After two days of inten­sive dis­cus­sions the sec­ond SURPRISE FACTORS SYMPOSIUM by ACADEMIA SUPERIOR — Insti­tute for Future Stud­ies came to an end on Sun­day, March 18. The end of the sym­po­sium marks the begin­ning of the work with the ques­tions, top­ics and chal­lenges con­nect­ed to the „old” and the „new”.

Space, history and generations: Conversations between China, USA, and Europe, dialogues between old and young

Four extra­or­di­nary per­son­al­i­ties from dif­fer­ent regions of the world met, in order to dis­cuss the top­ic „the new old” and aspects of the old an the new in their respec­tive rel­a­tiv­i­ty and change­abil­i­ty togeth­er with mem­bers of the advi­so­ry board and stu­dents. Giv­en the great chal­lenges and sur­pris­ing devel­op­ments of our time issues sur­round­ing the ever-aging soci­ety on the one hand and the fast pace of our high­ly tech­ni­cal time on the oth­er hand were addressed from the per­spec­tives of the U.S., Europe, and China.

What is old, what is new?

A vari­ety of com­plex top­ics and per­spec­tives entan­gles the sup­pos­ed­ly sim­ple terms of „old” and „new”:

  • The new new — which new devel­op­ments will per­sist, will stay with us in the future and remain new?
  • The new old — which new trends will fade after the first hype and be old real­ly soon?
  • The old new — which old val­ues will be revived in the future and pro­vide us with new answers?
  • The old old — which old con­cepts will remain old and fade from our memories?
    The gift of aging

Hel­mut Kramer, econ­o­mist and chair­man of the Aus­tri­an Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Plat­form on Age­ing, pos­es the impor­tant ques­tion what age­ing real­ly means — both indi­vid­ual age­ing and the age­ing of the soci­ety. „The gift of the 20th cen­tu­ry was longevi­ty, the increas­ing life expectan­cy of three years in the last decade or four months every year, which peo­ple auto­mat­i­cal­ly gain.” The result­ing prob­lem of financ­ing the pen­sion sys­tem is just one aspect which con­ceals a pos­si­ble con­flict of generations.

Dialogue between generations

In a democ­ra­cy the major­i­ty decides but if peo­ple are liv­ing longer, what does that mean for the younger gen­er­a­tion that finances social secu­ri­ty? What hap­pens when the work­ing pop­u­la­tion becomes a minor­i­ty in a state? What hap­pens when the work­ing young peo­ple are no longer will­ing to finance the wel­fare of the old­er generation?

Design as a bridge

The Bel­gian-born Jehanne de Biol­ley and Har­ri­son Liu, a Chi­nese with a Cana­di­an pass­port, live in a tem­ple in Bei­jing and are well­known design­ers in Chi­na. With his fur­ni­ture Har­ri­son Liu com­bines old tra­di­tions with new and fresh con­tem­po­rary aspects. The fast pace in the design indus­try also marks the begin­ning of the grow­ing open-mind­ed­ness. „Design” has also become a buzz­word in the west­ern world far beyond the bound­aries of art. Com­pa­nies, coun­tries, and lifestyles are being „designed” today. It is not only about cre­at­ing a bet­ter lifestyle, like using design as a means of pro­mot­ing indi­vid­u­al­i­ty, but using exist­ing and nat­ur­al resources in the design. The two design­ers from Chi­na con­sid­er a design accus­tomed to envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors as essen­tial in our time.

National suicide

Carl Djeras­si, chemist and co-inven­tor of the „pill” divides the world in geri­atric and pedi­atric coun­tries, i.e. coun­tries that secure their exis­tence due to high birth rates and coun­tries that face a mas­sive decline of pop­u­la­tion due to a declin­ing birth rate. To main­tain the cur­rent lev­el, a birth rate of 2.1 is required. In Aus­tria it is cur­rent­ly 1.5. One pos­si­bil­i­ty to address the issue is immi­gra­tion. Here coun­tries are bet­ter off that are attrac­tive to migrants while in coun­tries with lit­tle future prospect young peo­ple addi­tion­al­ly leave. Accord­ing to Djeras­si, Aus­tria is head­ing towards a „nation­al sui­cide” because of the pre­vail­ing xeno­pho­bia and immi­gra­tion policy.

60+ are two generations

The divi­sion between old and young in terms of employ­ment is not sim­ple any longer. Thus, the gen­er­a­tion 60+ are real­ly two gen­er­a­tions, those, who are still active­ly par­tic­i­pat­ing in soci­ety and those who no longer can. The chal­lenge is in find­ing ways, means, and pos­si­bil­i­ties to engage a healthy, old pop­u­la­tion active­ly in civic life and not to „push them off” into retirement.

Sex and reproduction are separated

We are liv­ing in a world in which sex and repro­duc­tion are com­plete­ly sep­a­rat­ed process­es. „Sex hap­pens in bed, repro­duc­tion under the micro­scope”, Djeras­si says provoca­tive­ly and poignant­ly. He also rais­es the ques­tion why young women would not freeze their eggs, be ster­il­ized, and fer­til­ize their own younger eggs at a lat­er point in life when they want chil­dren. This would elim­i­nate all risks of a preg­nan­cy after the age of 35. Djeras­si does not under­stand legal pro­hi­bi­tions of arti­fi­cial fer­til­iza­tions of this kind, such as found in Austria.

The problem is in the software

The alarm­ing decline in birth rates is not a result of the inven­tion of the pill. Con­tra­cep­tion and abor­tion are the hard­ware, but the means are not deci­sive. Rather it is about the „soft­ware”, the eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal con­di­tions that impact nation­al pop­u­la­tion. Djeras­si men­tions kinder­gartens and nurs­eries at work­ing places, as found in Scan­di­navia or Israel as mod­els that can be imple­ment­ed quickly.

Re-developing old ideas for the future

To rethink and pro­mote larg­er fam­i­ly struc­tures would be a pos­si­ble start­ing point for many of the men­tioned prob­lems. Can the solu­tion be found in the end of the tra­di­tion­al nuclear fam­i­ly? And why put a stress on nation­al pop­u­la­tion growth if the world is over­pop­u­lat­ed and human­i­ty in gen­er­al uses too many resources, one of the par­tic­i­pat­ing stu­dents asks provocatively.

Not in the ivory tower

To deal with the ques­tions of the future and to devel­op con­crete rec­om­men­da­tions for action is the objec­tive of ACADEMIA SUPERIOR. Dis­cus­sions to do not take place in the ivory tow­er but are checked for how they can be imple­ment­ed. The par­tic­i­pa­tion of gov­er­nor Josef Pühringer in the final dis­cus­sion shows that this endeav­or is rec­og­nized and wel­comed also in politics.

At the end of the day the ques­tion is: Which incen­tives do the dis­cus­sions give for work­ing on issues that are impor­tant to Upper Aus­tria? In the first step towards answer­ing this ques­tion the sym­po­sium will be sum­ma­rized in a report edit­ed by Alan Web­ber. In this process we will iden­ti­fy the top­ics ACADEMIA SUPERIOR is going to work on over the com­ing year.