Consensus and the Danish Way

At Danish folkeskole, children are given many opportunities to discuss issues. They have Danish lessons, “community” lessons and even their foreign language lessons have meaty topics like “race” or “poverty”. They are trained to say “jeg synes…” or “jeg mener…” (I think) and then give their opinion. They are then trained to hear another give their opinions. Then they will work on finding a consensus. And then everyone says “Thanks for the debate” and they stop.

A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto: Taso de...
og tak for kaffe

If an issue is divisive, you will hear Danes say “It’s a pity the vote was split,” as if polarisation is a bad thing. And not, as it is rather, just a thing. It is better for everyone, they believe, if they reach the wrong consensus than if the right decision is taken without full support.

You know what, that’s fine. It’s another way. The deadlock in Congress in the US is another. What’s going on with the NHS back home is another. There are LOTS of ways to make the wrong decision.

Where Denmark runs into problems is that this method only works if you can trust everyone. If people are trustworthy, if their opinions are genuinely felt, if their facts are checked; then you can do much much worse than just talking about it until everyone mostly agrees.

The problem is when someone is actively trying to mislead, outright lie or has the wrong end of the stick. As long as they are persistent and reasonably persuasive, the consensus will include their suggestions or proposals. No one will think to dig holes in what they are saying, no one will consider that they need to fact check. You have to trust people, you see. This world view is sweet and all, but it is useless in the face of scoundrels and fools.

Without the cursory checks that even basic critical thinking affords, there is no way to discern good ideas from bad. All ideas are equally valid.

This leads to terrible situations where people will vote for anything just not to be left out of the consensus. Where people will not look any more deeply than the headlines (even if it is their job to do so), where people get confused (and not angry), if you suggest that what they are saying is fraudulent or a lie. You are supposed to trust me, I don’t understand why you don’t just say “jeg synes…” and we can have another cup of coffee!

If you patiently explain how something might be illegal or morally reprehensible, the reasoning of children is employed again “But everyone else is doing it…”

Honestly, it is like living in a Jonathan Swift novel. Or that film with Ricky Gervais that wasn’t very good.

That’s not to say there aren’t any questioning souls here because there are. They are just not appreciated and are marginalised. It’s not “The Danish Way”, so there is no room for them. Jeg synes, at det er trist.

Scandinavian Socialist Paradise

Denmark is famed for having wonderful services in return for its high taxes. The starting rate of tax is around 40% and goes up to around 60% for the higher earners. There is a flat sales tax on everything and sin taxes on some things, like cars and butter.

In return, the story goes, the Danes get wonderful “free” healthcare, education and other public services. Some even go as far as to pronounce the services “the best in the world”.

Unfortunately, what happens instead is that schools and hospitals are closed, services are limited (for example, my police station is only open between 10am and 3pm), services degrade in quality (for example, children become emotionally stunted because they do not get enough one-on-one with an adult at their daycare), and people are told they can only have sickness benefits if they “try everything” even if their doctor says that they HAVE tried everything. Have you tried electroconvulsive therapy? Well then. No money.

The people of Denmark need to get angry. Yes, there is a financial crisis. Yes, they have run out of money. But that is NOT good enough. If they want to close emergency departments in hospitals, if they want to make mega-schools, if they want to introduce the “putting everyone in the same room” model of inclusion, if they want to fire librarians, if they want to reduce police coverage, if they want to prevent sick people from receiving benefits…. they need to reduce the tax bill.

The people of Denmark need to rise up and fight these cuts. They are not happy but all they do is grumble. My guess is that the big companies call the shots on how much tax they pay, and they do so because they stand up to the politicians. The politicians need to be as scared of US as they are scared of Maersk. 

This isn’t socialism, this is serfdom. 

Separation of Church and State

My country has an official religion. The head of state is also the head of the state religion. When I went to school, we had to pray every day and sing hymns. We also got a lot of Bible stories. The state television channel also had religious programming but only really on Sunday and it was easily avoided.

English: Recording Songs of Praise The BBC rec...
Thora Hird preserve us!

Becoming a Catholic at age 10 was stressful because I was in a Church of England school and there was a bit of a prayer I would leave off and I would have to bless myself (Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch) before I started. This seemed like a way bigger deal than it was. I was NOT conforming. I was NOT doing what everyone else was doing! The teachers might tell me off! As an adult now,  I can see that was ridiculous. What adult would tell a Catholic off for being Catholic? NONE! (Maybe Queen Elizabeth I, amirite?)

Then becoming an atheist at age 11 and a half was even more stressful. This was because I was in a Catholic school. Not only was I missing off ‘For Thine is the kingdom..’ but I was missing off the whole bloody Lord’s Prayer. Now, instead of furtively blessing myself, I was sitting horrifically still while everyone else blessed themselves.

My mother told me “DO NOT TELL THEM YOU ARE ATHEIST YOU WILL BE EXPELLED” and this may or may not have been true. I did refuse to show up for confirmation classes which got a lot of “Ahhhhhhms!” from my contemporaries. I was able to really examine Catholicism as an outsider while being treated as an insider. I was really able to deconstruct what we were going through, what we were being asked to believe and the basis of the catechism. A believer is often too awestruck by/comfortable in their spiritual experience to want to dig too deeply and a believer of another religion is often too respectful to try to unpick it (or else they go the other way and do not bother to examine anything because it’s all blasphemous rubbish anyway).

In the end, the experience forged me into an adult who reads holy books, does not rag on the religious but nevertheless has no personal relationship with God. I am living with an atheist who has gone the Way of the Dawkins and it boils my piss. What’s the POINT of disproving God’s existence? What’s the POINT of mocking the spiritual? As if MY beliefs and views are unassailable and pure just because they are based in rationalism! Rationalism is lovely (I would say that), but it is based on my sensory input which is interpreted by some fairly faulty cognitive gear. My blind spots are just as stupid and ridiculous as any religious person’s, or another atheist’s for that matter. Why do people have to be such wankers?

Anyway. The Danish state also has a state religion. In schools, there is not much in the way of praying or even hymn singing. At Christmas, there is a month long worksheet-a-thon which celebrates the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ with colouring and cutting out. But believe me, that is less “religious” as it is “self-preservation”. Children do NOT want to learn how to read when they are thinking about getting a bunch of new toys. All they want to do is make pynt and hygge themselves. This I know for certain.

That said, the Danish Church is massively involved in the lives of every motherfucker on this collection of islands (and peninsular) . If you die, your death MUST be reported to the Church so they can cross you off the list. If you are born, you birth MUST be reported to the Church so they can approve your name. Marriage must be reported to them.  This is not just for their members. They are up in everyone’s business.

If you want to be buried in a graveyard, the only graveyards available are in churchyards. There are NO municipal graveyards. If you do not want to be in a church yard, tough luck, go get buried at sea.

If you are weak, unreligious and 14 (and who the fuck isn’t at that age?), you will probably go through a religious ceremony to enroll you to pay taxes to the church. The ceremony results in an important party, lots of presents, permission to have sex and drink. It is a major deal. I have to teach this age group and it is about this time of year that they become “unteachable” (for the same reason they are difficult at Christmas: they are fantasising about new toys). They get a few hours off every week to be educated by the priest. They get a day off in order to nurse their hangovers after the rite.

There are some non-religious teens who go through more or less the same ceremony without the priest in order to get a metric shittonne of presents. There are some who are genuinely Christian who do this. The majority just “go with the flow” even though they do not accept Jesus as their saviour. Very few do not go through with it at all.

The Church promotes something called “mini-confirmation” where 9 year olds get to have a rehearsal, replete with balloons and cake. (The whole POINT of holding off until 14, is that the Church decided that is when a child could make up their mind properly. Pro-Jesus or heathen? Which will it be? Nine was judged to be “too young” by them and yet, they are now pushing for a temporary commitment from that age group. Very interesting. If it was just a way of allowing God’s grace into the lives of his children, why would it necessarily involve bribery? Why don’t they have faith in their own message to be convincing enough?)

If you just had a baby or want to get married, you will probably use the Church as the venue to celebrate.

The schools do not teach religion, they teach “Christendom” but to be fair, some year plans do not have any mention of Christianity, it’s all Beginners Islam or Beginners Norse Mythology etc.

The national broadcaster “promotes” Christianity. All taxpayers pay towards the upkeep of the national Church, not just the enrolled members.

I have mixed feelings. I feel like, you know, religion is a private matter and the love of God does not need to be rammed down anyone’s throat. Knowing about religious matters and the faith of others is useful. Otherwise idiots can tell you nonsense about your own or another’s religion and you end up believing it because you do not know any better. A separation of Church and State might be good, then it is totally in the realm of the private. People can believe what they want and no one gets hurt.

But then again. The buildings are very nice and part of the heritage of the country they are in. If they need financial support for upkeep, I think it is good to help them out with tax.

But then again. Just because one belief system has a long cultural influence on a country doesn’t mean it should be favoured. All views on these matters are equally valid and while respect is important, deference is unnecessary.

But then again. I like being able to play “The animals came in two-by-two” to teach vocabulary about animals without worrying about an atheist parent calling me after work and accusing me of indoctrination.

But then again. I dislike children being indoctrinated into beliefs without being taught how to check them for themselves.

But then again. I like the unselfconscious way people enjoy their seasonal holidays.

But then again. I do not want to get buried in some CHURCH yard! And I do not want to have to tell a priest I had a baby. And I do not want the DANISH CHURCH to be in charge of deleting my account from the Danish state.

So, it is difficult. I am not anti-religious. I am not pro-religious. And it seems to me that the Danish state is set up in a very pro-evangelical Lutherian mode of thinking.

Maybe it would be good to devolve some of the church functions to the secular state.

Fact Checking: Denmark is the safest place to give birth

The Danish media is a law unto itself. All it takes is one reassuring spokesperson to say

“Don’t worry that we sent you home during an induction and some people have been badly injured in this process, keep in mind Denmark is one of the safest places in which to give birth”

and the subeditor will write the following headline

Denmark is the safest place in which to give birth

Is this true?

Sadly, no.

If you wish to compare Denmark with countries such as Somalia, South Sudan and Afghanistan, Denmark looks pretty good.

If you prefer to compare the risks in similar developed countries (in the OECD, for example), Denmark is  poor to middling.

(Statistics were unavailable for any year after 2009.)

Maternal mortality per 100 000 live births in 2009

Denmark was the second most dangerous country in the OECD. Better than Mexico but worse than Hungary, Turkey, Chile, Slovak Republic, the UK etc.

Neonatal mortality per 100 000 live births in 2009

Denmark was the 13th safest country in the OECD. This puts it in the middle of the table.

There are other statistics available from the UN but these are estimated based on access to midwives/hospitals/prenatal care. Denmark is doing worse than it should be, given the advantages Danish women have in their country.

Is sending someone home during an induction safe? I don’t know. Is Denmark a particularly unsafe country in which to give birth? Probably not.

To say that Denmark is “one of the safest” is technically true but then so are a lot of countries. Saying it is THE safest is demonstrably untrue. Especially since on International Women’s Day,  The Independent said Greece and Norway were the best. Strangely, Denmark did not pick that story up.

Amy Rebecca Steen

The best thing for the authorities in Denmark is that only 5.5 million people speak Danish.

The second best thing is that only a tiny minority of the people of Denmark are politically minded which translates to only a few thousand people giving an actual shit at any one time.

Næstved is a small town just outside Copenhagen. In common with all the towns in Denmark, it has financial worries. The global financial crisis has hit Denmark hard and the central government has passed the buck to the individual “kommunes”, who have to find the savings or suffer the consequences.

As you might imagine, from experience with your own country, the kommunes make the savings from the weak. They close schools with high proportions of socially disadvantaged students, they cut back on support for disabled people and as seen in this case, they make savings on vulnerable children in the state’s care.

Eleven year old Amy Rebecca Steen was placed in foster care, in which she was thriving. The council needed to save money, so they placed her in a half-way home for alcoholics. When the council came to remove her, they brought the police. When she resisted, social services and the police violently assaulted her to get her into the car. The police have been informed. Excuse me if I do not hold my breath for justice to be done here.

The mayor was shown footage of her assault. Halfway through he actually looks like he might cry. The journalist says “So, Mr Mayor, what do you think about that?” and his response is the following:-

“That’s what happens if you try to solve situations with force. Of course, honestly, the family… I mean, the foster family did not contribute more positively to the removal of Amy.”

I cannot translate the rest of what that moral coward Carsten Ramussen has to say because he makes me sick. He says some stuff about the foster family having to contribute more positively because the kommune has the right to remove the girl. Etc etc blah blah blah.

If he were still a full human being and not a shell, he would have said “this is a police matter, the amount of force used is unacceptable, she is only eleven for God’s sake”. Here, the politicians are inured to violence being used on the weak to make savings in the budget. Better to criticise people standing up for what is right, than to look at what is wrong.

The Danish national press has not picked up the story. It is only being reported  locally in newspapers (and god bless them). It did make the national tv news but only briefly. The story is over, as far as they are concerned.

This is how unremarkable something like this is, in Denmark. This is how it keeps out of the international press.  This is how the hype that Denmark is a socialist paradise is continued. It is NOT like “anywhere else”. It is awful here. You just do not hear about it unless you can speak Danish, unless you read other local newspapers, unless you turn on the tv on the right day at the right time.

Go back to your bubbles, people, nothing to see.

Links:-

Næstved Kommune removed Amy with force

Næstved Kommune reported to the police

Næstved Kommune didn’t dare remove Amy

The kommune struck under the cover of darkness

Amy removed by force

Heavy handed forcible removal reported to the police

Borough dialogue in Næstved