The only way for us to win is not to play.

At the core of the Machine is a whirlwind of human and planetary energy sucked into a global positive feedback loop that’s formed a funnel of destruction and death, mowing down everything in its path. An out-of-control vicious circle is very difficult to stop; there is no point underestimating the daunting nature of this task. Such a system has a huge investment in ignoring warning counter-signals. This, coupled with the addictive nature of power, makes for a very persistent system, which, indeed, has persisted very well for some 6,000 years. The heavy investment of the rulers in power-enhancing technologies also makes a big difference. And yet, and yet… a well-aimed negative feedback will stop a runaway loop cold.

History, so far, shows only two ways such Machines of domination were stopped. The first is a system-wide crash: the Machine ran out of — ruined — “nature services” that provided the resources human labor could gather and amplify, with resulting starvation, flight and desolation. This is the option accompanied by the infamous Horsemen: Famine, Pestilence, War and cannibalism (this shadowy horseman is rarely mentioned but rides along with the others as sure as Death). The second is a slower collapse with a silver lining: the workforce vanishes into the underbrush, merging with tribes and rebels off the radar, scavenging for real value, and leaving the Machine to grind to a halt. In other words, either warning signals are heeded and human energy redirects itself away from the Machine, or nature pulls the plug. I hardly need to emphasize that it would be much to our advantage not to wait for Mother Nature’s solution. Will it work? It’s the only thing that ever has. All it takes is a critical number of people quietly ducking out.

When the Czechs and Slovaks withdrew from public life into private and family affairs after the 1968 Soviet invasion, I was grievously disappointed. I envied the Poles their active and celebrated opposition. Now I see it as the sanest response they could have mounted. They withdrew from the system. They laughed at it in a million clever jokes. They worked as little as possible, they taught their own kids to look under the surface and see the lies, they believed nothing official but found their own sources of news, they created connected networks of craftspeople and others with useful skills to trade and get things done privately. And they put most of their energy into living. The system weakened; how could it not? The power structure, artificially propped up by Moscow, collapsed overnight when the Soviets could no longer ride in with the big stick. My old countrymen and women paddled with the current, while the power elites struggled against it, trying hard to control the situation. To no avail. It is a lot easier to harass a few dissidents than to go after millions of people who are most notable by… doing as little for the system as they can get away with, just minding their everyday lives, and not believing anything you say.

So it works in the modern world, just as it worked long ago for lowland Maya, or the Hohokam, or Norte Chico. It’s our last great hope: passing over the swamp that waters Babylon, we rain our energy onto the watershed that feeds the river of Life.