Booklist | Ian Kershaw’s ‘To Hell and Back: Europe, 1914-1949’ 

Vytautas The Great War Museum Kaunas, Lithuania

Could the Great War have been avoided? Ian Kershaw’s new book offers an explanation:

Kershaw argues that World War I could have been forestalled if Vienna had acted with speed to punish Serbia for its complicity in the murder of the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; it had the Kaiser’s reckless blank check for punishment, but as Kershaw puts it, the Austrian Empire “knew only two speeds, slow and dead stop.” By the time Vienna sent its ultimatum to Belgrade, three weeks after the assassination, Russia, with France in tow, had encouraged the Serbs to be more bloody-minded. More bloody-minded, in my own judgment, than justified.

Kershaw identifies a second missed opportunity to avert mass slaughter. He writes that even as Russia started to mobilize in the summer of 1914 — much before Germany — “a firm British declaration of neutrality . . . might even at a late hour have prevented general war. But Grey’s disastrous hesitation meant that the room for diplomatic initiatives vanished.” Pretty well every history nods to the poetic prescience of Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary, in the foreboding he expressed on Aug. 3. Standing by his big window overlooking Horse Guards Parade, he watched the gas lights being lit in the street below and said: “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” They were, though Grey lived to see Europe, with the lights on, begin to fumble its irresolute way to World War II.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story

Source: Ian Kershaw’s ‘To Hell and Back: Europe, 1914-1949’ – The New York Times

Tagged ,

Persuasion Skills, Reframing, and How to Survive Tough Conversations Post-Thanksgiving Dinner

What to do: frame your position in terms of the moral values of the person that you are trying to persuade.  The problem? Its hard.

Why do we find moral reframing so challenging? There are a number of reasons. You might find it off-putting to endorse values that you don’t hold yourself. You might not see a link between your political positions and your audience’s values. And you might not even know that your audience endorses different values from your own. But whatever the source of the gulf, it can be bridged with effort and consideration.

Maybe reframing political arguments in terms of your audience’s morality should be viewed less as an exercise in targeted, strategic persuasion, and more as an exercise in real, substantive perspective taking. To do it, you have to get into the heads of the people you’d like to persuade, think about what they care about and make arguments that embrace their principles. If you can do that, it will show that you view those with whom you disagree not as enemies, but as people whose values are worth your consideration.

Source: The Key to Political Persuasion – The New York Times

So a main takeaway is to let go of your own views and develop a strategic view on how your opponents could possible believe in it. Its not easy to do this.Try it on these hot-button issues:

  • same-sex marriage
  • gun control
  • allow immigrant refugees/migrants into your _______ (state/country)

The skill of reframing has obvious uses for politics and diplomacy. But its also important for business. As Karim Benammer and Bernd-Jan Hilberts observe, Mauritius can be seen as a small insignificant island facing rising sea levels–as well as a headquarters amidst a huge ocean area with sustainable ocean mining opportunities and a”high leverage economy.” Here’s the work:

The idea of reframing isn’t new but the recent insights into moral framing come from studies produced by Robb Willer, a Stanford sociologist and Matthew Feinberg of the University of Toronto and were published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Tagged , , ,

A Walk in the Woods: A Lesson on Informal Negotiations

A few years ago when the New START Treaty was initially underway, a play was staged in an encore performance on the Hill.  This story that explores the heart of a successful negotiation during a time of Cold War tensions is apropos for our current milieu.

The Pulitzer, Tony, and Olivier award-Winning 1988 play, “A Walk in the Woods” by Less Blessing, tells the story of an accidental negotiation on a medium-range nuclear arms agreement by the US representative Paul Nitze and USSR diplomat Yuli Kvitsinsky. In 2010 it was re-staged at the American Ensemble Theatre in Washington, D.C.

Is the book better than the movie, er, the transcript better than the play? This lengthy interview explains:

At the time of your famous “walk in the woods,” the negotiations on Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) in Europe had stalled. At the time, many people around the world, especially in Europe, believed that the U.S. wasn’t really interested in negotiating an arms control agreement with the Soviets. Source: Paul Nitze Interview — Academy of Achievement

Nitze, the namesake of Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies, was also involved in the 1986 arms summit in Reykjavik. He was perceived as an intellectual leader of the hawks by Democrats and seen by others in the Reagan administration as too much of a dove.

A BYU Kennedy Center reading of Richard Rhodes’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play Reykjavik is scheduled tonight on campus in Provo as part of our International Education Week 2015 celebration.


Tagged , ,

War and Humanity

In thinking about the attacks in Paris and Beirut–among other places, we can express anger, revenge, or frustration. We can also redouble ourselves onto the weightier questions. What motivates Daesh to organize and carry out these attacks? What is their perspective? And even better: What does it mean to be human?

Primo Levi stands as an important figure: Holocaust survivor and writer who has been widely read across Italy. His works are used across disciplines to teach Jewish and Holocaust studies, and warrants a refresh as we think about the nature of evil:

Toward the end of If This Is a Man (whose very title, Se questo è un uomo, offers the conditional clause of a question that remains open), Levi befriends Jean, an Alsatian student who serves as errand boy in the Auschwitz chemical unit on which Levi toils. Hoping to teach his French-speaking friend some Italian, Levi recites from memory, and imperfectly, a passage from Dante’s Commedia, from Canto XXVI of The Inferno. Ulysses, who is, like Levi and Jean, suffering the torments of hell, explains how he roused his fellow mariners to undertake the transgressive journey that would damn them all:

“Consider well the seed that gave you birth:/ you were not made to live your lives as brutes,/ but to be followers of worth and knowledge.”

As he recites those lines, amid the misery and horror of a human abattoir, Levi himself is moved, he explains, “as if I, too, were hearing it for the first time: like the blast of a trumpet, like the voice of God. For a moment I forget who I am and where I am.” He would survive to be a follower of worth and knowledge.

Source: Primo Levi’s Invaluable Voice, in Full – The Chronicle of Higher Education

He lived with the brutality of Auschwitz, with shame and inner turmoil., believing that “people have a responsibility to each other as well as to other living things”. In a Paris Review interview, Levi reflected on his writing and life, demonstrating himself as a master of the “understated”:

Remember, when there is war, the first thing is shoes, and second is eating. Because if you have shoes, then you can run and steal. But you must have shoes. Yes, I told him, well you are right, but there is not war any more. And he told me, Guerra es siempre. There is always war.

Tagged , , ,

What Can We Learn from Trump? | Yale Insights

Trump projects a notion of, I’m in charge, I know what’s going on, you can relax. Nobody ever called Alexander III of Macedonia “Alexander the Great” until he and his mother invented that whole false lineage to Achilles and Zeus. And Trump somehow instinctively knows that working that image is a critical part of leadership.

And it’s a studied maneuver. He is a very disarming personality up close. This will sound like a paradox, but despite all the bravado and grandiosity, there is an authenticity about him when you speak to him in person. He clearly wants to make an impression on everybody, but he cares to know if it works. A truly arrogant person is not that attentive to the audience.

Public Diplomacy by America’s Diplomatic Dude

Who is Matthew Barzun and why has he been called a “tech-savvy Obama insider with a forward leaning approach to diplomacy“? He’s also referred to as “His Excellency,” but not in every setting. Writing in The Independent, one journalist calls the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom “America’s diplomatic dude.” And he’s bringing the élan of “cultural diplomacy”, Silicon Valley (and Kentucky)-style.

So when the NYT writes about his efforts to reach a key strategic group, it sounds like a case of good old-fashioned diplomacy: go into a rough crowd (teenagers) and actually listen to what they have to say.

Later, he said, “I want to give them room to be able to disagree,” not to force arguments on them. “If you go in thinking you’re in the argument-winning business, you can end up seeing a lot of arms folded,” he said. “But if you listen, people hear you differently.”

The reviews were good. Euphrose Tambwe, 16, said, “He asked us what we thought and then explained what he thought.”

She stopped for a moment. “It was really his honesty that got me,” she said. “I thought he’d come to say ‘America is great and don’t believe the media,’ and the fact that he admitted mistakes struck me.”

Source: American Ambassador Builds Diplomatic Bridges With British Teenagers – The New York Times

If that isn’t cool enough, how about stopping by the Ambassador’s Residence to enjoy a concert by The National?

Not the Ambassador’s favorite (Johnny Cash), but still a classic American sound.

Tagged ,

Nudging, but Ethically

BYU faculty in 2013 looked at fluid dynamics as well as human behavior. The painted ‘bug’ is a nudge.

To persuade you need to set the stage. One tactic that behavioral economists have recently explored is nudging, or as Richard H. Thaler writes, “small design changes that can markedly affect individual behavior.”

Thaler has a code of conduct for “good nudging”, focusing on transparency, easy opt-outs, and the encouragement of good beaviour. But like everything, nudging can be used to improper ends:

Some argue that phishing — or evil nudging — is more dangerous in government than in the private sector. The argument is that government is a monopoly with coercive power, while we have more choice in the private sector over which newspapers we read and which airlines we fly.CONTINUE READING THE MAIN STORY27COMMENTSI think this distinction is overstated. In a democracy, if a government creates bad policies, it can be voted out of office. Competition in the private sector, however, can easily work to encourage phishing rather than stifle it.

Source: The Power of Nudges, for Good and Bad – The New York Times

Nudging can be a bit faddish, and already may be seen as not working in many cases. But as Peter B. Reiner writes, “modernity is the ultimate temptress”–and nudging (for good) may be just what we need to make better choices.

Tagged ,

Debate like Ted
Pro-tips on debating like Senator Cruz, via NYT online:

  1. Act the part
  2. Address the camera (not others)
  3. Stay on script

Ted Cruz, senator of Texas and a republican presidential candidate, has a very specific debate style.

Source: How to Debate Like Senator Ted Cruz – Video –

Booklist | Doomed to Succeed by Dennis Ross 

A new book by Dennis Ross sheds a great deal of insight–albeit a pessimistic view–on the future for Israel and Palestine:

Except it is to nothing that it will almost surely lead. That is because at the heart of the Palestinian Question is a conundrum no American administration has been willing or able to unravel. The Palestinians, seeing themselves as the aggrieved party, have never taken the initiative in offering up peace terms, and whatever the Israelis have offered has never been enough. For their part, and despite the lip service paid to their American allies, most Israelis see little to be gained and much to be risked in a peace agreement and are seemingly content with the status quo, a contentment increased by the concrete wall as high as 26 feet that now separates them from their Palestinian neighbors.

As for the Americans, the traditional overseers of this contest, their tepid response to the settlements issue adds constant fuel to Palestinian rage — and obstinacy — while their military support further enhances Israel’s sense of security, giving it even less motive to negotiate. As James Baker might say, “Have a nice life.”

Source: ‘Doomed to Succeed,’ by Dennis Ross – The New York Times

An Interview with Bill Gates on the Future of Energy – The Atlantic

Do high-stakes international negotiations work?

What does a very smart and committed person like Bill Gates think about them? In the upcoming Paris UN Climate Change Conference in December 2015  member states are expected to achieve consensus–even though major breakthroughs are not guaranteed–on a path forward to address this challenge facing the global commons.

Here is what Gates said an interview today in The Atlantic:

It’s good to have people making commitments. It’s really good. But if you really look at those commitments—which are not binding, but even if you say they will all be achieved—they fall dramatically short of the reductions required to reduce CO2 emissions enough to prevent a scenario where global temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius. I mean, these commitments won’t even be a third of what you need.And one of the interesting things about this problem is, if you have a country that says, “Okay, we’re going to get on a pathway for an 80 percent reduction in CO2 by 2050,” it might make a commitment that “Hey, by 2030, we’ll be at 30 percent reduction.” But that first 30 percent is dramatically, dramatically easier than getting to 80 percent. So everything that’s hard has been saved for post-2030—and even these 2030 commitments aren’t enough. And many of them won’t be achieved.

Source: An Interview with Bill Gates on the Future of Energy – The Atlantic

Tagged ,

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 515 other followers