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Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Laws of Power (9)

My son Alton and I are reading Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power and sharing our responses to the readings.

Robert Greene’s 9th law of power is:  Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument.  Any momentary triumph you think you have gained through argument is really a Pyrrhic victory: The resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of opinion.  It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word.  Demonstrate, do not explicate.

Certainly no one likes a chronic arguer.  Too often a person who is reflexively argumentative is a habitual fault finder.  To them, nothing is ever right.  Never can anything be appreciated as making a positive contribution.  This type of person—since obviously many things serve to contribute to our wellbeing—comes to be viewed as having a grave personality problem.  I would not venture to argue with Robert Greene regarding his 9th law, but I would like to make a few counterpoints.

Martin Luther King, Jr. went to jail to demonstrate a profound injustice.  But dare we for a moment discount the power of his rhetorical arguments against racial prejudice?  His nonviolent actions were deeply persuasive, but so were the words that adorned these actions.  If we should find ourselves unjustly imprisoned, do we say “I won’t file a motion of appeal, I will make no legal argument on my behalf but rather just sit here and suffer nobly.”  No, legal arguments are at the very center of the justice system.  And in any endeavors of life, from work to politics, are we not to verbally assert our views which are by their nature contrary to other points of view?  In these situations expressing a contrary point of view is in itself action.  Is not a major objective of democracy to encourage honesty and the coincidental trust that those who disagree will respect us all the more for being true to our own best lights?  We are in no position to give up argumentation by the very nature of honest social discourse itself.  Only police states can prohibit argument—by driving it underground.  Let me be candid, the 9th law is open to further discussion.  

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