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Recommendation: Two Conversations

The Ezra Klein Show: Timothy Snyder on Ukraine

Good on history and the context for what’s going on in Ukraine.

Great on language and the messy reality of national identity and building a nation, with building being the operative word:

EZRA KLEIN: So we’ve talked a bit then about Germany’s story of Ukraine during World War II. We’ve talked a fair amount here about the Soviet Union and then later Putin’s stories of Ukraine. What is Ukraine’s history of Ukraine? What is the national identity there that is cohering, being drawn on by Zelensky? How do they tell it?

TIM SNYDER: Well, I think one of the interesting things about Ukraine is that they’re not going for that kind of story, or at least most of them aren’t most of the time, which I find very encouraging. Because if, you know, what we have in the world is just a kind of duel of homogenizing stories, then that’s very boring for one thing. But it’s also incredibly conflictual. Whereas what the Ukrainians are doing, interestingly, is that they’re dealing with the post-imperial the post-Soviet situation in a kind of ramshackle, not particularly clearly articulated way.

What do I mean by that? I mean that there are a lot of folks, you know, some of them are Ukrainians in Canada or North America, who want Ukraine to be all about the Ukrainian language. And they want to make their own argument about how it’s not the Russians who come from, you know, Kyiv 1,000 years ago. It’s not them, it’s us.

And if I have to referee, is it the Russians or the Ukrainians, then it’s the Ukrainians. But it’s not really anybody, right? It was 1,000 years ago. And a lot of things supervened. And there was a lot of human agency involved.

But what the Ukrainians… I mean, it’s not that I don’t want to talk about Ukrainian history. It’s my subject. I love it. I’m teaching two classes on it next fall. I’ve written six books about it. But what I want to say is that what’s interesting about the Ukrainians is that they seem to be moving more towards the argument that the nation is not about a clear story of the past. It’s more about action directed towards the future.

And I say this because both in the case of the Russian invasion in 2014 and in this much more stressful period now, when I talk to Ukrainians anyway, I don’t find them talking much about the Second World War, about ancient hatreds with Russia, or about some long narrative which has to be clear in some way. I find them more focused on what they’re doing.

You know, if there’s an encouraging remarkable thing about the Ukrainian reaction to this war, it’s not just the soldiers are fighting. Although that’s amazing enough when you consider what it would be like to be invaded by the Russian Federation. It’s that everybody seems to be doing something. The journalists are working.

The civil society organizations are active. The rich people are sharing their stuff. I don’t want to idealize it. But the general picture is of people who are engaged. And that is what a nation is, or at least that’s one version of what a nation is, right?

Like a French historian said that a nation is a daily plebiscite. It’s not about having the past all in order. It’s not about having all of your blue books on a shelf, all of your red books on a different shelf. It’s about what you do every day, you know, as a collectivity which exists, as a collectivity because it’s directed towards some kind of a future. So I’m happy to talk about how the Ukrainians see their history.

But I think this business about being a civic nation and having a nation which is based upon asserting its own existence day to day is the real contrast with Russia, or at least not Russia, but the real contrast with Putin and his narrative and his myth.

Ezra Klein interviews Timothy Snyder on The Ezra Klein Show

The Long Now: Neal Stephenson on Years Without Summer (Climate Change and Termination Shock)

Conclusion: Geo-Engineering is relatively safe and will be necessary so that we can solve the carbon dioxide problem.

At the same time up (around 536 AD) in Scandiavia a culture was dying out. This was a precursor culture to what we later called the Vikings. Historians have debated why this culture waned and disappeared and there were probably a number of reasons, but it couldn’t have helped that in a part of the world that was already famous for cold weather and marginal agriculture they got hit with a series of incredibly cold winters.

No direct accounts survive but the Nordic cultures that arose afterwards may have preserved some cultural memory of the event in their stories. For them the end of the world would come not in fire, but in ice: a terrible winter called the Fimbulwinter, or the mighty winter.

Here’s a pasage from the Edda:

First of all that a winter will come called Fimbulwinter,
Then snow will drift from all directions,
There will then be great frosts and keen winds.
The Sun will do no good.
There will be three of these winters together and no summer between.

Seminar at The Long Now Foundation – Neal Stephenson: Termination Shock


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