And why we are writing this book
Lene Rachel Andersen
A Danish economist, author and futurist
Lene Rachel Andersen (b. 1968) has a BA in business economy and studied theology 1993-97. From 1993 to 2001, she wrote comedy and entertainment for Danish media and went to the US a number of times; she went there a Dane and returned as a European.
In 1997 she took up futurism, first for television and later in books. Since 2005 she has written and published eleven books about democracy, human development and the future, and she has received the Ebbe Kløvedal-Reich Democracy Award and the Døssing Prize, the Danish librarians’ democracy prize.
She has been on two ad hoc think tanks about Bildung in Denmark, and was a member of the Danish government’s Values Commission in 2010-2011. In 2015, she was a part-time research associate at The University of Southern Denmark at the Center for Fundamental Living Technology, FLinT.
Lene lives in Copenhagen and Stuttgart, and spends as much time in Stockholm as possible.
A Swedish entrepreneur and change maker
Tomas Björkman (b. 1958) has a master’s degree in physics and studied macroeconomics on the side.
He has made a career as an entrepreneur in a variety of businesses within financial services, media, property development, and banking and has worked all over Europe. He founded Investment Banking Partners AB and served as chairman of EFG Investment Bank.
In 2008, Tomas established Ekskäret Foundation in Stockholm. The foundation developed a conference facility on its island Ekskäret in the Stockholm archipelago, and the mission of the foundation is to facilitate personal development and social change.
He is also co-founder and director of the publishing company Fri Tanke Förlag (Freethought Publishing) and a member of The Club of Rome.
Tomas lives in London and works in Stockholm, Netherlands and Switzerland.
Our personal and national backgrounds have played a big role in how this project came about.
We first met in November 2011 in Stockholm but didn’t really get to know each other until February 2012. We happened to be in London at the same time, went out for dinner and after returning to Tomas’ London apartment and talking for a while, we suddenly realized that it was 4am and we had been talking constantly for 10 hours.
Apart from many mutual interests and a fondness for big and complex questions, we have a couple of other things in common too. We both had one set of grandparents who were farmers and one set who were working-class. Thus, culturally, we both have our roots deeply planted in the Nordic tradition for rural co-ops, political movements, unions, gymnastics and team sports, cultural association, local volunteering, and the traditions and values of life-long learning and Bildung. We also both grew up in a suburban middle class family and were the first person in our family to go to university.
We bring this up, because we are ourselves very much products of the Bildung tradition, Bildung institutions and Bildung values that our book and this website are about and which we wish to promote. Tomas even grew up in the sector, so to speak, since his dad was the headmaster of a “Hemgård,” an after-school program for young people offering drama and music lessons, crafts and other activities, and which was run as a private charity.
But other than that, tellingly, it was our grandparents who were active as volunteers in the Bildung, political and cooperative movements and the associations and unions, not our parents. Our own generation in their 40s and 50s seems increasingly absent and so do the younger generations, except when it comes to sports.
On our own part, we have chosen very different paths when it comes to participating in volunteer associations and taking evening classes; Lene, among other things, was a girl-scout leader when she was 12 to 17 years old and has volunteered as a board member in a number of associations; Tomas has started the foundation Ekskäret, which promotes the same values but which is set up in a different way as a private charity. We both publish books and consume a decent amount of culture, but neither of us has been a member of a political party and neither would either of us join a team sport. In other words, we are very much part of what we are exploring in The Nordic Secret, both when it comes to being rooted in the heritage and in the ways that we opt out.
Just before going out to dinner
Finally, we share another important experience: We are both migrants. Not in the refugee or economically desperate sense at all, but in the most affluent and privileged sense, we must admit. Nevertheless, it has changed who we are. We have had to come to terms with ourselves under new and unpredictable circumstances. This is another reason why we have started this project.
Lene not only went to the US and became a European; she also migrated without even leaving Denmark. In 1999, she converted to Judaism and thus went from being a student of Lutheran theology belonging to the cultural majority in her native country, to becoming part of a minority within the same culture but with very different traditions and perspectives on crucial parts of life.
In order to develop his financial business, Tomas moved from Sweden to Switzerland in 1994 and had to grow from the experience – or as he puts it: “I thought that by reading Swedish newspapers and The Economist, I was well-informed. But when I eventually learned French well enough to get French news, I realized that there were some totally different perspectives on things.” Later, as he began to doubt the inner structures of the market and the banking industry, he went on another transforming journey, which wasn’t as much geographical as it was professional, cultural and social.
Why this project?
And why now?
There are a number of reasons why we chose to write this book.
First of all, we think we may have discovered something important about human development that might interest teachers and others in the various fields of education, and psychologists and others in the various fields of personal and self-development, therapy, coaching, leadership development etc.
Second, we are convinced that Bildung is a prerequisite to human wellbeing. In order to become a rounded, confident, autonomous, socially capable, mature, and comfortable adult who is at peace with oneself and one’s path in life, one needs cultural roots, a deep sense of identity, a moral compass, and places to go for spiritual and emotional nourishment. Bildung provides this. One also needs other things, of course, i.e. family, friends and a reliable economic situation, but we suspect that much of the existential angst and many people’s sense of meaninglessness may be relieved through Bildung and Allgemeinbildung. We think that Bildung, the participation in the institutions of Bildung and the co-creation of communities of Bildung make up one of the most robust paths to a sense of purpose in life and to happiness.
A third reason for this book is that democracy, open societies, prosperity, and general societal stability depend on the above-mentioned rounded adults. We fear, however, that our once-so-progressive and Bildung-aware Nordic societies are forgetting why Bildung is important. We see Bildung disappearing as a mission statement from our public schools, we see our governments and state bureaucracies lacking an understanding of Bildung and Allgemeinbildung and we see politics losing deeper and broader goals than just efficiency, productivity and competition with other nation states. We also fear that we see our governments and bureaucracies losing their moral compass.
Fourth, we see societies, economies and nation states in upheaval, as globalization, climate change, financial crises, and new technologies are challenging the social fabric and many societal structures and institutions created during the industrial age. We believe that Bildung and Allgemeinbildung may both serve as the cultural backbone that makes the changes seem less intimidating and the tools through which more people may get useful skills, allowing them to feel more confident when facing the many changes.
Fifth, we understand the many people who fear that their culture and ways of life are threatened by immigration. We also understand the many immigrants who cannot figure out how to settle culturally in their new country. We believe that Bildung and Allgemeinbildung may serve three purposes in this connection: one, they may strengthen the local, receiving culture and give people confidence that their heritage is not going to disappear; two, they may be a way for immigrants to approach the new culture, and three, they may help immigrants share their own culture and make integration a meaningful two-way exchange. With the current refugee crisis in Europe, this becomes an ever more important issue.
A sixth reason is that we are deeply worried about the young people who are radicalized by religious fundamentalism and we think that Bildung is the secular society’s best vaccine against it. We are equally worried about the young men who commit deadly attacks on schools and their pupils, be it out of personal frustration and pain or out of radical political views. We think that the best thing we as societies can offer young people in order for them not to get this mentally and emotionally alienated, is Bildung and the communities evolving from Bildung.
On a similar note, we were appalled by the sexual mass assaults on women in cities like Cologne and Stuttgart on New Year’s Eve 2015. The young men who committed these crimes obviously lacked not just the Allgemeinbildung necessary to understand that partying women are not public sex toys, but also the Bildung and psychological development necessary to self-govern. As migration increases, these are crucial Bildung issues to address.
German, contemporary Bildung and Allgemeinbildung as we see it:
Bildung: The moral compass and courage to stand up for universal values and exposing the disastrous failures of one's own nation.
Allgemeinbildung: The historical and cultural knowledge that allows us to uphold meaningful conversations and learn from history.
In The Nordic Secret, we shall further explain this as Metamodern nationalism at professor Robert Kegan's 5th order of cognitive complexity or, as we call it, at the 5th layer of human potential.
Somewhat related to this but not just to this, political correctness is stifling academic discourse, the public debate and the work of core institutions in society. In Sweden, the police force has refrained from reporting sexual assaults committed by immigrants out of fear that such facts would fuel the success of the nationalist party Swedish Democrats. In Germany, a similar situation occurred in the aftermath of the sexual mass assaults on New Year’s Eve 2015. Parallel to political correctness, however, part of the public debate is becoming rude to the point where it is likely to tear society apart – Donald Trump is not alone on this path. Denmark first witnessed this with the Mohammed cartoons and the debate following them. Not only is this bluntness counterproductive and stifling valuable contributions, to the immature mind strong prejudice and verbal hostility may be misunderstood as a call for more than just words. In Sweden and Germany, the police cover-ups are leading to vigilantism and attacks on asylum facilities; in Denmark even well-educated people are whispering about the possibilities of civil war. What is happening in the Republican party in the US frightens us all.
On the PC side as well as on the rude side there is an inability to distinguish between appropriate if harsh criticism and mockery and ridicule. It is our firm belief that Bildung is the key to a civilized debate and honest academic discussions where all serious criticisms can be shared without becoming offending. And equally important, that Bildung and Allgemeinbildung is what is required from both civil servants and the general public when uncomfortable truths about certain minorities must be handled in the public sphere. If young, single, Muslim, sexually frustrated, economically disenfranchised, Middle-Eastern and North-African men from pre-modern societies with patriarchic norms commit more and different sexual assaults than other men and maybe even coordinate it via social media, it is crucial that we address the decisive factor, not the first thing that separates “them” from “us”. As societies, we can only do this, and we can only debate this, if we as individuals have the Allgemeinbildung to see the full picture and the Bildung and psychological development to behave ourselves and let the proper authorities take care of the problem.
Finally, we think that as societies, we have forgotten to ask and how to ask existential questions: What is important? What kind of society do we want to be? Without these questions, we lose the collective moral compass, and “the market” becomes the only answer to any societal and political issue. This not only leads to shortsighted political decisions, it makes us culturally and spiritually impoverished. We see Bildung as the path to existential conversations and enlightened political debates about who we ought to be – and not to be – as societies and nations.
A European Dream
These are some of our considerations behind our book, but besides being Danish and Swedish citizens, respectively, we are also EU citizens and this adds to our concerns as well. The Union that was once a successful peace project and a motor for economic development seems to be gradually losing its coherence as the economy fails and the numbers of refugees and migrants increase. The Europe we believe in and the Europe that attracts migrants and refugees from around the globe is the product of a middle class, a working class, a bourgeoisie and their Bildung and Allgemeinbildung.
Due to technological development, globalization, climate change and other challenges, civilization as such is facing new circumstances. We therefore wish to start an existential conversation about the future of Europe and how, as Europeans, under these new circumstances we may create and maintain robust democracies based on universal values.
Europe has never managed to develop a meaningful European dream that can unite and inspire us and create a sense of “Europeanness”. At heart, however, the vast majority of Europeans are very much Europeans, they just don’t know it. Largely because much of what is European is considered by many, especially by Western Europeans, to be their national heritage.
An amazing thing about Bildung is that in several ways it is the one thing that best allows us to discover what is specifically European about being a European. Bildung is what made Europe the place that so many people want to move to. It may even be one of the most uniquely European things about Europe. As we shall see in The Nordic Dream, Bildung was first discovered and discussed in ancient Greece. Then, in its current form, it re-emerged with the Enlightenment in France in the 18th century and got an intellectual, idealist framing in Germany around the start of the 19th century and well into the Romantic era. This inspired people all over the continent, was picked up by Swedish intellectuals around 1810, got combined with English pragmatism and sense of freedom by a Dane in 1830, inspired people throughout the Nordics, and became the motor for our democratic development.
In other words, we have written this book because we have a European dream and a Nordic one: that the continent may re-discover Bildung and its significance, and that the Nordics make a deliberate effort to update their tool-box with developmental psychology and start sharing it. On top of this, we hope that we may engage in a European existential conversation about who we want to be and ought to be in the 21st century.
Did we say Europe? We most certainly did. But we are more than willing to make that a transatlantic conversation with Canada as well as the United States. And we would like to include Australia and New Zealand too; the Aussies just joined Eurovision and they did so because we share something that goes deep.
There are obvious reasons why people seek refuge in and want to migrate to the United States, Europe and the Commonwealth, and rather than keeping these things to ourselves, we should figure out how we can have a global conversation and how the rest of the human species can benefit from the Western experiences too without having to move here. For two reasons: we cannot accommodate the population of the rest of the globe, and we cannot drain the rest of the world of their most resourceful people. We must create a global community and economy in sustainable balance.
Towards the end of our book, we shall offer a vision for Bildung and a new Renaissance in the 21st century uniting and offering the best of our joint Western heritage. This blunt statement may be perceived as colonialism, but it is not. It is sharing our own Arab Spring and our own Tienanmen Square and our paths to a better future with the rest of the world. It is offering a human experience that ought to be universal, in order to strengthen and promote cultural diversity around the globe. It is providing a tool-box for democratic and economic development that may spring from local cultures and local heritage. It is standing up for human dignity and freedom, and it is sharing the best that we have with whoever wants it too.