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Sunday, 13 July 2014

A New European Renaissance

This week I turn to the matter of a new European renaissance. We most definitely need one; and not just a new renaissance, but also a new enlightenment.

That we need a new European renaissance – a rebirth – is the conclusion reached by the group of artists, writers and intellectuals that formulated the New Narrative for Europe Declaration. New Narrative for Europe is an initiative started by President Barroso.

Europe is bogged down in the past. Its institutions are out of touch with the real world. Everywhere one looks one can find tacit assumptions that the future does not involve a significant change to these institutions.

People who form these institutions are also living a delusion, as is the rest of society. The institution that is science is particularly disconnected from reality and in face of unease about science, asks not what is fundamentally wrong, but seeks minor adjustments through initiatives like Science 2. Science we are told will save us, so we need more of it. Yet the fact that it is increasingly out control and that it has been appropriated by governments and big business for the making of money – few want to consider such matters. That scientists have started to believe their own rhetoric; that they believe that they deal only with the rational and the objective; that only facts and evidence prevail, and that they recite such nonsense in public – again, few dare to criticise. And the reason for this silence is that to question science is a heresy and a sign of some deficit. Yet there is evidently an undercurrent in society of deep concern about the way that science has developed and its future path, and the consequences that follow. And we have been here before, with religion and its dogma, and the parallels are uncanny, with the most notable being that science too is a religion, compete with its own dogma, one that is eloquently exposed by nutty professors who constantly appear on television (you know the type – I have no axe to grind they say, and so forth.), but which in reality requires people not to think for themselves, but only to imagine that they do.

And the answer to the problem that is modern orthodox science, according to orthodox scientists, is more communication to the public. Which kind of makes the point about the need for a new renaissance, for when people talk about communication in this way, what they really mean is propaganda. And they are increasingly looking to artists to fill the role of propagandists. And the use of art in this way is yet another example of appropriation of human activities by economic forces – culture too is now seen as a way of making money! While artists need to make a living, the mind that only sees art as a factor of economic production, is a mind set on taking the world backwards, for it is a retrograde step and this points yet again towards the need for a rebirth, through new ideas, which historically is the role played by art. Yet the establishment, the orthodox thinkers, do not see art fulfilling such a role. Instead they want art to be used for the reinforcement of the orthodoxy – hence my use of the word propaganda.

This I would add is one of the concerns that I have about the initiative known as ICT & ART CONNECT, about which I will write in a future blog. This initiative can also be seen as pointer towards there being something fundamentally wrong with existing institutions. In this case it is the institution that is ICT research and development, and we are told that art is needed to enhance the creativity of technologists. But why do they need their creativity to be enhanced? What is wrong with the way such people currently undertake research and development that prevents them from being creative? A question I fear that will not be answered, for to do so means confronting too many unpalatable aspects of the institution that is the modern day technologist, as well as their employers, and research funding agencies, like the European Commission’s DG CONNECT (and DG Research & Innovation).

Through my work and writings I have, for 30 years, been trying to initiate a rebirth, but it has been a lonely journey, and continues to be so. At a time when a new renaissance is needed, what I see are signs of the exact opposite – a retreat into the familiar, that which is safe, that which is reassuring – otherwise known as the past. In the face of new, complex and difficult to understand circumstances, people look to that which has worked in the past, regardless of whether it is still appropriate. This is what is happening in Europe today, and as every day passes, the prospect of achieving a new renaissance becomes less likely.

So we are back once more to the Prometheus syndrome, and the reality that it is very improbably that Hercules will appear to break the unbreakable chains that keep Europe bound to the rock of the past. The prospects for Europe are bleak, but not to worry, for Europeans have their collective delusions to believe in, which should shield them from the reality that Europe is in decline and has no future as a significant economic player in the global market place. The decline of course is a cross-generational one, so few see it, and most do not want to.

Goodbye Europe, hello India and China – perhaps they might not be so reticent in pursuing the reinvention of science, to create an institution that is aligned with their non-European culture and which Europe will not be able to compete with. I hope so, for I am sorely tired of Prometheus and his unbreakable chains and his bag of bones dressed up with a little good meat.

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