Robert Greene’s fourth self-help book, The 50th Law, is a departure from his three previous books The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction and The 33 Strategies of War. For one, this book was shorter than the others, with a different cover image to the stylised shapes and bold title printed in large letters down the centre of the front cover.
The hardcover of The 50th Law even resembled an old-fashioned Bible, with a faux leather cover and the words “Nihil Timendum – fear nothing” in gold lettering on the back to match the gold lettering on the front.
The 50th Law‘s focus is on fear, and on living fearlessly; on understanding where fear comes from and mastering it, not letting it overcome you.
For another, the book is written by Curtis Jackson, aka Fifty Cent, with collaboration from Robert Greene. Part of the contents of the book is indeed about Fifty Cent: his life and personal history, including some harsh accounts of criminal activities as a drug dealer and a social climber in the street scene of Southside Queens, where he grew up.
Unlike Robert’s other books, this book has to be approached with a measure of caution. A biographical description of active criminal activity, preparation of illegal narcotics, street dealing and street violence is not an easy read, and it is not meant to be one.
The most pivotal moment of Curtis Jackson’s life was when he was seriously wounded by a near-fatal assassination attempt when he was shot in the face nine times and still survived. According to Fifty’s history, upon his recovery from the attack he found that he could not return to his old life. The street had moved on, and even familiar street landmarks were no longer there. Forced to select a new life, Fifty learned the most important lesson of his life; that personal success could only come by living fearlessly.
The ten chapters of The 50th Law are lessons in fear, its origins, its varied natures, and the means to overcome those fears. The essential premise of The 50th Law is that, while fear might have been a useful defence mechanism early in the evolution of the human species, but fear is not meant to run continuously; and the modern world has become saturated with a steady stream of images designed to induce fear, with the implied idea that if one is somehow not drinking in this stream, one is somehow cognitively deficient, if not naive.
This book reminds the reader that not everything seen on the television or read in the media is necessarily true, and that not all of the fearful images being foisted upon the general public are meant to be responded to personally. Fear, genuine fear, should be a lot rarer than it is; and in order to live effectively and thrive, it is possible to learn how to overcome these artificially-stimulated fear reactions.
Miles Davis once said:-
“The very first thing I remember in my early childhood is a flame, a blue flame jumping off a gas stove somebody lit. … I was three years old.
… I felt fear, real fear, for the first time in my life. but I remember it also like some kind of adventure, some kind of weird joy, too.”
Quotes from James Baldwin, Frederick Douglass and other spokespeople for civil rights appear in the book, also, reminding the reader of the civil rights struggles faced by black communities in America, then as now. Their messages, aimed at reminding the reader of the necessity to overcome fear and forge on ahead, are in theme with the rest of the book.
The ten chapters of The 50th Law are as follows:-
Chapter 1: See Things for What They Are – Intense Realism
Reality can be rather harsh. Your days are numbered. It takes constant effort to carve a place for yourself in this ruthlessly competitive world and hold on to it. People can be treacherous. They bring endless battles into your life. Your task is to resist the temptation to wish it were all different; instead you must fearlessly accept these circumstances, even embrace them. By focusing your attention on what is going on around you, you will gain a sharp appreciation for what makes some people advance and others fall behind. By seeing through people’s manipulations, you can turn them around. The firmer your grasp on reality, the more power you will have to alter it for your purposes.
Chapter 2: Make Everything Your Own – Self-Reliance
When you work for others, you are at their mercy. They own your work; they own you. Your creative spirit is squashed. What keeps you in such positions is a fear of having to sink or swim on your own. Instead you should have a greater fear of what will happen to you if you remain dependent on others for power. Your goal in every maneuver in life must be ownership, working the corner for yourself. When it is yours, it is yours to lose – you are more motivated, more creative, more alive. The ultimate power in life is to be completely self-reliant, completely yourself.
Chapter 3: Turn Shit into Sugar – Opportunism
Every negative situation contains the possibility for something positive, an opportunity. It is how you look at it that matters. Your lack of resources can be an advantage, forcing you to be more inventive with the little that you have. Losing a battle can allow you to frame yourself as the sympathetic underdog. Do not let fears make you wait for a better moment or become conservative. If there are circumstances you cannot control, make the best of them. It is the ultimate alchemy to transform all such negatives into advantages and power.
Chapter 4: Keep Moving – Calculated Momentum
In the present there is constant change and so much we cannot control. If you try to micromanage it all, you lose even greater control in the long run. The answer is to let go and move with the chaos that presents itself to you – from within it, you will find endless opportunities that elude most people. Don’t give others the chance to pin you down; keep moving and changing your appearances to fit the environment. If you encounter walls or boundaries, slip around them. Do not let anything disrupt your flow.
Chapter 5: Know When to Be Bad – Aggression
You will always find yourself among the aggressive and the passive-aggressive who seek to harm you in some way. You must get over any general fears you have of confronting people or you will find it extremely difficult to assert yourself in the face of those who are more cunning and ruthless. Before it is too late you must master the art of knowing when and how to be bad – using deception, manipulation and outright force at the appropriate moments. Everyone operates with a flexible morality when it comes to their self-interest – you are simply making this more conscious and effective.
Chapter 6: Lead from the Front – Authority
In any group, the person on top consciously or unconsciously sets the tone. If leaders are fearful, hesitant to take any risks, or overly concerned for their ego and reputation, then this invariably filters its way through the entire group and makes effective action impossible. Complaining and haranguing people to work harder has a counterproductive effect. You must adopt the opposite style: imbue your troops with the proper spirit through your actions, not words. They see you working harder than anyone, holding yourself to the highest standards, taking risks with confidence, and making tough decisions. This inspires and binds the group together. In these democratic times, you must practice what you preach.
Chapter 7: Know Your Environment from the Inside Out – Connection
Most people think first of what they want to express or make, then find the audience for their idea. You must work the opposite angle, thinking first of the public. You need to keep your focus on their changing needs, the trends that are washing through them. beginning with their demand, you create the appropriate supply. Do not be afraid of people’s criticisms – without such feedback your work will be too personal and delusional. You must maintain as close a relationship to your environment as possible, getting an inside “feel” for what is happening around you. Never lose touch with your base.
Chapter 8: Respect the Process – Mastery
The fools in life want things fast and easy – money, success, attention. Boredom is their great enemy and fear. Whatever they manage to get slips through their hands as fast as it comes in. You, on the other hand, want to outlast your rivals. You are building the foundation for something that can continue to expand. To make this happen, you will have to serve an apprenticeship. You must learn early on to endure the hours of practice and drudgery, knowing that in the end all of that time will translate into a higher pleasure – mastery of a craft and of yourself. Your goal is to reach the ultimate skill level – an intuitive feel for what must come next.
Chapter 9: Push Beyond Your Limits – Self-Belief
Your sense of who you are will determine your actions and what you end up getting in life. If you see your reach as limited, that you are mostly helpless in the face of so many difficulties, that it is best to keep your ambitions low, then you will receive the little that you expect. knowing this dynamic, you must train yourself for the opposite – ask for more, aim high, and believe that you are destined for something great. Your sense of self-worth comes from you alone – never the opinion of others. With a rising confidence in your abilities, you will take risks that will increase your chances of success. People follow those who know where they are going, so cultivate an air of certainty and boldness.
Chapter 10: Confront Your Mortality – the Sublime
In the face of our inevitable mortality we can do one of two things. we can attempt to avoid the thought at all costs, clinging to the illusion that we have all the time in the world. Or we can confront this reality, accept and even embrace it, converting our consciousness of death into something positive and active. In adopting such a fearless philosophy, we gain a sense of proportion, become able to separate what is petty from what is truly important. Knowing our days to be numbered, we have a sense of urgency and mission. We can appreciate life all the more for its impermanence. If we can overcome the fear of death, then there is nothing left to fear.
Using The 50th Law In Conjunction With Other Titles
The title “50th Law” implies a connection to The 48 Laws of Power, and it can be considered to be a Law of Power unto itself. It is a useful book for social climbers because it reminds even the most adept Machiavellian power seeker or empire builder that even if there is failure, the best tool to extricate oneself from a dangerous situation is a clear head free of fear.
The Art of Seduction also profits from knowledge of this book: fear, if not observed and checked, could lead to some of the less seductive characteristics of the seducer coming to the surface. Not a good thing to witness.
The 33 Strategies of War also cautions against feeling fear; in a conflict, the last thing a warleader needs is to show fear in the face of his or her troops, or pretty soon that war leader will have no troops.
In modern life, fear is a near-constant companion; but it is, sadly, a demanding and domineering companion which can drag you down if you are too attentive. And much of the power of fear comes from a societal delusion that somehow, in order to appear to be successful in life, one must appear to be burdened with fears – fear of loss of status, loss of wealth, loss of power, even the fear of having one’s power threatened or even questioned. The 50th Law is a reminder that to overcome these purely artificial fears is to reject what is merely a fashion, and to move on to carving out one’s own niche in life unafraid of failure and wary of success.
And the fifth and latest book by Robert Greene, Mastery, addresses this process of self-realisation and development of one’s mastery of one;s chosen field.