Transcript of Episode 67 – Tomas Björkman on The Nordic Secret

The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Tomas Björkman. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.

Jim: Today’s guest is Tomas Björkman, coauthor of the book The Nordic Secret.

Tomas: Hi Jim, thank you for having me on your show.

Jim: Yeah, great to have you on here. It’s very interesting, the book. I think we have a surprising amount of things in common, in how we’re seeing the world. I’ll give you a little bit of background on Tomas. He was educated in physics and macroeconomics, and has been an entrepreneur in a variety of businesses, including financial services, media, property development and banking. He’s the founder of the Ekskäret Foundation. Did I get that even close to right? Ekskäret?

Tomas: Absolutely. Ekskäret Foundation, or as we sometimes use in English, the Oak Island Foundation.

Jim: Okay, whose mission is to facilitate personal development and social change. It’s interesting that we both come from a background of entrepreneurship and I think corporate America too, to a degree. And then became interested in social transformation. Maybe a little bit about your life story, how did you get the perspective you have today?

Tomas: Thank you for asking. First, I should clarify my academic background a little bit. Yes, I’ve studied economics, but my main academic background is actually in mathematics and physics. So, I’m a physicist by training. And that explains perhaps a little bit the perspective I’m coming from, because if you come from a background of economics then you tend to take the market more or less as a natural phenomenon, and you study that. You’ve seen Newtonian mathematics. But if you come from a background of physics and mathematics, then you know the limitations of that toolkit.

Tomas: I very early became interested in systems science physics, and systems science generally, and how looking at the world from a perspective of self organizing complex systems, actually helps you understand a lot of things that can seem very difficult to grasp otherwise. And of course, the market being one of them.

Tomas: So, I view the market as a self organizing complex system. But I also look at culture, and human society as a self organizing complex system. And actually also, which we might come back to later, I view our consciousness, our mind, our individual minds, as complex self organizing systems under lifelong development and evolution.

Jim: That makes a lot of sense. In my own background, I did some physics until I decided that, for various reasons, that career path wasn’t for me and went off in a different direction. But I do believe that that physics perspective is useful. One of the things that’s most useful, at least in my mind, and it sounds like yours as well, is that the physics lens tends to allow you to escape from the reification of these complex systems. Reification means making them too real, right? An example I like to use is money. It’s an area I’ve done a very, very deep dive into, the history of monetary systems, the nature of monetary systems, many alternative monetary systems, long before Bitcoin.

Jim: One of my pet peeves is that most people, even pretty sophisticated thinkers, accept our current form of money as if it came down from Mt. Sinai with Moses. They don’t realize it’s a whole series of strange, historical accidents and contingent, short term adaptations, plus the occasional conspiracy here and there, to have produced a particular frozen accident in time. Monetary system is hugely important because it’s one of the social signals that helps complex systems self organize. It can be changed a lot. I mean, it’s plastic. It should be under our control, but most people don’t understand that.

Jim: I think the physics people tend to see that more easily.

Tomas: Yeah. Because I think someone with a natural science background, it might be more easy to see the difference between, shall we call it a natural self organizing system and a socially constructed self organizing system. Of course, money and the market is a very good example of a socially constructed self organizing system. Seeing the world as socially constructed is, of course, a post modern insight. But what many post modern thinkers and philosophers get wrong is of course that even though perhaps 95% of our human world today is socially constructed, our whole world is not socially constructed.

Tomas: You also have natural phenomenon. One way to understand that is to look at the difference between oxygen and money. For us in the modern world, as in for us as individuals, oxygen or air and money are sort of equally important for us to survive. We need to breathe to survive, and we also need money to survive. But of course, the big difference is that even if the whole of humanity came together and decided that we, as humanity, do not want to be dependent on oxygen any longer, we couldn’t do anything about it.

Tomas: But of course, if the whole of humanity, or even a nation state, came together and said, as you suggest, that we don’t want to use money, or not this form of money, for example, as the major allocation medium for our goods in society. We could change that tomorrow, like that. This socially constructed reality, even though it meets us as individuals as something very objective, and that we almost look at, as you say, as something that we’re given by God or given by nature, we, as a collective, can actually easily change it.

Tomas: Then just a final comment on that, and that is that unfortunately, we often confuse these two cases. You could say that it looks like we, today, somehow believe that the planetary boundaries, which is a natural phenomenon, that the planetary boundaries is somehow up for renegotiation. But that the market forces is something that we just need to obey. Whereas of course, it’s the opposite.

Jim: Yeah, it’s a perfect example. A fine example. Of course, the COVID-19’s another example.

Tomas: Absolutely.

Jim: The virus is going to do what it’s going to do.

Tomas: Yeah, you can try to put whatever spin on the virus and try to come up with new narratives or whatever or whatever. But the virus is going to kill those people it’s going to kill.

Jim: Exactly. It’s very interesting that this is a … And we’ll get into this a lot as we talk about the book. That a mental capacity to see these things is fundamental to managing the future. Which brings us around to the main topic, which, I’m sure we’re going to go off topic a lot, and I encourage that. We can talk about anything at any length. But we’re going to talk today mostly about the book The Nordic Secret, which Tomas wrote with Lene Rachael Andersen, an independent futurist and writer. She certainly gets a significant part of the credit for this book, let’s not forget her.

Tomas: I should state that, she should get the major credit, because she actually did the most of the labor in the writing this book. The details and the research and all of that is definitely her credit. The concept and the ideas should be credited to both of us.

Jim: Okay, very good to get that clear. Before we jump in, let’s start with the word bildung, if I came up even close to pronouncing that word. A word not very familiar to our mostly Anglosphere listeners, except, perhaps, in the name of the literary genre, Bildungsroman. In fact, bildung is not even in my spellchecker. I don’t know how many times it appears in your book, but it’s a bunch. So maybe you could start by defining that word.

Tomas: Yeah. It’s a German word. It was used very much by the German idealist philosophers, like Schiller, Goethe, Herder, van Humboldt, even Hegel. You need to understand a little bit about the history of ideas in European history of philosophy to really appreciate the bildung concept. The first thing we should say is that these philosophers that wrote around the time of the French Revolution and a bit after, they all reacted against the enlightenment philosopher’s view of our mind as a rational machine. That was more or less fully developed when our mind had stopped growing when we were 18 or 20 or something, then it was just functioning.

Tomas: This enlightenment philosopher’s view of our mind very much rests on the writings of philosophers like Descartes or John Locke, who was famous for talking about the blank slate, that we are born with a blank slate. And Descartes who liked the metaphor of our mind as a machine. These German philosophers, they said that no, our mind is more like an organic complex system that is under constant evolution throughout our lives. And that evolution of our mind, they gave the name bildung. Bildung, the word is something like the organic realization of something. It’s a formation, but it’s more inner formation, so it’s more an organic realization of something.

Tomas: In this case, it’s the organic realization of our consciousness. Of course, this is a way of viewing our mind and our consciousness that is very, very different from the way we usually view our mind and consciousness in the modern western world. We keep thinking that our mind is this sort of rational machine, or at least some sort of computer that is either functioning or not functioning. But the fact that this is actually an evolving system, that is very hard for us to grasp. But that was the idea behind bildung.

Tomas: That was the view of us as humans, and of our mind, that almost all intellectuals and politicians in the Nordic countries had during the 1800s. They really tried to implement this understanding of lifelong consciousness development in their political thinking.

Jim: Very good. We’ll get to all that including a walk through the philosophers in a little bit. Right upfront in the book, one of the flags you put in the ground, is that the Nordic countries really are different. You present a lot of economic data and survey data, and I thought a very interesting graph from the World Values Survey, which had an Y axis of traditional versus secular, with the secular up, and an X axis of survival versus self expression, with self expression to the right. Could you talk a little bit about how the Nordic countries are different from your perspective?

Tomas: Yeah. First of all, and we are quite clear about that in the book, that we do not believe in any sort of Scandinavian exceptionalism. We don’t think that we are so exceptional today. If we were exceptional at some point, we are certainly starting to lose it in Scandinavia. But what made us very different, and even exceptional, was in the way that all the Nordic countries, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, then a little bit later, Finland, the way we manage the transition from the pre-modern society into modernity. It’s easy to forget, but one should remember that at the end of the 1800s, all the Scandinavian countries were the poorest, agrarian, non-Democratic countries in Europe.

Tomas: For example, in Sweden, during the last decades of the 1800s, up to 30% of the working population emigrated mainly to the US because of just poor living conditions in Sweden. But then, just a few generations later, even before the second World War, we were all amongst the richest, the happiest, most stable industrial democracies in the world. That transition was also done peacefully. Whereas this transition in other countries were often accompanied by bloody revolutions and wars and other things.

Tomas: Of course, we had luck and we had some resources, and we had a lot of things. But one major contributing factor, which Lena and I also say has been mainly forgotten, also in the Nordic countries, was this very early focus on the importance of inner personal development. You could say the development of certain inner capabilities, or some inner skills, that are necessary in a population. Particularly in times of rapid societal change. If you allow me to go on just a little bit longer here?

Jim: Sure.

Tomas: I would say that these leading intellectual and politicians in the Nordic countries, they saw the modern world coming. They saw the development in England and on the continent of the industrialization and urbanization. But they also knew from these German philosophers that in time of rapid social change, it is just so easy for us humans to want to have an external authority to put our trust in. Like a dogmatic religion, or an authoritarian leader. But these politicians, they did not want to be authoritarian leaders. They were firmly committed to build democracy. They knew that the only way to build democracy is to build it from bottom up.

Tomas: They wanted to, again, build on this idea of lifelong consciousness development. They wanted to build up a critical mass of people in the country that actually had reached that level of inner maturity, that they had come to the states, and were grounded enough in themselves to have internalized a moral compass, and was not any longer dependent on an outside authority. The way that they did this was that they actually created what I sometimes call jokingly, but it’s actually quite a good analogy to say that they created retreat centers everywhere in Scandinavia.

Tomas: At the turn of the last century in 1900, there were 100 centers like this in Denmark, 75 in Norway, and 150 in Sweden. Where young adults usually in their early 20’s could spend later on with full state subsidy, up to six months in order to find themselves and to develop this capacity to be a change maker in rapidly changing times. When this was at its height, 10% actually of each young generation had the opportunity to participate in one of these six months retreats. Of course, that created a critical mass in our societies.

Jim: Yeah. It was quite interesting to me. I mean, I didn’t know much about later Scandinavian history. We all learned about the Vikings, et cetera. But how far down in the league table Scandinavia was, surprisingly late in the day, absolute monarchs, I think the thing that was most shocking to me was serfdom was not abolished in Denmark till something like 1830. It was like, what? Here’s the most progressive country in the world, probably, and it still had serfdom in the 1830s?

Tomas: Yeah, that was official abolition in Denmark, but sort of remains of this serfdom actually existed in Sweden in the beginning of the 1900s. Not official serfdom, but that you had part of the labor force in agriculture that lived under almost serf-like circumstances. That was up until the beginning of the 1900s even.

Jim: That makes the ascent even more amazing, frankly. Let’s turn to what I believe is the center of your argument on how the ascent happened. We’ll go in later into a bunch of interesting fairly idiosyncratic history of how it happened. But let’s start with psychological development. You have a strong section in the book on Holdberg, Keegan, et cetera. Tell us a little bit about your thinking on psychological development and its role in essentially person making and society making.

Tomas: Yeah. First I should mention that I came fairly late to the idea of personal development and understanding personal development. I mean, the first half of my business career, I had no idea about personal development. But it was actually in business that I started to develop an interest. Because as the chairman of a banking group in Scandinavia, I came in contact, of course, with leadership development consultants and organizational consultants who actually pointed out that one of the most important capacities to look for when hiring top management is really this sort of inner maturity that makes it possible for you to both handle complexity, man perspectives.

Tomas: So it’s a matter of cognitive complexity capacity. But also emotional and relational capacity. And the ability to see things from different perspectives, and put yourself in another person’s shoes, that is always important in business. Not just only for instrumental reasons, but certainly for instrumental reasons. You’re a much better sales person if you can actually take the perspective of the buyer fully. To my surprise, these leadership consultants not only pointed out the importance of this, but up until that point in life, I thought this was more a function of intelligence, that you were born with this or not.

Tomas: But they actually showed how this can be developed. I saw this development process taking place both in colleagues of mine, and I also myself participated in some of these activities. I saw that, wow, consciousness development is actually possible and important, and important in business. If we understand this in business, why are we not at all talking about this in society? Why isn’t this a major aim in education and later on in adult education? That adult education should not just be about learning new facts and new skills, but actually to develop the capacity of your mind and your heart, I would say. I would say, too, today. Something that sounded very new age and intangible to me certainly became a reality.

Tomas: When I started to study this a little bit again from a perspective of complexity science, you can really ask yourself the question, if nature, through the evolution, should design this multipurpose consciousness, multipurpose mind that we have, how should nature do that most efficiently for humans to be able to live and adapt in a multitude of different environments. Of course, the answer would be that nature should do that as natural usually does in these situations, and that is to make complex self organizing system.

Tomas: As you know from complexity science, any self organizing complex system, given time, given that it can take in information, it takes in energy, then it can come to these bifurcation points where it is possible for the system to actually substantially reorganize into something new and to sometimes even talk about emergence, and you can have emergent properties in this system. Then it isn’t that strange, that actually can happen also with us humans. Again, that is what the German philosophers knew and pointed out.

Tomas: Even more interestingly, the theories that Schiller and Gothe, and therefore the Scandinavian politicians and intellectuals had, they correspond, as we point out in the book, very closely to the contemporary academic-

Tomas: The contemporary academic models of adult consciousness development. And you mentioned a few there. You mentioned, I mean, the father of this thinking, modern thinking is really Piaget. And then you have Kohlberg, and you mentioned Robert Keegan. And the thinking and writings for example, and at Harvard is very close to the models that we used in Scandinavia for more than 100 years ago. And then you should, of course, remember that all models are wrong. So this phenomenon of consciousness is, we are still very, very early in trying to understand what is going on. So of course, as always, all models are wrong, but some are useful. And I think, for example, the models of Professor Robert Keegan points at some of these very important developmental steps that we can take as adults. And the first of those steps is the same step that Schiller and Goethe pointed out. And that is the step of moving away from, what today might be called, a socialized mind, that is dependent on outside confirmation of our values. It’s dependent on an outside of authority for guidance in society. It’s the typical mind of a traditionally religious person who lives in a religious society, but also a typical modern person. Let’s call it an administrative mind with within a large corporation, or something that takes the corporate world just for granted, and tries to be the best possible within that corporate system, without really questioning the system.

Tomas: But then it is possible, already quite early in life, perhaps not before 25. And for many people, this step doesn’t happen until they are 40, or 50, or perhaps never. And that is one of the problems. Again, Professor Keegan points out that in the US, according to his estimate, at least half the population never leaves this sort of socialized mind. But it is possible to leave that mind, and to internalize, and develop your inner compass, and become what, in Keegan’s language is, self authoring. And that means that you become, in a very fundamental way, much more free to be the author of your own lives, and your own values. And really democracy, as already Schiller pointed out, democracy needs a sufficient amount of citizens that are actually capable of thinking for themselves in this deeper way. So in developing democracy, developing the capacity of self-leadership, or self authoring capacity, in a large part, population becomes crucial.

Jim: Yeah. It may be useful, at this point, to lay out the five layers that you guys pulled out of Keegan, and referenced many times in the book.

Tomas: Yeah. So I think the most, the two most interesting levels we’ve already been talking about, and that is the socialized mind, and that is the functioning of most adolescents, and young adults. And in some cases, you remain with within that framework of making sense, and meaning for the whole of your life. Then the next step, again, mentioned as self authoring. That’s when you can become the author of your own values, and author of your life in a much deeper way. You are not any longer dependent on your peer group for confirmation, and you can actually derive your own value from the inside. You have a capacity to do, and say things, that is not appreciated by your peer group. Then later on in life, some people, as professor Keegan points out, can even transcend this self authoring mind, into something that he calls a self transforming mind.

Tomas: And that involves a capacity to not only author your own values, but actually take a perspective on that process, and to see where you are in that process, and actively manage your own process in that way. You also start to see, and this goes back a little bit to this, what we were talking about, this socially constructed aspect of reality. You also start to be able to take your own culture as an object. Up until that point, your culture, or your society, or what some sociologists call your collective imaginary. And part of the collective imaginary today is, of course, things like money, marriage, nation states, precedence, the market, all of those things that we tend to take for granted, like the fish takes the water the fish is swimming in for granted, we start to be able to take this water as an objective for our reflections.

Tomas: We can start to separate ourselves a little bit from our culture. A little bit like coming back from Burning Man, and realizing that wow, we can construct a completely different world, and live in that for a week. And then coming back to the default reality, you cannot really look at the default reality with the same naivety as before. But that is a very, very, shall we call it, rare way of making meaning. And again, according to Professor Keegan’s estimates, we’re talking about less than 1% of the population that is making meaning at that level. But even if 1%, I mean, that sounds like a small number, but then again, if you’re looking at the whole of the US for example, we are talking about millions of people, millions of people capable of-

Jim: Could be 30 million people in theory, right?

Tomas: Yeah.

Jim: That’s a lot of people. Well, 1% be three million people, approximately. What are the other two numbers, just for our curiosity here?

Tomas: Yeah. Yeah. They are actually identical to the childhood developmental stages, already elaborated by Piaget. So really, as a new born, you are just in a fusion with your mother. You cannot even take a perspective of yourself. And you can say that, I’m talking here all the time about being able to take perspective. I think I should say that both for Piaget, and then for Keegan, and for other developmental psychologist, these steps are really a transformation, where you become able to take, as an object, things that you were previously in a fusion with. For example, as an adult in the socialized mind, you have your values, but you cannot take them as an object. Whereas in the transition to the self authoring mind, you can much, much more freely become aware of the fact that your values are actually a function of a lot of things, some of which you are actually in control of.

Tomas: And then in the same way, if we go back to the child, once you left this first stage, where you are in a complete fusion with your mother, and with the world, you can start to perceive yourself as separate from the world. And then a next step that usually happens around the age of five, or something like that, which is the stage that Piaget made a bit famous with some of his experiments, one of which is the experiment where you have a certain amount of soft drink in two glasses of the same shape. And then you ask the child to say which one of the glasses the child wants. And then the child says, “It doesn’t matter because it’s equal amount.” But then you pour one of the glasses into a much more narrow glass, or the content of one of the glasses into a much more narrow glass. And then all of a sudden it looks much more.

Tomas: And then typically, the three year old child will say, “Well, now I want that glass, because there is more in that one,” even though the child actually saw that it is the same amount of liquid that was poured over into the other glass, because a typical three year old cannot take a perspective on it’s sense impressions. If it looks more, then it is more. Whereas a child a few years older, and typically all or most seven year olds, would immediately say, “Well, it’s the same. It just looks more.” But that ability to take a perspective on your sense impression does not the usual three year old have. So that is a very important, also, developmental step.

Tomas: And then the next step, going into adolescents, you can say that the stages so far, you have had a very much of focus on yourself, and your own satisfaction of your own needs. And of course the young child can only see his own needs, and if it needs food, it will just cry. And you are very much in this more egocentric mind frame, up until early adolescence, when you usually go into a more socialized mind, when you realize that you are actually belonging to a family, or to a group. And what the group thinks about you, all of a sudden becomes important to you.

Tomas: And of course, this is a very important stage of development for any person. And that is what makes a civilized society possible, that we are socialized into this, and we get feelings like shame, and we understand that our own standing in the group is very important on how we think, and how we act, and all of that. And that is a very healthy, again, developmental stage that we all need to go through, but that we can set that then later in life without completely leaving that, we can still transcend it, and function on a more complex level of meaning making with a self authoring mind.

Tomas: So all of this, I mean, the amazing thing is not that we have these models. And again, all models are just generalizations, but they are helpful. And especially in realizing that we can take these important steps also in adulthood, and what implication this has for our understanding of society and democracy. And again, Schiller pointed out so clearly, that in his mind, and he lived through the French Revolution, and he and his fellow philosophers had put so much hope into the French Revolution. And then they saw that when the French people got rid of the king, and they theoretically got this freedom, they were still reaching out for an authoritarian leader.

Tomas: And first they got Robespierre, and then later Napoleon, and you had the establishment on the empire. So why was it not possible for the French people to really then develop democracy? And Schiller pointed out, and the other German idealist philosophers agreed with him, that the reason was that not enough, many people in France at that point in time, had actually developed that inner maturity to be able to internalize your source of authority. So the majority, or the vast majority, was still looking for an external authority.

Jim: Essentially you’re level two. So, again, we talk a lot about level three, and think that’s the normal state, but at least the way I read it, I believe your argument was, and the German philosophers picked it up using different tools, that prior to modernity, a lot of people, majority of people, were at their level two, essentially like a 10 year old.

Tomas: Of course.

Jim: They responded to punishment, and very simple rewards. And the real big transition to enter modernity was to go from most people being at level two, to most people being at level three, i.e. internalize, conformists, bureaucratic mind, et cetera.

Tomas: Yeah, yeah. And absolutely, the majority. But then the argument is probably that in modernity, you need, not a majority to be at a self offering level, but you need a critical mass too. You need a critical mass to be there. And what could a critical mass be? Well, of course, it’s always different in different complex self organizing system what constitutes a critical mass, but I wouldn’t have guessed five, 10, 15, 20, 20%. And that the percentage there is also depending on where, in society, these people are located. And the beautiful thing about this program of implementing large scale consciousness development, or large scale [foreign language 00:38:14] in the Scandinavian countries, was that the participants in these programs, these 10% that participated in the program, they came from all different backgrounds in society. And actually a majority of the participants were from farming or working class background. And then, perhaps 10% is enough if you have these 10% spread out all over society. If you have 10% in just some isolated elite, then of course, that is not enough to have a tipping impact on society. So, yeah, it was very clever, what they did.

Jim: Yeah. And again, they were feeling their way. They didn’t have the modern psychological framework, but then you go into a great depth, probably more than I was expecting, on the philosophical history of how these similar concepts were reached by different means by a number of philosophers, and also practitioners. But let’s start with the philosophers, people like Shaftesbury, and Rousseau, and Kant. And actually one that Zach Stein talks about a lot, who’s been on the show a couple of times, Comenius. Maybe talk a little bit about how those earlier, Comenius and Shaftesbury, probably before the classic enlightenment, and Rousseau and Kant, classic enlightenment characters.

Tomas: And then, you have the Swiss philosopher, or pedagogue also, Pestalozzi.

Jim: Yep, I’ll come to him next, but then I’ll also go to that intermediate area, the romanticists, right? The Goethe crew at Jena, et cetera.

Tomas: Yeah. So not to spend too much time on these early philosophers, but we point out there in the book that Comenius was probably the first one of philosophers in Europe. And he was from Bohemia, from what is today, the Czech Republic. And he was probably the first one in Europe to systematically think through the role of education, and especially the role of education in society. Up until that point, education had been mostly, or only limited to the elite in the society. And one really saw no need to educate the masses in any way. And Comenius was one of the first ones to really understand the importance of an educated population. And so he had a huge influence on the philosophers that came later.

Tomas: He actually spent some time in Sweden, even if he hasn’t left very much trace here in Sweden. And he was also active in Holland. But he certainly influenced a lot of thinkers that came after him. And you mentioned, for example, Rousseau, which is often referred to also as one of the first philosophers who has his own philosophy on education that he expressed, for example, in works like Emile. Interestingly enough, he never took any care and educated any of his own children in life, but in theory, he was interested in education.

Jim: Yeah. That’s always interesting that Rousseau, he had five kids, and he gave them all away to orphanages, right? What the hell, right? Talk about a guy who does not walk the walk, right?

Tomas: No. Exactly.

Jim: Interesting. And then there was the turn from, call it, high enlightenment. I’ve always argued that enlightenment, actually, had to fork, one down the Voltaire, Diderot branch, and the other down the Rousseau branch towards Romanticism. And you focus on the Romantic branch. And a lot of interesting things happen there. Goethe picked a crew of people who assembled around the University at Jena, who helped make a transition to one of the branches towards what we have today, but down the Romantic branch, which had some good results, and some bad results. I think you can argue that the Romantic branch also lead to Nazism and Marxist Leninism, but it also led to some good things. So maybe talk just a little bit, because I don’t want to get too bogged down into the philosophers, on how you saw the Romantic branch as the next step in your story.

Tomas: Yeah. And we already touched a little bit on that. Of course, one should remember when one is looking at this part of European history, that this was before the unification of Germany. So Germany was, back then, a lot of small duchies, and princedom, and a few kingdoms, the kingdom of Bavaria, kingdom of Prussia. And Goethe was actually supporting himself as the prime minister of one of these small duchies, in which Weimar was the capitol. And the second large city in that little duchy, which is only 20 kilometers away from Weimar, is the old university town of Jena. And Goethe managed to convince the duke that they should make the University of Jena into a free thinking university, because most of the universities in Europe by that time was very much under the religious influence.

Tomas: But Jena was made a refuge for free thinkers. So that actually attracted a lot of very high level intellectuals. And most of these romantic philosophers, or idealists philosophers, they actually spent some time in Jena, including, for example, a little bit later, Hegel, that might be called the last of these series of thinkers. He actually wrote the final chapter of his magnum opus on mind and society in Jena when Napoleon was fighting the battle, which has been called the Battle Of Jena, just a few kilometers away. He actually won that battle, which meant that he had more or less defeated Germany, or Prussia, at least Germany was not formed yet. Defeated Prussia, and Hegel knew that the French troops would come into Jena the day after. So he scribbled the last notes of his manuscript, sent it out with a courier, and then very famously, he has commented on how he, from a window, saw Napoleon come into Jena, and how he could see the world spirit materialized in one person, in Napoleon there.

Tomas: So sorry for that. But it’s an interesting part of European history, and one should realize that Jena was it’s own very unique intellectual environment. And in this environment, then, Romanticism was flourishing. And why do I find the Romanticism interesting? Well, it is interesting because it was the first really philosophical reaction against, again, the enlightenment’s, or the main focus on enlightenment. There were different, as you pointed out, there were different traits of enlightenment, but the main focus on reason, and science and-

Tomas: On reason and science and the objective world, and only the measurable and this machine metaphor and analytics. They were really the first one that pointed out that this is a very powerful way of looking at the world. You can do a lot with science, but we shouldn’t forget about the inner world and that our inner world follows a different set of rules. That you cannot really apply the strict positivistic thinking in any meaningful way on your inner world, because you can’t really measure value and meaning making and purpose and feelings, and all of these things. One of the main things that they did was through introspection, really look into this area of meaning making and cognitive development, and to make that into a part of philosophy.

Jim: Interesting. It’s also, just as an aside note, I always am interested in these contingencies, right? History has some broad themes, but there’s also major contingencies. What happens if right? Suppose the Duke of Weimar had not listened to Gerta. Most of them probably would not have, right? They would have said who is this mad man? Right? One person happened to make one decision, which had really substantial implications for the rest of European history. It’s, I think, always important to remember the many dots, think about your own life, the things that happened in your life that could have easily gone the other way or very low probability. That’s why I thought it was actually interesting that you got into this deeper history that maybe a lot of people would be interested in, to show that what evolved in Scandinavia was contingent, which I find actually hopeful, which means that we personally can have an effect in the world today. Right? Gerta and the Duke of Weimar together had a huge effect in the world. There’s a chance for any of us to have, potentially at least, have a huge impact in the world.

Tomas: Yeah, absolutely. Then how these letters by Schiller, as we develop in the book, how these letters of Schiller, where he is explaining these things, even before anything was published in book form. How they traveled in, in both original and copies up to Denmark and how they influenced Danish philosophers and thinkers, like Kierkegaard and how they then this thinking over the next 50 years really came to penetrate the thinking of most intellectuals in Scandinavia. It’s quite strange then to try to understand that just 150 years ago in Scandinavia, we were actually all living with a world view that is quite different from this modernistic positivistic, worldview that is so dominant today in the Western world. We actually had a quite different outlook on life and the inner world and how that guided on both our educational system, but also our view on adult development. Then also we should mention that we also go through in the book, how we then later lost this worldview.

Jim: We’ll come back to that one.

Tomas: Yeah.

Jim: We’ll come back to that one towards the end. The next personality we want to talk about, someone I had never heard about, Johann Pestalozzi, seem to have been a talk about contingent note in history, at least in the story you’re telling, he seems to be the guy in which all the forces combined. Then moved back out into the world. Tell us just in brief form a little bit about him and the role he played in this story.

Tomas: Yeah, he was very much a practical pedagogue. He was a man of education. He was a Swiss person and he really wanted to reinvent learning from scratch. He was very much informed by Comenius, the Czech philosopher that we spoke about earlier, but he actually practically started schools in Switzerland mainly. From the practical experience of educating young people, he wrote some very influential writings that were later picked up and built upon by all these later philosophers. If you say that Comenius and also you mentioned the English Duke of Shaftesbury III, sorry, third Earl of Shaftesbury and also influence on these German thinkers, but Pestalozzi was the practical person who actually put this into real schools and saw that this was working and then wrote about it and had a huge influence on education in Europe and still has.

Jim: Yeah. Actually I thought one of the things that was most interesting about the story was the original schools that the first school they started failed miserably. I think the second one too. I think this is a very useful point for people interested in social change, which is theory is good, but theory has to encounter the world, to be perfected. You can have all the great ideas in the world you want, but often they’re going to be proven wrong. You and I are both entrepreneurs. How often did the business unfold just the way we wrote it in the business plan? Never.

Tomas: Absolutely and you need to try and you need to try again and you need to understand why things fails. Sometimes of course, good things fail because of timing or yes, your business model or-

Jim: Bad luck.

Tomas: Bad luck, or you had a great idea and a great concept, but the market just didn’t want to pay for it, even though it was needed in society. You couldn’t find the finance for it or whatever.

Jim: Oh yeah. All those things have happened in various companies I’ve been involved with. Right? Sometimes we survived and pivoted and did something else and sometimes we didn’t. I think that’s a very important one and certainly in some of the worlds I travel in, sometimes gets on my nerves too much interest in theory. All right people, haven’t we talked this son of a bitch to death? Let’s go out and see if we’re right. For instance, in the Game B World, which I’m involved with pretty heavily, awful lot of theory, awful lot of talk but I do finally believe that the community is getting ready to go out and try some things. I think Pestalozzi is a perfect example of how important taking theory and putting into practice and then refining it, because there’s always things that you get wrong from a theoretical perspective when it comes to dealing with the real world.

Tomas: Yeah, but then we have already been a bit critical of the market and we said that the market is a social construct and that even the free market I claim could be different. We shouldn’t equate success of an idea, of a concept with financial success in the present market, because there are many good ideas I’ve seen that hasn’t been able to thrive in the market that has then pivoted or has been tweaked into something that is successful in the market, but has then lost the core idea and is not as good as it could have been.

Jim: Yeah. That’s frankly, the philosophy and theory of Game B, which is that we have to have completely different social signaling institutional structures, if good things are going to survive at a high rate. The two have to co-evolve together, actually three things have to co-evolve together. One are institutional signaling, second is new ways of self organizing to do constructive things in the world, not just top down hierarchical command and control, third ego development. People have to change to be able to operate in a world like that. I think those are all there. Let’s move on to our next topic briefly. We’ve been chatting here a lot. We may have to move it on a little faster here and that’s the kind of surprising, but important nexus that Freemasonry served in all this. You talk about later in the book, but like we’ll hop into it here, because a lot of these characters were Masons.

Tomas: Yeah. It’s not a central part of the story of the book, but it is a thing that we came across in doing the research too many times to leave out of the book. The fact that very many of the people involved in this history were actually Freemasons. I never myself understood what Freemasons are all about. I never been a Freemason and I haven’t understood it all. Certainly it was something else back then than what it is today. I think that the Freemasons, actually back then in Europe and possibly also in the U.S. and as I’m sure you know, many if not all of the founding fathers of the United States Constitution were Freemasons. Somehow they were carrying this sort of spirit of the possibility of personal development and societal development. They were carrying that understanding in some sort of practical and ritual way and becoming part of a Freemason lodge would mean that you would actually enter a path of personal development.

Tomas: I hope, I guess and I hope that the idea that was that this personal development was not just for the benefit of yourself or for your fellow Freemasons, but that this personal development was actually ultimately for the good of society. I think one can understand that a bit from reading the writings of the founding fathers of the U.S. for example.

Jim: Yeah, actually I did, when I read all that, in fact I came to the same conclusion before you had the section in the book. I said, “Hmm, this is an interesting and suspicious pattern, all these Freemasons,” right? Then you made it clear late in the book. The note I wrote to myself on my topic sheet was, “Hmm, I wonder what the Freemasonry of the 21st century ought to be.”

Tomas: Yeah.

Jim: Maybe we talk about that later, but now let’s move into where the story comes into real focus, sort of the creation of the concept of Folk buildung and how it got started in Denmark, under the influence of a thinker named Grundtvig and a practitioner named Christian Kold and a bunch of others.

Tomas: Yeah. I think this is a typical case study of what we today would call social entrepreneurship. Back then and now we’re talking mid 1800s, there were no big governmental decisions or anything. Again, back then, all the Scandinavian countries and certainly Denmark was absolute monarchies, but enough many people started to think about the writings of these German philosophers that reached first Denmark and Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard also has this developmental view on our life, on how we go through the different stages as has Nietzsche. That was also a writer back then, how Nietzsche also points out these steps. He talks about how we are first like a camel carrying the burden of society. Then you become a lion where you can more dictate your own life, but then finally the goal of any human life is to again, become the child who is new born to this process.

Tomas: These ideas of lifelong development were everywhere, and certainly everywhere in Denmark. Then we have the pastor of Grundtvig who really said, “Let’s try to do something with this.” He had this schoolteacher cult and they really are social entrepreneurs. They said, “Let’s get this going. Let’s get an old farmhouse and get the support from some local farmers and let’s try out the concepts of how can we do this in practice. How can we help young people really find their inner compass, but also help them?” We shouldn’t forget that at this early stage, that was also an emphasis on helping these young people just all get organized in the world, learn about their own history and their own culture find the cultural roots in society. Also later on, give them the elementary tools for organizing civic society.

Tomas: These places that were then called Folk High Schools and the whole concept was called Folks buildung, which means build them, this German concept of consciousness development for the people. Folks, that’s the whole people. It was building them for the people. It started very small, but this concept rapidly took on. Everyone saw the benefits from this. The participants certainly saw benefits also from a purely instrumental perspective. These young guys, first it was mostly only boys to start with, but very soon it was both boys and girls, and then young men and women that took place in these four high schools. They certainly saw that this was a way of getting ahead in life, perhaps with a farming background or a working class background. This was the way to have an advancement in society. It was really a win-win situation, both from society with more capable, lots of more capable citizens, but also from those who participated in these Folk High Schools from an individual perspective, this was beneficial.

Tomas: Then there is very soon this spread to Norway and then later to little bit later to Sweden. It was implemented in different ways in the different countries, different people got in involved. Then fairly soon the governments started to see the benefits of these programs and they started to become subsidized.

Tomas: In the beginning of the 1900s then this was, as I said, at the beginning, you could spend up to six months at these Folk High Schools with full state subsidy.

Jim: I believe the argument is, that it was this happenstance lucky break that these social entrepreneurs created this idea of Folk High School, which resonated with ordinary people and for a long while they were paying for it themselves, right?

Tomas: Yes. Paying for them themselves, but also as any social entrepreneur, there were also philanthropists involved contributings and the local communities contributing and they were running again like social entrepreneurs today on extremely small budgets. They were growing their own foods and very simple accommodations. In many cases, the teachers didn’t get paid or get paid very, very poorly at the start, but yeah, they managed.

Jim: Then the effect, back to the main theme of the story is that it raised the participants in their ego competence levels. From level two to level three, or from level three to level four. Right?

Tomas: You can say with contemporary language, that what happened was of course, that you helped a lot more people to be able to navigate a more complex world.

Jim: Exactly.

Tomas: Going from living in a small farming village where with 80 people and you know every one of them and all of that into trying to live into an urban industrial city building and participating in the democratic society. Of course, that demands inner capacities, both cognitive, but also emotional that we might come to the emotional side a bit later with the expansion of our circles of belongings that were very important part of this concept as well. But certainly you need to have more cognitive capacities just to be able to manage. The brilliance here was really to connect this individual capacity to manage and make sense and make meaning in the modern world. The importance for the individual, with the importance for society and that these people knew again, already Gerta and Schiller, but certainly also these entrepreneurs that brought this to the Nordic countries.

Tomas: They knew that if one should be able to succeed in creating democracy, you need to have citizens. You need to have citizens in those countries who are actually cognitively and emotionally capable of handle democracy. Meaning not just think about yourself and your family, but as actually be able to take a larger perspective of what is good for society as well.

Jim: Yeah. Is it fair to say that in your view, having done this research and written down this story, that perhaps why Scandinavia is different and better, at least on many measures today, is essentially chance that this Folk buildung concept got going in the 19th century and accelerated around 1900, so that earlier than other places, the percentage of people who had reached the self authoring level of ego development was higher than elsewhere?

Tomas: Yeah, absolutely. That’s it. You refer to the world value studies diagram, and even if one should be very careful about equating the values that you hold with levels of inner maturity. There is certainly a correlation there. You could say that the fact that we end up in this extreme corner of the diagram of the survey is a fact of that we have a higher percentage of people that are making sense of the world on a self authoring level. We should also make clear, so that nobody misunderstand this, that these levels of cognitive development, there is certainly a hierarchy and a progression. But it’s important to point out that you are not worth less, if you are on an early stage of the development. All philosophers and to date psychologists are very careful in pointing out that as with all developments, we need to be able to crawl before we can walk before we can run and that each stage has to take its time. But if we are aware of this development, we could hopefully create a society that helps more people earlier in life reach further in their maturation process.

Jim: Yeah. We’ll talk about that later about where we go from here, but let’s hop to the thing you just mentioned, or one of the things you mentioned, which is in addition to the five level model of ego development, you also have a 10 level model of span and scope of essentially where one’s concerns are focused. I don’t know if that’s quite the right way to describe it.

Tomas: We call them the circles of belonging.

Jim: Yes.

Tomas: Other writers call a similar concept circles of concern.

Jim: Okay. That’s good. The circles of concern certainly seems to fit nicely with what I took away from it. Do we want to go through those briefly or do we just want to talk about them in a more general sense?

Tomas: Yes. The circles of belonging or the circles of concern is an important concept in the way that, again as small children, very small children, we only care about ourselves. Then when we become a little bit older, we care about our family and our friends. But one of the most important thing of course of becoming an adult is that you care for your larger community and you feel a belonging with your community and therefore you care for it. It is in our genes, which developed of course, during stone age, or even before stone age, that we can very naturally relate to and feel a belonging to our tribe. A number of people up to perhaps what some people call the Dunbar number of about 150 people. But if you should go beyond that and feel not only an intellectual, but actually an embodied solidarity with a larger group of people.

Tomas: Of course, back at the period where we were talking, we were just mentioning that the nation state of Germany had not even been formed in the middle of the 1800s. We were at an age where the formation of nation States started to become important and a large country like Germany or in a large country, which geographically is even larger, Sweden back then, there was really no sense of solidarity or belonging between someone in Bavaria or in Croatia or in the South of Sweden and North of Sweden. A big part of this project was actually to try to expand the circles of belonging from the family and the tribe and the village to…

Tomas: -Belonging from the family and the tribe, and the village, to actually include all the people in the nation. So, this was part of the nation building project. Later on, it’s still fairly early, in the beginning of the 1900s, focus shifted, and at least in Sweden that focus was very clear, to even go beyond the nation state and to try to extend the circle of belongings to all of humanity, or even what we might say today, we need to extend it to future generations.

Tomas: The further you try to extend these circles of belonging, especially if it should be a true embodied feeling, the more inner maturation is demanded from you. Again, you cannot skip any stage of development. This is quite interesting today, where we try to socialize young people into sort of feeling a belonging for the whole human kind without first having established the more closer circles of belonging. Then this concept of feeling of solidarity for the whole of humanity, if that is not really grounded in a developmental process, but just sort of you’re socialized into that, then that can very, very easily disappear.

Tomas: I think that is what we are seeing in many of the Nationalist movements today anywhere in the world, that for many people, this sort of solidarity with the whole of the world is we carry that very, very lightly, and we can easily revert back to only thinking about our family, or our closer circles.

Jim: Yeah, that was one of the things I took… My eyebrow went up when I read how important nationalism was in this story. Many are sort of ambivalent about nationalism, but I think you made the strong point that it was actually a step of maturity up from the manner and the market town that you live near, and maybe your church.

Tomas: And you should know that again, in Germany back then, these different small Dutches, they were actually at war with each other, and the Kingdom of Bavaria, and the Kingdom of Croatia were archenemies. The same, Sweden and Denmark has always been enemies and in wars with each other. We were living in a different world where just taking the step from this very closer circle of just belonging to just your tribe in the south of Sweden, and to actually caring for all Swedes, that was a huge step. It was a step in the right direction back then.

Tomas: Today, nationalism is a step backwards. It’s a step back in the evolutionary stage when it comes to society. When we are not making this connection between the societal development and our own personal development, then we can’t really see what is going on with these new nationalistic tendencies in Europe and everything. If you can connect this to the personal development of people in the country, then it becomes more clear what is going on. Also, realizing that in times of rapid social change, it is the national default of us humans to look for an authoritarian outside source for security and protection.

Tomas: If we do not want to do that, then we have to work on ourselves and also help other people to develop and mature.

Jim: Very good. I’m going to skip over an interesting section, but not really on the main line of the story, which is where you validate your argument by comparing what happened in Finland, Germany, and Nordic immigrants to the United States and some others. I’m going to mention just one out of that section, which I thought was particularly interesting, and again, an eyebrow raiser. You made the very interesting point that the Nordic immigrants to the United States are well known for having been relatively easily digested, had relatively few problems, low crime rates, very self sufficient, et cetera. Then you pointed out that those Nordic immigrants came to the US well before the establishment of the welfare state in Scandinavia.

Jim: So, whatever capabilities and characters they had pre-dated the welfare state. You point out to, I thought a very interesting and important that often lost, especially in so-called progressive circles, that a responsibility may have actually been the super power that the Nordic peoples had that time. Can you say a little bit about that?

Tomas: Absolutely. A very important part of this process of maturation or even development, or what you would like to call it, is that with this development you become aware of more things in yourself and in your environment. As you become aware of them and you are capable of taking them as objections of reflection, whereas before you might not even had been aware of them, these things had you rather than you having them as development of psychologists says. Perhaps I should have mentioned this example earlier, but one very clear way of looking at this is of course, like a young child who is angry. Then the anger has the child. The child cannot relate to the anger. The anger has the child.

Tomas: Whereas an adult, hopefully a mature adult, can have the anger rather than the anger having the person. You can look at the anger and you can think, “What should I do with it? Should I repress it? Is this a healthy opportunity to actually let out a bit of anger in this process?” You can take that as an object. You can have your anger rather than your anger having you. In this process, on various levels, when you can take as an object more and more things both inside you and also in society, with that comes a freedom of course. The extended freedom that that is why you can really talk about a hierarchy of development, because each step actually contains the earlier ones but increases your freedom. You can see more and you can relate to more.

Tomas: But then of course with that comes a larger responsibility. With a healthy adult development, and with a healthy developmental process, and also relating this to the circles of belonging when you become aware of you belonging to larger and larger circles, you also with this belonging feel a responsibility. So, this process of what was taking place at the Folk high schools, was certainly developing your freedom, but with that, developing your ability to take responsibility. Of course, that is a very, very important capacity in any society. Of course, in the early days of the American society when you came as a settler, almost alone, out in nature, you claimed virgin territory in Minnesota for your family and all of that, then of course your ability to take responsibility was a very important capacity.

Jim: Yeah, and unfortunately, a lot of particularly progressives in the United States at least, forget the responsibility piece. They don’t want to point the finger at people for not taking responsibility. I think probably that goes back to the fact that people weren’t educated in a way like your Folk-Bildung that included both capability and responsibility.

Tomas: Yeah, because if I should defend the progressives now, if you don’t have this model of development, and also if you have a lot of people in society that are not at a level of maturation where they actually have the capacity to take responsibility, then it doesn’t matter how much responsibility you put on them. They will not be able to take the responsibility because thy do not even see the problem that they should take responsibility for. So, they are perhaps then the progressives might be right that in certain situations, just trying to put responsibility to people is not the way forward. But where they go wrong then is that they do not talk at all about the responsibility. The right way to go is to say, “Well, for this society to function then we need to help as many people as possible to reach that level of in the capacity where you’re capable of taking responsibility.”

Tomas: So, let’s help people to reach that level so that they are capable of taking responsibility, and then making sure that they do take responsibility or something in that direction.

Jim: I think that’s good. Though, I would point out that prior to education being general at all, like here on the American Pioneers where I’m living now, our farm was settled in 1746 by a guy with a mule, and an ax, and a chicken maybe, and one or two rifles. They knew how to take responsibility. Nobody had to teach them. I mean, it was the natural state of the world.

Tomas: Yeah, but you know again, that environment is probably very supportive of development because if you do not develop yourself in that environment either, you just become a third rank person in a gang or something, or you develop an ability to take responsibility and you mature. I think, it’s sad to say, but a hash environment is really an environment where you either do develop or not.

Jim: Or in the pioneer days, you just died. If you couldn’t grow crops for a couple of years, you were gone.

Tomas: Yeah. [crosstalk 01:19:19]. I just want to say one more thing on that-

Jim: Okay.

Tomas: While we’re looking at the developmental level. Of course, you can force some sort of responsibility through just physical violence. If you go back in Medieval Ages or whatever, if you don’t comply and do, and in some sort, to take responsibility, then we will flog you. You can do something like that. But real responsibility has to come from the inside. That is when you really take responsibility. Again, building a modern democracy that is not dependent on violence for it to function, then you need to develop this in the capacity to take responsibility.

Jim: Wow, I think that makes perfect sense. We’re getting really short on time here, unfortunately. So many interesting topics we could talk about. In the last 12 minutes, or 10 minutes or so, I’d like to have you talk a little bit about a section you have in the book on how the binding energy of Bildung is unraveling in Scandinavia today, and what might be done about it. What might a Bildung 3.0 look like to help ratchet, first Scandinavia, then Europe, and then humanity more generally to the next level.

Tomas: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, yeah. I just want to mention two things that I don’t want us to skip over. One is a very natural question. Why didn’t this work in Germany? The very simple answer there is that, yeah all these philosophers came from Germany. The leaders in Germany fully realized the potential of Bildung, but due to the civil unrest in Europe during the middle of the 1800s, in 1848 there were revolutions in Frankfurt and in Berlin. The authorities in Berlin lost control over Berlin to the revolting workers for three days in ’48. So, the politicians there said, “Bildung and consciousness development is great. Let’s give it to our sons,” because back then it was only the sons, “But we should never give this possibility to the workers because that will only lead to revolution.”

Tomas: So, there was no fault Bildung. But the universities were certainly formed on this. Then after the first World War, we had the weak Weimar Republic, and then more and more people in Germany started to realize that in order to get this weak republic to work, we might need to give Bildung to the people. There were actually efforts in that direction in ’28 and in the late of the ’20s. But then of course, already in ’32, the demand for a strong leader had reached the level that Hitler was able to grab power in Germany. So, too little Bildung, too late in Germany. That’s the answer to why this didn’t happen in Germany, but we rather had the opposite development there.

Tomas: Then in Scandinavia, why are we losing it in Scandinavia? Well, after the fact that Germany lost two World Wars, everything German became suspicious, and we stopped having German as the main academic language. We stopped reading the German philosophers, and we all turned towards the Anglo-Saxon world. We turned toward Oxford and Cambridge, and Harvard. There, of course it was still the teaching of the [inaudible 01:22:55] and [inaudible 01:22:56], and the enlightenment thinking of our mind as a rational machine. In the economics department, it was all about human economics. We actually forgot about the importance of inner consciousness development, and adapted this home economic as picture of humans.

Tomas: We shouldn’t put all the blame on the Anglo-Saxon philosophers. We actually in Sweden, we’re amongst the most strong proponents of positivism during the 1900s, meaning that only the philosophy stating that only what is measurable really counts, and that the inner world, our subjective world, is too suspicious really to really be dealing with in serious terms in philosophy. Today in Scandinavia, we are all focused on this sort of outer measurable world, and we all with the PISA reports, and doing statistics on learning facts, and things like the. The Bildung component disappeared during the 50s and 60s. I think that in the 70s and 80s, and perhaps even 90s, there were still teachers that were themselves raised in a Bildung conscious world. But now, not even the teachers know anything about this.

Tomas: So, this is really a secret, even to us, in Scandinavia. When we write or political and intellectual history, this is not really remembered. What got Leann and myself actually starting the research into this, was that we found a newspaper article from 1889 by one of the founding fathers of the modern Swedish democracy, called [inaudible 01:24:58], where he wrote something along the lines that we social Democrats have been all too much focused on the material aspects of life. They are certainly necessary, but they are just a prerequisite for the inner development, and that the main task is to bring humanity to a new developmental level.

Tomas: We had never heard about these sort of perspectives by reading the contemporary books on political history in Sweden, so that was really an eye-opener for us, and the starting point for the research and the writing.

Jim: So, the Scandinavians have forgotten their secret ingredient.

Tomas: Yeah.

Jim: That happened by chance, more or less. Right? Okay, so now what do we do going forward? What’s Folk-Bildung 3.0 look like to you?

Tomas: I sometimes say that I don’t see the Nordic secret as a blueprint. I don’t think that we should do this again. It’s not a blueprint, but it’s certainly a case study in the way that if we today are talking about the need for broad scale consciousness development, developing our inner capabilities to handle a more complex world, this is not just some New Age talk. This is actually something that has been tried fairly independently in three different countries, full scale trials, and they turned out successfully. So, we should see this as a case study that focusing on developing inner capacities to handle the challenges of a modern world in democracy has actually worked.

Tomas: Then the question becomes, how would one do it today? And I don’t know. I honestly don’t know, but I think the starting point is really to, again, change our world view and leave the idea that our minds are a computer or a machine, and really start looking at our mind as these complex, evolving, organic systems that are capable of not only learning, but also evolving in depth and nuance. If you have that perspective, then of course you realize that in this rapidly moving world today where we do not know what the world will look like in 20 years, perhaps not even 10 years, it’s so difficult to say, “What should we teach our young people in school and at university?”

Tomas: Well of course, reading and writing, and arithmetic will always be a fundament of learning, but on top of that, even today when you started Google at a tech firm, what you learned at university just three years earlier is old news. You have to be constantly learning. So then to focus our education, and certainly our higher education, and a lifelong education, at developing these sort of inner capacities of complexity and being able to take more perspectives, see the world in more depth, and nuance will be the key both for your own individual personal success in the work market tomorrow. You will need this flexibility and capacity just to stay alive in the workforce in the future.

Tomas: It will also be a key asset to be able to develop our democracies into a next level, where we are actually able of some sort of collective sense-making, even as the world becomes more and more complex around us. Exactly how to do this, how to implement this, I don’t know. Certainly, you cannot just do this through teaching. You have to have immersive learning. Perhaps we should give young people the possibility in their 20s to take half a year to go into some sort of immersive learning and personal development. If that is too much, we might use technology to support this inner developmental project. My foundation in Stockholm is active together with another foundation in Stockholm called [inaudible 01:29:48] Foundation in developing non-profit, opensource, co-created digital platform for personal inner growth called 29K, where we have interventions but also these video-sharing moments where you can really integrate and deepen your inner growth.

Tomas: Again, I’m not suggesting that we are replacing impersonal meetings with digital platforms and video conferencing, but certainly we are going to reach millions and millions of people with the possibilities of inner lifelong development. We need to democratize this in some way, and I believe that technology could certainly be one helping resource in that respect.

Jim: Very good. I think at that, we will end it here. This has been a fabulous conversation. I strongly recommend the book, “The Nordic Secret”. If you want to get into this in more detail, and I think you are pointing one of the important ways for it, we really do have to think hard about who we are as people with some volition, and who we want our children to be to create the kind of society that we want. That’s really the bottom line.

Tomas: Yeah, and can I also end by doing a bit of promotion for my latest book? It’s called, “The World We Create.” That is about becoming conscious about this social imaginary, collective imaginary that we are living in, and how this personal inner development and societal change goes hand in hand. Thank you very much, Jim.

Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting. Music by Tom Mahler at