In response to a question based on an article he wrote – noting that nations are built on stories (as they are) – Yuval Noah Harari replies (in part):
As a historian I feel sometimes ashamed or responsible, I don’t know what, about what the knowledge of history is doing to people. …As a historian, I feel ashamed, that this is what my profession, in some way, is doing.
I think people should be liberated from the past…
In other words, we should forget about history. The full exchange begins here. This excerpt is from a discussion with Harari “hosted by TED global curator Bruno Giussani” on the topic of the war in Ukraine.
Now, what on earth am I doing, listening to this? Well, where can I better find the source of the manufactured reality that we are supposed to believe, the one which people are supposed to spout at cocktail parties – the type of parties to which none of us are invited (let’s call it “cock-‘splainin’”)? TED plus a speaker at the World Economic Forum. Tell me, does it get any better (worse) than this – to really understand what the wanna-be in-crowd is supposed to believe?
Harari has demonstrated this “we-should-forget-history” idea by example. In all of his cock-‘splainin’ about the war in Ukraine, he forget any history of NATO moving East, of NATO making the commitment of incorporating Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance, of Putin’s statement’s regarding this, of the western-fomented color-revolutions, of the cookie monsters visiting the mostly peaceful massacres, of Ukraine bombing its own citizens in the eastern part of the country, of the amassing of Ukrainian troops on the borders of the Donbas, of the president of Ukraine stating clearly he would develop nuclear weapons…oh, I could go on, but you get it.
Frankly, if a historian isn’t going to discuss history, why is he consulted as an expert?
Further, in his cock-‘splainin’, he spent not a word discussing any of the statements made by Putin or Lavrov. It was all Putin-is-a-madman kind of stuff. What is a historian who wants to forget history to do with his time? I know. How about becoming an armchair psychiatrist? He proceeds to explain that Putin is just…I don’t know, mad…crazy….
There was a lot of focus on Germany – Germany has to step up, lead Europe (now that Brexit and all that). Of course, the crux of the matter is Germany – everything necessary has been done and must be done to keep Germany and Russia as antagonists. To understand why, read Halford Mackinder – and keep in mind he gave this lecture in 1904, and, in my opinion, it explains every major war fought since that time. It isn’t about oil, it isn’t about Zionism, it isn’t about communism, it isn’t about fascism, it isn’t about spreading liberal democracy. Mackinder explains what it is.
And then, an amazing exchange. Was the war the result of a failure of diplomacy? Could a different approach have avoided the war? To the first part, the answer is yes – clearly war is a failure of diplomacy (which is correct in this case, and I think all cases).
To the second question Harari replies:
Is it a failure in the sense that a different diplomatic approach, some kind of other proposition would have stopped the war? I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like it.
This, of course, must be the answer if you just absolutely know that Putin is mad, crazy, insane. Keep in mind – this is what people believe, or what they are told they should believe. It is cock-‘splainin’.
Looking at events of the last few weeks [this video was published on March 2], it doesn’t seem that Putin was really interested in a diplomatic solution. It seems that he was really interested in the war.
Of course, since the historian tells us to forget history, we need not look back more than a few weeks. We need not consider the many proposals and statements made by Putin, Lavrov, and others (how about John Mearsheimer and Stephen Cohen, for example?). We need to forget the Minsk Agreements, to which Ukraine was a party.
Now, I don’t think Harari is an idiot. But he sure acts like those who attend the right cocktail parties are. In any case, since he has cancelled his entire profession, he returns to being an armchair psychiatrist:
Again, it goes back to this basic fantasy. That if he really was concerned about the security situation of Russia, then there was no need to immediately invade Ukraine, there was no immediate threat to Russia…
Of course, for Russians who remember history, there was also no immediate threat on 21 June, 1941 (the day before Barbarossa).
…there was no discussion of, right now, Ukraine joining NATO…
I guess that could be true, if by “right now” he means the exact moment when Russia first took an aggressive action. Sure, let’s give him that one – on Thursday morning, February 24, there was no discussion of Ukraine joining NATO at that exact moment.
However, and as we have come to learn and as Russia clearly knew all along, Ukraine was already in NATO without officially being in NATO.
…there was no invasion army assembling in the Baltic states or in Poland…
He forgets (or ignores) the 100,000 (or some such number) about to invade the two provinces in eastern Ukraine – two provinces that have been bombed by their own government for the last eight years, the two provinces that were the subject of the Minsk Agreements to which Ukraine was a party and yet has not met its obligations.
…there was nothing. Putin chose the moment to start this crisis.
Yes, if you ignore history, this is all true. And since the historian is ignoring history, we return to armchair psychiatry:
So, this is why it doesn’t seem that it’s really about security concerns; it seems more about this very deep fantasy of re-establishing the Russian Empire…
Look, I don’t know if Putin holds to this notion. But why not at least start with what he has said?
…and of denying the very existence of the Ukrainian nation.
WAIT A MINUTE!!!!!!
First, let me clarify terms: a nation is a group of people who share a common cultural tradition, a founding story, values and beliefs held in common. Nations have existed since, well, whenever you want to say humans became human.
A country is made up of generally recognized political lines on a map. It need not correspond with a nation. Countries are more modern inventions, as the earliest examples were nothing more than a recognition of the already-existing nation, and the latest examples came to be, in Europe at least, toward the end of the nineteenth century with the formation of Germany and Italy.
A state has the sole legal right to initiate violence, to pass (so-called) laws, and to adjudicate disputes. In Europe at least, the Westphalia Treaties might be the most significant event in the creation of the state.
We were told, right at the top, that nations had to forget their stories – and without stories there is no nation. So, if this is one of Putin’s objectives, what’s the problem with “denying the very existence of the Ukrainian nation”? (Demonstrating that liars don’t have to keep track of their lies as long as all the cocktail-party attendees understand that cock-‘splainin’ is all that matters.)
Then, after noting that Harari lives in the Middle East (Israel, if this needs to be pointed out), he is asked: what makes the war in Ukraine so unique (“aside from the nuclear threat from Russia,” but he doesn’t say why the threat only comes from Russia) than any of the wars in the Middle East?
First, something we haven’t seen since 1945: a dominant power trying to obliterate from the map an independent country.
Well, first of all, it is never a “country” that is obliterated, it is the people who are living there. And we have seen countless examples of this since 1945. But, OK. If he wants to play the “lines on a map” game, what about Yugoslavia? What about (dare I say it) Palestine?
When the US invaded Afghanistan or Iraq, there was no question of the US annexing these countries.
I guess it depends on how you define “annexing.” I guess the United States hasn’t annexed Europe, Japan, Australia, South Korea…you get the idea.
And it also ignores that the carnage isn’t the changing lines on the map. It is easy to make a new map. The carnage is what is done to the people. Frankly, allowing for peacefully changing lines on the map would greatly reduce war, not increase it. But we know how the cock-‘splainers feel about “the people.”
Anyway, the armchair psychiatrist is certain that the real aim is to annex Ukraine. Well, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Maybe how about dealing with what Putin actually said instead of what you believe is going on inside his head?
No matter the objections to the borders you have inherited, keep the borders.
Because the borders are more important than the people (even though allowing borders to be freely and peacefully changed would greatly reduce war, not increase it).
But wait. What of Yugoslavia since 1945? What of (dare I say it) Palestine? Who, precisely, “changed” those borders?
The other thing that is different: we are talking about superpowers. This is not a war between Israel and Hezbollah.
Do I really have to comment on this?
Then I return to the topic of the budgets.
As he noted earlier, he repeats: now that everyone is doubling or tripling their defense budgets, how will we fight climate change or global health? Actually, now that I think about it, perhaps having every country triple their defense budgets might be the safest (least unsafe?) option for the rest of us.
Harari comments on “the people around Putin.” Even they don’t want this war, he says. They like their good life, with homes in London, chateaus in Paris, their yachts, etc.
In other words, they aren’t tied down to…anything. Which comes back to the overall theme – the picture bigger than this war: forget your history, forget your culture and tradition, forget your nation.
Within twenty years at most, [Winston] reflected, the huge and simple question ‘Was life better before the Revolution than it is now?’ would have ceased once and for all to be answerable.
Of course, without history, people will be lost – totally dependent on their “betters,” the ones offering the cock-‘splainin’. I think we are already there, with at least two generations of purposely-made-ignorant college graduates.
Harari notes the importance of borders, but clearly states that these should not be tied to “nations.” It’s easy – no history, no nation. In other words, these are merely convenient administrative tools for the time being, useful until even more centralized control mechanisms are developed.
We need to stop the war (but just this war, not any others started by the West or that one country in the Middle East) so we can focus on climate change and health care. This way, wealthy people are free to live globally without regard to the rest of humanity. This is the message.
And what has grown abundantly clear: to men such as this, they will either get what they want or see the world destroyed. Their actions make this clear. Covid (whatever it is) could have been handled like a flu; all that was necessary to ascertain the certainty of the 2020 election was a transparent audit; all Trudeau had to do was wait another week and covid would have been forgotten (as if he didn’t know this); all that was necessary to avoid this war was to listen to Russia’s concerns.
But none of this happened. Again, we are supposed to forget history.
John 8: 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Ephesians 6: 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
We know that, ultimately, they will fail. But they will ensure that they make life a hell for us in the meantime.
Harari noted that even his own country, Israel, should forget it’s past. Like many of the lies we are offered, it makes for a good talking point at cocktail parties, I suppose.