Ladies and Gentleman,
Matthew Taylor mentioned earlier tonight a fascinating paradox:
“The UK’s leading opinion pollster has summed this up neatly; ‘what the British people want is simple’ he says ‘they want Scandinavian welfare on American tax rates’. Tax and spend is not the only example. Polls in the UK also show people want power devolved but are also indignant when service standards differ from place to place, that we accuse the state of interfering too much in our lives but the moment anything goes wrong our first inclination is to demand the government does something about it. We condemn politicians for failing to address the long term yet demand that they meet our demands in the short term.” -> On this paradox I would like to elaborate a bit
In our world, we no longer are citizen to just one or two social spheres. There are many. From the dawn of humanity until 30 years ago a social sphere was defined by proximity. Now, due or thanks to transportation and digital communication, we are free to connect to anyone, anywhere at any time. New social spheres are arising every day.
But it’s not just strange, exotic connections. New possibilities reconnect us to our long lost neighbours as well.
On the one hand we have the world opening up to us thanks to new possibilities. On the other it’s closing down on us.
Exhausting resources force us to rethink free market and possession, and Migration forces us to re-establish the meaning of equality. Multiple crises call for a way out.
Now here we are. Our old paradigm is collapsing around us, but the Phoenix might by already rising from the ashes. Mind you ladies and gentlemen. We are not talking about a broken down car here, or even a badly run economical system. This is something we haven’t witnessed for over 300 years.
We need more than a mechanic, or a mechanical approach to even think of fixing this. Ladies and gentlemen, we are here tonight to discuss how we should perceive this world. We are here to reinvent meaning.
Where is this new meaning to be found?
If we want to go look for the way we should reinterpret the founding values of enlightenment, we should not have an intellectual discussion. We should just have a look at the real world and see how people are reorganising their reality because of dissatisfaction, common interest, opportunity and pure chance. This is where new meaning can be found, not under a Magnetic resonance imaging or MRi scan.
I remember something a talented friend of mine during a class once said. An awkward goblin like looking fellow student of ours tried to explain the significance of the similarity between us. How we were all on a molecular scale more or less identical, and that in itself should be more than enough prove that we should have more love for one and other. My companion replied to the goblin: you can measure anything you like my friend, but it will never convince me into wanting to join the sack with you.
What I am trying to say is that scientifically knowing how the universe works, how our brain works, does not imply that we can use that to change our perspective. Knowing something is something totally different than being able to change it. We are not mechanical causal beings. We are interchanging organic creatures of habit. And our habits form our culture, with all our rules, ideals and perceptions.
Some people argue that what a word means is the same as the collective synaptic charges that it triggers in ones head. And they even say that because we can now read and measure that bunch of electrical charges that we understand them better. But do we?
I don’t think so because we can measure activity in the brain we are able to understand the brain better, at all. We were and are pretty good at that by experience. For me, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, doesn’t turn into something else because we call it a chemical unbalance. The person itself will be behaving just as strange. And if you argue, we are able to medicate ADHD, we can make a person better, because of our ability to detect it. I would say that better only means better in a world in which we have defined average and normal as good, and different as bad. 90% of our philosophers, artists, politicians, the people who have given colour to our history, would have been fine tax clerks thanks to medication, if it were up to the aspiring rule of average.
So no, it’s not because we can measure meaning that we can change it. We have to go and look how meaning takes it shape.
The problem starts with our own perception. Perception is the way we interpret the world, the way we give meaning to the things we encounter. A big part of this perception, these glasses through which we see the world is affected by how we name something. We use language to describe stuff, and after a while we think that that name is the same as the thing. Then it is no longer just a name, it is also the structure through which we give meaning.
So in the case of enlightenment, the word man for instance, has been the metaphorical frame through which we have described a man and his relationship to the world. In this metaphorical frame we included that all men are equal, and that every mans life is sacred. This is what we agreed on (or was dictated by a small group of intellectuals in 18th century Paris) so this is what a man would mean from then on. Even though for the far greater part of human history and all through the animal kingdom equality and sacrecy of life are nowhere to be found. The essence of an era, a culture, a timeframe, is that you agree on what words mean. Some call it a paradigm, others a final vocabulary, and others a frame of metaphorical concepts. What all these people are trying to say is that words mean more or less the same to all persons belonging to a certain group of people who use those words.
Now, we arrived at the most important question of the evening. To which groups do we belong today, and how does this effect the creation of meaning?
The days of the old creators of meaning, the dictators and kings, are over. We went from one or two spheres to many.
On the one hand we see the many. A western society democratized, and individualized to the bone. These people are well educated and connected to anything in the world they like. This has flattened the path for radical decentralization, smaller social spheres that organize around a common purpose. These smaller groups decide for themselves what something means.
On the other hand we still feel the need to belong to something bigger than just ourselves or a local housing community. We need ideas and visions that are greater than the logistics of tomorrow. We want to share a perception. We Europeans share a perception. And that perception is rooted in the Enlightenment.
When we define Enlightenment in our new Europe we want to stay clear of yet another attempt of so-called intellectuals to create yet another left wing, right wing, humanist, environment friendly, conservative, freedom party bladiebla manifest. It only reflects our lack of understanding of our interchanging organic nature.
Our new ideals should no longer be ideals but a reflection of a living society with living self-organizing social spheres.
In order to do this I would like to suggest that we make full use of our level of education and our connectedness. It’s in the sharing of perceptions where we can find each other. The opinion will become a phenomenon of the past. A perception is much easier to let go or set aside than an opinion. We will never agree on a definition ever again. We will never look for a definition again. It will be in the openness to other perceptions that we will find current meaning.
Together with Joey Hullegie I’ve set up a little initiative we call Enlightenment 2.0. This is how we look for the current meaning of ancient ideals. An example:
We are in a food crisis. Lacks of knowledge and skills, and a very limited perception on food have left us completely detached with other dimensions of food than the functional sustaining one. This has resulted in a moral dilemma that goes as far as our human centric perception of this world. This perception has opened the door to invent bio-industry, preservatives, and DNA modified corn.
To overcome this single-minded perception, we would like to start this initiative and look for the psychological human drivers behind food.
Say the aesthetic driver behind the food is about the emotional, creative dimension of food, represented by the chef.
The driver for trustworthy, healthy food is another, represented by a food and nutrition specialist.
A third driver behind food revolves around the social. We would ask an anthropologist to talk about the importance of sharing food in different societies, throughout human history.
A fourth one would be the drive for diversity. To eat something different once in a while. (My late grandfather used to say (with a slight hint to his relationship with my grandmother): Als je altijd sperziebonen krijgt, wil je ook wel eens boerenkool. This perception should definitely be represented by an ordinary consumer.
Now instead of having a bunch of overmiseducated politicians or intellectuals (most of the time economy or law majors) discussing the way we should reorganise our food policies, we have real people talking to each other from real time experiences, in a real time world, from real personal perception. And this is where meaning can be found. Not in the definition. But in the richness of different perceptions.
Blog door Stefan 21-05-2012