Notes politics

Strategy 4: Create a Sense of Urgency and Desperation (The 33 Strategies of War)

The Death-Ground Strategy

The ancient commanders of armies, who well knew the powerful influence of necessity, and how it inspired the soldiers with the most desperate courage, neglected nothing to subject their men to such a pressure.

Niccolo Machiavelli

This chapter is about cultivating a mindset of scarcity. If you think that everything will be fine, then you will make no progress. You will stagnate, become lazy and complacent, and much more vulnerable to the dangers that will inevitably confront you. Instead, change your mindset from an abundance mindset to a scarcity mindset. Believe that you do not have much time, believe that the project you are working on is your last project, and believe that you cannot afford to lose.

Dostoevsky had relationships with left-wing groups in Russia. One day, he was arrested after a revolution by the political parties he was affiliated with took place. Dostoevsky recalled thinking, that if he were to die at that moment, his life would have been a waste. He felt that his time was not spent well.

He vowed to live the remaining days of his life differently if he was kept alive, to appreciate the joy of every moment. In prison, he had no access to anything he could write with, so he memorized the novels he would write. As he walked, he would mumble the dialogues he had created to himself. He became obsessed with fulfilling his potential and during that time, he created his best works: Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, and The Possessed. It was also said that whenever Dostoevsky felt a bit complacent, he gambled all the money he had away and forced himself to become desperate again.

Dostoevsky cultivated a scarcity mentality to get the most out of himself.

In 1504, Hernan Cortes was determined to settle and conquer the land of the Aztecs. Over the years, he was promoted within the ranks of the Spanish command in Cuba. Eventually, he became leader of an expedition to find out what had happened to the previous expeditions that went in search of gold, to find more gold, and to lay the groundwork for the country’s conquest.

When danger is greatest.–It is rare to break one’s leg when in the course of life one is toiling upwards–it happens much more often when one starts to take things easy and to choose the easy paths. –


But the governor started to have second thoughts about the campaign. This prompted Cortes to slip out of Cuba with eleven ships. He would explain himself to the governor later. Word had spread among the army’s ranks that Cortes was a mad man and for good reason, he was planning to fight half a million ruthless Aztec warriors with an army of 500 men.

He bribed some of those who complained and dealt with the rest in other ways. But now he needed a ploy to unite the army and get them to focus on what was important. He made up a story about worms eating through the boards of the vessels – he had bribed his pilots to bore the holes.

At first the soldiers believed the story, but when all the ships but one had been damaged, they suspected it was a ruse. Cortes addressed his angry army. He owed up to what he did, explaining that it was him who was responsible. But then he explained to them that it was too late to do anything now. The reality was that they were in a foreign land, and any hint of dissension would cost everyone their lives. Cortes promised his men victory if they fought ferociously and since their number was small, the spoils of war would earn each solider an abundant amount of wealth. He did, however, give the “cowardly” soldiers the option to go home in the only ship that remained. No one took the offer.

At this point, they could only afford to do one thing, to unite and to fight viciously to earn their way out of the country and to enrich themselves. And they did, for two years, until they finally managed to accomplish their mission.

“You don’t have time for this display, you fool,” he said in a severe tone. “This, whatever you’re doing now, may be your last act on earth. It may very well be your last battle. There is no power which could guarantee that you are going to live one more minute….” “…Acts have power,” he said, “Especially when the person acting knows that those acts are his last battle. There is a strange consuming happiness in acting with the full knowledge that whatever one is doing may very well be one’s last act on earth. I recommend that you reconsider your life and bring your acts into that light…. Focus your attention on the link between you and your death, without remorse or sadness or worrying. Focus your attention on the fact you don’t have time and let your acts flow accordingly. Let each of your acts be your last battle on earth. Only under those conditions will your acts have their rightful power. Otherwise they will be, for as long as you live, the acts of a timid man.” “Is it so terrible to be a timid man?” “No. It isn’t if you are going to be immortal, but if you are going to die there is not time for timidity, simply because timidity makes you cling to something that exists only in your thoughts. It soothes you while everything is at a lull, but then the awesome, mysterious world will open its mouth for you, as it will open for every one of us, and then you will realize that your sure ways were not sure at all. Being timid prevents us from examining and exploiting our lot as men.”


The end of the chapter contains advice for maintaining the scarcity mentality.

Keep yourself restless and unsatisfied. Don’t settle, because once you do, you will not see the point of aiming for anything more, and you will not improve. Cultivate a “me against the world” mindset. Do not assume that you only have friends and no enemies, this will only make you complacent. And occasionally throw yourself in unfamiliar situations, even if you are not ready. This will keep you alert and battle-ready.

Death is nothing, but to live defeated is to die every day.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Read The 33 Strategies of War

"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

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