Episode 05, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and YouTube

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Show notes:

“Certainty is in some ways, a protection of ignorance. Not a curiosity. The curious person knows what they know and knows there's so much more they don't know and wants to learn.”

Historian Jeremy Suri is the author ten books, ranging from contemporary politics to foreign policy. In this episode of Keep Talking, he speaks with Dan about his understanding of generational change, the role of technology and institutions in bringing people from different walks of life together, and ways to potentially break some of the cultural discord in America. Jeremy touches on the need to speak against divisiveness, while encouraging conversation without overriding people's points of view.

Jeremy also details writing articles on the relationship between protest movements and foreign policy, and he expands on topics like the role of generational change, communications, and nation-building. We learn about the historic importance of encouraging people to serve the public, desegregating places of learning, and building public places in order to draw people and communities together.

The relationship between societies and people of different cultures draws significance from our historical backgrounds. While history does not perfectly repeat itself, patterns do exist, and it is based on these patterns that we can model potential futures.

Let's all strive to nurture empathy - for that is what helps all of us both start respecting differences and create healthier spaces for human connection.

About Jeremy Suri:

Jeremi Suri is an American historian, and the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs, at University of Texas at Austin.

Time Stamps

[00:50] How Jeremy developed an interest in his current area of study and what he spends a lot of his time doing.
[04:46] Jeremy’s ideas on what happened in the Soviet Union that led to its collapse.
[12:29] The Chernobyl explosion of 1986.
[13:17] Jeremy shares what brought him to his current place in life and in academia.
[23:40] How can we help to break some of the unease happening around in the country?
[31:15] Why do we say that empathy is the most important characteristic that we all need to nurture in ourselves?
[36:34] What are some things people can do to stand as a bulwark against the tide of tribalism and bifurcation?


“Part of the genius of democracy is getting people with different views to work together while they keep their different views. This is what Madison means by pluralism. And we go through different phases. This is where I think history is important, where the technology and institutionalization of our world can either encourage or discourage people from different areas to come together.”

“They [the Soviet leaders] really believed that the world looked the way their propaganda said it did. This comes back to my point about ideas. They had been so inculcated with these ideas that they had forgotten that reality was different.”

“You put people together in a location where they're devoted to serving the public for a short period of time, and they learn a lot from one another. And again, that has to be done with intentionality. Because...birds of a feather flock together, people look for affinity groups, it's natural, and we're free: we should be able to do that. I want to be around people who have similar interests. But we also have to counteract that. And these kinds of programs have existed many times in our history. We could say the same thing about the Union Army.”

“The key point here, I think historically, is that it has to be an intention of government policy, not to detract from anyone's freedom, but to create encouraged incentives for individuals to interact with those who are different from themselves. If we don't do that, then the entropic elements, the centrifugal elements, take the lead.”

The historian says people develop comfort. Familiarity does breed comfort. Familiarity doesn't eliminate prejudice. You can interact with people and still be prejudiced.”

A capitalist liberal democratic society needs investment in the public, there's nothing undemocratic or uncapitalist about that. We need the public, we have underinvested in the public as an idea, and as a resource.”

“Certainty is in some ways, a protection of ignorance. Not a curiosity. The curious person knows what they know and knows there's so much more they don't know and wants to learn.”

“I think one has to be willing to do that; it never makes sense to offer categorical judgments that write people out. Because all you do then is create adversaries, you give them a reason not to like you. Now, all of that said, we still also have to face facts that exist.”

Relevant Links:

Movie mentioned

●   The Day After, about a nuclear attack on Lawrence, Kansas

Book mentioned

●  Bowling Alone, by Robert D. Putnam

People mentioned (quotes from Wikipedia)

Mikhail Gorbachev - "Russian and former Soviet politician, the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union, former General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1985-1991)."

●  Joseph Stalin - "Georgian revolutionary and political leader, served as both General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union."

●  Ronald Reagan - "American politician, and the 40th president of the United States (1981-1989)."

●  James Madison - "American statesman, diplomat, expansionist, philosopher, and Founding Father who served as the fourth president of the United States from 1809 to 1817."

●  Richard Hofstadter - "American historian and public intellectual of the mid-20th century."

●  Henry Kissinger - "American politician, diplomat, geopolitical consultant, and former United States Secretary of State and National Security Advisor under the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford."

●  Harry S. Truman - "The 33rd president of the United States (1945-1953)."

●  Stanley A. McChrystal - "Retired United States Army general."

●  Robert Gates - "American intelligence analyst, and the 22nd United States secretary of defense from 2006 to 2011."

●  Alexis de Tocqueville - "French aristocrat, diplomat, political scientist, political philosopher and historian."

●  Franklin D. Roosevelt - "American politician and the 32nd president of the United States (1933-1945)."

Connect with Jeremy:

Twitter | Website | Books