Election Season: Godwin’s Law Edition

This is an advert from the centre-right in Denmark.

So, someone thought this would be a great idea to put on billboards. Let’s look at how they have written this poster. Instead of the long, stupid word “Naziislamisme” which I believe they stupidly coined just now, they have taken a line for each part of the word.

Stop Nazi. Okay so far. Let’s stop those Nazis. Those dicks. Going around being fuckheads to Jews and brown people (not to mention: trade unionists, gays, homeless people, political opponents). Stop them for SURE. How are we going to stop them? By persuading them that racism is bad? By banning their meetings? By keeping them away from certain roles? Wait. What do you mean that it’s legal to be a Nazi in Denmark and have any job you want, including guarding the queen? Oh well, I guess we’ll get around to stopping them any day soon.

Let’s read on. Islam. What. How did we get from there to here? What’s the next bit? Did they just want to put Nazi next to Islam?

Isme. Stop Nazi! Islamisme! Stop! Nazi Islam. Isme?? Stop, Nazi. Islamisme. Stop, Nazi. Islam. Isme?

How will we stop Naziislamism when we cannot even stop Nazism? Nazism! Everyone knows the Nazis were dicks with no redeeming qualities. And yet, plenty of people sign up to it. And they are allowed to do it. It is their right in Denmark. What methods will we use to stop Naziislamism. Besides. What is Naziislamism? I don’t get it.

  • Nazi = a National Socialist ➜ Nazism = National Socialism
  • Nationalism = a feeling of patriotism that extends to feeling superior to other countries
  • Socialism = a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole
  • Islam = derived from a word basically meaning ‘peace’. A religion.
  • Islamism = any political application of the Islamic religion

Islam is neither socialist nor conservative politically. Islamism, if anything, is pretty conservative.

Islam is definitely not nationalistic. Islamism is probably not nationalistic. Maybe if you count all the countries run along Islamic lines as one ‘nation’. Maybe.

The slogan does not work on these levels. You could maybe get it to work by saying some Islamists are fascists. Nazism is strongly associated with this authoritarian/nationalistic form of government. While no Islamists are Nazis, some Islamists are reminiscent of fascists. So, then why doesn’t the poster say:-

STOP FASC ISLAM ISME

? Well because… Nazis are worse than Fascists? Nazi looks better on the poster? Nazis are well known shitheads but no one’s sure what the fascists did apart from bossing people around? Fasc doesn’t mean anything on its own? The word is ‘Islamofascists’, it already exists and it has been criticised as being simplistic, historically inaccurate and “a familiar juxtaposition that eliminates exotic complexity and confusion”? Who knows.

Islamists are a big group. They’re not a united bloc by any means.

  • You have your countries run on Islamic and democratic lines like Tunisia and Pakistan etc.
  • You have your Islamist terror groups like Hezbollah and Hamas who use both force and democracy.
  • Then you have your Islamists who use force and no democracy, like our sworn enemies IS and our dear allies the Saudi regime.

Big range. But that’s not what the poster is commenting on. It’s just a way of playing on the latent Islamophobia in the Danish population. It’s just a way of cashing in on how a lot of ignorant people think that Islam is the next Nazism. And it will have three knock on effects:-

  1. Islamophobic people will get at least 20% more Islamophobic (by my estimation)
  2. Muslim people who identify as Islamists will feel pissed off to be conflated with Nazis
  3. Muslim people who do not even identify as Islamists may feel similarly put out

I took a look at the Conservative People’s Party’s manifesto promise on this made-up word they are going to stop. “We see today an outbreak of totalitarian antisemitism in the Arabic world and in extreme Islamist groups in the west. An antisemitism with clear links to previous Nazism and fascism. Both in Paris and Copenhagen, the Jewish community was an independent target for Islamic terrorism. Naziislamism exists too in Denmark, where extreme preachers directly encourage or incite young people, often from gang areas or poor housing estates, to violence, murder and participation in weaponed conflict. Is this fair? No, right? So stop it. With us.”

“Clear links” is over-selling it a bit. Just because two groups of fuckheads kill Jewish people, doesn’t mean they are aligned in any other way. ‘The semites’ are a group that includes Arabs as well as Jews, after all. These governments and terror cells the Conservatives reference aren’t anti-semitic, they are anti-zionist.

Nazis were pretty zionist, when it suited them. There is no clear link between any Islamism and Nazism, except for the use of violence against one particular group.

And while we are at drawing links, young people from gang areas and poor housing estates are incited into violence, murder and participation in armed conflict by more than extreme preachers. The Hell’s Angels do it. The Neo-nazis do it. Hell, the Danish military does it. We don’t get our undies in a bunch about any of these groups.

Notice, no actual solutions to the problem of Naziislamism. Just general disapproval that it is going on. Whatever it is. In conclusion, this is a shit poster and I hope they read the many, varied criticisms coming their way over the next few weeks. It is lazy, it is jingoistic and it is empty propaganda. I expected better from this party. I had got used to Venstre being as  lazy as the Danish People’s Party. I did not expect the Conservatives to follow suit.

Election Season

For some reason both the UK and Denmark are having their elections at around about the same time. This means that whether I read the news in Danish or English, I have to read about immigration.

What else are mainstream politicians going to talk about during an election? They cannot talk about making large multinationals pay their way, they can’t talk about reversing the trend of reducing public services so state debt is effectively transferred into the credit card balances of citizens, they can’t talk about changing the structure of major institutions because ‘the markets’ will stop them. They cannot talk about anything substantive. They have to pick on special groups to get people nice and distracted.

So what’s left? Education, crime, immigration.

Education is an easy target because no one is 100% satisfied with either their school days or what their kid is learning in class. It is ridiculously easy to mobilise a population to resent teachers.

Crime is even easier because criminals are outlaws by definition. They broke the rules. Who cares what happens next?

Immigration is a favourite because making people suspicious of outsiders is like shooting fish in a barrel.

All the parties say slight variations of the same thing. (This is partly because this what the electorate ‘wants’ and partly because they have not got the authority to suggest bigger changes because the IMF and WTO have ways of shutting that shit down.)

Let’s look at the current left wing party adverts in Denmark.

“40 000 new jobs in 4 years and we need to continue” “Historically short waiting lists and we need to continue” “Strict asylum rules and more demands on immigrants” “If you come to Denmark, you have to work”

I think what gets to me the most is the way the target audience is not going figure out they are being manipulated.

There is no possible justification for strict asylum rules outside of ‘vindictiveness’. You just need ‘rules’. And the rule should be ‘people who need asylum should get it’ and that is because Denmark signed treaties saying they would offer asylum to people who need it. Making the rules ‘strict’ implies that people who did not need asylum were getting it. I don’t think that’s the case at all. If there are more refugees it is because there are more conflicts and similar disasters. Making rules ‘strict’ fails the people who need somewhere to live because otherwise they will die.

Similarly, there is something about the word ‘krav’ that winds me up. Demands. As in a point system. As in an arbitrary set of hoops to jump through. Why would ‘more’ be an election promise? Surely the demands currently in operation are sufficient. What extra ones could they bring in at this stage? And how could ‘more demands’ be anything else than punitive?

How DARE immigrants come here, work a certain number of hours, get to a certain prescribed level in Danish, spend a prescribed number of hours volunteering, live in a certain sized home, for a certain length of rental contract, give a large security deposit to the state and prevent their Danish partner from receiving state assistance. Who do they think they are? We need more demands on them to show them what is what.

“If you come to Denmark, you have to work” is another empty election promise. Obviously. That has been true for a long time. The fine print on their website claims that it’s not just the ‘being able to support yourself’ part that is important, but how you get to learn Danish through having a job in Denmark.

Unless, of course, you are a spouse of a luksus immigrant. Then, whatever, who cares. Start a food blog.

Unless, of course, you are the spouse of a Dane who can support you or you work internationally. Then keep on keeping on, Stephen Kinnock.

All this poster does is make Danish people think that immigrants are NOT working.  And what sort of monster wants to create that impression? And why? Looking at the statistics, which are a matter of public record, the biggest group of officially unemployed foreigners (as in, not students or stay at home spouses or retired), are Asians and the next biggest group is Europeans.

Unemployment of working age Asians in Denmark is around 5 to 6%. (I do wonder how much of the Asian unemployment rate is due to the Green Card shit show.) Non-Danish European unemployment in Denmark is less than 2% of the population of Europeans. Danish unemployment in Denmark is just over 3% of Danes of working age.

If you slice it a different way and just look at how the numbers of unemployed people compare:-

79% of unemployed people in Denmark come from Denmark and around 6% come from elsewhere in Europe and 7% from Asia.

So, the biggest group by number of unemployed… are Danish people.

Which brings me neatly to the other two adverts. 40 000 new jobs in Denmark. Shorter waiting times. Both of these things are intimately related to why immigration is a good thing. You got shorter waiting times because of all those foreign doctors and nurses (not depicted in the election poster). You got some of those new jobs because of foreign firms starting up, investing or expanding.

They want it both ways. We are free loading jerks who need to be punished on one hand but our contribution to the success of the country is waved away.

They could have been brave. They could have smacked down the right’s rhetoric about immigrants easily, a hundred times over. Denmark is a better place to be because of the immigrants who live here. Immigration has improved Denmark. There is proof. Instead they stole the right’s ideas and ran with them.

Easier to sow distrust and righteous indignation.

Let’s look at some crowdsourced adverts in the UK to raise the tone of the ‘debate’ (though how it can be called a debate when all the parties agree with the centre-right, I don’t know) around immigration over there. While the last thing we need is a campaign to remind voters that good immigrants exist, I think the idea that immigrants do give back and immigrants do contribute is critical.

Not that mainstream parties have any interest in spreading that particular message. Why make like complicated for yourself? Why not play the shell game, so while voters are distracted by the Other, they don’t see what is really going on.

So, who ever wins this election, the immigrants are definitely going to lose.

Who is leaving all the dog crap on the street?

I have been a dog owner for about six months now and I have managed to collect all her poop on walks. I have been able to do this because I take bags out with me, I watch what she’s doing when she pulls over and I just deal with it when it comes out.

Collecting poop in a little bag and throwing it away: not rocket science.

And yet, so many people in Denmark can’t figure it out.

There is one group of dog owner that just lets their dog shit on grass verges. It’s ‘natural’, you see. There is poop in nature. Grass is nature. Combine the two: extra nature. What is irrelevant is that people might want to walk on grass verges, maybe even have their children walk around there. If they wanted to walk in a poo free environment, they should have stuck to the pavements.

Another group of dog owner lets their dog shit wherever it pleases. I have left the house to find poop on my doorstep. This has happened in more than one house here. I am not taking it personally, I have seen it on other doorsteps too. Some dogs get to poop in other people’s gardens. In playgrounds. Pavements.

And yet another group of dog owner actually stoop over, pick up the poo in a bag, tie the bag and then.. throw the bag into a hedge. This last step is baffling. If you wanted the poop to continue to pollute the environment, why go to all the trouble to pick it up? Just leave it, guys. Just leave it.

I have always wondered. Who are these people leaving this crap lying around? Are they all people who just forgot to bring bags because their dog never poops on walks and then it does? Are they people with severe arthritis who lack the physical ability to collect the leavings? Are they daydreaming and just don’t notice their dog has answered the call of nature? Do they mistake it for a wee? Are they all foreigners who simply do not understand that THIS IS DENMARK and IN DENMARK we clean up after our dogs? I have my suspicions of who these people are and what they are about.

Today, I was walking with my students back from the Queen’s birthday parade and I saw a dog crapping on a bit of grass next to a playing field. I watched the owner watch her dog shit. I watched the owner walk away.

I caught up to her and pressed a brand new poop bag into her hand. She took it and then threw it to the ground without a word.

Having met one of these elusive misanthropes, I can confirm she is everything I expected. She was white, Danish, older, looked reasonably well off and had no answer for me about why she was not going to take responsibility for her dog.

In a way, it reminds me of a video of a French person demonstrating that Danish people do not hold doors open for the person after them. He confronts a couple of them “Why did you let the door slam on me?”

“I didn’t see you,” they lie unconvincingly.

They did see him. They just did not give a fuck about him. I’ve heard it explained as “Danes see each other as family and holding a door open is just a little too courtly” except when I checked with a couple of Danish people “would you hold a door open for a family member?” they all said “obviously”. It is the opposite, they don’t see the need because the person is not family. As in, nothing to them, so who cares what happens to them?

These dog owners let their dog shit without cleaning it up because they do not see the need to do anything for anyone else.  Who cares what happens to the poop? Who cares who steps in it or which kid swallows it? Those people are not important.

Denmark isn’t a community, it’s a collection of solipsists.

International Women’s Day

Everyone thinks Scandinavia has equality taped. Everyone thinks that because women are not excluded from the job market in Denmark, then feminism must have achieved all its aims and everyone can stand down.

We could talk about pay and violence, and the progress still to be made in Denmark. There is plenty of mileage in those topics, believe.

But I’d like to concentrate on this news story:- Parents looking to shrink their ‘tall’ daughters.

When healthy human beings need to be operated on or medicated in childhood to keep them from displaying traits from the ‘wrong’ set of humans there is something badly wrong and equality has not been achieved.

Healthy boys who are made to be taller and healthy girls who are made to be shorter, in order to fit in with society’s ideals around masculinity and femininity, are being betrayed by their community.

Sensationalisation

Before the shootings in Paris, I had commented that the Danish media was spending a lot of bandwidth talking about Islam creating an us-and-them mentality. After the shootings, the story was simple enough for the media to have on repeat, so the message could be properly disseminated. Vice.com reported on concerns that political forces were hijacking the event for their own devices, at the expense of community cohesion.

Every time a politician tries to make political capital on anything, there is always an equal and opposite reaction. For every voter they recruit with talk of their economic or social policy, they turn off others. They accept that risk. That risk is acceptable: it’s how free speech works.

Every time a politician tries to drive a wedge between ‘our values’ and the ‘other’, their aim is to recruit  voters but they are putting others off. This sort of politicking makes the marginalised feel more so. Usually, the marginalised stay passive and so politicians have got into the habit of doing it. You see it in the UK, when the Conservative Party propose stopping national unemployment insurance pay outs to the obese. And of course, we saw a lot of it after the shootings in Paris. “Why don’t moderate Muslims decry these attacks?” “Muslims are solely responsible for stopping this”. For every Dane that nodded their ignorant little head about the sentiment; many were irritated, infuriated, provoked.

And it’s just free speech. It’s just how free speech works. Those who work in politics are free to make disenfranchised people feel like shit, if it gains them a vote down the line. You won’t find any argument on that point here.

But.

Shouldn’t they be a bit more nuanced? Shouldn’t they make the effort to tell the long story? Shouldn’t they look at the wider picture a bit more? And make it a bit more thoughtful?

They do it because it works and they do it because we are lazy. The voters cannot be bothered to sit down and absorb a complex argument, so politicians are careful to craft the best soundbite to save everyone the effort. Instead of politicians having an actual debate on the nature of power, the role of conflict in the modern world, the causes of violence across the globe; we just get regurgitated pap. “Free speech should never be threatened!” “Their values are not our values!”

“For every subtle and complicated question, there is a perfectly simple and straightforward answer, which is wrong.”
H.L. Mencken

In fact, the message was simple enough that politicians and others who work in politics (for example, dictators), who have no respect for free speech could show up and pretend that they did for a day. It was easy for them because no one was having a discussion, they were just pronouncing shibboleths.

And, honestly, if someone unstable does become so incensed about any given poltician’s message that they become violent, this is not a reason to make the discussion more nuanced. For one, you cannot change your behaviour just because violent people do not like it. For another, their crimes are great for electioneering.

The reason to use free speech to make intelligent, moderate, well-informed pronouncements is for its own sake. Which is why it is not happening.

And thence to the role of the media.

Here is a video is from 2009 about a school shooting in Germany and its wall-to-wall coverage in the international media.

Forensic psychologists have pin-pointed things that can make copy cat mass murder more likely. These things include blanket coverage, sensationalised reports, making the shooter appear to be an anti-hero, focusing on the body count.

The media has responsible standards for reporting on suicide. The media mostly follows this, though not in the case of high profile suicides like Robin Williams. This is because using these guidelines saves lives.

By reporting on “Charlie Hebdo” (and the siege in the Jewish supermarket) in a sensational, blanket way, they made copy-cat killings more likely. They did not emphasise the troubled, disturbed lives of the murderers but made them out to be some breed of freedom fighter, allied to a terrorist cell. Compare/contrast with the reports on Breivik’s mental state and less than flattering comments on his character.

Though, it is not like the media cannot report on mass killings in a responsible way. The Chapel Hill suspect was dismissed as a mentally ill anomaly almost immediately and the crimes he is accused of were reported much less sensationally and were buried under the news cycle very quickly.

But what incentive does the media have to tone down the coverage of mass murder when it is clearly what the public want to consume? Nothing much happened between the Copenhagen shootings suspect being killed by police and his name being released but there was wall-to-wall coverage anyway. In this time online, many new stories were written because each click means revenue and the public are ready and willing to click. It is what the public want and so it is what they get.

His name has been released and the only detail about him that has come out is that he was active in illegal gangs. Straight off the bat, he is an anti-hero. The police have not confirmed this was a terrorist attack, just that they are investigating if it was. The Danish media are calling it terrorism anyway. This rolling coverage cements the same old us-and-them attitude. But who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them’?

Responsible reporting of this mass murder could save lives. But it is an election year, people don’t want to buy newspapers anymore and the public are simply not interested. They want pictures of bullet holes, they want to feel a frisson, they want a simple bedtime story. They don’t give a shit about the dead or their families, they just like to rubber neck and shudder.

And for all the Mr and Mrs Denmarks who are polarised against The Muslim Threat by this coverage; young troubled men are also being polarised against The West.

One from the Vaults: Integrated

I am totally integrated now though this is probably not what the Danish authorities meant.
Søren “effing” Pind would probably shake his comedy head and say with his comedy voice “No, I did not mean like that… but… she’s white, right? Ahh, doesn’t matter then. She can do what she wants, ikke også?”

Reception Indvandrer Kvindecentret

Send more spice

If integration is about paying tax and going to work, I have been integrated since my first paycheque 1006 days ago.
If integration is about speaking Danish, I have done that since the very beginning even when I bloody couldn’t. And now even on days when my Danish is crap, people still understand me. GO FIGURE.
If integration is about giving money and time to Danish charities, then tick me off.
If integration is about sitting on a hard dining table chair for eight hours, talking Danish. TICK.
If integration is about getting so drunk that your memories are in black and white the next day. CHECK.
If integration is about signing up to evening classes, been there done that.
If integration is about saying “Almonds… or tonsils” or “Pedestrian zone” without having to think, when a Dane flails in English. Then yeah, I do that.
If integration is about following a recipe in Danish, about Danish ingredients, to make some Danish delicacy. Yep. Done it. I even know the difference between oprør and omrør. Which is important when you make Bearnaise sauce.
If integration is about knowing your rights and fighting for them, I have totally made a fuss about stuff. I went through my union for heaven’s sake.
If integration is about reaching out to Danes in different scenarios like at knitting clubs or similar, I have done that and got the scars to prove it.
If integration is about speaking Danish to a nurse before you have an operation on your *whistles* even though you are bricking it and then being tolerant of their bad English before they put you under anaesthetic, I have totally done that.
If integration is about doing a Dane regularly, I have been doing that for *time* (A lady never runs that calculation through a calculator).

I will tell you, as an integrated citizen, what integration is not.

Integration is not making excuses for horrible Danes (on the grounds that our hosts can do no wrong/we misunderstood their intention).
Integration is not beating yourself up when you find adjustment difficult or unpleasant.
Integration is not beating others up when they say they find something difficult.
Integration is not ignoring your judgement or your feelings that something is not quite right.
Integration is not abandoning all critical thought and going along with the consensus.
Integration is not blindly trusting the authorities.
Integration is not an instruction to give up your cultural identity and embody the host culture entirely.
Integration is not having to do all the running to fit into a culture.
Integration is not eating Danish food.
Integration is not riding a bloody bicycle.
Integration is not calling yourself a “guest”.

Denmark. Denmark. Denmark.
You invited me here, Denmark. You wanted my expertise. You want the expertise of others like me.

You want them to come and study in your universities. You want them to do certain jobs. You want them to teach you English. You want them! So stop pretending that they want you. It is the other way around. We would have been happy working anywhere exotic. Belgium… Finland… Switzerland… We could have made our lives there equally easily so stop acting like you are doing us a bloody favour by giving us work permits.

You want the others to be integrated like me, believe it or not. This is what real integration looks like and this is definitely what you want. You want happy little soldiers who drive around places like Mols saying “OMG! It is so beautiful!” and “Haha, another cream based festival, eh?” and “Really? You are allowed to rape animals here?!”

You want people who snark and moan and clap with delight. You want the range of experiences. The depth. The breadth.

You do not want people who feel inhibited, who feel guilty for finding fault, who feel like they have to “Stepford Wives” their way through their Denmark Experience. You do not want to police their thoughts. You do not want to steer them into thinking a certain way. This is not PTSD they are experiencing, guys, they are just going through an adjustment period.
You will break them if you do them this way. They will reach a breaking point and snap.

Telling them to suck it up and think only good thoughts is what you say to people who just found out they have hepatitis, not to someone embarking on a new life in a foreign country.

You WANT people to feel at home here, to feel comfortable. You WANT people to stop feeling like guests.

We might even be able to help you out. Maybe you could learn something from us. We can suggest things like

“If your shops were open when people were not at work, they can buy more stuff.”
and
“If you write to us in Danish, we get overwhelmed and put all our correspondence in a shoebox. If you use English (or another widely spoken language, whatever), we will read it and respond.”

To make integration happen, you need to stop being so controlly and preachy. Stop giving them the “ONE TRUE WAY” of “HOW TO INTEGRATE” powerpoint presentations. You need to introduce them to each other, introduce them to some nice Danes and then step back and LEAVE THEM ALONE. Stop threatening to withdraw medical treatment, stop threatening them full stop. Stop with your dirty-foreigner national news agenda. Stop telling them that it is all their fault if they suffer. Stop telling them “it would be different if you met other Danes”. Stop telling them everything is candy floss and ponies as soon as you can speak fluent Danish. Stop telling them off when they say they find something cultural distasteful or immature. STOP bloody telling them to join a sports team, for heaven’s sake!

Integration looks different for everyone…. You know… Like being Danish looks different for everyone.

Calm down, take a deep breath and leave us alone. We want the best for Denmark… because Denmark is our home.

Here’s a bit from the Tao Te Ching.

Governing an expat community
is like frying a small fish.
You spoil it with too much poking.

He was ahead of his time, wasn’t he, that Lao Tzu?

Play Parks and Dog Forests

Once, on a warm spring day, I suggested to my friend that I take her kid to the play park. It was lovely weather and my friend was sick. The kid had recently become very difficult, a reaction to the divorce.

Picture it: a childless woman in her late twenties with a 4 year old in a playpark. I kept her entertained with see-saws and swings and helping onto climbing frames. We played some hide and seek in the woods around the equipment. We had a good time. Until the little one was in the mood to push in the line for the climbing frame.

The kid she wanted to push in front of was about 2 years old. If she pushed him out of the way, it would hurt him. I tried using my words but she was not in a listening mood. I tried to explain how important looking out for each other is. I tried going over the concept of ‘turns’ again. Nothing. So, I held her back. She screamed bloody murder, cursed my name, cursed my family. And then once the boy had made it up to the top, I let her go and she forgot all about her anger and asked me sweetly to help her up.

I looked around for adult moral support. The park is lovely but not very busy even at peak times. The only other adult was the dad of the 2 year old and he avoided my eye contact like one avoids staring at the sun. I was doing something wrong. Was it my accent? Was it the way I was hands on? Should I have let them work it out for themselves, even if his kid inevitably came off the worse? There was no way of knowing because he refused to acknowledge my existence.

I put her on the swings and sat on a bench. Other kids came to play, their adults sat on benches too. Nowhere near me. Not making eye contact. Not looking my way at all. Not interacting with their kids either. Just letting them get on with it.

Ahh, the Danish way, making kids more independent. Allowing them to discover their own limits, negotiate their own boundaries. Not for me, but that is not really for me to judge for others. Not for me to judge either, this bubble around Danish adults making friendly informal temporary contact between others impossible.

Fast forward four years and I have a puppy now. She is 6 months old and in some ways has a better sense of propriety around turn taking and interacting with her dog peers than that small child back then. She knows when to back off and when to play and she respects the limits of smaller and younger dogs. This isn’t something we have taught her, particularly, she figured it out in her litter. We reinforce, of course, at home but dog body language is not even our second language and we mimic imperfectly. We take her to the dog forest so she can play with other dogs and run around in a stimulating environment.

Our dog is a scaredy pants and if a bigger dog, no matter how friendly, interacts with her, she squeals and lies on her back. She does this for about 15 minutes, gains confidence and then plays nicely with them. I can see the other dogs are playing nicely: body language, facial expressions, vocalisations all add up to “Hello little dog, let’s play fight, ok?” But she’s crying out like she is being killed until she gets used to them which is a little disconcerting for anyone that does not know her. The owners call their dogs off. “He’s not usually like this! Would you like me to tell him to stop? Messi GET DOWN”

They interact with their dogs and teach them right from wrong, not just about play fighting but all types of play. They ask how old our dog is, tell us about their dog and interpret the body language of all the participants. No one sits on a bench and ignores their dog at any point. Only once has my accent been interpreted as a cloak of invisibility. The dog park is intensely social for the humans as they trade dog tips and stories.

Dogs are not trusted to work out their limits for themselves and the humans feel no problem with telling them off when they step out of line.

What happened to Danish society that the adults feel like giving structure or boundaries to their children is inappropriate when they understand that their pets need gentle reinforcement of how to play nicely? Where do they imagine their children are learning these skills if not explicitly from adults? Why is chatting to other parents in the park verboten but to other dog owners de rigeur? It makes no sense to this outsider.

Jantelov: A primer

Once a Danish-Norwegian wrote a satire sending up small town Scandinavia. It was called “A Fugitive Crosses his Path” and I read the first half when I could speak rudimentary Danish and can report it is about poverty and things “suddenly” happening every new paragraph. I may be one of the few people who have read even this far but everyone likes to quote the best bit.

In Aksel Sandemose’s jaded vision of Scandinavian village life, anyone who tries to stand out is smacked down. There are eleven rules that, I have to admit, I have read so many times that my eyes slide off them like they are covered in bacon grease. They’re basically “You’re nothing special so who cares”

In other countries, the same thing is known as Tall Poppy Syndrome or by the delightful analogy of crabs in a bucket pulling each other down if they try to get out. These rules have been used to justify everything about Danish society from queue jumping, to racism, to poor school performance, to ‘jokes’ where you upset your friends and back again.

Practically, what Jantelov does, is make everyone in Denmark a fucking nightmare to be with in public unless you know them personally. Since the informal laws of this fictional village in a book no one has read tell the average Dane that no one is above anyone else, this is naturally expanded to the following world-view:-

“No one is special, so get out of my fucking way.”

You see it on the mouth breathers getting onto buses before everyone has got off: you’re nothing special so why should you be able to get out of my way so I can get on? You see it in Ikea when people stop dead in the numerous chokepoints around the store: you’re nothing special, so why would I turn my head 45 degrees to see if you are in danger of collision with me if I stop suddenly. You see it in supermarkets when people shove you aside so they can get at the bread slicer you are still using. You see it in department stores when people let heavy doors slam in your face. YOU ARE NOTHING, ME FIRST.

Most of the Danes I know personally are awesome people, so I am not talking about them and I am probably not talking about you even if I haven’t met you yet. But even the Danes you regard as decent human beings can be affected by Jantelov when they make ‘jokes’ about what an asshole you are. This is fine because you can respond in kind. But they might expand it to make you remember your country is nothing special, especially if you are from the USA. If you respond in kind, they will cut you. That’s just how it is.

Jantelov makes bragging very difficult. You cannot be proud of your achievements or mention them at all, lest you make one of the other crabs in your bucket feel jealous. No great loss to the conversation. But you cannot talk about lah-di-dah ‘elitist’ stuff either, in case people feel like you’re being pretentious. So, you’re only allowed to talk about meatballs, how hard Danish is for foreigners and how difficult the word ‘hygge’ is to understand. I mentioned I was reading A Fugitive Crosses his Path at a dinner party and one of the guests looked like he was going to be aggressively sick on me. Also, you cannot brag in a job search situation either, you have to know people in Denmark who employ others and play badminton with them until they ask you personally if you want to work with them.

In many parents’ evenings, it is common for the teachers to tell the parents to stop worrying, the kid is good enough and shouldn’t we care more about their social skills? Coming from a culture where the parents just want to know their kid is making progress, this seems like a bit of an undershoot. ‘Good enough’ is not the issue. That is set by the average and the average moves with the group. Learning something new and getting better every day, how is that too elitist?

There are people who resist Jante for the most part. They are ‘most people in Denmark according to themselves’. But even if they refuse to pull down other crabs, they are still in a bucket trying to get out with claws around their ankles.

A friend of a friend was at a job interview where they were asked “How do you feel about your customers being  the upper middle class of Danish people… like me?” This story is passed around with amused disbelief by Danes. Who is this person who would consider themselves above someone else AND then share it with another person? Then again, the foreigners who hear that story think it is a pretty ridiculous question to ask. Then again, it’s not ridiculous if you want to employ someone who won’t try to pull at your customers’ crab legs.

Though perhaps I am not being fair. I believed I could tell the dinner party guests about reading Aksel Sandemose without making them feel sick to their stomaches at my presumption because the librarian that issued the book did so with a wry smile (he then went on to being one of my friends). There are plenty of people out there who are not threatened by intellectualism or individualism and of course there are plenty who know how to move through a crowd without inconveniencing every other person. Still, it’s got a lot to answer for.

Trouble in Paradise

In the last couple of weeks, I have been reading the handful of books that have come out in English about Denmark to cash in with the success of tv shows Forbrydelsen and Borgen. Two of these books were written by visitors or recent immigrants, so a lot of the text is repeating what they have heard. For example, Danish people like interior decorating because their daycares and schools are decorated nicely.

Danish classrooms

Danish classrooms

Typical classroom in Denmark

Typical classroom in Denmark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

And I had to put the book down and breathe for a minute or two. Danish classrooms are functional, they get the job done… but beautiful? Who are these people feeding these quotes to foreigner journalists?

There are a lot of quotes like that out there. One chapter is about how Denmark has a wonderful welfare system because of the efforts of collective bargaining. And collective bargaining is so strong because of the efforts of Grundtvig, the 19th century school reformer. According to legend, his dream was to teach Danish people to think critically and ask the right questions in order to keep them safe from tyranny; a legacy that lives on even today.

Except. Not quite.

I can’t just upload a random picture from a few years ago to refute this, so I will have to take this part by part.

The history of the things that make Denmark attractive

In the late 1800s, there were strikes after lockouts after strikes. In 1899, a compromise was struck which ultimately ended in a system with maternity and paternity leave, sick pay, holiday pay and all the benefits that are lauded as Denmark doing things right.

This will have been a hard battle. These rights did not just appear just because Danes are so much better at democracy or seeing things realistically. People fought for these rights at great personal expense.

Whether you can credit Grundtvig’s ideas in those early stages, I do not know, I am no historian. But for the collective bargaining that was to come, having a general public that was educated in thinking critically will have helped.

Shut downs

Grundtvig’s aim is being actively frustrated right now and this threatens everything that those trade unionists 100 years ago were working for.

I read a book by an American woman about her experience at Christian college. Mostly what was taught were arguments to shut hard questions down.

In Danish schools, also, there is a similar movement but not for Christianity. Children are certainly taught to question but they are also taught the standard retorts to shut the question down when it gets too close to the bone.

These are (in no particular order)

  1. Even though Denmark is not perfect, it is still the best because some other countries are much worse
  2. Nowhere is perfect
  3. We have it pretty good here
  4. At least people are honest here
  5. We didn’t have any problems until outsiders spoiled everything

There are two interlocking reasons for the importance of these retorts.

Danishness as Religion

Firstly, Danishness has been elevated to the status of a religion. People do not feel Christian, they feel Danish. Questioning anything about Danishness is on the level with blasphemy. One housing association decides that an outside Christmas tree isn’t necessary for their community, the national media reports on it. One daycare facility decides that it’s just easier to serve vegetables, fish and chicken to their kids because they cater to kids with dietary restrictions, it is the end of the world because what happened to the pork? Some immigrant parents don’t come to twice annual meetings for all parents at their kid’s school, Danish parents pull their kids from the school even though there is nothing else wrong at the place.

Conviviality

The second reason is conviviality. It is important to always maintain conviviality. If one were to have a deep conversation, it might make someone uncomfortable or god forbid start an argument. Conflict must be avoided at all costs, so these arguments are stopped before they are started with the same old shibboleths. (An exception to this is when people are made uncomfortable by use of irony or politically incorrect statements, fuck conviviality in those circumstances)

If that is how you want to run a country, fill your boots. There are consequences. If you never have to ask hard questions or think deeply, your muscles atrophy.

I was sat in a large conference room with educated, politically active adult Danes. It became abundantly clear that while the majority were not exactly stupid, this lack of facility with difficult, conflict provoking concepts had disabled many of the participants in the discussion.

The course leader showed us a way of looking up information that is a matter of public record. One participant said “But why wouldn’t management just show you the accounts?” thinking this was a wonderful example of Danish humour, I turned to her, winked and said “Yeah, right(!) Good one.” She looked back blankly.

It just had not occurred to her that people often have things to hide. That people can be dishonest. That some serious Game of Thrones shit is going down most of the time.

Not being able to think of original arguments or look for hidden agendas has meant that the Danish government have been free to pull a fast one for a long time.

Worsening Conditions

All the things Guardian journalists like about Denmark are under attack. They are under attack for the same reasons they don’t exist (or are not as good), in countries like the UK: they make labour cost too much. They make the country unable to compete globally.

Danes have great parental leave benefits, great support during unemployment, holiday pay, decent wages and pensions. This is because Danish workers are not just grateful for having a job in the first place, they have unions that meet every couple of years with the employers and secure these rights.

But this is unsustainable, so the government has been weakening the unions for a while so they can do what they want. And no one has the ability to fight back.

They are able to complain about immigrants and their foreign ways. They are able to say how their country is one of the best. They are not able to see the way they are being tricked or how their services are being ruined in cost cutting measures. The things that make Denmark special are the very same that are being dismantled. Not enough people understand how powerful they are and how they could stop it. And for that, I blame the teachers.