Viva Europa!

Viva Europa!

Last weekend I attended the fourth of Julian Doogan’s “Living Myths” lectures in which he focused on the theme of “The Goddess and the Bull” throughout history.

Doogan suggested that the persistence of these interacting images of the female goddess and the male “Bull” throughout human civilisation were as much a reflection of the increasing complexity of human societal organisation as they are an expression of the tension between the female and male sides of the human spirit.  He also suggested that as human living states moved from small bands of hunter-gatherers to our now “ant-like” swarms of large cities and multi-storey buildings, the issue of control is becoming more and more important.  Early humans learned to control the life cycle of plants and animals, and now we strive towards being able to control life (through IVF, cloning and bio-technology) and even eventually the aging process and death itself.

One striking image for me was that of Europa and the Minotaur which echo in much of the art around the early twentieth century as it responds to the madness of potential Armageddon, Fascism, Nazism, and Communism.  This was indeed a time  where reason fled in the face of irrationality, and what emerged in the post-war period was the ultimate expression of “Europa” in the form of the European Union.

In his book “Why Europe will run the Twenty First Century” Mark Leonard suggests that it will be networks and communities of countries and nations that will lead the way in coping with the increasing complexity of the modern world.  He believes that whilst Europe might look fragile there is a robust model where the central core draws others to it and quietly builds a solid base from which to both export its culture but also to deal with the inter-cultural complexities and tensions that result from numerous tribes all sharing the same land mass.  In fact, Leonard suggests that the very nature of European bureaucracy is deliberately designed to slow down the decision making process and enable a more sane and considered approach to policy and decision making.

As Europe goes through its current economic and political machinations of change it is useful to reflect on how to create the systems and processes which enable a heterogeneous and diverse group of people to live together peacefully, express themselves as individuals and yet band together for the common good when required.

One thing that struck me was that as we enter the digital age this is manifesting within our social media environments, and is something that will be worth watching as we gradually learn to live both virtually and physically together.  We now live in as crowded a virtual space as the physical space, and our continual and ubiquitous connections on a global scale mean that we are “always on”.  Thus the importance of understanding each other, and of potentially learning from each other is probably more explicit and transparent than it has ever been.

In his classic book on aging called “Aging Well” social researcher George Valiant states that:

“Without the young there would be no progress; without the old there would be no culture.”

There is much to learn from each age and stage, just as there is much to learn from each culture and creed.

Valiant proposes six stages of human development, modified from those of earlier observers including Jung, Erikson and others.

These are:

1.     Identity – a sense of one’s own self, a sense that one’s values, politics, passions are one’s own and not someone else’s

2.     Intimacy – the task of living with another person in an interdependent, reciprocal, committed and contented fashion for a decade or more

3.     Career consolidation – expanding one’s personal identity to assume a social identity within the world of work

4.     Generativity – a clear capacity to unselfishly guide the next generation

5.     Keeper of the Meaning – conservation and preservation of the collective products of mankind rather than on just the development of its children

6.     Integrity – the acceptance of one’s one and only life cycle as something that had to be and that, by necessity, permitted of no substitutions.

Each of these stages plays out as we mature and each is now being influenced by the digital social systems within which most of us (within the Western world particularly) now operate.  As the complexity arises so does the need for tolerance, and the getting of wisdom.

“Wisdom as the tolerance of ambiguity and paradox”.  (George Valiant)

In her TEDxWomen talk in December 2011 the Director of the Stanford Centre on Longevity, Laura Carstensen, commented that older people

  • take less notice of trivial matters
  • are more appreciative of the little things in life
  • are more open to reconciliation
  • invest in the more emotional parts of life and
  • believe that life gets better as they go on.

They are, however, less tolerant of injustice, and far more liable to speak their minds, particularly when they have a channel or opportunity to do so.

In essence Carstensen suggested that as societies become more top heavy with older people there is the opportunity for them to become more tolerant.  In fact,

“we could have better societies than we have ever known, get the old folks to save us all!”

This is as much about inclusivity as it is about aging.  It is about embracing the diversity within both ourselves and our communities combined with the means at our disposal to both express opinions, share debate and work towards collaborative solutions.

It is as much about embracing the feminine aspects of all men and women (whilst recognising the tension) as it is about celebrating life at every age and stage.

As we begin to understand digital sociology we need to draw on and recall these ancient myths and memes which persist throughout history, and heed the teachings of our forefathers and foremothers within are buried deep within our psyche.

It is a very exciting time to be alive.