Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Orange Face

I have been doing some 'wiki-walking' looking at the cities, and countries, I have been visiting. Opening the Pandora's box has let me realise how little I know about all the connections that tie the various countries together. The Netherlands is a particularly interesting case. The first ever company, and the first ever stock exchange were in Amsterdam. Company is a loose description. The Dutch East India Company (VOC)  could wage war, had its own currency, could imprison people and even execute them 'legally'. Like buying shares in the adventures of Genghis, Alexander or Shaka. They spread far and wide.



I like thinking of alternate histories. What would have happened if? The British only came to South Africa as settlers in 1820, shortly after the ultimate defeat of Napoleon in 1815. Napoleon had done some damage to the Dutch and their golden age withered. The British filled the 'power void'. Despite the idea of the VOC, if there is one country in Europe you would hold up as the Liberal torch bearer, it would be the Netherlands. How would the world be different if the Dutch had stayed a major power? They were famous for being able to have uncomfortable conversations and became known as 'the publishing house of Europe' for putting out literature that was too controversial elsewhere. Hobbes, Locke, Bayle and Spinoza all worked here because they weren't able to push the boundaries elsewhere. That is a super cool reputation.

I am always interested by the lack of Dutch extroverted patriotism. A chap I met last night said they find World Cups and singing of anthems a little strange. It is not unusual for people not to know the words. He said most Dutch people are aware of both the good and the bad, and pretending that there is some inherent, better, Dutchness, doesn't feel good. A culture of acceptance feels better. I grew up believing patriotism was the fire that could pull the stories of lots of different people together. In South Africa there are 11 official languages, and a lot of healing to do. Cries of 'Proudly South African' and rainbows on faces are the banner around which we all gather. I have several T-Shirts with various prints of the African continent. 

In creating a common story, it is useful to go back to history. The tribes which we place ourselves in today seem cohesive and homogeneous. They really aren't. There has always been infighting. There have always been differences of opinion. People have left. People have returned. People are always moving. More and more I think the only patriotism there should be, is a celebration of the best bits of all the cultures we have created. A celebration of the different combinations of ingredients. A savouring of the flavours you can get exposed to by meeting new people.

I am proud of the Dutch history of encouraging conversation. I would paint my face Orange to celebrate that.

This pic was taken shortly after I visited Amsterdam for the first time 16 years ago

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