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INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
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About what is going on in the Netherlands and what isn't

Response to "What is going on in the Netherlands" by Peter Merry

Dieuwke Begemann

Spiral Dynamics is a model for perceiving cultural differences and their evolution.

As such it is an relevant and interesting model for these times, but it contains the risk of any model versus a more hermeneutic approach t.i. of simplification of the reality.

In his article “What is going on in the Netherlands” Peter Merry exemplifies this risk.

With a few sweeping statements, The Netherlands are described as being focussed upon cooperation and inclusiveness, while the protestant calvinistic traditions “frown upon the excesses of neo-liberalism and individualism is not a thing to be proud of”.

There are many descriptions of the Dutch culture, varying from introductions to expats to serious studies like The Dutch Republic from the historian Jonathan Israel, but all of them will agree upon the fact that freedom of the individual is a basis value in the Netherlands and something most people tend to be proud of. (Be it that tolerance, freedom of speech and freedom for the individual came about as a pragmatic answer of the Dutch rulers in the 17th and 18th century to the life conditions of that time and not to the conditions of industrialism as Merry claims for the emrgence of tolerance in Holland.)

Peter Merry argues that there are two main categories of thinking, expressive self and sacrifice-self, which - I have to assume, as he does not refer to the model him self - he relates to the two centers of gravity in the Spiral Dynamics model “I” and “We”.

First of all we meet a great simplification by this reduction of all complex thoughts to these two categories, secondly by the lack of differentiation between individual and collective thinking, thirdly by the diagnosis that the new generation in Holland represents an “express-self” and wants to go out and shape the world, while the others in Holland represent s the self-sacrifice self. Most other cultural analyses regret the lack of the new generation to go out and shape the world as they seem to be hooked to their computergames and cellphones, while on the other hand the so called generation of the baby boomers indulged that much in an expression of self, that their time was labeled as “the culture of narcism”. Merry's reasoning that political parties should meet the need of the voters for more-express self ways of thinking and public does therefor not have any solid ground.

His analysis of the debate af the murder of Pim Fortuin echoes the same confusion, even within his own reasoning. The emphasis on community, relationships, tolerance and respect were the core of the Chrisian Democratic Party, while the left wing parties, (PvdA en Groen Links) always campaigned for individual rights of women, gay people, minorities from the perspective of freedom of the individual.

The problems in the party LPF of Pim Fortuiyn had nothing to do with their so-called active express-self systems, but everything with their inexperience with the metier of being a politician. All new political parties, be it the party of old age people (Bejaardenpartij) suffer the same fate, when they have non-trained and non-educated citizens becoming politicians.

The Dutch reactions to the latest problems and the murder of van Goch were hysterical, frightened and as all stressful reactions not too good. Therefor the reaction of the mayor of Amsterdam to count till ten before saying or doing anything was to the point.

Merry does not discriminate between individual and collective thinking, or the private or public sector. Equality is not only an personal value, but - more important - a basis element of the republic: citizens are equal for the law. It is one of the basic rules which keeps us safe from tiranny. It exactly that basis value, which makes it difficult to have different policies for different groups, as he campaigns. All children have to go to school, we cannot allow certain parents make their children work for money, even if that would meet their life conditions. What consequences would that have, what could we do when not certain groups but certain parents start to exploit their children. One can allow different types of schools, in fact they are there already, but not forbid children or parents to choose a school. But when people choose schools for their children it is often not a gab in colors they want to bridge, but a gap in income.

It is exactly the core value of the freedom of the individual which blocks the way to the design of different policies for different people.

Therefor it is more important that not the political parties or the political leaders become more self expressive or that their culture of consensus and pluralism should break down in terms of the over simplistic categories of P.Merry.

The real problem is not their way of thinking, but the the fact that the Netherlands are confronted with a problem which in terms of Spiral Dynamics is described as the co-existence of more then 3 colors within one system. To have more then 3 colors in one system is asking for problems, so claims Don Beck. This does indeed ask for differentiation, being able to live on different planets in the same time, being able to be conscious of all the different ways of being on this planet on this moment, but this is not asked of the political parties or the political leaders but of the individuals living in the Netherlands. That is what is going on right now. A lot of learning is going on, as government is not being able to deal with this new complexities and it is towards citizens to create the variety to deal with it.

Learning of tolerance, not of tolerance as relativism, but as a conscious virtue of the citizen. Learning to behave, learning to count till ten, learning to be polite again and not to self expressive in the public place, learning to contain and to comprehend the many colors around us, to bear them.

To end on a dutch tone: the dutch word for polite is “BELEEFD” meaning to empathize with the other. Tolerance as emotional intelligence in a multicultural society.

The other level of learning is in the heads of the civil servants, the ones who are responsible for the effectiveness of politics. They are now learning not to implement new models for education or health, but to hold back and do the small things which make the world go round. And they know what small things to do and what not, when they are conscious of the coexistence and co-arising of the different colors of the Spiral.

Let us have patience with the learning which is going on and forsake the primitive urge for new leadership.


Dieuwke Begemann hosts a Ken Wilber reading group in Amsterdam.






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