Travelling around Cambodia, I couldn’t help noticing how the locals looked like children. For a European, it is often difficult to gauge the age of an Asian person, as the age markers that we are used to are less pronounced among Asians. But also the behaviour often reminded me of adolescents. The way they would negotiate a price, the way they would pass a little lie, the way they would herd or imitate a European.
In a seminar I once attended, The Seed for Fulfilment, based on process work, the facilitator described Andy Mindell’s view how we are still in our teenage years as a civilisation. In the context of the age of the Earth, we humans only possess a consciousness for several thousand years perhaps, and a way to effectively record it for even shorter time. We are teenagers, underage, maybe even still close to infancy. And therefore collectively we can be extremely cruel, the way small children often are, as they lack deep experience of pain and of extensive self-reflection.
The experience of Cambodia, with its absolute horror of a genocide, fits easily into this narrative. Sometimes it is creepily literal: the majority of its people is young, as the old were at a disproportional risk during the Khmer Rouge years. Children-people, acting with a teenager’s insouciance.
But as a civilisation, we all are children too. The passion with which we deny our obvious crimes. The way our various empires and their heirs deny or justify their atrocities against others and often against themselves: the British, the Belgians, the Russians, the Turks, the Japanese. The way our current world hegemon has a moral blind spot when it comes to its own actions: Barack Obama can be conceivably seen as a mortal hero from the Lord of the Rings, corrupted by the absolute power into authorising drone murders without involving any court of law. That’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Germany is a rare nation that has been forced into adulthood by the tragic realisation of its crime. Perhaps that explains its cautiousness in a crisis, so annoying for the more gung ho partners.