Weaving the Ideas of Mary Catherine Bateson, Hartmut Rosa, Robert Kegan, and Cities as Forces for Good, into a Grand Challenge for Retirees to Save the Future

I recently bounced upon Mary Catherine Bateson’s lecture at the “Seminars about Long Term Thinking” of the “Long Now Foundation”, entitled “Live Longer, Think Longer”. A marvelous moment of well-feeling, of pure wisdom, dotted with humor and “deep thoughts for thought”…

A lecture that brings some hope for escaping the alienation of our “current life”. I recommend here Hartmut Rosa‘s fascinating book “Alienation and Acceleration: Towards a Critical Theory of Late-Modern Temporality”. His ideas are of great importance to weave my point here.

With life expectation rising, is it still reasonable to hope for the retirement that Bismarck envisaged when average lifetimes were 45 years? What’s the effect of “retiring” for so long? How long, on the other hand, can you remain healthy following the alienating and accelerating pace of current life? Do we have to face this dilemma?

No, says Mary Catherine Bateson. In her book “Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom” she proposes a real meaningful alternative life for all “retired” adults. Meaningful to the highest degree: She sees retired adults taking on nothing else than a key role in transitioning our societies towards the Future. That’s the message of her lecture and follow-up discussion with Stewart Brand

And this relates to my current re-reading of Robert Kegan‘s 1994 book, “In over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life”. Especially  section IV with Chapter 9 on “Conflict, Leadership and Knowledge Creation” and Chapter 10 on “On Being Good Company for the Wrong Journey“.
Kegan’s ideas did not age.
Unfortunately they did not diffuse either.
His core question remains unchallenged: What order of consciousness will allow human beings to respond positively to the demands of a post-modern culture?
We do remain stuck answering: How to bring that about?

Weaving all these ideas together allows me to become very hopeful. In these “accelerating, alienating times”, (Hartmut Rosa) a key role is set aside for those who succeed in retiring from this hectic life. By “living longer, thinking longer” they can greatly contribute to help Humanity transition to a new civilization (Mary Catherine Bateson). They are uniquely qualified to fulfill the demands that Post-Modernist confront us with “demands on our minds that need to rise to a higher level, demands on exploring further how we know, in the complexity of our Consciousness” (Robert Kegan).

Now remember Robert Kegan’s Chapter 10  title:

“On Being in Good Company for the Wrong Journey”.

Can we transform that? Can we escape Hartmut Rosa’s Alienation? A partial Yes comes from Mary Catherine Bateson and Robert Kegan:  They see retired people metamorphosing to provide hope and meaning, and become immensely valuable “Good Company” for the young –  so worried and ill-prepared for the future – and the active adults – alienated and distanced by the accelerating complexity of modern life?

But what about avoiding the Wrong Journey? Are there clues that we can explore the Right Journey?
Yes there are! Let me illustrate just one.

I am so lucky to be in “Good Company” with contrarians like Bruce Beck and Michael Thompson. Lucky and thrilled to see them engaged on the way for  “The Right Journey”. Not only intellectually, also very practically.

The journey I want to highlight here is Cities as Forces for Good in the Environment Project, presented to the US National Academy of Engineering as a Grand Challenge for Engineering for the next 100 years.

I’ve recently highlighted this journey elsewhere on this blog ( here and here ), drawing the attention particularly to Bruce Beck’s disruptively innovative  Sustainability Concept Paper, that weaves together so well all the ideas above, into a real life project that can become World-Transforming.

The “Right Journey” is also appearing at the horizon.

Weaving ideas for a “Good Future Life” and sharing them, is what I have engaged in here. I’m aware that this might render my post – in particular with so many links – rather tedious to explore.

I hope nevertheless to find some retired people who will want to take the time to read through and follow the links, who will accept to be challenged, who will let themselves be drawn in changing their minds, in exploring the way that they know, in expanding the complexity of their consciousness.

In doing so they will become “Good Company” for all those who choose to courageously explore the path for the “Right Journey

And who knows, maybe even some non retired, and some young, pioneers, will read too and engage in the challenge?

Let me know, tell me what you think, advice me, I need feedback, my motto being:

“Always Learning, Never Getting it Right”

I do need you since learning is always social.

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About charlesvanderhaegen

I am a grandfather of an immensely inspiring family, thanks to the most incredible wife. To satisfy my family's needs, I was for 30 years business entrepreneur, roller coasting between success and failure. 14 years ago I was forced to stop and reflect. I dug into theory and discovered the World out there, that my involvement in Business had kept hidden to me. I feared that I will not escape remaining amidst my trans-disciplinary quest forever, bouncing back and forth from action to theory, always puzzled by Europe's apparent incapacity to free itself from its Institutional/Technological Lock-ins. My horizon opened up when Gunter Pauly, my intimate friend of 35 years, asked me to join him and take charge ZERI's development in Europe.
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3 Responses to Weaving the Ideas of Mary Catherine Bateson, Hartmut Rosa, Robert Kegan, and Cities as Forces for Good, into a Grand Challenge for Retirees to Save the Future

  1. Charles,
    I think your post points to a fundamental semantic misnomer in relation to the concept of the individual at that stage of their life where thought, engagement and stewardship can take priority, freed of the requirement to generate means for survival through work. That transition, which presumes achievement of a level of security and residual income to sustain one’s standard of living actually reflects the transcendence by the individual of a money-centric/financially prioritized existence, to a knowledge/engagement/contribution-as-value existence. At least that is what I am deriving from your post, but re-framed through my filter.
    The misnomer, to my mind, is to refer to that post-transition state as “retirement,” which is defined as “the period of one’s life after leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.” Clearly there are those who are “retired;” and, in fact are not engaged with any type of process or activity traditionally associated with “work,” the latter being defined as, “physical or mental effort or activity directed toward the production or accomplishment of something.” It should be noted that work, at least definitionally does not invoke a financial reference.
    So based on the above, I believe there needs to be an appropriate descriptor or title for those who have made that transition and are moved to continue to work. I have always envisioned that role and engagement at that stage of life as one of stewardship, insofar as the contribution being made is motivated by a lifetime of experience, understanding and insight complemented by a fully developed and operational executive function in the brain, enabling appreciation for complexity, the significance of the unknown, and the challenges attached to human beings as the actors or agents of change.
    So instead of being “retired,” might one refer to oneself as engaged, as a steward, in whatever area or field of endeavor their passions direct them towards. And to the extent, I believe our current evolutionary changes reflect the emergence of true value being placed not on money, but rather on knowledge, expertise, creativity, and the ability to improve or solve challenges; I would expect the older demographic to be lifted, as stewards and guides, to positions of highly valued authority and influence in the years to come- but that is a whole other subject, isn’t it?

  2. Hi Doug,
    Thank you for reading and commenting on my post.

    I’m using the word “retiree” in the sense that Mary Catherine Bateson gives to that word in her lecture and in her book (Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom). Now she also has another name for it: “Adulthood II”, which she imagines to be “a new stage of life-cycle”: created by “unprecedented levels of health, energy, time, and resources – of which we have barely begun to be fully conscious”.
    I see the resources that she refers to not so much in terms of money, but rather in terms of freedom, independence, and learning rendered easy by the free access to quasi unlimited information – the social media we so cherish)
    I believe freedom and time to be the luxaries of Adulthood II, therefore I contrast it to Hartmut Rosa’s analysis of our era as being one of : “alienation and acceleration”. My hope is to see Adulthood II freed from that predicament, so as to become an effective societal “counter-power” to complement the “Consciousness – and it is here that Robert Kegan comes in – of those who are still “captive” in what you call “work”.

    I hope to haveI understood your post correctly and havings provided you with some clarifications about what I was trying to bring forth:: “Always Learning, Never Getting it Right”.
    Cheers,
    Charles

  3. Pingback: John Kay, A wise man knows one thing – the limits of his knowledge: Unconfortable Knowledge Spoken out Gentlemanly | Charles van der Haegen's Blog

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