Keeping an open mind

BnF, Nouvelle acquisition française 16251, fol. 84v (Saint Denis and Saint Piatus)

Every culture is circumcribed and constrained by its own rules, which preserve the culture’s integrity, underwrite its survival, but also prevent its own self-surpassing.

If an unexamined life is not worth living, then an unchallenged culture is not worth cultivating. Decadence and complacence are the first symptoms of the demise of a culture. The history is littered with examples of cultures and civilisations decaying and disappearing.

On the other hand, a vigorous and vibrant culture is one where the agents of preservation and those of change clash in well-matched pitched battles. Where the custodians of the past meet the iconoclasts on an open field.

Every time European culture was challenged from within – and that has always been its defining feature –, it made it stronger and allowed it to shoot farther. To outside or half-closed eyes, it looked like internal strife, an endemic weakness. To clear eyes, however, it’s been a source of renewal and growth.

And that is because, generally speaking, European culture has been an open-source project. And as anything open-source, it is full of bugs, errors and inconsistencies, alphas and betas but no final releases. It is also always being improved.

From the height of modernity, it’s rather easy to dismiss previous ages as blinkered and close-minded, tides of bigotry and ignorance. But that is in itself a blinkered view of the past, and of the general outlook of a culture which has sponsored the agents of change and dissent almost as much as its stewards and watchdogs.

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