From the Eskaret powerhouse, Lene Rachel Andersen and Tomas Björkman come an awesome new contribution to the meta modern literature — The Nordic Secret — A European Story of Truth and Beauty. Similar to Nordic Ideology, it is a comprehensive tome on its subject matter — how the feudal monarchies of the Nordic countries managed to evolve out of the state everyone else was wallowing around in the 16th and 17th century, and make progress toward a modern state.
The answer to all this is bildung – a philosophy of elevated education that included character building as part of personal development. The book combines both a deep historical perspective with the personal development philosophy of Robert Kegan’s stage theories to explain where we’re at, and where we need to go. Kegan’s stage theories, like many others, like Piaget, Kohlberg, and others are deeply insightful and useful, as I’ve said in the past — even if many people don’t follow the exact path of these theories. (The Deep OS reason, for those into the deeper concepts in this blog, is meta-linear progression emerges from academic social structures, which typically don’t handle meta-nonlinear development, or punctuated anything… but I digress.) This stuff is useful, and Andersen and Björkman have done a great job of not just showing HOW it is useful, but compiling an extraordinary set of diagrams that folks can use to spread the word. Here’s hoping they make these figures available for Creative Commons usage on a website somewhere!
For those that love philosophy and the personal development literature, Parts I and II are great primers on everyone from Kant to Kegan, laid out in a historical perspective. Also, importantly, Lene and Tomas show the overlap between the German philosophy of bildung — the prevailing philosophy at the time — and our current understanding from developmental philosophy. Here is a list from the book to ground yourself in bildung:
- Sense of belonging
- Allgemeinbildung (general knowledge about the world)
- Search for purpose
- Lore & heritage
- Poetry & aesthetics
- Religion & spirituality
- Connection with nature
- Says something about who you are.
Parts III and IV are a deep dive into the history, not just of Scandinavian bildung, but German bildung as well. And at the end, both Lene and Tomas do an excellent job of analyzing what exactly went wrong with German bildung that gave the world Hitler. The short version? German bildung was focused only on the elites. And similar to my criticism of Nordic Ideology, they leave out the larger ideas of empathy as major drivers in their work. You educate the elites so that they are better, it’s never too far from the sophisticated intellectual mind that everyone else doesn’t deserve to live. That’s what profound In-group/Out-group separation will do for you. You have to consider the connected (or not!) system as a society builds transferable values.
One other point — bildung didn’t take off until the elites in the Scandinavian societies got behind it. If anything, this is a beacon of reckoning for our own elites. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has said he can’t think of anything to spend all Amazon’s money on other than Moonbase Alpha. Here’s a message to Bezos — the folks you need to create any sustainable version of Moonbase Alpha have to be created first with bildung. The crazy debates in Silicon Valley show this better than anything.
One thing the authors point out is how a healthy nationalism (as opposed to the toxic version we’re seeing in far too many places in the world) is part of the elevated process of getting people to look beyond nationalism. This is a concept that deserves a better discussion on the Left of our current political spectrum. My opinion is that this is where a confluence of falling living standards and toxic rhetoric once again drives anti-empathetic dynamics, and gives psychopaths the upper hand. Fix the first, the second becomes far less attractive. The pie is big enough to share with those that appear different.
Lene and Tomas do not let themselves off the hook with the ‘how to’ section, and I thoroughly enjoyed the last part of the book. But once again, similar to Hanzi and Nordic Ideology, they somewhat magically assume the availability of high development people to be placed where they are needed. An example of this might be their recommendation for recruiting teachers from Kegan Level 5 individuals (self-transforming) to teach at lower levels. This might be possible in the Scandinavian milieu. But I have a hard time even understanding how to get started with the U.S. education system. That’s not to say we shouldn’t listen to Lene and Tomas. They’re right. But every time there’s a desired status, we need to also have a concomitant discussion on path dynamics, as well as how to shorten the time for the various stages along the path.
It also might have been nice to see an example of an implemented bildung curriculum, maybe in an appendix. But I think it’s also fair to say no book can be everything. And this book does enough, by far.
In conclusion, I unreservedly recommend reading this book. It is readable, accessible and (at least for me) extremely enjoyable. The authors write with a wry sense of humor, and little sturm und drang. Having read some of Kegan’s work, I’d argue it’s a better place to learn about Kegan than from the original source!
The real challenge, though, is going to be getting this book shared with friends, so we finally have some base of discussion on how to change our school systems and the world.