History binge

History may not repeat but it does rhyme.

The fascist philosopher behind Vladimir Putin’s Russia

Some ideas lie dormant for decades, and such is the case with Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin, whose anti-communist stance got him—along with about 160 other intellectuals—expelled from Soviet Russia in 1922 aboard the 'philosopher's ship'. So who was Ilyin, and why has Russia's President Vladimir Putin breathed new life into his writings more than 60 years after Ilyin's death? Yale University's Professor Timothy Snyder gives a crash course in three pillars of Ilyin's philosophy of fascism and explains why this worldview is so appealing to Putin: it defines freedom as knowing your set place in society, asserts that democracy is a ritual and not a reality, and maintains that there are no facts in the world—Russian nationalism is the only truth. Perhaps the most fascinating part of this is how new technology—like Facebook—is turning old fascism into political warfare. "The fundamental way that Russia works in American politics is by transmitting the idea that's nothing is real... What the fascist ideas do with the new technology is they drive [Americans] into a situation where we think the real stakes of politics are all emotional and all about enemies—usually enemies at home," says Snyder. Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election in such a way that Americans couldn't see where the trouble was coming from. "A lot of us are still having a lot of trouble seeing what was happening," he says. Snyder's most recent book is The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America.

Pablo Escobar’s hippos: Why drug lords shouldn’t play God

Lucy Cooke—an acclaimed zoologist, author, and TV presenter—talks to us about Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar's animal menagerie, which included four hippos illegally stolen from Africa. Four became eight, and eight became sixteen, and so on, and since these hippos have no other hippo competition there's a strong potential that you may have a brand new species of hippo, which Cooke refers to as "Hippopotamus Escobarus." Her latest book is The Truth About Animals: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos, and Other Tales from the Wild Side of Wildlife.

How Ernest Shackleton survived a doomed Antarctic expedition

Great leaders are few and far between but Nancy Koehn, a historian of business at Harvard Business School, has put together a compendium of anecdotes from five great leaders throughout history. It reads like a whos-who of humanitarianism, with true stories of grit and determination from the likes of explorer Ernest Shackleton, American president Abraham Lincoln, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the Nazi-resisting Lutheran minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the environmental activist Rachel Carson. Here, Nancy Koehn talks to us about how Ernest Shackleton overcame some incredible odds to hold his team together on a doomed Antarctic expedition, and how we can learn from his stories. Nancy's great new book is Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times.

The chronology of crazy in the USA

Since a boat of religious fanatics with buckles on their hats hit the shores near Plymouth Rock and claimed that this was their utopia, America has always been a little bit crazy. It's this kind of wide-eyed "anything can happen if you believe" mentality that, at its best, can produce incredible art. But at its worst, it can be cruel and conspiratorial. We live in a country where people refuse to believe vaccination can help you and where a White House is spinning "alternative — but Kurt Andersen is here to say that this is nothing now. At the time of the Civil War, society had become split by two sides that refused to listen to each other. Back then, the political and social divide is stoked by a hyperbolic partisan media where anyone could publish whatever they wanted in a pamphlet without fact-checking. Sound familiar? It definitely should. Kurt's latest book is appropriately titled Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire.

The feats and failures of hierarchical power: Stalin, Xi Jinping, Macbeth

If you want to understand what a truly hierarchical political system looks like, just look at Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union, says historian Niall Ferguson. Stalin wanted to be all-powerful and omnipresent; he tapped phones, policed relationships and spied on everything—he was totally paranoid, says Ferguson, and for good reason. Social networks are lethal to top-down hierarchies and dictatorships, which is what makes this model of governance so unsustainable. But there is an exception that has stunned observers, Niall Ferguson included: China. Under leader Xi Jinping, China's economy has soared over the last 30 years, but it is now vexed with the largest middle class in history. Can this system endure through the 21st century? That's a huge question for China's leaders, and for the world. Niall Ferguson is the author of The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook.

"Never Again?" How fascism hijacks democracies over and over

Rob Riemen — founder and president of the Nexus Institute — posits that the type and level of toxicity in today's political climate is a breeding ground for fascism. He argues that most people in fully democratic Germany in the early 1930s didn't think that by decade's end they'd be a fully fascist country, and goes further to say that perhaps history will look back on the 2016 American election in the same way. Is he correct? You be the judge. Rob Riemen's latest book is To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism.

How social networks shaped 500 years of revolutionary progress

Facebook might be the biggest social network but it's far from the first, despite what those in Silicon Valley will have you believe. Stanford University fellow and Oxford University historian Niall Ferguson argues that social networks have been around for centuries and the most prominent of which — the Freemasons — could very well be responsible for democracy as we know it. Started in the 1700s in England and carried over to what would later become America, it was a place where class and social strata didn't count and people could exchange ideas freely... and its members included none other than George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Niall's latest book is the tantalizing The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook.

A lesson in power and influence from Abraham Lincoln

Class and race: Driving American politics since revolutionary times

More playlists
  • "What I'm interested in is deep, systematic change. What I understand now is that real change doesn't happen until change on the inside begins to happen."
  • "Masculinity is not inherently toxic. Patriarchy is toxic. We have to let that energy go so we can stop forcing other people to do emotional labor for us."


Like Mick Jagger, the Indian prince we know as The Buddha taught that we can't get no satisfaction from this world, though we try and we try, and we try, and we try.

Buddha means "awakened one". Awake to the fact that the world is impermanent and we suffer and cause suffering to one another because of that. "Woke" is a newer word for something similar. Waking up to pervasive social injustice. To racism, economic disparity, homophobia, and other forces that poison and destroy people's lives and relationships. In other words, suffering people cause by clinging onto impermanent things—in this case, power. The intersection of these two kinds of awakening is at the heart of the work of my guest today, Lama Rod Owens. An ordained Lama in a Tibetan Buddhist lineage and the coauthor of RADICAL DHARMA, he grew up a queer, black male within the black Christian church in the American south. Navigating all of these intersecting, evolving identities has led him to a life's work based on compassion for self and others, and on trying to help people wake up in all senses of the word.

Surprise conversation starters in this episode:

Michael Shermer on why we die

Pete Holmes on the power of words

  • Since the explosion of the knowledge economy in the 1990s, generalist inventors have been making larger and more important contributions than specialists.
  • One theory is that the rise of rapid communication technologies allowed the information created by specialists to be rapidly disseminated, meaning generalists can combine information across disciplines to invent something new.
  • Here, David Epstein explains how Nintendo's Game Boy was a case of "lateral thinking with withered technology." He also relays the findings of a fascinating study that found the common factor of success among comic book authors.
  • The paper was published by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.
  • It shows how states with gun licensing laws have relatively lower gun violence than states with lax gun laws.
  • Most Americans said they'd support stricter background checks for prospective gun buyers, with about 75 percent saying they'd also support gun licensing laws.

Gun violence is lower in U.S. states where people must get a license before buying a gun, according to a new paper from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

Before buying a gun, states require residents to pass a federally mandated background check (if purchasing from a licensed dealer) and, depending on the state, obtain a permit or license. To obtain a gun license, states typically require people to submit fingerprints, apply for a permit, and, in some cases, complete a firearms safety course.

"Licensing differs from a standard background check in important ways," Cassandra Crifasi, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and study lead author, said in a news release. "Comprehensive background checks are a necessary component of any system designed to keep guns from prohibited persons, but they are insufficient to reduce firearm-related deaths without a complementary system of purchaser licensing."

In addition to strengthening the screening process, licensing laws could also help to reduce gun homicides and suicides by preventing impulse purchases. After all, obtaining a license typically takes several days, while prospective gun buyers in states like Missouri can obtain a firearm in minutes, assuming they pass the federally mandated background check.

Crifasi et al.

The researchers cited Connecticut as an example of a state with long-held licensing laws. In 1995, the state passed a law requiring prospective gun buyers to "submit an application to local law enforcement, including fingerprints, and complete at least 8 hours of approved handgun safety training," and also increased accountability for gun sellers. Since then, gun homicides have dropped by 40 percent and gun suicides fell by 15 percent, the researchers wrote.

Most Americans seem to support licensing laws: About 75% of adults support laws that require prospective buyers to get a license from law enforcement, with about 60 percent of gun owners supporting such laws, according to a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

"Given the body of evidence on the effectiveness of licensing laws and the increasing levels of support among the population, including gun owners, policy makers should consider handgun purchaser licensing as a complement to [comprehensive background check] laws," the researchers of the new study concluded.

  • Elon Musk said at a shareholder meeting that Tesla has designed a car that drives under water.
  • The design was inspired by a James Bond movie.
  • There are no immediate plans for the car's production.

You knew that sooner or later, Elon Musk, the closest person we have to a James Bond villain or Tony Stark, would attempt to build some new, next-level gadgetry straight from the movies. Not one to disappoint when it comes to making outlandish ideas become reality, Musk revealed that Tesla Motors has designs for a submarine car.

Yes, this car will be able to drive on roads, but also on and under the water. At least that's what Tesla CEO Musk said at an annual shareholders meeting in California. When asked by a shareholder whether Tesla thought about building a submarine car, Musk answered in the affirmative. Not only that, his company actually has designs for just such a vehicle (electric, of course).

Musk was inspired by the 1977 James Bond film "The Spy Who Love Me," saying that he thought the car in that movie (inspired by Lotus Esprit) "was like the coolest thing." In fact, he loved it so much that he bought it for £616,000 (close to $800K).

When can you get such a fantastic vehicle? Not so fast, said Musk. He thinks it's technically feasible but the market for such a car isn't quite robust enough yet.

"I think the market for this would be small—small, but enthusiastic," Musk explained.

Who knows maybe the expression of our collective enthusiasm upon reading such articles will make this car a reality.

Check out the submarine car sequence from the “Spy Who Loved Me” here:

Dancing is a human universal, but why?


It is present in human cultures old and new; central to those with the longest continuous histories; evident in the earliest visual art on rock walls from France to South Africa to the Americas, and enfolded in the DNA of every infant who invents movements in joyful response to rhythm and song, long before she can walk, talk or think of herself as an 'I'. Dancing remains a vital, generative practice around the globe into the present in urban neighbourhoods, on concert stages, as part of healing rituals and in political revolutions. Despite efforts waged by Christian European and American colonists across six continents over 500 years to eradicate indigenous dance traditions and to marginalise dancing within their own societies, dancing continues wherever humans reside. Any answer to the question of why humans dance must explain its ubiquity and tenacity. In so doing, any answer will challenge Western notions of human being that privilege mind over body as the seat of agency and identity.

Current explanations for why humans dance tend to follow one of two approaches. The first, seen in psychological and some philosophical circles, begins with a human as an individual person who chooses to dance (or not) for entertainment, exercise, artistic expression or some other personal reason. Such approaches assume that dance is one activity among others offering benefits to an individual that may be desirable, but not necessary, for human well being. Alternatively, a raft of sociological and anthropological explanations focus on community, asserting that dancing is one of the first means by which the earliest humans solidified strong social bonds irrespective of blood lines. In these accounts, dancing is eventually replaced by more rational and effective means of social bonding that the dancing itself makes possible, such as language, morality and religion. While the first type of reasoning struggles to explain why so many humans choose to dance, the second struggles to explain why humans continue to dance. What is missing from these accounts?

What if humans are the primates whose capacity to dance (shared by some birds and mammals) was the signature strategy enabling the evolution of a distinctively large and interconnected brain, empathic heart and ecological adaptability? And what if dancing plays this role for humans not just in prehistoric times, but continuing into the present? What if humans are creatures who evolved to dance as the enabling condition of their own bodily becoming?

Recent evidence for such a thesis is gathering across scientific and scholarly disciplines. Time and again, researchers are discovering the vital role played by bodily movement not only in the evolution of the human species, but in the present-day social and psychological development of healthy individuals. Moreover, it is not just bodily movement itself that registers as vital in these cases, but a threefold capacity: to notice and recreate movement patterns; to remember and share movement patterns; and to mobilise these movement patterns as a means for sensing and responding to whatever appears. This threefold capacity is what every dance technique or tradition exercises and educates.

According to the New York University neuroscientist Rodolfo Llinás, writing in the book I of the Vortex (2001), bodily movement builds brains. A brain takes shape as it records patterns of neuromuscular coordination, and then remembers the outcomes in terms of pain or pleasure, emotional tags that help it assess whether to mobilise that movement again, and if so, how.

In so far as bodily movements build the brain, every movement a human makes matters. Each repetition of a movement deepens and strengthens the pattern of mind-body coordination that making that movement requires; and the repetition also defines avenues along which future attention and energy flow. Every movement made and remembered shapes how an organism grows – what it senses and how it responds. From this perspective, every aspect of a human bodily self – from chromosomal couplet to sense organ to limb shape – is a capacity for moving that develops through a process of its own movement making. An arm, for example, develops into an arm by virtue of the movements it makes, beginning in utero. These movements pull its bones and muscles into shape, as contracting cells build the physiological forms needed to meet the movements' demands.

In this sense, a human being is what I call a rhythm of bodily becoming. A human is always creating patterns of bodily movement, where every new movement unfolds along an open-ended trajectory made possible by movements already made. Dancing can be seen as a means of participating in this rhythm of bodily becoming.

Further support for this thesis comes from anthropologists and developmental psychologists who have documented the importance of bodily movement to infant survival. As the American anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy affirms in her book Mothers and Others (2009), human infants are born premature, relative to their primate cousins: a human foetus intent on emerging from the womb with the neuromuscular maturity of an infant chimpanzee would need to stay there for 21 months. Instead, hopelessly dependent human infants must have a capacity to secure the loyalty of caregivers at a time when their sole means for doing so is by noticing, recreating and remembering those patterns of movement that succeed in connecting them to sources of nurture. In a view shared by Hrdy and others, this capacity for the responsive recreation of bodily movement forms the roots of human intersubjectivity. In other words, infants build their brains outside the womb in relation to mobile others by exercising a capacity to dance.

Recent research on mirror neurons further supports the idea that humans have a unique capacity to notice, recreate and remember patterns of movement. More abundant in the human brain than any other mammalian brain, mirror neurons fire when a person notices a movement, recreating the pattern of neuromuscular coordination needed to make that movement. In this way, humans can learn to recreate the movement of others – not only other humans, but also trees and giraffes, predators and prey, fire, rivers and the Sun. As the neuroscientist V S Ramachandran writes in his book The Tell-Tale Brain (2011), mirror neurons 'appear to be the evolutionary key to our attainment of full-fledged culture' by allowing humans 'to adopt each other's point of view and empathise with one another'.

Nevertheless, the term 'mirror' is misleading; it hides the agency of bodily movement. A brain does not provide a passive reflection. As eyes register movement, what a person sees is informed by the sensory awareness that his previous movements have helped him develop. He responds along the trajectories of attention that these previous movements have created. From this perspective, dance is a human capacity, not just one possible activity among others. It is a capacity that must be exercised for a person to build a brain and body capable of creating relationships with the sources of sustenance available in a given cultural or environmental context. To dance is human.

In this light, every dance technique or tradition appears as a stream of knowledge – an ever-evolving collection of movement patterns discovered and remembered for how well they hone the human capacity for movement-making. Most of all, dancing provides humans with the opportunity to learn how their movements matter. They can become aware of how the movements they make are training them – or not – to cultivate the sensory awareness required to empathise across species and with the Earth itself. In this regard, dance remains a vital art. From the perspective of bodily becoming, humans cannot not dance.

Kimerer LaMothe

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.