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Esteemed Reader: Patience As a Strategy



Patience is a garment which has never worn out.


Autumn is my favorite season. Even after the leaves have all turned brown and fallen a feeling of life remains in the air. Perhaps it is life flying by on its way south for the winter. Nevertheless the force of it is invigorating like the last crescent of sun on the horizon at dusk, flowing across the landscape before disappearing completely.

Walking in the forest on a perfect, bright November day, I came across the carcass of an ancient, decomposing Studebaker. Steel rims with cracked rubber tires and various body and engine parts lay strewn about. It looked like a crime scene with the victim rusting in situ in the middle of the wood.

Seeing the rotting body of the hundred-year-old car aroused a sense of the power of time, mercilessly wearing down everything that comes into existence. In the long span of epochs, all existences are brief. Even 100 years is nothing in the life of the Earth. All ambitions and concerns, successes and failures, inventions and constructions, erode to an invisible texture in an ever-changing landscape.

The discovery of the derelict auto in the last days of autumn seemed a portent for the end of civilization. Admittedly people in all times experience and remark upon the imminent end-times in a certain mood of ennui, and usually, I suspect, in the autumn. But in this perception I am buoyed by Goethe’s words, “all that is transitory is but a metaphor”.

In any case, there are other factors pointing to the possibility that the winter of the current form of human civilization is upon us. In the span of time it has been a flash in the pan. Really just a couple centuries from birth to death in its current incarnation, and it is safe to say that things that arise quickly disappear with equal speed or even all at once.

One sign of imminent collapse is the desperate measures undertaken by the corporate structure to exploit and commodify Earth’s entire population of human and nonhuman members of the biosphere. Setting aside all the rationale and narratives, we can see a project of global domination—not just of masses of people as has always been undertaken in the past, but a monumental campaign to monitor and control each individual body down to the fundamental genetic material and design. We see a vast swath of life modified to be made Roundup Ready™. It seems to me the sheer aggression of this onslaught is unsustainable.

My basis for suggesting that the global corporate assault is bounded is purely anecdotal. You see, in the early days of this magazine I would often take a long lunch and play a few games of chess with my erstwhile friend Bram. In the beginning, Bram always beat me. He was smarter than me and had far more experience in the game.

Finally after perhaps 100 games of chess ending in my defeat, I began to observe a pattern. Bram began each game with a salvo of aggressive moves. His onslaught was intimidating, and I reacted with wasted moves, attempting to avoid losing the pieces under attack. Sometimes I tried attacking back, but he was a better offensive player and would outmaneuver my stratagems.

After so many losses, an odd thing happened. I gave up trying to defend or fight back. To my surprise, I saw that if I sat tight and didn’t react to his attack, and instead patiently built a defense and developed my position, he would inevitably overextend his pieces and open up vulnerabilities. Once I learned that my opponent was compelled to be aggressive, I understood that to gain advantage I simply needed to wait, and I began to win.

There are numerous examples from history—Mongols, Nazis, Stalinists, Khmer Rouge—all of them launched aggressive projects for global domination. After initial success, these, and countless other cadres of tyrants like them, ran out of energy to maintain the aggression and were either defeated or quietly retreated to a more pleasant lifestyle and were all but forgotten.

My sense is that the global corporate machine is vulnerable to this same weakness. It cannot sustain its onslaught on humanity and nature. The sheer meaninglessness of the project of converting everything of real value into abstract capital will be in the ascendant and overshadow whatever allure is held by the promise of absolute power and control. Napoleon lamely excused his army’s failed invasion of Russia in 1812 saying, “It is the winter that killed us. We were the victims of the climate,” but most historians agree the defeat was the result of overzealous aggression leading to vulnerability and failure.

Until the global corporate machinery runs out of gas and stalls in its tracks like Nazi tanks and Napoleonic troops in the snow, the living human beings among us are called to watch and wait and work.

As in the game of chess, we quietly strengthen our defenses, cultivating a natural state of health and a balanced inner life. We deepen our trust in the inborn strengths of our nature, her unfathomable intelligence, fecundity, and relentless occupation with achieving dynamic stases. We grow the capacity of our soul to become an ever-deeper repository of presence. 

In these ways we lay up our stores for the winter of the epoch to pass and prepare to begin humanity anew.

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