14 December 1996
Thoughts on Defining the New Age
- / -
Comments to Roger Doudna, Findhorn Foundation
In response to your request for comments concerning the "New Age", to "meaningfully distinguish between the various manifestations of this movement", I offer the following -- to be taken with as much salt as you wish!
Over the years I guess we have all thought about this question from different angles -- although the question has lost much of its challenge. I even wrote a poem about it once -- to celebrate my disassociation from it. But, provoked by your question, it seemed useful to explore the possibility that phonetics, grammar, spelling, dyslexia and typographical error offered the best clues to the many understandings of the phrase in practice. From which:
1. One obvious meaning can best be understood by recognizing that for many
it is essentially the "Age of the New". So anything new is to be cherished.
Anything old is of lesser priority -- subject to replacement or elimination,
even through planned obsolescence. The problem is that some of the erstwhile
New Agers are themselves now old, and are perhaps dissatisfied with this interpretation
which served them so well in the past! Eternal youth advocated when one is young,
does not look so convincing when one is older! More pointedly, some are about
to be transferred by their children to homes for the elderly.
2. I quite like the implications of "Gnu Age" -- which suggest that
the humble gnu might actually have a comeback. Maybe this best summarizes the
perspective favoured by deep ecologists.
3. Also interesting is "Knew Age". This draws attention to the sense
that many of those involved have been strong in their knowing of what was the
truth that they knew back then -- and which others needed to know with their
vigorous assistance. Unfortunately, with the passing of time, what was claimed
as known has proved less effective in making a difference -- especially to relationships
amongst those who knew! As such they may be understood as the disabused, facing
their own doubts about the adequacy of old patterns.
4. The possibility of typographical error, or dyslexia, suggests the need to
explore "Now Age", and indeed there have been many who have pushed for
living in the present moment -- creatively indifferent to the past and the future.
There is much mystical literature in support of this view. They have had their
problems, as interviews with aging hippies show. Their views have also reinforced
some environmental and other difficulties, as ignored by-products continue to
5. Also possible is a combination of the last two, namely "No Age".
For some this involves the challenges of learning how to say "no" -- to processes
which continue to trouble our society. For others it involves a form of systematic
negativity -- whether of the critical form, most condemned as criticism for
its own sake, or in the less understood form associated with the mystical "via
negativa" (Neti Neti, in Sanskrit; "negative capability" as advocated
by the poet John Keats). For others again it emphasized that age should not
be a factor (as in ageism) -- something that the ageing advocates of this approach
have had to struggle increasingly to communicate to the young unemployed. More
cruelly it may also come to be understood by historians in the future as the
period when people did not grow up, and prided themselves for it.
6. Following through on these permutations, we also have "Know Age".
As indicated above, this period has indeed been a time of much "knowing". We
may indeed end up being the best informed species headed for extinction! More
creatively this could be understood in the light of the motto of the oracle
at Delphi as "Know Thyself" -- and many have pursued the learnings associated
with this route.
7. But, taking into account an earlier perspective, the delphic "Know Thyself"
has also been interpreted by some as "No Thyself" -- and self-negation has indeed
been a phenomenon characteristic of many in the "No Age", understood
otherwise, although this too is reinforced by many spiritual practices aimed
at negating the self.
8. Finally the phrase could also be understood as "News Age", and indeed
it has been very much the age of the latest news from all corners of the globe.
Governance of countries has become both governance in response to the latest
news (short-termism in the extreme) -- as well as governance of the news (news
management, censorship and spin-doctoring).
The challenge of the phrase is that whilst some interpretations offer incentives to the generation that first subscribed to it, it is not clear how those that follow can take it on. As with clothes that were new for parents, their kids cannot be expected to want to continue to get some wear out of what may no longer appear fashionable.
Having done "new" for a number of decades, where do we go next?
What's new? What is "post-new"? Re-new? Re-gnu? Re-knew? Re-know? Re-no?
- Nyetworking Conspiracy of the New Age, 1982 [text]
- A Congress that Dared the Unthinkable: report on the First New Age Congress,
- First World New Age Congress (Florence, 1978) [text]
- Wholeness : why I am no longer a believer. 1997 [text]
- In Quest of Uncommon Ground: beyond impoverished metaphor and the impotence
of words of power. 1997 [text]
- Future Generation through Global Conversation: in quest of collective well-being
through conversation in the present moment. 1997 [text]
- Evaluating Synthesis Initiatives and their Sustaining Dialogues. 2000 [text]
- Presenting the Future. 2001 [text]
- The Isdom of the Wisdom Society: Embodying time as the heartland of humanity.