Factors related to the outcomes of personal and national crises

Sunday, May 26th, 2019

Jared Diamond’s wife is a crisis therapist, and from her field he borrows a list of factors related to the outcomes of personal crises:

  1. Acknowledgment that one is in crisis
  2. Acceptance of one’s personal responsibility to do something
  3. Building a fence, to delineate one’s individual problems needing to be solved
  4. Getting material and emotional help from other individuals and groups
  5. Using other individuals as models of how to solve problems
  6. Ego strength
  7. Honest self-appraisal
  8. Experience of previous personal crises
  9. Patience
  10. Flexible personality
  11. Individual core values
  12. Freedom from personal constraints

From this, he builds a list of factors related to the outcomes of national crises

  1. National consensus that one’s nation is in crisis
  2. Acceptance of national responsibility to do something
  3. Building a fence, to delineate the national problems needing to be solved
  4. Getting material and financial help from other nations
  5. Using other nations as models of how to solve the problems
  6. National identity
  7. Honest national self-appraisal
  8. Historical experience of previous national crises
  9. Dealing with national failure
  10. Situation-specific national flexibility
  11. National core values
  12. Freedom from geopolitical constraints

In Upheaval he explores a half-dozen national crises through this lens.


  1. David Foster says:

    Relates to the old advice for pilots having a problem:

    CONTROL the airplane
    CONFESS to yourself that you have a problem
    CONSERVE your fuel
    CLIMB to a higher altitude
    COMMUNICATE with air traffic control or other sources of assistance
    COMPLY with what you are advised to do

    (all context-dependent except for the first two)

  2. Kirk says:

    Ooh… Looky! Consultancy buzz-word bingo.

    The more I read of Diamond, the less respect I have for him. He’s another glib jackass with a knack for popularizing ideas that are half-assed beyond belief. I would put him in the same box as Marshall, Grossman, Ambrose and the rest of that lot of frauds and crooks.

    In all cases, they have the seed of a reasonable thesis, and then go off to gather their evidence for it being true, ignoring everything else. Diamond’s BS about the Easter Island collapse is epic, especially in light of all that’s been discovered recently.

    You’ll note that he hasn’t gone back to make any corrections, either. Intellectual fraudster, pure and simple.

  3. Graham says:

    Well, I definitely see the value of checklists in many, many types of environment or situation, as well as of lists that specifically break down jobs or concepts. That list does both, and it’s not a bad list.

    The problems are that any such list needs to be kept open to constant refinement even when in use. There’s always something missing or too much or in the wrong place.

    And that one can get rather stuck on early items in the list.

    The big one here would be agreement on whether or not a person or nation is in crisis, and even if so, what precisely the nature of that crisis is and what the solution. Strictly speaking, civil war is just an extremely vigorous brain-storming session to answer those questions. But by then one has to be working without a list to keep up.

  4. Paul from Canada says:

    The problem with these guys is that they are not stupid, and have some good ideas and intriguing little side bits that come out of the data. The basic bits of Guns Germs and Steel, that geography, climate and the type of agricultural resources and domesticable animals available had an impact on human development is fine. Where he went wrong is attributing EVERYTHING to that.

    One humorous example of someone who had to admit error was Gwynne Dyer. To his credit, he did. His seminal book WAR and the associated TV series was quite good. I didn’t agree with all of it, but it was nevertheless very interesting and thought provoking, and a fun read.

    His basic thesis, was that technology had made war extremely dangerous. Interconnected alliances had brought us to world war twice in the 20th century, and if we did it again, that would be the end of civilization, so we had best study how to prevent it from happening again.

    His two biggest points were that alliances were dangerous. They kept a balance of power and allowed smaller nations greater security, but when they failed to prevent a war, they made the resulting one catastrophic. His second big point is that we humans have not evolved much, and our psychology is much like our primitive ancestors, but our war making technology is so much better, and new technology with old psychology is making things too deadly. Primitive warfare was self limiting and casualties were few, whereas with technology, the old limiting factors didn’t work.

    Now when he wrote his first addition in the ’80s, the Rousseauan bias, and Margret Mead still held sway in anthropology, and he drew from that. Since then, works like War Before Civilization, and the work of Napoleon Chagnon, and the overwhelming archeological evidence is finally driving Rousseau out of anthropology.

    We now know, and he now knows, that his chapter on primitive warfare was completely wrong. Yes, the ritualized “battle” produced few casualties on the day, but what was ignored was that the losing village got a dawn raid within the week, where all the military aged males, old and infirm, and small children were all massacred, and the young woman and older children taken as slaves and concubines.

    So when the second edition of WAR came out, Dyer wrote a new foreword, explaining that the second half his original thesis was wrong, how it was wrong, why, and what the new research and scholarship said, so please read the new edition keeping this fact in mind!

  5. Graham says:

    Hey! I didn’t realize that. Good for Dyer.

    The revelations about primitive warfare still loom as one of the larger developments in archaeology and anthropology, and still seem to meet huge resistance in the fields.

    I think I’m pretty open either way, although the new paradigm makes more intuitive sense since we are talking about humans. But some in those fields seem really resistant and massively invested in clinging to old or coming up with new paradigms in which there was never any violence, ever.

    On Dyer, did you also see his “The Defence of Canada” trilogy? His aim was to see Canada “Finlandize” toward the US.

    He appreciated that this would mean a much bigger Canadian military and a serious commitment to deny our sea, air and land space to the Russians, but it might keep us from being invaded or nuked and from going to fight in Germany.

    I don’t think he took sufficient account of the different geographic situations, obvious at the time. He seemed also not to consider that Canadians’ overall attitude and identity was a lot more positive to the US and the Western alliance than the Finns’ attitude to Russia was, to put it mildly.

    In retrospect, with information not available in the 80s, he must also have learned that Finland was in fact so penetrated by Soviet intelligence and its politicians so many either on the take or committed to the Soviets, that their neutrality was not really the bold independent stroke it was thought to be.

  6. Paul from Canada says:

    Defense of Canada? Oh yes, saw it several times. I would own it and WAR, except the NFB (National Film Board of Canada), owns the rights. Dyer has been asked several times about it on his website, and he explains that despite demand, the NFB doesn’t care and won’t sell it, so you are left with a few second hand VHS tapes and YouTube.

    The funny thing about Defense of Canada, is that he pretty much refuted his whole thesis, as far as I could tell. He looked at Switzerland, looked at Finland, etc. He advocated robust neutrality, but admitted that; a) there was no national will in Canada for a vastly expanded army with National Service. b) A long proud history of participating in multi-lateral alliances, and c) We were strategic territory in a way Finland and Sweden were not, and armed neutrality might not save us anyway.

    I could be mis-remembering, but that is how I recall it.

  7. Graham says:

    I haven’t watched it the roughly 30 years since it aired and the end of the Cold War made it quickly redundant, so if he was more realistic about those things, that’s good. Kind of makes the series redundant, beyond his personal despair.

    I did wonder at the time, in addition to the above, what neutrality even if workable would have accomplished. Canadian forces might not have been killed in a few days in Germany, and less likely might not have been sunk on the Atlantic. But we’d still have had to defend our airspace and if the US got nuked, so would we. So, really, how much difference, unless one thought a short conventional, non-nuclear war in Europe was a real possibility?

  8. Graham says:

    Somewhere in my disordered possessions, I own WAR on VHS from the NFB from back in the day.

    If I ever find them after my next upcoming move, I’ll try to find equipment on which to test their viability.

  9. Paul from Canada says:

    I know I have Defense of Canada taped off the TV on a very crappy old VHS tape. I think last time I looked that WAR was definitely on YouTube and I’m pretty sure Defense of Canada is as well.

    The training Major at BOTC absolutely loathed him, but I rather like Gwynne Dyer. His current affairs column is always worth the read. I don’t always agree with him, and as time goes on I find myself disagreeing with him more and more. But he usually has something interesting and thought provoking to say.

    I particularly like the way he can distill a complex geopolitical issue into a single column that makes it accessible, yet not dumbed down.

    He is also, despite that some think his a left wing pinko stooge, a Canadian patriot in his own way. He has contributed a bunch of scholaship to WWI documentaries, especially about the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

    He also did a very good documentary series on Canadian troops in Bosnia, and the realities of modern “peacekeeping”. Being NFB again, it is hard to get, but worth the watch if you can find it. I can’t remember the title, but I found it on DVD at the library.

    He also did a documentary series called IIRC, simply CIVILIZATION. Also worth the watch. I think it is also on youtube. Interestingly, despite going on about patriarchy and environmentalism, he defends globalization and Wallmart. He made a very interesting point about developing third world countries like India, and how Britain in the industrial revlution/Victorian era were much the same. Quite balanced on the whole.

    That is what I like about him, his opinions are not always predictable, which to me is the sign of a genuine thinker. That and the dry, sardonic,snarky British humour that is his signature style..

  10. Isegoria says:

    It looks like you’re right, Paul. War is up on YouTube, in seven parts.

  11. Isegoria says:

    Defence of Canada is up too, in three parts.

  12. Kirk says:

    Canada’s essential problem of defense in this day and age is that it has the US for a neighbor, and the inevitable fact is, anyone throwing sh*t at the US will also be hitting Canada, as well–If only indirectly via damage to their number-one trading partner.

    Due to this set of facts, Canada is pretty much welded at the hip to the fate of the US, no matter what it might want as a sovereign nation. The US could probably get by without taking Canada into account, but the Canadians can’t get by without taking the US into their calculations and actions.

  13. Graham says:


    It’s the central problem of Canada in the realms of diplomacy, economics, strategy, culture and identity.

    We could do worse than have you as neighbours. The analogy I generally think of for sheer dependence and cultural similarity is Ukraine and Russia. We have a much better deal. You guys last invaded us in 1813 and it was last very plausible in the 1860s. And you last sent little green men in to destabilize us in 1867.

    Just a little joke there. It was the Irish Fenians. I have no idea what their gear really looked like, but in the Canadian iconography of the time they are usually drawn with green uniform shirts and green kepis of the Civil War/French Empire slope design. Kind of like a green version of Garibaldi’s Italian Redshirts. Google Image the Battle of Ridgeway for the main visual example.

    Not a very big battle, and it was a Fenian tactical win. But there might be at least one Canadian reserve regiment with a battle honour for having had an ancestral unit represented.

    Also, one of the RCMP’s predecessors, the Dominion Police, was mainly charged with border constabulary and secret service work looking for Fenians in southern Ontario. Behind every bush, doubtless.

    We had some good times, Canada and the US.

  14. Graham says:


    I always did and still do think of Dyer as a LWPS. If he’s now banging on about patriarchy I’d like to think someone told him to “put a feminist lens” on it. And he had to ask WTF is that. But I doubt it.

    But I also always had a somewhat similar reaction to him as yours.

    He served in the navy, he always was a Canadian and very much also a Newfoundland patriot. You could see that his concern in DoC was that Canada not waste Canadian lives in non Canadian wars. I might have disagreed with him then or now about which wars those might be, but I can’t argue with the instinct on some level. I often share it.

    His dry wit and manner were appealing, and his writing style shows that through to some extent.

    And his leftism is much older school and more eccentric than your average Canadian progressive of my lifetime. I have a hard time imagining him sincerely spouting all the lumpenMarxist slogans about diversity, inclusion, and so on with which I am daily bombarded. Even if he agreed with it all, that wouldn’t be his mode of speaking or thinking.

    Even at that, I think we in Canada can have a similar tradition to what the English sometimes have had- one can be an eccentric and a radical, even a doctrinaire Marxist, and still be quintessentially a Canadian type, “one of ours”.

    I suppose the English could have been a bit more practically suspicious of their communists, come to think.

    Of course, I decreasingly find the left willing to extend that courtesy.

    Anyway, the other Canadian figure I often think of in the same breath as Dyer is Farley Mowat. Pretty far left, undoubtedly was a Canadian patriot and a Canadian archetype at that, and a crazy eccentric old coot toward the end. I find that personality type strangely heroic.

  15. Paul from Canada says:

    I think Dyer’s reputation as a “leftist” comes from what he was advocating. That and the beard and signature leather jacket. Advocating for Canadian Neutrality, questioning the long term viability of relying on alliances and nuclear weapons, at a time when the Soviets WERE sponsoring foreign news, journalists, think tanks and academics, made him suspect. I’m sure that the Training Major at Chilliwack thought so.

    As for Farley Mowat, he was definitely flirting at least with “fellow traveler” status. I’m not sure if it was just curmudgeonly desire to be “opposite”, or if it was sincere, or if he was a “useful idiot”/dupe. In his WWII memoirs, he was fervently against, but if you read SIBIR, he was either taken in by the “Potemkin village”, or he was a “fellow traveler”. He was also part of the Pugwash Group and a couple of fair-play-for-cuba groups.

    I personally suspect that he was just an old curmudgeon who didn’t care much for politics, just the environment, but in a sincere way, not the current quasi-religious way of environmentalists today.

    I have pretty much all of his books, and cherish them, and would still do so even if he were a commie.

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