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Moral Critique of Law #17: The 48 Laws of Power

Updated on August 14, 2013

Law #17. Keep others in suspended terror. Cultivate an air of unpredictability.

Humans are creatures of habit with an insatiable need to see familiarity in other people's actions. Your predictability gives them a sense of control. Turn the tables: Be deliberately unpredictable. Behavior that seems to have no consistency or purpose will keep them off-balance, and they will wear themselves out trying to explain your moves. Taken to an extreme, this strategy can intimidate and terrorize.

I read the book The 48 Laws of Power out of a curiosity and a hunger for something greater for myself. What I found was a book that could be seen as ruthless and manipulative in it's principles. I have decided to write a series of critiques of each of the laws. I will discuss the good and the bad of the law as well as a key that I've found to upholding the law without losing your morality.

I will now dissect Law #17.

Will Kirby used the "law of unpredictability" to manipulate the house guests in Big Brother season 2 and won half a million dollars!
Will Kirby used the "law of unpredictability" to manipulate the house guests in Big Brother season 2 and won half a million dollars!

The Good

This Law capitalizes on a key aspect of human nature. Our desire for the comfort of the predictable. This comfort may not be as simple as "I know you, so I like you". It is much more complex than that. It can come in the form of the old adage "the devil I know is better than the devil I don't know".

Sometimes we get so used to conforming to the status quo that we'll even play the role of other people's devils just to keep them comfortable. Have you ever seen a person play a bad stereotype and even admit that it is what they're doing. Yes, it's that powerful!

Our human brains are comfortable with patterns. It gives us a feeling of control. We see patterns everywhere, even when they don't exist. This law can really come in handy when people are painting you into a corner with some idea of you that you are not comfortable with. You may not be comfortable with it, because they are using this idea of you to manipulate you, control you or intimidate you. Whatever the case may be, be careful of being caught up in someone else's reality. If you play the game by your opponent's rules, it's going to be a tough game to beat!

When you are a "loose canon" however, it can be very advantageous. Nobody knows from which way you're coming. It gives you the opportunity to write your own story. People start letting you write the rules with the hopes that you will teach them to play.

This is awesome when the story people have about you is a grim one. If people think you are an underdog, a black sheep, a nobody, a loser; this law empowers you to write your own story. Shake things up! Fight for your place in the pack.


The Bad

The dark side of this law is the problem with what can be defined as "predictable". There are a lot of things in our society that are designed to be predictable for good reason. We have rules and regulations, because predictability helps keep order and peace. We like to know that when we go to the movie theaters, we will see the movie we paid for. It is important that when we get on public transportation, we get to where we intended on going. Messing with these established codes of conduct can be very disruptive and land you in a lot of trouble.

Additionally, when you are in a competitive setting and you pull an unpredictable stunt, you are drawing attention to yourself. And although, people may let you get away with it for a while in order to understand what it is you're trying to accomplish, or even trying to see if they can recognize your pattern; chances are some of them may be waiting in the wings to figure you out so they can take you out when they have the chance.

In short, being unpredictable makes you stand out, and standing out can be bad if you don't have the power to back it up. Standing out makes you a target. So, this may not be a good idea if you're not ready to put your money where your mouth is!

Finally, much of the predictability of our rules is so that we can ensure our safety and the safety of those around us. So, going contrary to these rules for the sake of unpredictability may put yourself or others in harm's way.

Author Robert Greene discusses "The 48 Laws of Power"

The Key

The key too keeping your soul while obeying this law is to be unpredictable in a predictable way. In other words, play by the rules in the process of being unpredictable. If you're in a basketball competition, and you want to be unpredictable to your opponents, switch up your game somehow, don't break his knee caps (as an example). If you're trying to graduate from college, flip the script by changing the way your study and surprising your teacher with an A, don't cheat or sleep with the professor! Just don't make any moral or political laws while you're obeying this one. That is the biggest key.

If you fail to do this, you will leave people believing that you are unhinged and you may end up in custody of someone who is "just trying to help". But it's not just about you, it just wouldn't be morally right to be disruptive in a physically, mentally or spiritually harmful way which is the danger of seeking to be unpredictable.

Another key to success with this law is to be relevant in the way you uphold it. If your goal is to get a promotion, don't be unpredictable by buying booze and chicken for the office, try being creative with the style of your presentations or the way you do the work you submit.

And the final key to upholding this law is to take whatever people think about you, and flip it on it's head. If people don't want to work with you, because they erroneously assume that you are loud and rude (perhaps you had an incident somewhere that led to this reputation), surprise them with your amazing work. You don't have to sell yourself out by trying to kiss up to people, but you can change the tone. Surprising people by making fun of yourself is an excellent way to do this, because it confuses people. They wonder, maybe (s)he was joking the whole time. Someone this goofy and fun-loving can't be the crazy sociopath we thought.

What is your favorite Robert Greene Book?

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Did you read The 48 Laws of Power? What did you think about Law #17?

You can probably get this book on Amazon.com for less than $15 or bid on it on eBay, but read it with a compassionate heart and watch the Laws of Power work magic in your business, relationship and life! Then, join the conversation in the comment box below!

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