Vital Lessons from Countries in Crisis

Poet Steve Turner wrote, “History repeats itself. Has to. No-one listens.”

The tragedy is that smart people continually think they are exceptions to the rules. Ironically, people who don’t think they are too smart are better off because they believe they can benefit from the experience of others.

In Jared Diamond’s recent book, Upheaval, the author focuses on what we can learn from countries in crisis. He tells the fascinating stories of six countries over the last two hundred years who each faced a major turning point—some navigating those moments with great success and others with less. What makes Diamond’s book particularly insightful is that he has visited each of the countries dozens of times and speaks the language fluently in all but one.

We encounter Finland (Russia’s invasion, 1939), Japan (Commodore Perry’s arrival, 1853), Chile (Pinochet’s coup in 1973), Indonesia (the countercoup of 1965), Germany (postwar recovery, 1945-1990), and Australia (separation from England, 1940-80). Other than postwar Germany, I only knew the barest outline of the stories he tells, and found his tales absorbing.

What factors contributed to handling crises well? Among a dozen he names are facing reality squarely, accepting responsibility rather than blaming others, letting go of doctrinaire commitments, being willing to modify some elements of national identity while retaining others. In light of these, Diamond then considers the prospects for the unresolved crises today in Japan, in the United States, and in the world as a whole.

I found the chapter on Chile to be notably unnerving. Chile had a long democratic tradition, identifies with Europe rather than Latin America, and enjoys protection from invasion by significant geographic features. Yet when the left, right, and center parties in Chile all refused to compromise, the country descended into cruelty, violence, and oppression for twenty years, from which it has still yet to fully recovered.

Chile’s lessons of inflexible, extreme partisanship loom especially large for the present-day United States. Every government leader and concerned citizen should absorb the warnings and wisdom of this book if we wish to navigate our future together successfully.

Why Some Innovations Succeed and Others Don’t

Coming up with a great idea can be hard enough. Getting the idea adopted can be even harder. Why do some innovations change the world and others go nowhere?

The reasons are many. In Originals Adam Grant highlights one factor in the story of the American suffrage movement.

Lucy Stone launched the women’s rights movement in 1851, inspiring thousands to join the cause for women’s right to vote, work, receive an education, and own property. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were among her early followers. But after years of leading together, in 1869 Anthony and Stanton split from Stone, nearly causing the collapse of the movement. What happened?

Anthony and Stanton were purists. They opposed the Fifteenth Amendment giving African Americans the right to vote because if women couldn’t vote, no other minorities should either. Stone instead built bridges to those favoring the amendment.

Stone also sought allies in an unexpected corner, in the family-values organization of the day—the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). The WCTU was conservative, largely made up of religious middle- and upper-class women who were unlikely to see Stone and her movement as upholding traditional values. Yet Stone forged an alliance by suggesting that the WTCU would have a hard time changing liquor laws if women couldn’t vote. The more radical-sounding “women’s right to vote” was reframed more moderately as a “home protection ballot.”

Anthony and Stanton were scandalized. But their differences didn’t stop there. “Stone was committed to campaigning at the state level; Anthony and Stanton wanted a federal constitutional amendment. Stone involved men in her organization; Anthony and Stanton favored an exclusively female membership. Stone sought to inspire change through speaking and meetings; Anthony and Stanton were more confrontational, with Anthony voting illegally and encouraging other women to follow suit.” (121)

The extreme radicalism of some scared away the potential sympathy of many. Though Stanton sought reconciliation in 1872, by then Stone was too wary of her unpredictable sisters in the cause. It took passing the torch to a new generation of moderate radicals before women won the right to vote in 1920.

Change the world? Yes. With creative coalitions, with tempered radicalism, by reframing the new as something old. A hundred years ago, women showed us how it’s done.

Photos: Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection (Stone); Library of Congress, (Stanton seated, Anthony standing).

Lincoln’s Startling Conclusion

I remember visiting the Lincoln Memorial and being amazed by the Second Inaugural engraved on the North interior wall. Did the builders really know what it said? For a country that says it separates church and state, Lincoln provided perhaps the deepest theological reflection by any U.S. politician, and something far deeper than that of many theologians.
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Does Character Matter?

Does character matter?

Weaving wisdom and insight with the life stories of fascinating people, in The Road to Character, David Brooks offers a much needed book. Each chapter focuses on a different person and theme. Through the lives of people like Frances Perkins, Dwight Eisenhower, Dorothy Day, George Marshall, A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), Augustine, Samuel Johnson and Montaigne, we consider dignity, struggle, self-mastery, love, self-examination and more.
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Intuition, Snap Judgments and Gut Reactions

When Gianfranco Becchina offered to sell an ancient statue to the Getty Museum for $10 million in 1983, the Getty conducted extensive (even microscopic) analysis before agreeing to buy. Afterward a few experts on viewing the statue had instantaneous misgivings, though they had a hard time articulating exactly why. Yet the gut reactions were right and the time-consuming analysis was wrong. The statue eventually proved to be a fake.
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Stuckey’s Axiom

Years ago Steve Stuckey, a colleague in InterVarsity, told me a story about Campus by the Sea on Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California. Rattlesnakes have been on the island for time out of mind. In the mid-1930s, some enterprising folk brought in wild pigs to keep the snake population under control. The plan worked great. Fewer snakes.

But then the wild pigs started to roam all over, invading campgrounds and other areas. So some enterprising folk used a dog, Cinder, to keep the pigs at bay. The plan worked great. Fewer pigs.
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Steve Jobs: Genius or Jerk?

Jeff Crosby, our associate publisher for sales and marketing here at IVP, said Walter Isaacson’s book [Steve Jobs]( was simultaneously among the most inspiring and disturbing books he’d ever read. The uncompromising despot of perfectionism at Apple regularly screamed obscenities at coworkers and rolled out one megahit product after another, making Apple one of the most successful companies of our era.
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John Stott at 90

InterVarsity Press is privileged to have been associated with the ministry of John Stott for over fifty years. His clear, balanced, sound perspective on Scripture and life has been filled with a grace and strength that seems rare in this era of extreme viewpoints and harsh rhetoric. As tomorrow marks his ninetieth birthday, I want to consider just one aspect of his character and vast influence.
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