ezekiel's chariot - 張敦楷 (pjammer) wrote,
ezekiel's chariot - 張敦楷

Angles, Hustlers and Lessons from War

In a recent conversation with Ben Casnocha we touched on Robert Greene's book The 48 Laws of Power; Ben expressed dislike for Greene's ruthless and cynical view of human nature in the work.

Understandably, idealists have the hardest time accepting the darker side of human nature and find the entire topic of power plays to be unpleasant and distasteful. For pragmatists (and I count myself among them), understanding the mechanics of cons games and ruthless manipulation are essential tools to thrive in an imperfect world.

Currently reading through Greene's new work - The 33 Strategies of War - a richly dense collection of anecdotes and insights into human nature distilled from warfare throughout human history.

As a subscriber to Greene's blog - was intrigued by his recent post Angles, Hustlers and Suckers which reemphasized much of his principles with the pool table as a metaphor:

As in pool, so in life. Suckers and beginners are locked into the single-ball-at-a-time mentality, and get all excited when they knock one in on a clever shot, but leave themselves nowhere to go. They never learn the angles above the angles above the angles.

Then there are people who raise their game a little, who give the appearance of knowing how to hustle, who can actually knock in a few shots in a row. In Hollywood, I worked for some people like that. They would let others do the work and take all the credit. One writer/director I knew would constantly play the game of hiring someone else to direct the pet script he had written, someone young and eager and inexperienced. This person would inevitably fail rather early on in the process; the writer/director would have to come in and rescue the situation. Better to set it up that way, than for him to be seen as always wanting to direct his own projects. Similar to how Pat Riley engineered his whole return to coaching.

But these types did not really see the whole table, or have a good endgame mapped out. They had some angles, but not of a high order. They never really got that far. They are low to mid-level hustlers.


Lately I have been rereading Iceberg Slim, one of my favorites. To Iceberg, the world is divided between hustler and sucker. You are either one or the other. The sucker has no angles on life, no sense of the art of indirection, can only make one stupid play at a time. The hustler always aims for the angles, learns how to play them, becomes an artist in the game. The following are the main distinctions he makes between the two types:

  • "Chumps prefer a beautiful lie to an ugly truth." The sucker wants to believe certain things about life and so projects these wishes on to the real world, seeing what he wants to see, not what is. A hustler thrives on reality, ugly or unpleasant--finds his poetry in the real. He sees the whole table and plays it as it lays.

  • "No point in getting upset about the unknown. Only suckers do that." A hustler has to deal with danger and risk. It's part of the game. You cannot control it all, nor would you want to. Chaos, unknown factors are not something to be anxious about. They represent opportunities for new angles, new hustles. The sucker cannot stand the unknown and so either fouls up by getting impatient and over anxious, or retreats to a false world of security and the known.

  • "Stop letting your mind leapfrog like a screwy sucker." A sucker's mind moves all over the place, forgetting the order of things and making chaos where there is none. Hustlers have to stay cool and focused on the chain of events as they unfold, the various angles that are being played, with the possible reactions. A hustler never forgets where the 8 ball lies and how to get to it methodically.

  • "You can't learn con by memorizing words. Every mark and every play of any con game is different. You have to memorize the elements of con." A sucker wants formulas he can memorize and plug into situations. He has no flow because he is so rigid in his mind. The hustler has flow because he plays for the overall game, knows the elements, can improvise and make angles where no one else sees them.

For those interested, I've already set up an LJ feed, powersedwar_rss.

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