This follows on from an earlier group of posts about Jared Diamond’s book Upheaval , which is basically about strengths which help avoiding collapse when in a crisis.

This is about points 8 to 12

Point 8: Experience of of success in previous crises.

This gives a person or nation confidence they can solve, or survive, crises. However it can also give false confidence, especially if powerful people in a society apply a method which no longer works, or which generated the current crisis. For example, the political and labour crisis produced by neoliberalism, cannot be solved by more neoliberalism. So we still need to face up to personal and social power and conceptual issues (which can resemble ego issues). Confidence might be good, but over-confidence or rigid faith in a method, might not. It’s two edged.

Point 9: Patience [in uncertainty]

Diamond defines this interestingly as “ability to tolerate uncertainty, ambiguity or failure at initial attempts to change.” I’m not sure this is what people normally mean by patience, but the description is probably a good thing. Do not attempt to resolve ambiguity or paradox too early, as that will crush awareness of complexity. Deciding that the method you have will have to work, is probably going to lead to problems. “It may take several attempts testing different ways.”

Diamond also points out that national problems generally require negotiation between groups with different aims, understandings, values and identities, and this does take normal patience.

To some extent this idea of toleration of uncertainty etc, blends with the next stage of

Point 10: Flexibility

Flexibility is the ability to change, to cast aside rigidity. This is not simply a matter of choice. Later on Diamond wonders if this criteria is applicable to countries. It may not be, but I suspect it can be applied to power relations, and possibly work relations. Again (it would seem) the stronger the divisions of power, the greater the lack of ‘circulation of elites’, and the more reluctant hierarchy is to learn from others ‘further down’ (hence obstructing information flow), the less flexibility. If you cannot risk offending fossil fuel companies, or whatever, and if it is easy to shift costs and damages downwards, then the less likelihood a nation has of solving the problem.

Point 11: Core Values

Values can render a person inflexible and cruel, yet they can also make a person trustworthy, refuse to yield, and able to act. They can bring both clarity and fog. This is one of those things which might be useful and might not. If the values are destructive, then it might be useful to realise that and change them. Values usually evolve to help people do what they have to do (to survive), but sometimes this can be slow to change, and they may end up defending the causes of problems such as the freedom of companies to pollute and destroy, or compulsory group loyalty or individualism.

This is an aspect, I think is situational rather than general.

Point 12: Freedom from constraints or responsibilities

This is difficult, especially socially. It is hard to be a politician, activist, public servant, citizen, who is free from constraints. Everyone has constraints, systems have constraints, ecologies have constraints, economies have constraints – the question is how badly they affect you or restrict your action.

Quite likely, people have to some extent part of the machine which has become geared to producing the problems (individual and social). You are likely to have responsibilities to others. Separating out, and gaining perception of new constraints, may require group work and group discussion. Diamond points out that nations have geographical, ecological and relational constraints. Their landscape makes some behaviours harder than others – deserts have consequences, cold and heat have consequences. Sharing a border with a much greater power has consequences. Being an island has consequences. Human actions in those constraints have consequences. You can engage in deforestation and soil can be swept away. You can over-farm. You can fish out the seas and so on. Constraints may have to be acknowledged and worked within. It could be useful to find out which restraints come from power relations, and which come from the nature of reality.

Problems with analysis

The fundamental problem is that these categories, while apparently useful, are extremely hard to test as they involve interpretation of complex systems. Sometimes in the book, it is clear what applies, and other times it seems to me, that we could have used different data, or even the same data, to draw opposite conclusions.

However, despite this fundamental problem, I still think it is interesting to look at the differences and similarities between personal and social resilience, and think about the capacity to face challenges.

At the least we can ask, what kind of social structures boost some capacities, what boosts the capacities too much, and what kind of structures destroy the capacity of people to respond. It sometimes appears, that with climate change, individuals and some groups, can respond far better than those in power, or those with wealth in general. In which case people might find it useful to look at these kinds of personal crisis strengths and apply them to their lives and organisations.