E18. Story Meets History And... Six-Pack Abs?? with Antenor Savoldi
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Francisco Mahfuz 0:00
Hi everyone, Francisco here. Just before we get started, I wanted to share something I'm really excited about. I recently launched the story powers bootcamp, a course that teaches you everything you need to know about how to find craft and tell stories that work. But it's not just an online course, because you get personalised feedback from me for all the practical activities in three hours of life coaching to work through any challenges, or focus on specific projects. So it's like if you bought a cookbook, but the chef came along with it. So go to story powers.com and click on Course, all the information you need will be there. So please check it out. And if you love the show, and would like to support us, you can go to buy me a coffee.com forward slash story powers. I drink about five coffees a day, so any support would be much appreciated. All right on with the show.
Welcome to the story powers podcast, a show about the power of stories, the people who tell them and why you should be doing it too. I'm your host, Francisco mahfuz. My guest today is my good friend and a nurse of Aldi and Nora is a journalist historian in semi professional contrarian. He was also founder of one of the first online collectives of bloggers, writers and storytellers in Brazil, back in the days when we thought the internet would actually change the world for the better. Finally, and XR has the dubious distinction of having no me as a teenager, the fact we're still friends is a credit to his character. If you liked the show, please try conquering the mystery of leaving an iTunes review. You helped me also learning something new. So everyone's a women, ladies and gentlemen, and Thanos Avadi. And then, welcome to the show, or should I give this episode some respectability, and call your doctors of all the Thank you,
Antenor Savoldi 1:57
Francisco for having me here. I'm not a doctor yet. But I'm a master. I think that's that's even better.
Francisco Mahfuz 2:05
It's a topsy turvy world where Dr. is above master, not our way, not the way things are meant to be I don't
Antenor Savoldi 2:12
think, yeah. Academics, who gets them? Well,
Francisco Mahfuz 2:16
not not all their academics clearly. So the reason I wanted to have you on the show, no, as the as I say, right at the introduction, this is a show about stories. But your thing is not stories, your thing is history, at least that's the thing you're becoming a doctor of. So just at the start, let's just try and clarify this. How does a historian understand the term history?
Antenor Savoldi 2:43
You got that right? Because especially because since I, I am a journalist, by my first my first graduation was in journalism, I got this idea that I'm interested in the facts and telling people stories in a way that's most interesting for them. And for me, later on, I, I felt like well, this isn't enough, especially because I want to make sense of a bigger picture. And that's that's kind of the difference between the his stories and history. Actually, from from an academic point of view, this German philosopher called cause Alec he was set he created the idea Historie is actually a collective sing of singers. So a lot, all these stories together form history itself, at least this this idea of history that we today as as a society, we, we feel that we are here, already have that understood from from the start, the idea that history with a cutaway age is one thing and the stories are kind of below that, since since I I kind of made this transition from journalist to history. You can you can see the importancy of these little stories based on the big picture. Of course, fiction is one thing. Fiction is actually history that might have happened. But history is a narrative or a fiction that didn't that did happen. And it's not my phrase it's from from French historian called under Aggie, for example. We here in Brazil, and it's similar to the English language we have istoria in Estonia, but in German the The these are not even from the same radical, the words are completely different. It's basic tip and, or something like that historian. So stories are one thing. And history is another thing. That's why this guy calls I called it collective singulars.
Francisco Mahfuz 5:20
Let me try and not clarify, but but just pick up something you said. So you said that fiction is is a history that might have happened. And history is a fiction that did happen, which is pretty cool line, by the way. And when I heard that I remembered being in school, and you would have had the same some of the same textbooks that I had. And I was remembering specifically the discovery, or what was called the discovery of Brazil, when I went through school, that we get taught in history class that Brazil was discovered by accident, you know, they they made the wrong turn, or whatever it was, I can't remember exactly the specifics. And then later that turned out that that wasn't the case at all, that you know, that was either a mistake or a lie, or whatever you want to call it. So So the question I wanted to ask you was, this idea that a story is, is fictitious, or at least as an embellishment of the truth? Is one thing in history as truth as another? I mean, that's how still I think most laypeople see the difference. But is that how historians see the difference? Do they make that very clear distinction between this is truth? And this is not?
Antenor Savoldi 6:36
Then that's actually a very difficult question. Because the truth is, historians, the more they know, the more they feel that history keeps changing over time. And it's difficult to to draw the line between all it's understandable that history might change over time, because we have more information, we have more research. And the idea that well, if history changes over time, we may say things that actually we have no proof of. So that's that's kind of a challenge, in that gives room to a lot of false claims, and a lot of misunderstanding, even militias are not so well intended narratives. If my say, what we learned in school, actually, it's kind of we have this idea that history comes in, in in big chunks of periods, periods of time. And that actually, we might say, it makes easier for us as kids as kids to understand, and makes it easier for the teachers to teach. For example, while here is ancient history, Roman and Greek Middle Ages, modern age, French Revolution contemporary, and now someone say we've reached another period of history, maybe. But that may feel not so interesting, this dependence on chronology are in these lysing things up. But that's that's actually a big debate in inside the academy in the history. Since what other ways might we teach kids or even study history ourselves? Your question was, was about,
Francisco Mahfuz 8:43
you know, so my question was, lay people tend to think of story as mostly fiction, or at least an embellishment of the truth or something that doesn't have the same weight of truth. You know, I'm telling a story, you know, and that story is, no one is going to take that to be the literal truth of what happened. Whereas history, at least, historically has been presented to us, as this is the truth. This is what happened. And this is now what you're going to learn because it's it those are the events as they as they took place. So my question is, when you are inside the academy, is it do people tend to see truth as significantly more malleable? And yeah, this is just our understanding, and one interpretation of what we know what we believe happened, but you know, that this whole idea of the historical truth being true is more for public consumption than inside the academy
Antenor Savoldi 9:41
and say that inside the academy, people are very aware that history and interpretations might change, but to a certain degree, you can say that, for example, as as I was trying to explain earlier, this margins of interpretation are within the truth, the truth, you can't deny that Holocaust have happened, you can deny that the arrival of the Europeans in America killed millions of native people. These kinds of things sometimes are disputed in in a malicious way. But for sure, in Academy, people try to make an effort to to unify a narrative so that to be easier for the people outside Academy, to to understand, or at least make these margins not that wide that people feel free to believing lies.
Francisco Mahfuz 10:48
What I was thinking of is books, like, for example, guns, germs and steel. Right. And I think I'm not sure if there's that book or something else by Jared Diamond, who is a fairly popular writer of Monaco. He's not a historian. I know he's a scientist, but he writes popular science books. And he's not disputing almost any of the major facts. But for example, he has famously said that agriculture was humanity's biggest mistake. So he's not denying in any way, shape, or form that he happened. And it happened, as we understand it happened. But he's essentially twisting completely the meaning of what happened to say, Well, hold on. This is the life we had no, it was great by those standards. And now this is way worse. So we have to look at everything that came after, in that way. And I just recently read a book that I enjoyed very much called civilised to death. And the the author Christopher Ryan, he calls he refers to something as the NPP. So the narrative of perpetual progress, that we've been sold the narrative of perpetual progress since the beginning, and he considers it to be a lie. He says, this is a very bad story we believe in. And I just find fascinating how, again, no one is disputing the major facts, but by interpreting the different way, arguably, you'd have to rewrite all of the history books, because the the take your giving on the facts, has now changed their meaning completely.
Antenor Savoldi 12:23
So yeah, there is a lot of room for interpretation. And as you study as you get into theory of history, which is my thing, let's say, you, you get that, for example, these these alter, you just said, kind of concludes that we might took a wrong turn in that because maybe we have this idea of progress as a built in characteristics of our father, at least in modern day society. So in theory, we go there to understand what is this idea of progress? Where did it come from, for example, it's it's moral as common sense already in in academics that this idea of progress comes from the turning point of it would be the French Revolution, are not saying, oh, today they took but still and now we think about progress. But because prior to that, history was seen as a collection of lessons, history was seen as lessons from the past, which is summarised by a Latin phrase from Caesar, which is, study of my history Vici history as the master of life. So we all this thing happen, all the things that happen, happen to teach us. So history is like this library that explains what happened, we may use it to do good things or avoid bad things. Since the French Revolution, more or less again, all the philosophers and theorists friends may may excuse me if I oversimplify, but that's actually the idea. We think of history as a path to the future. So that's the whole idea behind the revolution since the french french revolution, we think, Oh, we should we shall get rid of these these tyrants and power to the people and let's, let's look forward, let's make history. That's the idea. And that's where this idea of progress comes from. It's not like we as human beings I always thought in those terms, that's, that's the interest. The interesting part you may have the facts is they may not be disputed. But when some author sheds the light of his opinion, and makes actually a good book, a good story to read. Over time, you may notice, well, this guy makes a really good point. But he's trapped in this notion of progress. That actually is the result of a series of a series of conditions and aspects that brought us here,
Francisco Mahfuz 15:44
I find it difficult to get away from the fact that very few people think that the time they're living in is worse than the time that came before. I mean, every single person as they get older, thinks that the time that they're living in is worse than the one they lived in 30 years before, but that's just because, you know, we remember our youth as the best part of our lives. But as a society, we always think we are more advanced than whatever came before, 50 years earlier. 100. So I can understand why when our brain is so wired for stories, it makes sense to feel the stories progressing towards a good place. And then when you analyse facts, you're going to analyse them with that optic. But what I also find very puzzling, the more I the more I get into both stories and history is looking back and looking back at our time learning these things, or is my time because you're still learning it. Why did it have to be so boring? You know, it wasn't, I don't think anyone's favourite subject in school, in average. But if you think about it, and I'm sure you do, he has everything, you know, has violence, he has, you know, drugs, he has sacks it has, it has plots, church betray yo action, it has every possible thing you could need to get teenagers excited about. But it was always, I think, delivered in such a dry way. And, and now that I you know, as I tried to break apart the components of a story, you tend to find how being more specific, increases the appeal of the story. And I just, I just had this thought while we were talking, imagine if they used maybe TV shows like this in Rome, you know, pilots of the visual Rome to teach what Rome was like, or even if they just told the story of one Legionnaire in so you could understand what their life was like. I mean, I as a 14 year old, I would have loved that. You know what you could spend that days just picking a part of the story and what bits are super interesting. I mean, is Does anyone teach history like that? Is that ever the approach of let's go, let's go super granular, to give up to give a real taste of what it was in, then try to go okay, fine, you understand what the day to day was? Like? Let's see what 100 years looks like. Or have I just revolutionised history,
Antenor Savoldi 18:11
though, actually, you'd fit right in, in the idea that the this idea that we have about history as a thing to be taught, comes with the building of the idea of nations. because prior to that, history was maybe was, I think, to be talked about lessons to be learned, like I said before, in history was exactly the the idea that history is the tales of great man. His history is the the the era, like acts of Alexander the Great of Sparta because of that was actually history during a really long time, this idea that we should be more systematic or even more boring, as you said, because, in fact that makes it less appealing comes from from the notion that we should teach citizens from this news from these new nations. What is the history of their nation, so they could be part of something larger few part of the nation that, of course, caused a lot of trouble as you know, so it is more appealing. And now, we may feel that, oh, we should. We shouldn't be teaching things the way we are doing. But actually, this was a big revolution. For example, this idea of teaching The history of the great names the great kingdoms made all the poor people disappear from history that made the important social changes disappear from history history books during a long time. So this idea of history from above, the accounting achievements of kings, are these great man was actually brought down, sings these guys, these French guys, Mark block loosing Faber they are kind of the big names from the call the analysis, the analysis call from the mark Bach actually was killed by the Nazis. But he was maybe the greatest historian from the 20th century, he had this idea that history is the science of men in time in history should be made from below, not from above. So we hear we could understand. And and that makes a big difference. Understand, for example, the importance of the daily life of a village compared to that of the same village 100 years after, we can learn a lot from that. And that actually is not necessarily more appealing or more interesting. But maybe it's even more important,
Francisco Mahfuz 21:37
what you're saying makes complete sense. And it's exactly what anyone that teaches storytelling or public speaking, we would advise people on, you know, one of my big things as a public speaker is, is trying to be very vulnerable. And talking about the things talking about my failings, which is makes it easier to write because there's no shortage of material. And one of the things I always tell people when I'm when I'm trying to coach them is you have to talk about, you have to talk about your, your weaknesses, you have to talk about your struggles, because no one really wants to hear your great achievements. I mean, that's not what resonates with people, you know, and again, you know, maybe there are some people in the audience that say, Oh, yes, you are a great winner, I know exactly how you feel, you know, but that guy is a knob, no one wants to have a beer with him. What normally people resonate with is, you know, the underdog is the struggle. And it would make complete sense that when you if you teach history, particularly to kids, if you teach history to kids in you're focusing on the big man with literally the big man, because there are no women in the story. Even the big the story of the big man and the big nations and all of this, this, you know, 50,000 foot view of, of what's going on, no one connects with that. Whereas if actually you focused on, on, you know, the little people or the peasants or whatever we want to think of them as, then then people connect with that they'll see some of the struggles as their own. And again, no wonder that, that people didn't love the subject in school. But I must admit that when we finished school when we went to, to the, you know, pre University qualifying courses, which is a very strange thing to say in English, for those of you who are listening, who have no idea what I'm talking about, in Brazil, you have to take a big test before going to university. So you have typically the bass teachers get paid a lot more than regular teachers to teach in this courses in this people are performers. And I had, I had a history teacher that he would say to students had a big beard, and he would say to students, and no say imagine I'm middle Europe, and my face is Greece. And then down here you have Persia, and then he would drag his hands from his face down and say, or from his crotch up and say, Persia is invading Greece. It's curving up now. It's not pretty. I never you try to remember who evaded who you go. Oh, yeah, let's just a crotch again. poesia fine. I got it. So, sorry, I'm talking about things that have to make history better, make history more more popular. And again, I'm not saying these are the greatest historians of our time, but they will surely some of the most popular and there's obviously you've all know Harare and someone else that I'm not actually sure if you know, we've never talked about that. Dan Carlin.
Antenor Savoldi 24:40
Okay, so now yeah, I just I just knew Harare. Okay, so
Francisco Mahfuz 24:45
then Carling is is not actually a historian he loves saying that which just makes the stuff better. But then Carling has one of the most awarded podcasts of all time. It's called Hardcore History. And every show is something like Four or five hours long, and he will do five, episode six episode sections on one thing, you know, for example, one that I really liked was called the blueprint for Armageddon, which was about World War One. And again, you know, each of them is five or six hours long, and it's painstakingly researched. And it's talking about the lives both both the big picture and the small picture. And this is super popular. It's millions of downloads of every episode. So I think my question was this, is there any view of the, from the Academy about these guys who are super popular doing history in a way that is not normally associated with, with with history? Is there a view is they just consider them to be outliers, which is envy them, they're making the big bucks.
Antenor Savoldi 25:47
I would say there is definitely some some, maybe rivalry. But probably because at least I'm saying from the point of view here, Brazil, but I'd say that that is the same elsewhere, these guys that becomes that become best sellers, the thing that makes them best sellers, I guess is not the history part, historic part, at least is the way they are so good at telling a story. This, this style, this preference, the these the even the culture they live in, for example, a guy who might know exactly what is to become a best seller in United States. So there is this kind of historic bestsellers that will only work in us. The same for France, the same for Brazil, they shape the outcome of these historic books. That's because in Academy there are rules, in a lot of peer reviewing, it explains why a book eventually is is commercially successful and but despised by academics. Because there are some liberties that academic stories cannot take, for example, Harada is is a very good writer. And I think he is he's responsible historian, he, he connects the dots, because actually history is a big, a big void of information with some little dots of facts that we are honestly sure about.
Francisco Mahfuz 27:37
You've just described every political speech ever given a big void of information with seven dots, we can connect.
Antenor Savoldi 27:46
Yeah, and in connecting these dots is is what history is all about. And connect with some some degree of precision, some degree of science, some degree and a lot of responsibility. So Harare, I think he's a good writer, he connects these dots. He is a talented speculator of the future. And by the way future is it's a funny thing, people tend to ask historians about the future. Since we we more or less agreed that the thing historians know about is the past that comes from that idea that the lessons from the past may may guide our future. And currently, for example, for example, the first episode is comparing Hitler to Alexander degrade. And that's that something very difficult to be accepted among serious academics. academic historians, of course, it's appealing for the for the public, they are both of course, big storico characters, but it's difficult to to make sense of it because if there was, it's impossible to compare them actually. Because Alexandre is from Macedonia during the the the Atlantic Hellenistic period. Hitler is this crazy guy, I don't even like to just say his name, but we have to eventually. And this comparation is is is another example of the Godwin's Law. Oh, everything is comparable to Nazis and Hitler. And if you do it too, you should be responsible.
Francisco Mahfuz 29:36
I'm not sure I've listened to the one particular episode that you're describing. And I don't even know if this idea I have comes from Carling because I've heard I've definitely heard someone talk about how history tends to be I'm gonna say kind but kinder to the Conquerors of the past. In comparison with the you No lunatics, or you know, the power mad dictators of the recent past. So this idea that someone who, you know, like Caesar, or Alexander, who have clearly been responsible for, you know, the murder of millions and millions of people in pursuit of their expansions and military expansions. But that's not usually there's not almost never the angle, I think that history takes when describing them, it talks about their successes. It's not, there's not a massive amount of focus in how they kept slaves or any of that, I mean, it's discussed, but it's not the focus of it. Whereas with, with Hitler, obviously, the focus is on all the atrocities and I'm not, by any means suggesting that that shouldn't be the case. But, you know, as as when you studied the history of Brazil, or the United States, any serious study of those histories, we have to take into account, all that happened to the Native Americans or the Brazilian Indians, as we call them. And perhaps what he was trying to do there, or at least someone that I've heard has made, the comparison is that if you're going to judge it on, on body count, then you'll struggle to not find that Alexander or Ganga scan, or Caesar or any of these great conquerors of the past, wouldn't be all the way up there. With with we know the monsters of the recent, recent past,
Antenor Savoldi 31:23
well, there are there are several ways to look at these these questions. And of course, that that is one of the ways but we have what we call, for example, called the history and Marm art history, which are things closer to us. And some theorists say that it's better for us to wait to get away from the past. So the past is is far away from us, we can look at it less passionately about it. But there is another aspect of it is like is long duration and short term. For example, what Alexander who, of course, in his campaigns killed a lot of people, what are the results of his life, to history. And those are huge. Those are huge. For example, I would say, Oh, he was a dictator, we can say that, because that's a concept that doesn't does not apply. And then then it starts to get into into really dangerous ground here because we start making operations for example, Hitler, we may say that his idea was a racial genocide. Alexander actually tried to make sculptures. He is He extended his domain from Europe, to the borders of modern day, India. And he actually married these these daughter of a king in the Middle East. I'm not I'm not. I'm not that great in ancient history.
Francisco Mahfuz 33:13
But But what you are saying is that you would wear a shirt that said Alexander greater than Hitler.
Antenor Savoldi 33:20
I would never wear a shirt like that.
Francisco Mahfuz 33:24
And listen, I am mindful of of both of our times, and I am concerned that we are we are too close to you telling me that what happened in the movie 300 isn't accepted by historians as the absolute literal truth. And the Persian king wasn't a you know, eight foot tall Titan with the voice of a Brazilian heartthrob.
Antenor Savoldi 33:51
I'd say it's acceptable because it's clear that's more a comic adaptation then enter a narrative with historic interest. It's a great movie.
Francisco Mahfuz 34:05
There's nothing comic about six packs, man. There's nothing comic about that. A generation a generation of gyms have gotten money they never would have gotten without that movie that movie did for men. What popular advertising has been doing had been doing for women for about 50 years, which is make them feel bad about their bodies. So that is that move is very important in the way our world has turned out in the last 20 years.
Antenor Savoldi 34:36
Oh, history works in mysterious ways.
Francisco Mahfuz 34:40
So does Zack Snyder. Alright, so before we go completely off off track. I just wanted you to quickly tell me how much Francis Fukuyama was. End of History argument is now a laughingstock among his Taureans cuz he has to be ever perfect. Can you just remind people what that argument was? And then you know what the hell people think about it now?
Antenor Savoldi 35:07
Well, it has a lot to do with what we were talking about earlier, this idea of progress. Since you we, as a society, have this idea that history moves forward, then we might think that there isn't an end point to it. So and that's the idea of handle history is not actually a creation by Fukuyama, the idea that history is universal things is a comes from current from the enlightenment. He had this idea that mankind would eventually achieving achieve an endpoint, where humans would see themselves as a part of a single universal community later, Hegel which is really the the altar of of the this concept of the end of history. He saw that he thought that the end of history was actually the victory of the facts. Historic, historical fact that marked the end of history would be the victory of Napoleon over the King of Prussia, which is now he is Germany, because that would represent the victory of the French Revolution, over the the idea of the God given rights to kings to rule over their people. From that point on, what happened was the idea of rationalisation of authority, the that no longer gods or a king would rule over people. Of course, there will be a lot of trouble still, but the power would be derived from rationalisation. So Fukuyama has fought about the end of history, when the Soviet stick communism collapsed. So his idea was that well, we had to in our larger scale, we had two models of society, battling using Earth as a battlefield. So if one collapsed, the other one, which you which would be the liberal democracy, is the end point of history. So all the societies more or less would agree that a liberal society a democratic one, would be the best way to live to work, the problems of a civilization in a rational manner. He didn't actually said that. The problems would be over that there wouldn't be dictatorships that there wouldn't be some points where communism would still be the, the option, he actually said that everybody would, more or less agree that well, the best way is this way liberal democracy. But how can we get there? How can we improve from that? So to be fair, I think most people who criticise them, and actually my my dissertation is on this idea of end of history and these these critics to Fukuyama they actually they miss read some of the things he said, Actually, since that he kind of changed his his mind, not in a way that liberal democracy would be the, the best way the, the like, and horizon to to serve as a reference for society. But he changing the the idea that actually we haven't reached the end of history, because we haven't reached the end of technology. And ever since that is the end of history is more than 30 years of monetary years old, the use of technology basically change how societies work. And that we feel that we feel that in this, of course, this pandemic may have a huge part on it. So his his idea at that time, actually you he was he was working for the US Department. He was an employee of the government. So we might read that oh, he's just saying we want us haha, but later he is his work actually evolved. to a more critical thinking that is worth reading. Definitely.
Francisco Mahfuz 40:05
I would definitely read a historical treatise called, we win, you lose. Hahaha. Our evey might not have lasted as long as the end of history as a meme, but it will definitely make for. For more for for more eyebrows raised on the series talking about
Antenor Savoldi 40:27
about working on that that. I will write that you may write the preference.
Francisco Mahfuz 40:34
Yes, I would love to write the preface and I'll try to sneak 300 ABS is that breakfast all right, my friend. Thank you very much for your time today. Best of luck in becoming a boring doctor in the in the near future. Stay safe over there, Brazil.
Antenor Savoldi 40:55
Thank you. Thanks for having me here. I love her show. Sia.
Francisco Mahfuz 41:00
Alright everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Take care of yourselves and until next time