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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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EPISODE # 199

David Potter — Disruption: Why Things Change

Disruption: Why Things Change (book cover)

How do things change? The question is critical to the historical study of any era but it is also a profoundly important issue today as western democracies find the fundamental tenets of their implicit social contract facing extreme challenges from forces espousing ideas that once flourished only on the outskirts of society. Not all radical groups are the same, and all the groups that the book explores take advantage of challenges that have already shaken the social order. They take advantage of mistakes that have challenged belief in the competence of existing institutions to be effective. It is the particular combination of an alternative ideological system and a period of community distress that are necessary conditions for radical changes in direction. As Disruption demonstrates, not all radical change follows paths that its original proponents might have predicted.

David Potter is Francis W. Kelsey Collegiate Professor of Greek and Roman History and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. His previous books include The Origin of Empire: Rome from the Republic to Hadrian, Constantine the Emperor, The Victor’s Crown: A History of Ancient Sport from Homer to Byzantium, and Theodora: Actress, Empress, Saint.

Shermer and Potter discuss:

  • Why “disruption” instead of “revolution”?
  • good vs. bad disruptions,
  • Are there consistent conditions that give rise to disruptions and are we in one now?
  • Is democracy in trouble?
  • the rise of populism and authoritarianism,
  • Trump, Brexit, Iran, N. Korea, Alternative für Deutschland, Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party;
  • #BLM, #metoo, antiracism, reparations;
  • digital economy as a disruptive agent;
  • Was 9/11 a moment of disruption?
  • January 6, 2021 as a moment of disruption,
  • historical “covering laws” and what we can learn from the past,
  • where ideas about disruptive change happen and who makes them happen,
  • why the mainstream becomes conservative and how conservatives become mainstream,
  • how ideologies that develop in opposition or reaction to mainstream/conservative are employed to effect profound changes in political structures,
  • Are there “stages” to history? Cycles? Repeating trends?
  • the American Revolution vs. the French Revolution,
  • the rise of Christianity, the rise of Islam, Protestant reformations, the rise and fall of Bolshevism and Nazism,
  • WWI and the end of empire,
  • WWII and the end of tyranny,
  • The Cold War, proxy wars, and containment, and
  • the future of nation-states and nationalism.

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