The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene

I often find myself raging (somewhat pointlessly) against titles like this. I feel it should have been titled ’33 strategies of War’. Prefixing the title with ‘The’ adds an element of finality and egotism into the mix that I don’t like. There are only thirty three strategies. And they’re all in this book. Which is clearly a misnomer.

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I know. I’m nitpicking. It might because I’m currently experiencing an un-caffeinated state of being. Also my backspace is occasionally sticking, which is super annoying because I use my backspace almost as much as my spacebar. It’s not sperm. In case you’re wondering. More likely from overuse and general wear and tear. My MacBook Air is getting on in years.

I both really like and really dislike Robert Greene. Let me qualify that antithetical statement. I think his books are amazing. (except for the titles and the boring cover theme that runs through his books) All his books are phenomenally well researched and written. In fact I’m struggling to think of another author that rivals his meticulousness and scale. The amount of reading he must do is staggering. (I’m a little jealous) This book is packed with historical examples of the concepts outlined in each chapter and the volume of quotes and anecdotes is truly mind boggling. I eventually stopped underlining stuff because… well… basically I’d have to underline the entire book. It’s that sort of tome.

HOWEVER…

I also dislike Robert Greene because of the way me makes me feel about the world. I realize this isn’t really his fault. Ha ha. But his personal ideology is heavily imprinted in his content. I am not an optimist by any stretch of the imagination. But Jesus H Christ, Robert Greene just strips the whimsy out of life.

It’s taken me almost forever to get through War for this reason. I found if I didn’t limit myself to bite-size chunks I’d start feeling very…  (whats’ the word I’m looking) bleak about the world. That might not be everyone’s reaction. Some might just see it as an interesting treatise on certain ‘type’ of operating system. I found War starting to influence my interactions with people, insofar as I started viewing every single interchange in very stark game theory-esque terms with a winner and a loser.

About half way through War I bought the audio version of the book. (which is a 27 hour 29 minute leviathan) I thought narration might soften the impact for me, but it actually made it worse. It’s very good production though and I highly recommend it. (The only ‘longer’ audiobook I have is Strategy, A history by Lawrence Freedman weighing in at 32 hours, 4 minutes)

I love strategy. But I’ve realised that I like it as a thought exercise. Something academic meant to be mulled over will I sip my Rooibos. Something I might haul out, dust off and bandy about in a boardgame. But beyond that, actually living with strategic intent, is a bit beyond me. I don’t have the presence of mind. Or indeed the discipline to live like this.

I think this means that my life will largely be unsuccessful. You know, like how some kids aren’t good at sports…

Oh well.

Love your enemies

I have no enemies. Or rather I have no enemies that I know about. Which is just as bad.

I mean I have the stock standard villains that come with your default life settings. But these are boring and trivial; people that cut me off in traffic or meander slowly through shopping malls with no agenda or sense of urgency. Even the vague political enemies that exist in the broad sphere I occupy don’t count. My life is lacking a quality nemesis on a personal level.

I blame Matthew. Author of the synoptic Gospel to be precise, although I can think of several other Matthews who have displeased me during my lifetime. Matthew while cribbing from Mark added ‘But I tell you, love your enemies’ in chapter five, verse forty four.

I was always led to believe this was meant to underscore a sense of pacifism that’s loaded into the new testament. Turn the other cheek as opposed to the previous an eye for an eye policy.  Kill them with kindness, instead of shanking them with a sharp piece of metal.

I tried a bible study group once. But I was deemed too adversarial and was quietly asked not to come back. Potentially Matthew knew something about the motivating power of a good adversary. Be grateful for your good fortune to have a decent enemy. Love them, for they make you stronger.

George Patton had Erwin Rommel. Ulysses S. Grant had Robert E. Lee. Mao had Chiang Kai-Skek. Batman had the Joker. The 47 Ronin had Kira Yoshinaka. Undoubtedly these enemies motivated them to become stronger and better. There is no better energizer than a good enemy. (I’ve been reading a lot of Robert Greene and Alan Watts lately)

But how does one even get a good enemy? I imagine the quality of an enemy ranges from poor through to excellent. Its a pity you can’t interview or test-drive potential candidates.

I think first you need to know your own strengths and weaknesses. That way you can set your sights on an enemy of slightly superior means and skill. You don’t want anyone beneath you, but nor do you want someone who can crush you like an eggshell. Slightly better than you motivates you to exceed and better them.

Friends are ideally suited to making good enemies. But converting a friend to a decent enemy is easier said than done. This person needs to want to be your enemy, which puts the onus squarely on you to create an environment where this is possible. That seems like A LOT of work for potentially no payoff. You can loose your friend and not gain an enemy.

Joining a tribe is always an option. Preferably one with pre-established enemies. The tribe can direct my feelings, their cause becomes my cause, their enemies can become my enemies. Although I’m not convinced that this is as good a motivator as someone who has wronged me on a deep and personal level. Still you get the social benefits and the  sense of belonging that comes with tribalism.

I am however, not a joiner. Which I think scuppers that possibility.

Then there is my own personal psychology. While initially exceptionally aggrieved by any slight… after a day or two I generally lose interest and wander off to go and make myself a sandwich. I think I will struggle to keep myself on a constant simmer for any length of time, what the Klingon’s conceptualize as, bortaS bIr jablu’DI’ reH QaQqu’ nay. Or loosely translated into the vernacular, revenge is a dish best served cold.

This begs the question what sort of event (and subsequent enemy) could motivate me for long enough that it would propel me to self improvement. All the things I can think of are pretty horrible experiences, none of which I would want to barter for.

To some people enemies seem to come easy. I’m not sure if that is a natural proclivity towards creating enmity or just low standards. Perhaps a potential candidate just needs to tick one or two requirements before being welcomed aboard. Then there’s always the spurious or imagined enemy which unfortunately smacks more of mental illness than a real solution.

Perhaps I should be careful what I wish for. For now I shall continue enemy-less. I don’t think these things can be contrived or manufactured. I think they need to develop naturally… which means, they may possibly never develop. Still, I remain hopeful that my nemesis is out there…