Six Stupid Arguments that are Damaging Denmark

6) There are plenty of countries that are the same

I like to call this the “but their Mommy lets them do it!” gambit. This argument is usually made in response to someone who has made the observation that, in line with other countries, Denmark is not perfect. This argument is given because the person has misheard and believes that the observation “Denmark is the worst country in the world!” has been made.

Why is it damaging Denmark?

Denmark is not perfect. No country is perfect. Everyone knows that. Some countries do things better than others. And some do things differently enough that it is just a matter of opinion which country is doing it better.

The argument is damaging because people use it as a shield to avoid having to think of ways of to improve Denmark at all. Other countries have problems with depression, Denmark never has to look at why it is true here.

5) There are countries that are worse

5) and 6) arguments are kissing cousins. This argument makes the point that in failed states, developing nations and war torn countries; conditions are much poorer.

Why is it damaging Denmark?

People who make this argument are setting the benchmark way too low. Instead of looking to Scandi cousins like Norway and Sweden or up-and-coming emerging markets like Brazil and India; we can simply look to the worst country in the world and pronounce things “good enough” in comparison.  Children do it, when they ask each other their test scores. As long as they don’t have the worst mark, it’s fine. Never mind that in another class, their mark might very well be the worst. WOO! Not Worst!

4) I agree in part but you are just being idealistic

Appeals to pragmatism are a common technique. Come come now, they say as they set up their strawman, you can’t honestly want the MOON ON A STICK, can you?

Why it is damaging Denmark

The person making this argument never offers anything pragmatic in  terms of a solution. They agree “in part” that it is a sorry situation. They do not explain how your solution is impractical (even if it is, they have no idea how to examine ideas critically), and never suggest a more practical solution. They just insist that since any attempt to improve things is like “wanting no more war and free everything”, it is time to stop and just enjoy the status quo.

3) We have to do it like this because this is how it is done

If you point out something, especially as an outsider, of how things could be improved or changed; even if you make no ego-bruising references to other countries. Even if you come up with a practical solution. Even if you cover all these bases…. You are going to bang up against this argument.

Why it is damaging Denmark

This is also known as “we fear change”. Even if someone offers an evidence based, elegant solution to a niggling problem; the argument that “it is just the way it is/this way is better because we have always done it like this” is proffered. Denmark stagnates until it has no other choice but to change its ways. To save face, those who execute changes ignore ALL evidence based ideas and try to reinvent the wheel.

The result is that improvements are sabotaged by change-averse people in organisations. If improvements are somehow forced through, they will most likely fail anyway because no one feels like they have anything to learn from others and they will repeat their mistakes.

2) The reason we have so many people on antidepressants is because old people are given them to be able to survive nursing homes and the drug companies have made up new diseases like gambling addictions

Ok, this seems like an overly specific example. In general it goes like this “The reason we [xyz] is because of [pqr]” where [pqr] avoids the point [abc].

In that specific argument, old people in nursing homes are DEPRESSED and people with “new diseases like gambling addictions” are DEPRESSED. It doesn’t really matter if the disease was made up by drug companies to sell product or if a run around the block and nice cup of tea would sort them out; they are not being sorted out and they are suffering and that is why the Danish antidepressant stats are so high. Because a high proportion of Danes are DEPRESSED.  Missing the point of “Shit son, there are a lot of depressed Danes” with the claim it is “only” the old or the addicts pulling up the average, misses the overall point . Yeah, genius, that is who we were talking about. The depressed people.

Why is it damaging Denmark

Simplistic reasoning makes me angry. Think of how long it took you to learn how to speak, walk and count. From zero to hero in a few months. You’re a prodigy! When someone tries to give me an explanation for something that misses my point entirely; it makes my fists itchy. This is NOT what your brain is for. I can think of a few more examples, like when the police attacked some peaceful protestors and everyone went around saying “Ahh yes, but the protestors had mobile phones and they texted each other and were organised.” Or when there was an anti-Islamic protest and a counter protest on the same day and everyone went around saying “Yeah, extremists on BOTH SIDES are bad.”

It is sloppy logic and destroying Denmark. Do you think H. C. Andersen, Blixen, Bohr and Ørsted went around thinking stupid thoughts like that? They bloody didn’t! They thought and thought and made sure that their arguments followed. Stop being so lazy.

1) If you don’t like it/if it makes you angry: you should leave Denmark

This is pulled out with depressing regularity. I have only been blogging in this reboot for ONE MONTH and I have been told to leave the country twice by concerned Danes. I am not atypical. The aim is either to shut the other person up (you don’t belong here, you have no right to comment), or to shame them into admitting that Denmark is the best of a bad lot (it bloody isn’t, but I’m stuck here for the foreseeable).

Why it is damaging Denmark

Critical thought does not necessarily denote anger or hate. Looking at a problem and thinking of a solution can be an emotionally detached, neutral process. That is not always true, of course, but it is not always a bad thing to be “angry” or even “hateful”. The point of life is not to avoid these emotions but rather to make peace with them.

Feeling angry is Step One, doing something is Step Two.

The instruction to leave if I don’t like it; encourages the belief that Denmark can NEVER change and nothing can ever be improved. Meanwhile, people make deleterious changes to Denmark all the time. Look at my kommune! The only changes which are unwelcome are those that might make things better? This is a particularly vicious circle. Things are destroyed by incompetents but then no one is allowed to fix it because “if they don’t like it, they should move.”

This sort of thinking is destroying Denmark because people are following the advice and leaving. In droves. Taking their skills and their insights with them. Not just foreigners, you know.

All you will have left are the old, the gambling addicts and the fuckwits who make stupid arguments like this and expect to get away with it.

Danish Hype

Denmark is very “in” right now. It often tops (or almost tops), lists of the Happiest Countries. Foreign journalists have been invited on lots of wonderful trips to Copenhagen after the hype from excellent Danish drama series; and they report back breathlessly about their experiences.

Something curious happens as soon as I blog about something that is not so good in Denmark, even if all I do is translate the news:

Danes think I am picking on Denmark. And they get the hump with me.

When I make the point that Denmark is no better than a lot of countries; they read that as Denmark is worse than other countries. And they tell me that Denmark is no better than a lot of countries.

They dismiss my concerns about privacy, fairness and rule of law as hopeless idealism. As if no other country in the world managed to give depressed people sickness benefits without threatening them with a treatment that their doctor has recommended against. As if no other country in the world managed to balance the different needs of a child in a custody case so that they did not end up full time with an abuser.

If I go too far with them, for example saying that I am afraid of starting a family in this country; they scream at me to go back where I came from.

If you are serious about moving to Denmark, you need to read those comments carefully. Because these attitudes are quite uniform and Denmark is never going to change. You will have to find a way to live with it until you can arrange the shipping container back to where you came from.

International Journalism

Before I ramp up and get started on this post, I need to make something totally clear. So it does not get lost in the noise.

North Korea is worse than Denmark

Pyongyang Metro, DPRK, Puhŭng (부흥) station Fra...
Copenhagen's metro

Very little in my life amuses me more than when someone attempts to wave away any and all criticism of Denmark with a favourable comparison with the last Stalinist state in which many of the population are starving.

I feel like patting Denmark on the head,

KEEP IT UP BIG BOY! BETTER THAN N. KOREA. ALL YOUR HARD WORK PAID OFF!

This is not an opportunity to make any comparison between the two countries, they are obviously not alike. (Except that their children are taught to believe they live in the Best Country in the World from the crib. But that’s it. The only similarity. Oh and that their  media are heavily biased to keep the illusion going. That’s all though. No other similarities. All differences. And in every measurable way, Denmark is indeed “better”)

The reason I compare them at all is that the British media have covered both countries recently and the way that the correspondents go about reporting the country widely diverges.

Okay, so the BBC correspondent to N Korea knows something is up before he gets there. Occasionally people escape North Korea and explain what goes on. The authorities might seek to control what is seen and thought but it proves impossible with accounts of prison camps and starvation coming out all the time. It would be irresponsible of a journalist to come to North Korea and NOT look below the surface. He peeks and notices that factories are for show and the plans do not match reality. It is a good piece of journalism.

There have been a couple of reports by British journalists about Denmark. There was one in the Guardian by an expat about life in Copenhagen. There was a report by the BBC about “green Copenhagen“. In which, both journalists repeat what they have been told which I think is a bit of a missed opportunity.

No digging under the surface, no peeking under the curtain, no critical thought at all.

The BBC state “an estimated 35,000 bicycle commuters stream across this bridge every day” although it is a  disputed statistic on some biking blogs. (This blog also points out that cycling is declining in popularity in Denmark.)

The BBC then goes on to praise how green Copenhagen is, in terms of shopping, dining and hoteling. It does not point out that the pig farming industry‘s carbon footprint cancels out all the good work done by sustainable Copenhageners (and indeed by all those pretty windmills too). It does not point out that all rubbish is burned (Even plastic. Even recycling), and this results in massive carbon emissions.

Sure, Copenhagen does have some hippy-dippy areas which allow you to live more sustainably but the whole city isn’t “green” as such and the country is definitely not. There are major areas that need improvement but I do not see them doing so without encouragement.

Wouldn’t it be a massive loss of face if Copenhagen tried to reverse the decline of cycling? We thought you were the best country for cycling, Denmark! Wouldn’t it be confusing if “green Copenhagen” were to admit that the way waste and water are managed are environmentally unfriendly? So, improvements are stalled. All that can improve is window dressing because there is no loss of face in coming up with a plan to make … shoe shopping … more sustainable where honestly improving recycling might be embarrassing.

The report in the Guardian is similarly hobbled by the author’s faith in the Danish hype.

She states that there are no stay-at-home mothers thanks to the fantastic childcare arrangements. As in, if a woman (or indeed a man), had the choice to be a full time carer OR put their child in daycare; they would always choose daycare as long as it was “fantastic”. I am not sure that is true. A little digging might reveal that some families are pressured into putting their child in daycare even if they have no paid work, even if they are financially supported by one parent, even if, you know, it is none of the state’s business where the infant is being cared for.

She talks up her experiences in maternity hospital and her daughter’s daycare. These are her experiences and I am not disputing them. But to make claims such as “that Denmark can provide such great healthcare and childcare is mainly due to astronomically high taxes” surely a journalist would dig around and see if her experience was the norm? To compare accident/death rates in Danish daycare where “health and safety has escaped British extremes” would be informative (I have no idea, I expect they are similar but I would love someone to check.) Is healthcare great? Consistently? What about survival rates and life expectancies? What about the news that came out a few years ago about how daycare can be emotionally neglectful because there are not enough adults to provide needed intimacy?

She claims:

“The Danes are gradually opening up their borders, but there’s an unspoken fear among many that this perfect society, which functions so efficiently because of universal high taxes, might shatter under the strain of an influx of immigrants.”

I know she cannot understand Danish but really! Unspoken? The idea that Denmark is a “perfect society”? The idea that immigrants won’t/can’t pay universal high taxes?

All of these statements deserve digging and peeking and checking. But she just repeats what she heard without thinking.

The British press do know how to look beyond the surface, they do know how to check facts, they do know how to dig into a story and yet they do not in the case of Denmark.

Denmark (along with the rest of Scandinavia), is exalted as The Place where Everything Just Works. It’s the holy land for a certain type of Briton (I should know, I was one<sadface>). The need for Denmark to work explains some of the credulity.

There is also the hype around the high quality drama coming out of Denmark. I really like both Borgen and Forbrydelsen. But. Let’s not get it twisted.

In Forbrydelsen (SPOILER ALERT): En pige er slået ihjel ved sin fars bedste ven og politiet anholder hver anden mand i København inden ham. En politimand er skudt ihjel. Og gerningsmand er slået ihjel ved pigens far. Det er næppe en betryggende reklame, ikke også?

In Borgen, the drama centres around the State Minister making difficult decision (selling out), in order to lead Denmark (cling to power). Some of her decisions are very dodgy and corrupt but she is so adorable she gets away with it.

The mystery of why British journalists are so complimentary of Copenhagen couldn’t have something to do with being invited to jollies to find out about The Danish Journalism Way, could it?

Or the payment of $123,400 US to a travel magazine BY THE STATE. Whiskey tango foxtrot.

Another way Denmark differs from North Korea (apart from every other respect), is that British journalists are happy to present the state’s propaganda without inspection or introspection. Maybe North Korea should start bribing correspondents.

Raise your game, lazy journalists!

On Cognitive Bias

We all have them. If there is one thing that makes me reach for the sick bag, it is when someone implies that I am “not objective” and either say outright or leave the thought hanging that they are. No, you aren’t. You pompous fool.

There are loads of things everyone gets wrong about the world all the time. I just read a mo-fo-ing book about it, which I am going to go ahead and pimp to y’all. It’s by Cordelia Fine (who I LOVE), and it’s called A Mind of its Own (not to be confused with the book about the penis by David Friedman). Our brains are lying scumbags, yo! They protect us from so much mental distress by refusing to display the world as it is. We look on the bright side, hide our true motives from ourselves, dismiss opposing points of view and go overboard for beliefs we already believed in.

People are pompous fools. We can’t help ourselves. Do not act like you are not one because that makes you sound way way worse. Believe.

Anyway. Going through the integration process in Denmark has been fascinating from a self-knowledge perspective. How much can you really know about yourself if you have never transplanted yourself into another culture? I am so grateful for this blog. I kept all the archives, they are safe. (They are also very likely still on google cache, right?) I can look back on my journey and see how I processed everything and when. Not many others have that. Many others come through the process and forget how raw and visceral everything was in the beginning. “Have you tried… accepting Denmark as it is?” they ask. Forgetting everything they were going through in those days.

I have felt myself in confirmation bias’ grip. I have been part of group think. I even remember thinking “It won’t be like that for me” before I moved to Denmark. How textbook can one person be?

Now I am a pure and holy objective thinker and due to my enlightenment I am able to see things as they TRULY are. Just kidding. I am still subject to my brain’s vagaries and distortions. Obviously. (But that is not a stick to beat me with, and it never was. You see, you forgive your own peccadilloes and judge mine more harshly. That is also a cognitive bias.)

The temptation, with a blog like this, is to write about the things Denmark does right… you know, to “balance” when I have written about Denmark doing wrong. I do recognise that Denmark has good points. I do recognise that that Danish state occasionally makes good decisions. I do recognise that many Danish people are pretty awesome. But.

Denmark already has a major industry writing on its behalf. Even people not on the payroll look to Denmark to be somewhere special. Journalists might not be totally clear on which language Danes speak but they know it is a socialist paradise, whatever they speak. Bloggers might not be entirely sure what the difference between Sweden and Denmark is but they know it is free and tolerant, whichever one it is. Denmark has a huge sector of the state working to attract “luksus” immigrants to work here for a few years, pay into the system and then BOG OFF before they can cash out. They highlight the good stories and are not above fabricating them if they are thin on the ground. If you poke around biking blogs, there are many running battles about which city has the busiest cycling lanes: Amsterdam or Copenhagen. (This is because Denmark claims Copenhagen does and because some bloggers have looked into it and the figures are fishy. I am not taking sides on this one because I don’t know)

When the highly educated luksus immigrants make it here, they typically love it to start. If they are lucky, they will remain happy. They post lovely little craft blogs about their new hobbies (this is usually the spouses, who are often unable to find work). They don’t blog the bad days because they don’t want to worry the folks back home. If the bad days become a bad patch, they stop blogging entirely. Sometimes (becoming more and more often), they ask to leave early.

Some people come here to be with a Danish partner. They have a similar trajectory of being very happy and then being just ok and then having bad days. Some will have bad patches. Some will want to leave due to those bad experiences.

Unfortunately for them, there is a well-rehearsed response to their concerns. The two-step of “If you don’t like it, then move”/”It would be the same anywhere else”.

New immigrants (whatever brings them here), know they want to have a good time in their new country. They know they don’t want to have bad days. They certainly do not want to have bad patches. So, they read as much as they can about the good stuff and try to avoid reading about the bad stuff altogether. I believe first-time pregnant women do the same when reading about childbirth and child rearing. It is normal to romanticise the future. Though, the difference is when a new mother has cracked, oozing nipples and is delirious from a lack of sleep; her mother might say “I fucking told you.”

Still, there must be a benefit in knowing on some level that mothering will be gross, exhausting and painful even if you do not believe it until it is happening.

For those who are considering a move to Denmark; there is hardly anything about the bad stuff out there to try to avoid. Not in English. There is me and “this Indonesian“. Everyone else is trying to see the good or maintaining a more neutral tone or staying out of the political discussions. (That is totally fine, vive la difference).

But what readers need to understand  is: they are my balance. Their positive and negative experiences are MY positive and negative experiences. They have the same joy and the same despair. For the most part. They choose to blog one aspect of living here, I choose to blog another.

My fear is, if I blog about how great work-life balance is here; people fresh from watching  Borgen will use that statement to justify moving here. I wouldn’t feel right about that. People need to come here with their eyes open. There are good things and bad things. You typically only get to read about the good things and by the time you find out about the bad things; it’s too late because you live here now and people are going to tell you to be grateful that it isn’t North Korea you live in. TO YOUR FACE.

Denmark is okay, I really believe that. Being a foreigner is freaking hard though and especially so in a country like this. (Fun fact: There are other countries in which being a foreigner is problematic.)

Denmark is not the Holy Land. It’s not what you think. The hype you keep wanting to be true? It really really isn’t. It’s probably about as good as any developed nation, depending on how you measure it. But it’s nothing special. Sometimes the authorities make great whopping mistakes. Sometimes horrible things happen and no one gets in trouble. Sometimes you get treated like shit because of where you are from and not what you are like. They are flailing around in the financial crisis as much as anywhere else. The taxes are high. The services are crap. The selection in the shops is poor.

Denmark is okay. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is bad. I will probably just blog the bad stuff, if that is okay with you? No offense, Denmark. But you have SOOOOO many blogs singing your praises, I know one or two like mine won’t hurt.

Custody

Distressing stories about the Danish state preferring Danish parents over foreign parents in custody disputes are nothing new. Even if the Danish parent is abusive, a deadbeat or kidnapped the child. The Danish state will award him full custody and ignore the doctor’s reports about sexual bruising on the child. They will award him full custody and laugh.

In some cases, children will be abducted by a Danish parent and then the foreign parent will be deported. In some cases, the parents will have joint custody but the Danish parent can have the other parent deported if they claim that they are deadbeat or uninvolved with their children.

The EU and other international courts have been informed but justice is slow.

There is a new heartbreaking case. According to Ekstra Bladet, a Danish man came to Austria and abducted his son. He had never been married to the mother, she had full custody and he had not been interested in his son until the Austrian state asked him to contribute financially.

This is as clear cut as they come, the Danish police should respect the international arrest warrant and return the boy. The mother, however, has been informed that the Danish state would prefer that her son be placed in a children’s home than returned to a foreign parent.

As much as earnest Danish people like to insist that only “non-western” foreigners are affected by their policies (as if that makes it better!), this is happening to an Austrian woman. If I had to list the ways that Danish people and Austrian people were different, I think I would get as far as language and national dish; and have to draw a blank. Her background is probably why this story has made the papers and other similar stories have not.

This also makes me feel very uneasy about starting a family with any Danish man. She is not married to the man, she has total full custody, it could mean he is not on the birth certificate (though I am not sure if that is the case), and yet the Danish state will support him even if there is an international arrest warrant out on him. They would rather support a man who would abduct his son from his mother in a planned attack than the Austrian state.

This is a failure of natural justice, of all human rights legislation and of the Danish legal system. This, and other cases like it, need to be resolved by the international courts. Denmark needs to be told by the other countries that its behaviour is totally unacceptable.

I know there will be people reading this who cannot believe it. They have an idea of what Denmark is and this does not fit at all with their worldview. You might want to dismiss these as exceptions, you might want to recall that other countries have similar problems, you might want to console yourself with the idea that other countries are worse. But you need to take a deep breath and think again.

Denmark is supposed to be better, is supposed to be an exemplary society, is supposed to be something special. At the very least, it ought to obey the international laws it has signed up to. It is flouting these laws (in part), because it knows that you will perform the mental tricks necessary to keep Denmark pure in your mind.

If the international community wakes up to the fact that Denmark is in many ways similar to countries we look down on for being shitholes; maybe that will be the shame needed to propel Denmark into acting the way the hype claims it does.

It WOULD be worse in North Korea, Iran and Afghanistan. It MIGHT be similar in the US. It COULD be comparable to the recent treatment of all fathers in custody battles. But that does not excuse it and it certainly does not justify any inertia about improving.