s behest.

This is important enough a point that it’s worth bringing in heavier guns than my own. Another writer put it like this:

One of the fascinating facts of American politics today is that both progressives and conservatives hate their government. They just hate different parts of it, and they love and cherish the others. In foreign policy, for example, progressives hate the Pentagon, and love and cherish the State Department. Conservatives hate the State Department, and love and cherish the Pentagon….

But none of them hates Washington as a whole. So they can never unite to destroy it, and the whole machine is stable….[But] you can decide that none of these politicians, movements or institutions is even remotely worthy of your support. Trust me – it’s a very liberating feeling.

(45) If someone gives you shit, give it back as devastatingly and quickly as possible, if you can get away with it. If you can’t, let it go.

(46) Break any rule that impedes you, as often as you can get away with it.

(47) As often as you can get away with it, practice the art of completely ignoring anyone who wants something from you that isn’t theirs to have, especially your time and energy. Beggers, attention seekers, pushy co-workers, supervisors desperate to test your respect for their authority, people who talk too much, or who only take and never give.

(48) Finally, the Inverse Golden Rule: Don’t practice ethical precepts with those who ignore them. Don’t hesitate to abuse those who abuse you, as often as you can get away with it. Don’t greet, wish gezundheit or break bread for those who don’t do the same for you.

Steal high, sell low/The only true devil’s the Devil you owe/Scuttle the excess and burn off the lies/Your only defender’s the God of the skies!

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