Worthy: Robert Greene’s Yale Talk on Radical Realism (Transcript)
I don’t typically like transcripts. They’re often wordy and poorly edited. I almost always prefer the audio version of the content. But this one is great. It reads fast and you learn a lot about the “power game” that naturally exists among humans. This game is referred to by Robert Greene as part of the Machiavellian reality. To hold a position of power in life, you need to understand how this game works.
You’ve probably heard people say things like “that’s so Machiavellian” or “you’re so Machiavellian.” I never knew what they were saying. And I didn’t know what Greene was referring to when I read it in the transcript. So I looked it up…
Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian Renaissance historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist, and writer. He has often been called the founder of modern political science. From what I gather, he saw people as we are: animals. We are naturally prone to manipulate one another to get ahead and win. This is at the core of humanity, especially politics.
You can deny this and choose not to partake in this Machiavellian reality. But you’ll never be in a position of power if you’re a denier. You don’t necessarily have to be the deliverer of manipulation to “win in life.” You just have to know enough to know the laws of power and know you’re not being manipulated.
When you see humans as what we’ve evolved to be – conscious animals, but animals nonetheless – you can hold positions of power because you know the games people are playing to try to bring you down.
There are three types of people in this world in dealing with this social reality. There are, what I call, the deniers, the people who deny this reality exists. They almost want to pretend that we are descended from angels and not from primates. That what I am talking about here is cynical. It doesn’t really exist. It doesn’t happen.
Among these deniers, you will find two types. You will find people who are genuinely disturbed by the politicking aspect of human nature. They don’t want any kind of job in which they have to do that. You will find that they are slowly marginalized. They can be happy that way. They are never going to assume a position of great responsibility because it involves all of this. -Robert Greene
People who don’t deny the Machiavellian reality are people Greene calls radical realists. After describing two types of people in the transcript (both types deniers), he goes on to explain the type of person we need to be to attain “all kinds of power and freedom.”
The third type is what I am calling the radical realist. It is what I am proposing that you adopt. And it goes as follows.
This is our nature. This is how we evolved over millions of years. There is no point in denying it. It is who we are. And not only am I not going to deny it, I am going to accept that this is the human being as it has evolved over all of this time.
In fact, I love it. It’s fine. There is nothing wrong with the fact that in this world people are playing political games. There is nothing wrong with the fact that there are seducers and con artists and it is going on all the time. It is just reality. It is just the world as it is. Stop fighting it. Just accept it.
Within that accepting of it, it is not that you love it and want to go out in the world and play all of these nasty games. It is that you understand they exist. If, occasionally, you have to do them, fine. That’s okay within reason. If it is often other people are practicing them against you, which you will find a lot in your life, once you leave the confines of Yale, that’s okay.
You understand the laws of power. You understand what people are up to, and they can’t necessarily hurt you. In accepting this reality and in dealing with it and studying human nature and this aspect of what I call Machiavellian intelligence, suddenly with that attitude, with that mentality, you have all kinds of power and freedom. -Robert Greene
This is just one aspect of the Machiavellian reality and radical realism. Understanding more aspects is incredibly valuable and what Greene dives deep into in his talk. He also wrote a book about it called The 48 Laws of Power that takes a much deeper dive. I added it to my To-Read shelf of Kindle/Goodreads immediately after reading this transcript.