I publish WendellNotes for significant books I read to make their perspective available to friends and GIN subscribers who may not otherwise have time for them. Before I started writing WendellNotes in 2011, book notes were part of my Journal. [Brackets separate my comments from the author's.]
Flashpoints - Europe in Crisis
The nation became more than a language. It became a moral bond and a universal administrative system. The Europeans, with their empires, were now operating on a global scale in a world filled with other powers of vaster size and organization. The European Union intended to achieve what the Romans, Charlemagne, Napoleon, and Hitler had all failed to do: create a united Europe. The Maastricht Treaty bound together 6 countries—France, German, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Italy in a European Community (EC). After WWII Europe boiled down all its dreams to safety and wealth. For the most part, every language now had its own nation. Since 1945 Europeans have tried to achieve a collective amnesia, but memory is reemerging. You see this most clearly in the borderlands--the underlying problem of the EU. Families are each hardened by history and conflict, never forgetting, rarely forgiving. All post-Soviet post-Maastricht wars occurred here where Christianity and Islam mixed, the first harbingers of a resurrected issue—Islam within Europe. The Balkans are a fragmented region caught between 3 great powers: Turkey, Russia, and the Germanic countries. You can probe as deeply as you like for the reason behind the hatreds, but in the end, each loved his own and that is who he was. Events 500 years before are as if they had happened yesterday. Germany intends to have an economic policy without political and military consequences. Southern Europeans will resist the discipline, and they have the power of all debtors—default. Germany will eventually become a full-fledged power, first flexing its political muscles and in time its military ones as pressures develop. Whereas the peninsula has diversity that can’t be overcome, Russia has homogeneity that cannot be destroyed. The fundamental question of the relationship between Germany and Russia is a question that will define Europe as a whole. It is the relationship between the mainland and the peninsula. When Germany demanded austerity, it addressed its own needs and constraints, and alienated those who would bear the burden. The concept of nation is shared blood, language, or at least common birth. In Europe, where the stranger remains the stranger because of birth, friction is not the problem of the wealthier Europeans who can insulate themselves from the lower class. It is the problem of the lower middle class and the poor, who cannot ignore the foreigners’ presence. Muslims are sufficiently religious to put them at odds with the secularism of Europe. The maniacal efficiency of northern Europeans, the culture of work as life, is not compatible with those of their Arab neighbors across the Mediterranean, with whom they have fought and traded for millennia. Being rich and weak is a dangerous combination. Virtually any country that wishes to pose a military challenge can force the Europeans to try to buy their way out of the problem, ignore the problem in the hopes it goes away, or capitulate, but not to fight. The engine of conflict—a romantic nationalism that challenges the legitimacy of transferring authority to multinational institutions and resurrects old national conflicts—is stirring again.
You cannot change methods without changing the message—they’re inseparable. The media through which we acquire information are not neutral. The East and the West began thinking in ways that mirror their respective alphabets. The tools we use to think shape the way we think. Under the force of the printed word, the gospel message was efficiently compressed into a linear sequential formula. Protestant Christianity is a by-product of a single medium—the printed Bible. Without printing, no one could have challenged the authority of the pope. The technology of writing weakens and even destroys tribal bonds and profoundly amplifies the value of the individual. Written words stimulate and liberate the imagination, while images usually captivate it. Our political discourse is now based on intuition rather than reason. The shift from emphasizing our intellectual beliefs to the ethics of following is a direct consequence of the influence of images. America was born at the height of the print age. Power is derived from information control. This shift marks the first time in the history of the world that parents have limited access to the world of teens and children. Parents have reduced ability to provide oversight, boundaries, or direction to their kids. We move from understanding salvation as a light switch to seeing it as a gradual illuminating.
All of the high points of your life take place around other people. Doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we tested. Government policy should be measured not by increases in gross domestic product but by increases in global well-being. Depression is the costliest disease in the world. Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill were severe depressives. But both learned to function extremely well even when they were massively depressed. The failure of children to control their fast emotional and cognitive impulses is the seed crystal around which the cascade of school failure begins. Self-discipline outpredicts IQ for academic success by a factor of 2, and also solves one of the perennial riddles about the gap in school achievement between girls and boys. It is the queen of all virtues, the strength that enables the rest of the strengths. Left and right are the politics of means— empowering the state versus empowering the individual. Happiness turns out to be more contagious than depression.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it ensues as the unintended side-effect of our personal dedication to a course greater than ourself. The path to this elusive goal begins with controlling our consciousness. Flow is the state in which we are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. Those who master their consciousness live a happier life. Consciousness is intentionally ordered information. Its complexity increases as a result of flow experiences. Words enable abstract thinking and increase the mind’s capacity. The fact that the mind rules the body is the most fundamental fact about the process of life. Turn all of life into a unified flow experience. The meaning of life is meaning.]
Framers: Human Advantage in an Age of Technology & Turmoil
By explaining, we learn more and faster about the world than those who don’t bother. Only humans can imagine scenarios that never happened—the power of counterfactuals. With causation we get understanding, with counterfactuals we get agency, and with constraints our frames become actionable. [Apple U is the source of Apple’s continued success after Job’s death]. The only bad frame is one that denies other frames. Framers see the world not as it is, but as it can be. Agility of mind is the foundation of human framing.
Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life and understanding them, or finding them, is the key to solving just about any riddle. Unwantedness leads to high crime; abortion leads to less unwantedness, and therefore to less crime. In the KKK and life insurance, dissemination of information diluted power and profit, respectively. Most drug dealers have no choice but to live with their mother because they don’t make much money. Here are the factors that strongly correlate with test scores and those that do not: child has highly educated parents/child’s family is intact; low birthweight (negative)/attended Head Start; adopted (negative)/regularly spanked; IQs of biological parents/IQs of adoptive parents; many books in his home/frequently watches television; things that parents are/things that parents do. The back-white income gap is largely a product of a black-white education gap. It’s the imminent possibility of death that drives fear. The per-hour death rate of driving versus flying is about equal. Teachers, criminals, real-estate agents, obstetricians, athletes, politicians, and CIA analysts may lie. Numbers don’t.
Fully Grown: Why a Stagnant Economy is a Sign of Success
The most important explanation for the US growth slowdown in the 21st century is the decline in the growth rate of human capital per person, which is the result of a fall in birth rates. Rising living standards and women’s reproductive rights explain about 2/3 of the 1.25% point drop in the growth rate of GDP per capita from the 20th to the 21st century. Without R&D, there are no nonrival innovations or productivity growth. Slow growth, it turns out, is the optimal response to massive economic success.
Give and Take
The greatest untapped source of motivation is a sense of service to others. Giver burnout has less to do with the amount of giving than the amount of feedback about the impact of that giving. The perception of impact serves as a buffer against stress. Giving seems to make people richer. People who gave more, go on to earn more.
God at War
Only when we reject the warfare worldview in favor of one in which one sovereign will governs all are we saddled with an understanding of God and his relationship with the world in which evil becomes impenetrably mysterious. The Augustine perspective attributes pain and suffering to the mysterious “good” purposes of God. The reality of evil: No single theological problem has occupied more intellectual energy, time and ink than this one. This way of posing the problem seems to render it logically unsolvable. Since God has delegated power, it follows that omnipotence cannot be equated with meticulous omnicontrol. Evil is evil precisely because God hates it--even more than we do. Neither Jesus nor his disciples seemed to understand God’s absolute power as absolute control. The struggle of nations to dominate or resist Israel is a struggle of other gods with whom these nations are in league to resist Yahweh. The disciples’ questions, like the many assertions of Job’s friends, were based on the false assumption that God is behind everything. God used Satan’s evil to bring about his own demise.
Good Food Revolution
Nearly half of African Americans born in the year 2000 are expected to develop type II diabetes. Four of every 10 African Americans over the age of 20 have high blood pressure. Healthy foods that are not as energy dense can cost more than 10 times as much. Vegetable and fruits are rapidly becoming luxury goods. Fresh fruits and vegetable are rarely offered because they are highly perishable, require a large amount of refrigerator space, and sell poorly relative to processed food. Many also do not know how to prepare fresh food. A single worm bin could yield several thousand dollars in products before expenses. Our breakout sessions included beekeeping, community-project design, vermiculture, aquaculture, composting, marketing, animal health, youth leadership, and the essentials of gardening. All of the innovations at Growing Power came from relationships. Urban agriculture is not yet reliably profitable.
Good Jobs Strategy
Operational excellence [discipline] is the best and most sustainable way to provide superior returns to investors in the long term. Customer satisfaction and financial performance depend on managing operations and customer interactions. Most retailers view store labor as a cost-driver, not a profit-driver. Managers pay more attention to the costs of more labor than to the benefits. It is over-weighting the measurable and under-weighting what’s hard to measure. Involving employees in continuous improvement is in the DNA of operationally excellent companies.
GRACE, The Forbidden Gospel
Israel’s transgression was their persistent unbelief in the goodness of God. After Pentecost and the early church, then came religion with its rules, regulations and traditions and swept the earth for almost 1500 years of what we know as the Dark Ages. The reformation and the restoration of the knowledge of God’s goodness brought about the end of the Dark Ages. 1 John 1:9 was not intended for Christians! Whenever the Bible (after the cross) talks about a sinner, it speaks about a person that has not been born again. (John 3:9)
Gravitas: The Monastic Rhythms of Healthy Leadership
Spiritual authority is the grace to influence others in redemptive directions. Concentrated amounts of time in the presence of God change us. Jesus faced 3 temptations: to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful. Practices form a container to hold the day. No one gives that he does not have. Leadership is incarnational. We have succumbed to the original deception of Eden: that God isn’t being truly good. We are loved beyond all reason and understanding. We produce what we are becoming. Prioritize presence over productivity. The first casualty of multitasking is presence. Priority management, not time management is the right quandary to solve. Managing your organizational culture is your first and greatest priority as a leader. Sin was not original or the original position of humanity. Eden is what God is restoring. The most fundamental spiritual practice is paying attention. Soul space is the ability to look around and see what’s happening, to tune in to God’s agenda. Silent prayer is a form of hospitality as you “host” the Holy Spirit. Articulate your own spiritual rhythms. You will carve out a river bed for the “living water” to flow through your life
Before the worldwide pandemic faded in 1920 it killed more than any other outbreak of disease in human history—more than ¼ of Europe, an estimated 50-100m people. For most of 2500 years, the treatment of patients by physicians made little progress. Science is undemocratic--votes do not matter. In biology, nearly all activity depends upon form and physical structure—what is called “stereochemistry.” Public health experts monitor the antigen and each year adjust the flu vaccine to try to keep pace. The first casualty of war is truth. Society is ultimately, based on trust.] [I may never skip a flu shot again.]
Effort builds skill and makes it productive. You can grow your grit from the inside out. Passion for your work is a discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening. Routines are a godsend when it comes to doing something hard. Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. Wise parenting is both supportive and demanding; neglectful is neither; permissive is supportive but undemanding; authoritarian is demanding but unsupportive.