And I’m still not past the first chapter….
The Next points
Diamond point 4) Get Help from Others
I’ve already mentioned the probable need to team up with others, talk to others, get fresh perspectives, and support (preferably mutual). Other people or nations, can perhaps lend (or gift) you resources for a time. Humans are social animals, the more ties the better (in general – introverts may disagree, but it still helps). Your own view of yourself, may not be that accurate, you need those fresh perspectives, and you gain more power, competence and effect working with others – provided you don’t try and set up a hierarchy. Cooperation magnifies effects.
Possibly important here: “good communication is only possible between equals”.
However, choose your helpers wisely. If you choose the wrong people, you can end up losing power and competence. You can end up in a restricting and harmful cult, which appears safe. Getting help is a risk, like most other choices, but if you are already sliding downhill you may need to take that risk.
It is probably worth bearing in mind, that many possible solutions may produce new problems, lead to new hazards or new dead ends, yet staying where you are could also be lethal. Continual awareness, and openness to change, is needed….
Diamond point 5) Other People as Models
Other people and other countries may have faced similar problems. You can perhaps learn from them, and learn to emulate them, or at least gain some hope from them. So again you can talk to others, team-up with others, or read about others. Part of the point of Diamond’s book is to learn about countries which have faced problems, and learn from their successes and mistakes. Many people I know have found Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections useful in their personal lives. It certainly opens up possibilities which are not normally perceptible in Western society.
The problem is that some of our current National problems may be unusual. We don’t have, as far as I know, many records of places which have survived ecological collapse or massive changes in climate. If you know of any, then please indicate them in the comments section, and I’ll lift them up here, with acknowledgements.
Another problem occurs when we choose a bad example to emulate. Lots of people embraced neoliberalism, because powerful nations did. It rarely helped them solve all their problems.
Diamond Point 6) Ego Strength/National Identity
This is a point I have problems with, because to me, ego derives from what you are aware of, as produced by the theories, culture, conditioning, habit and experience you have had. The ego is a form of directed consciousness, with accepted ‘truths’. This idea is supported, so some extent, by Diamond comparing ego-strength to national identity, which I guess can be thought of as, what a dominant portion of the nation thinks it is like and what that dominant portion of the nation thinks its members share. Ego is absolutely necessary, but it is also a restriction.
My guess is that ego-strength is very useful if the problems are not complex and do not require big changes, but this does not mean it is always useful, or always non-destructive. For example, national identity can be both delusional and a source of problems, and may need to change. For example, if Germany, Japan or Italy had kept their ‘fascist,’ or militaristic, identity (yes Japan was different, but there are enough similarities) then they could not have adapted to the post-war world at all – they would simply have gone on damaging themselves, or provoking others to damage them. If a nation has constructed an identity around ‘race’ and national kinship, it is probably going to have internal fights and commit crimes if its leaders want it to be ‘pure’. The nation is going to consume energy which could probably have been better spent adapting to its new world. Similarly, if a person has constructed an ego around the idea of them being useless, exploitative, or always correct, then they don’t want more strength behind those ideas; they may need ego opening, not ego strength. They probably need some flexibility or flow, not more ego strength.
“Self pride” in an identity may mean that you are unlikely to change, or adapt, or even see the problem. Pride implies staying the same, or even disparaging others and refusing to learn from them.
As another possible example. If national or personal ego is invested in ‘free markets’, or fossil fuel use, then it may be close to impossible to face climate change because, these factors are part of the probable causes of climate change. Facing climate change may mean impacting fossil fuel companies and fossil fuel use, ‘harmfully’. However, keeping the ego strong may mean not abandoning these positions ever, as abandoning a fundamental value seems weak, and on the other side, they may have no belief that anything can compensate for a lack of fossil fuels or free markets. Being open to fossil fuel use, and what people call ‘free markets,’ needing to be changed, requires the ego to be open to alteration, and that is more than just ego strength – even if it is a form of strength.
The ego that has grown to produce a problem, may not be the best place from which to overcome the problem.
However, while ego-strength may not always be worth while; it is certainly correct that giving up, apathy, or hopelessness (in everything) also seem harmful. So a person or a nation might need to have a capacity for resilience, for recognising something beyond mere identity, a capacity to keep on going, to keep learning, to keep focused, and to discard ideas which are harmful to themselves and others, or which are now useless. That is, they may need to change conscious, change ego, or change national identity. This means that fencing off what works, (Diamond point 3) is an ongoing process of alteration, not a one-off event.
At this moment, I can’t think of a good word for this persistence and willingness to change (tenacity, resolve, responsibility?), but ‘ego-strength’ is not it.
Diamond Pont 7) Self Appraisal
Diamond ties the ability to do honest self-appraisal to ego strength. Obviously, I’m not so sure. The ego, or the national identity, is a form of directed consciousness, and unless that consciousness is open to change, and strong enough to change or suspend its ‘truths’ for a moment, it is hard to give honest appraisal, or be open to new ‘visions’ and understandings.
With a strong commitment to the ego. It is much easier to give a dishonest and comforting self-appraisal. This again is where blame, shadow politics and condemnation is handy: we are not part of the problem, it is them, all evil them whoever they are. If we attack them harder, then all our problems will disappear. Sometimes that may be true in part, but if you are that good, then why are they the problem?
Ego strength can lead to the rejection of other’s help and advice, because accepting that advice implies you are not perfect or strong.
How do you tell the difference between honest self-appraisal, and mistaken comforting self appraisal which flatters your ego? This is not easy, as it is both you that is deciding, and you that have the problems. This may also require listening to others, and relaxing the hold of existing beliefs, which are harming you.
We need the strength to go beyond our ego, and to stick with the task of facing reality and heading into the unknown.
Self motivated change is NOT easy. it is a struggle. It is easier to stay where you are, strengthen your ego beliefs, blame others and die. And we have more points to go.