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Margaret Atwood on National Myths and the Roots of Totalitarianism

Margaret Atwood all the time brushes apart recommendations that her dystopian novels are prescient. However lately, it has grow to be tough to see them as something however that.

She appeared because the visitor on Friday’s episode of “The Ezra Klein Present,” a New York Instances Opinion podcast.

I encourage you to hearken to the energetic, and infrequently humorous, dialog between Ms. Atwood and Ezra. However to present you a style of it, listed here are some excerpts, together with her ideas concerning the current blockades that paralyzed Ottawa for weeks and shut down border crossings elsewhere.

[Listen: Margaret Atwood on Stories, Deception and the Bible]

On the variations between the tales People inform about america and those Canadians inform about Canada:

These tales are in flux, as you most likely have observed. There was once a form of shared mythology in america, and Canadians used to lament that they didn’t have such a factor. And it will, actually, be fairly tough to have a completely shared mythology in Canada as a result of it was already made up of some numerous teams of individuals. However People had a form of unifying story and unifying ceremonies that concerned numerous marching round on the 4th of July.

The French even have been fairly conflicted about their tales, however they managed to make it stick for some time. So was Bastille Day good or dangerous? I believe they’re nonetheless considering it’s good. However there was numerous adjustment earlier than that turned the accepted story.

So as to maintain any kind of nation state collectively, there needs to be a narrative that most people agree on. And each every so often, these tales disintegrate. And in the event that they’re not changed with one other one, fragmentation is the end result. So one of many issues that tales do is they provide members of a gaggle a form of unifying, imaginary factor that they will consider in. Once I say imaginary, I’m not saying it’s essentially false. I’m saying it’s the factor of the creativeness.

On how the 2 nations’ tales have advanced:

What you’re seeing now’s a wrestling match for what’s the actual America, what’s the genuine America. And also you see individuals wrapping themselves within the flag each methods and saying that they’re the true America.

And also you simply noticed that in Canada. So these individuals on the blockades, wrapping themselves within the Canadian flag, had been standing up for the true Canada. Fairly fuzzy about what that’s, however that’s what they had been doing. And their position mannequin was what had been occurring within the States, the place we’re overthrowing the federal government within the title of the true America.

On her time in Berlin through the Eighties:

We had experiences of three Iron Curtain nations on the time, they usually had been considerably completely different. The East Germans, I believe, had been sewed up the tightest of anyone. And we now know from the Stasi recordsdata that, certainly, there have been numerous informants, and other people had been fairly cautious about what they’d say.

In Czechoslovakia, we might discuss to individuals however solely in open areas. So that you couldn’t have a frank dialog in a constructing or a automotive as a result of individuals simply assumed it was bugged.

In Poland, it was already fairly broad open in 1984.

I believe a number of the stuff that’s been occurring not too long ago is that the individuals doing these stuff are too younger to recollect any of that. They don’t know what an actual totalitarianism is like. And so they’re not listening to the sorts of steps that result in it, the way you get certainly one of these items going, the way you get buy-in, what kind of propaganda is more likely to be put on the market.

And also you by no means start by saying: “I’m going to be a tyrannous dictator, and I’m going to break your life.” You don’t begin out that method. You begin out by saying: “I’m going to make issues so a lot better.”

On the origins of “The Handmaid’s Story”:

I began writing it then in reply to the query: If America had been to have a totalitarian authorities, what form wouldn’t it be? And beneath what flag, because it had been, wouldn’t it fly? And my reply to that was return to the founders, particularly the seventeenth century Puritan theocrats who by no means went away.

If you happen to join it with the faith, then it turns into heresy to oppose it. It turns into a really highly effective device. You’re not simply in opposition to some prime minister or different. You’re in opposition to God.

On why individuals can embrace authoritarianism:

There’s one thing that we all the time miss of those sorts of conversations, which is: It’s enjoyable. It’s enjoyable to sit down on the guillotine and watch these individuals that you simply resent getting their heads chopped off. There have been wild avenue dances.

So it’s a avenue get together, ultimately, banding along with like-minded individuals and feeling you’ve completed one thing, particularly if individuals inform you that this factor that you simply’re doing is principally good. It’s very potent. And if it weren’t enjoyable on some stage, individuals wouldn’t do it. Isn’t {that a} horrible factor: to say that it’s enjoyable?


  • I closed out winter (effectively a minimum of official winter) with a take a look at Ottawa’s present mania for leisure skating by way of the woods. Aaron Vincent Elkaim captured the motion with distinctive pictures.

  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau entered an settlement with Jagmeet Singh of the New Democrats that can, except it falls aside, enable the Liberals to control with out the potential of an election till 2025.

  • Cade Metz, my colleague who covers synthetic intelligence and different rising applied sciences, got here to Toronto to look at the newest increase in tech corporations transferring to town or increasing operations there. His discovering: “It’s house to extra tech employees than Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington, D.C., trailing solely New York and Silicon Valley.”

  • In a serious shift for Canada’s auto business, Stellantis, the maker of Chryslers and Jeeps, has joined with LG of South Korea to construct a $4.1 billion battery plant in Windsor, Ontario. The manufacturing unit will create about 2,500 jobs.

  • Already a group on the rise, the Toronto Blue Jays have added Matt Chapman to create what James Wagner, my colleague on the Sports activities desk, says could also be “one of the best infield in baseball.”

  • A Dutch writer has mentioned that it’s eradicating the best-selling ebook, “The Betrayal of Anne Frank,” by Rosemary Sullivan, a Canadian creator, from shops. A report by historians discovered that the ebook’s declare of getting recognized the informant who alerted the Nazi police to the Frank household’s hiding place was based mostly on “defective assumptions” and “careless use of sources.”


A local of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Instances for the previous 16 years. Comply with him on Twitter at @ianrausten.


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