Last month I spent five days in the delightful village of Kardamyli for the third Kardamyli Festival.
I first heard if this festival during lockdown through the HowToAcademy but sadly could not attend the first one in 2021 as I was in Australia but this year I made it.
The site itself is located in a large car park opposite Πέτρινοι Πύργοι στην Παραλία (Pétrinoi Pýrgoi stin Paralía), a picturesque beach populated by stone cairns with their own individual personalities added to by the daily passers by on their way to the beach.
I came to Kardamyli largely out of curiosity and the quality of the world class speakers featured on the programme many of whom I have long followed and greatly admire. The festival is undoubtedly a labour of love by all involved including a band of friends and family volunteers who cheerfully did the meet-and-greet, played bouncer and guard, and shepherded the 350 odd attendees who turned up to pretty much every session.
Nothing about Kardamyli disappointed.
We stayed in a lovely home-run studio, wandered the town, had some interesting conversations and explored many of the ideas that were raised. The Festival began with Bettany Hughes exploring Socrates’ concept of “The Good Life” which especially resonated given the foundational concepts upon which Intersticia is based, particularly the work of John O’Neil.
Building upon this was Andrea Wulf’s “Magnificent Rebels”, a work which I read when it first came out and found fascinating in terms of how fate brought together some of the most important thinkers of late 18th Century Germany in one place at one time. Many of these thinkers were instrumental in helping to define “The West” and the construct that underpins it which archaeologist Naoise Mac Sweeney extrapolated in her sweeping view of the evolution of the idea and concept of “The West” from where it began to where we are now.
Every society has a set of beliefs that go far beyond the life of the individual and have the power to define – and to divide – us. (Neil MacGregor)
Neil MacGregor took us on a whirlwind tour of humanity through the objects, places, rituals and spaces that connect with and represent the theological dimensions that cultures and societies have used to identify themselves, ranging from the challenge of observing Ramadan in Space to the creation of the Shrine of Pont d’Alma for Princess Diana in France. He concluded by asking some very poignant and crucial questions for “the West” centred around the challenge of how to define our shared beliefs as a society in the age of secularism, ‘the individual’ and the underpinnings of liberal democracies in their desire to embrace and embody multiculturalism.
These questions were further interrogated by “the best Prime Minister that the UK never had” Rory Stewart who challenged the West in its need to explore new forms of both economic and democratic models suited to the 21st Century calling for Aristotle’s rhetoric as a powerful tool with which to explore the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead.
Stewart identified the three corners of what Harvard Professor Mark Moore has transformed in to The Strategic Triangle which is one of the foundational models for the design and analysis of Public Policy and which we use as a fundamental model for both our Founders and Coders Social Machine curriculum and in our Brave Conversations.
The triangle is based on the interplay and interconnection between:
- Pathos – the need for emotional communication and resonance in exploring ideas
- Ethos – the need to discover moral character in order to talk about Truth
- Logos – the need for new ideas and vision
A key element to this is in understanding the notion of the authorising environment, where the power lies within a society, how it is wielded and where it’s limits lie. This was especially relevant when German journalist Kai Strittmatter gave his perspective on Xi Xin Ping’s China in what I found to be a very one-sided and naïve criticism of an alternative to The West as represented by the Chinese State. My main criticism is that Strittmatter was critical of the China surveillance model without acknowledging or even recognising the insideousness of our Western Surveillance Capitalism, let alone being in any way open to the potential advantages that might be presented by Chinese Data and AI Regulation. I cannot claim to have any knowledge of the Chinese system but I don’t believe that we in The West should be lauding the system we live in to be one that is superior. There could have been a lively and useful debate around this but sadly very few really interrogate our own system from the data perspective and the talk by Anjana Ahuja, whilst being aimed at the “average punter” gave some good insights, was fairly superficial and lightweight.
BBC Russia journalist Steve Rosenberg made his first visit outside of Russia since the invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and through his stories and songs gave us a glimpse of the reality distortion that is life in 2023 Russia. Both he and Kai Strittmatter provided contrasting perspectives on aspects of humanity that we in the West too often fail to appreciate because we don’t know how to interrogate their belief systems, mythologies and deeply ingrained traditions, rites and institutionalised practices. If more of us did we would be far more prepared for the events which surround us and perhaps more nuanced in our analysis of them.
This became startlingly obvious when, on Saturday 7th October, we awoke to news of Hamas’ Operation Al-Aqsa Flood and the outbreak of the largest Israeli-Palestinian confilct since the War of Independence in 1948. My first inkling of the event was through a Telegram message from our Palestinian Fellow who comes from Gaza, but from that moment on the rest of the Festival was underpinned by what was happening in that part of the world. Tom Holland addressed this directly as he opened the second day by giving some historical perspectives to the events we were witnessing. After the Bar Kokhba revolt in 132CE it was the Emperor Hadrian who had determined to deal with the Judean uprisings once and for all by renaming the city of Jerusalem to be Aelia Capitolina and the Province of Iaedea to be named Syria Palestina, (Palestine) after the historic enemies of the Jews, the Philistines.
It goes back that far and yes this still matters.
History never repeats but it does often rhyme. (Mark Twain)
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905)
To have a major world event happening in the midst of this Festival demonstrated the crucial importance and value of literature and history in helping to frame any possible futures we might envisage but also to perhaps suggest alternative paths we may take in order to not repeat the mistakes of the past. It is through our myths, stories, poems, traditions and belief systems that we as humanity seek to articulate and describe our deeply embedded cultural DNA, so deeply ingrained within us that we fail to recognise their power as the scripts which run our lives.
The Kardamyli Festival provided those who attended with the opportunity to reflect on this for a few days inspired by the work of those who do this full time. Armed with these insights and the most peaceful and idyllic setting there should be no excuse not to dare to strip away some of the filters and lenses with which we view the world in order to identify and address our own blind spots and perhaps, just perhaps, begin to frame the world anew.
My only criticism of the Festival was the lack of diversity in the audience, but it is only new and it may be that with time it will grow and mature in order to attract those with more outlying ideas whose intents are nonetheless philanthropic in nature.