092: Forever War, Forever Peace

092: Forever War, Forever Peace


🤔 How are you feeling? 🧠 Waging Forever Peace 🖼 A Vietnam Execution 👉 Gibbons (game)

Cultivating Resilience is a newsletter that helps innovators navigate change and bring new product and ideas into world. It's published by Jason Shen, a resilience coach, product manager, 1st gen immigrant, ex-gymnast, and 3x startup founder.

🤔 How are you feeling?

War, even at a distance, can inspire a wide berth of emotions. How is the current conflict affecting you?

Reply back to this email with your response and I'll send you mine!

🧠 Learning how to wage a Forever Peace

In Edition 058, I wrote about a novel called The Peacemaker’s Code written by an Harvard professor who teaches history, strategy, and negotiation classes.

058: Sometimes You Gotta Punch Back
This is the 58th edition of Cultivating Resilience, a weekly newsletter how we build, adapt, and lead in times of change—brought to you by Jason Shen, retired gymnast, and 3x startup founder turned Facebook PM. This week I’d like to welcome all the new folks who joined us

The Peacemakers Code is like Arrival - with an expert being called in to communicate with extraterrestrial beings—except the main character is a historian instead of a linguist. The historian, Professor Kilner, is tasked with preventing an all-out war with a far more powerful opponent—not just a truce, but a lasting peace.

Given the current military attacks by Russia against Ukraine, I felt it was worth bringing up this book again. (Mild spoilers ahead):

The alien force that lands on Earth is considering destroying all of humanity because we have been rapidly accelerating our technological ability and seem unable to check our penchant for war.

The inhabitants of Citadel vowed never to forget the Five Lessons of the Forever War.
Lesson 1. You can abolish war, but you will never end it.
Lesson 2. There will always be someone stronger than you.
Lesson 3. Wars are not won by the most powerful; they are won by the most persistent.
Lesson 4. You cannot choose your enemy, but you can choose the battlefield.
Lesson 5. The stronger you are, the easier it is to live in peace.

These aliens have been decimated by war-like species before and have a doctrine of proactively eliminating or intervening against those who seem likely to be a threat in the future. Human beings fit the bill. As Kilner says to the President:

“Whether they were initially motivated by a desire to explore, or trade, or educate, or proselytize, or loot, or civilize, or conquer—human encounters eventually led to war. Not all wars led to the annihilation of one side. Not all of them stretched across decades or centuries. But it’s hard to find examples of distinct races or cultures or empires encountering one another and avoiding war altogether, for the entirety of their relationship.”

War is horrible. Yet conflict between people and groups of people is common and sometimes those conflicts become violent. And when powerful enough entities come into conflict and there is no way to resolve these issues, war breaks out.

 Laws cannot end war because wars exist in Hobbesian environments—political contexts in which, by definition, there is no higher authority that has the power to enforce laws.

We haven't seen this kind of military operation in some time, and it's shocking to watch the events unfold through social media posts and videos. After living in an era of relatively global peace (the 20 year "war on terror' aside), we may believe that all-out war is not possible. But we have seen long periods of peace ended in bloodshed: for instance the one hundred years between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I.

Ninety years into that period, many were convinced that major wars were obsolete. War was passé—a curious habit of earlier generations, when people were not as sophisticated, rational, or enlightened as we.
When this belief was proven tragically wrong, it was at the hands of a conflict so ruthless, it looked as though the devil himself had sent War back with a mandate to make up for lost time. In just four years, WWI killed 20 million people—four times the number who had died during all twelve years of the Napoleonic Wars a century earlier. Then, less than thirty years later, WWII killed 80 million, making it the deadliest war in history. War had not disappeared—it had merely bided its time. It had evolved. It had come back stronger.

I don't mean to be frightening, just facing the facts.

Human thus far has been able to turn war into peace (usually only after sustained violence) but have not found any effective ways of maintaining that global peace indefinitely. We are far closer to Forever War than we are to Forever Peace.

In the book, Professor Kilner realizes that in order to find peace with these aliens, he needs to understand their motives and in particular their fears. That makes sense. But the fact that he is able to convince every major world leader to follow a coordinated strategy based on this understanding makes the book as fantastical as Harry Potter or Game of Thrones.

Organizing diverse groups of people to solve shared problems without engendering too much conflict is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Every conflict like this is a chance for us to learn how to do it better. Ultimately we need to do more than address the immediate geopolitical crisis we face, but see if we can move closer to a world where armed conflict is inconceivable.

Here's to hoping our leaders can learn from the lessons of history, but also invent new possibilities. We know how to create a Forever War. But can we create a Forever Peace?

🖼 A Vietnam Execution

In this photo, the national police chief of South Vietnam shoots a bullet into the head of a Vietcong prisoner. The NYTimes called it "a photograph that changed the course of the Vietnam war"

As many news sources have pointed out, this will be the first war with social media. Already hundreds if not thousands of posts and videos are appearing on various social networks, documenting the attacks and the struggle to survive.

We have never had this level of visibility into a war before. But visuals are complicated despite being incredibly moving because they lack context. The above photo meant different things to the US as it did to the South Vietnamese and understanding the executioner's story changes might shape what it means to us today.

👉 Gibbons: Beyond the Trees (game)

For a bit of a palate cleanser, consider checking out the game Gibbons: Beyond the Trees. It's a beautiful and thoughtful game that tries to accurately depict the experience of swinging through trees as a gibbon monkey. I appreciate that it's not only fun but grapples with issues of deforestation, poaching, and climate change within the game.

Available on Steam or iOS (Apple Arcade)

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Recent Editions


091: Mindful Metaphors
🤔 The right number of fans🧠 Mindful Metaphors🖼 Competition (S&B #040)👉 “And When You Survive This”
090: Perfectly Designed Systems
🤔 What’s your chronotype?🧠 On Human and Tech Systems🖼 An (Updated) Resilience Framework👉 Humanities (illustrations)
089: More Meaning, Not Less Work
🤔 Avoidant Feelings?🧠 More Meaning, Not Less Work🖼 Self-Sufficient (S&B 039)👉 Raising $100k to fighting anti-Asian hate

More Resources and Fun Stuff

  • Book Notes: Summaries / quotes from great books I've read
  • Scotch & Bean: a webcomic about work, friendship, and wellness
  • Birthday Lessons: Ideas, questions, and principles I've picked up over the years
  • Career Spotlight: A deep dive into my journey as an athlete, PM, founder, and creator.