“What is the life-stage of the human family: toddlers, teenagers, adults, or elders?” Among many different audiences, comprised of people coming from different countries, races, and cultures, the most common answer to this Duane Elgin’s question was that we are in the teenage years. As Elgin summarized it, taking the social average for the human family, we are impulsive, moody, peer-oriented, rebellious, creative, living in the moment, irresponsible, and selfish.
There perhaps lies the answer for the poor choice of political leadership that is being made in some of the World’s leading democracies. The political mandate of power is today being gained by pressing the same emotional buttons that the teenage band promoters are using to sell their products. One man caught the idea. After many decades of experience in the political arena, he captured the emotional momentum that the country was living by saying, “People don’t see the difference between politics and entertainment.” This man was Roger Stone. His product was Donald Trump.
Not that Stone had invented anything new. From the early beginnings of western civilization, the entertainment has kept close ties to the mechanics of political power. The difference is that we are no longer throwing people to hungry lions. Entertainment has evolved into “the prolongation of work under late capitalism,” as Adorno and Horkheimer defined it. In their words, it is “sought by those who want to escape the mechanized labor processes so that they can cope with it again”. But above all, entertainment seeks behavioral compliance because: “to be entertained means to be in agreement”.
The problem with entertainment guiding political rationality is the loss of criteria and perspective. In this case, it has to do with the corona crisis management and the Trump’s (and other countries) administration pushing forward a rapid, V-shape recovery that will bring the country’s economy back on its feet, as soon as possible. The loss of criteria and perspective here is being illustrated by the “economy that is stumbling again as the coronavirus surges back”.
As ‘teenagers,’ we are closer to that Taleb’s description of being better in doing than thinking. Thinking is overrated in a society run by entertainment as a superior virtue. Without thinking, we cannot close the gap between “what we genuinely, even passionately, want and what we are actually able to do”. This gap that Kegan called a “central learning problem of the twenty-first century”. One part of it is the inability to differentiate urgent from important. Hence, the economic recovery “at any cost” takes over the systemic-long-term planning as the solution for the crisis. In other words, V gets before U.
The corona pandemic is an opportunity to place U before V. It is perhaps the last chance we get to put in motion a global response to the climate crisis, whose impact will be far greater than the Covid19. It is a chance to think before act. The U theory provides essential guidelines. It is a journey that is connecting us to the world that is outside of our bubble. The one standing at the bottom of the U from where the new paradigm emerges and finally lifts us up to the other side of the U. Into the new and sustainable World, where human societies are protecting the Earth’s planetary boundaries.
This movement requires creating greater individual self-awareness, the one that surpasses the basic instincts exploited by entertainment. It requires ‘mature’ humanity. The one that leaves behind impulsive, moody, peer-oriented, rebellious, creative, living in the moment, irresponsible, selfish attitude, to embrace a more committed, responsible, and self-transcending behavior. The one that does so, because, in “order to “create the world anew,” we will be called to participate in changes that are both “deeply personal and inherently systemic.”
So, instead of a thoughtless, rushed, and short-term-mentality pushing for the V recovery, this is an opportunity to embark on a long-term, sustainable, and ecological U shape transition. For this to happen, it is time to move away from the so-called anarchists that are sitting in the parliament seats, anti-capitalists that are living in the luxury mansions, and the self-merit-free-enterprise preachers that are building personal fortunes on publicly funded infrastructures and state subsidies.
It is time to move away from opportunistic and self-interested leaders who incite hatred and conflict, towards building strong institutions, aimed to replace Ego-System with Eco-System Economies. In that sense, placing U before V means overcoming ideological gaps by embracing ecology as an aspiration which reminds us that our limits are set by biology. By moving to Sweden, I have made a step towards it and feel ‘actively hopeful’ in the human ability to learn and transform.