When I was a high school student in New York during the 1980s we used to say the following to others who behaved foolishly: Hey! Act your age, not your IQ! In other words, behave like a mature adult rather than an infant. Nearly 25 years later on I find myself wanting to say that to more and more people. Europe is suffering from a debilitating identity crisis. It doesn’t confront its issues rationally as mature and responsible adults. While North America doesn’t suffer from an identity crisis (apart from Canada’s permanent questioning of itself ), Western civilisation is in the process of de-evolution to infantile regression .
In 1996, the American poet Robert Bly wrote a book entitled “The Sibling Society “. In that book, he wrote that the United States and Americans were no longer adults. Rather, the society had regressed back to adolescence. He cited the partisan battles between then President Bill Clinton and the Republican leadership of Congress as case examples of an adolescent society. He said that American society had become conformist adolescence competitors and warned of the danger of fascism. Four years later, another middle aged adolescent by the name of George W. Bush was seated in the White House.
How quickly things degenerated over the past decade! The terror attacks on 9/11 caused further regression. The President and media reacted with infantile claims about terrorist hating our freedoms. The contagion spread across the ocean to the UK. Rather than acting like responsible adults, politicians acted like infants and expected the people to do the same.The movement of infantile regression crossed the English channel and infected continental Europe. From the Alps to Scandinavia, xenophobia, islamophobia and right wing violence is on the rise. Within the past decade, European countries have found themselves embroiled in hysteria and controversy regarding the role and place of immigrants, in particular Muslim immigrants within society. From the murder of Dutch filmmaker Van Gough on the streets of Amsterdam
by a Muslim angered by his films perceived to be anti-Muslim, to the debate about the hijab and burka in France , an atmosphere of fear and loathing permeates Europe.
Why this identity crisis now? Europe has not been the centre of the global system since the end of the Second World War. The United States has long eclipsed Europe as the leading economic and military global power. Europe lost most of its colonies during the 1960s. Yet, Europeans never felt an inferiority complex during the real decline of their power for 40 years after the war. Why now the sudden identity crisis about what makes a person French, German, Swiss and British? Why now the sudden nostalgia for a past which disappeared in the previous century? What happened to European rationality and soberness? Bly compared Europeans to Americans stating the former were by and large mature adults compared to the latter. That might have been so 15 years ago, but sadly Bly has been proven wrong.
In France , President Sarkozy owes his election by playing the race card and whipping up anti-Muslim fear. The Swiss Peoples Party won the largest number of seats in the last election with a campaign poster of white sheep kicking out black sheep. (See title image above) In Italy , Silvio Berlusconni swept to power promising to clear the streets ofGypsy people . The story repeats itself more or less the same in every country in the EU.
Opportunistic politicians are encouraged by tabloid newspapers out to sell copies. From Austria to the UK, the daily tabloids scream about the flood of asylum seekers swamping their countries. There are lurid reports how asylum seekers are simply economic migrants who simply make up stories about repression just in order to get a free flat and money from the state. Hardly a week passes without an columnist or editorial calling for more border controls or cracking down on the “high” number of illegal immigrants. There are calls for debates on national identity coupled with demands that immigrants integrate themselves better into the society. There are concerns that national cultures and languages are endangered of being extinct. The atmosphere is that of impending doom and the end of the world. I think someone needs to have their diapers changed.
On the other hand, religious fundamentalists fare no better. The death threats against artists who defame the Koran or Mohammad are also examples of infantile regression. Why not organise campaigns to boycott offensive works of art? Instead of making angry denunciations, why not educate the public about Islamic culture? Instead of holy wars and calls to arms, why not initiate sober and serious public discussions and forums. Are there any adults left? If so, please rise up!
The most pertinent question is why there aren’t any politicians or intellectuals making mature and rational debates or at least demanding a more sober debate? Why do election campaigns resemble more like adolescent popularity contests rather than serious and dignified debates advancing policies to the advantage of all. Why are so many middle aged media and political figures having temper tantrums in public? Why do people vote for political parties and politicians who treat them like little children offering them nothing substantial other than candy and sugar?
Europe has no reason for an identity crisis. The only region in Europe to have an excuse to have an identity crisis in the former Yugoslavia . Yet, despite the traumatic shock of civil war and a violent break up, most people living in the former Yugoslavia do not suffer from the same identity crisis as their better off neighbours. When Serbs endured 78 days of NATO bombing , they dusted themselves off and carried on with life. They didn’t react hysterically or degenerate into adolescents or infants. The NATO campaign was an attack much worse than what the U.S. endured for a few hours during one day. Neither immigrants nor the Americans are to blame for the woes of Europe. Europeans need to grow up. Americans must stop blaming “socialism” for their problems. If they are not satisfied with the political order, then they should agitate to create an alternative. If they are no happy with the European Union, then they should organise a movement to withdraw. On the other hand, they must accept the reality. Now only must they act like adults but they should demand to be treated as adults rather than fall for cheap gimmicks proffered by insincere politicians who scapegoat members of the community. There is no doubt that the West is in crisis. The crisis is internal rather than external. The crisis will only be solved by responsible adults. Otherwise the crisis will degenerate hand in hand with social infantile regression.