The real news

I like reading dictionaries, and because of a service the Merriam Webster Dictionary offers, words are even more interesting than usual. The advantage of an online dictionary is that you can easily discover what words people want to know more about.

Not surpringly many of the recent trending words are related to Donald Trump: Facism, bigot, xenophobe, misogyny etc. If it hadn’t been such a straightforward word fake news would probably be on the list as well. Facebook has been blamed for the amount of fake news, and the company has promised to do something about it. That’s almost comical when I consider what mainstream media has, or hasn’t done in recent years.

The Norwegian media’s coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis is a good example. Journalism exerted a strong influence on public opinion, and the attitude seems to have been that anything less than open borders and limitless spending is pure evil. The minister of immigration has been compared to the Nazis, even Hitler and Goebbels. The truth is that she has never suggested not helping refugees, but it makes sense to help people in the refugee camps in Turkey and Lebanon. Some of the news stories in mainstream media have been screaming fake loud and clear, and its hard to understand how the journalist could miss the obvious questions.  It seems to me that the object has been to create sympathy, and truth quickly became another casualty.

I’m a big fan of British satire and Not the Nine O’Clock News was a part of my childhood. The difference is that it is also a liberal stance today.

The coverage of the US election did little to improve media’s reputation, especially what happened after the election and Brexit. There’s been a strong reaction from a number of Milennials that refused to accept the results. There were angry, scared and seemingly combative people in the streets, and the newspapers did their best to encourage a situation that could easily have changed for the worse. Norwegian newspapers obsessed about Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote, and they gave the impression that Donald Trump had stolen the election. When Al Gore lost in the 2000 election it was by a margin of 537 votes in Florida. He challenged the result, but had to give up, and I don’t recall anyone defending democracy back then.

There are many questions the press could have asked. Why didn’t more women, African-Americans and Hispanics vote for Hillary Clinton? Voter turnout is very low in the USA and it was under 55 percent in 2012. Is that a democratic problem?

Someone shared a fake news list with me a few days ago. An assistant professor had made it for her students to debate, but it quickly spread in social media. There are major problems with the list because it also includes bloggers and pundits that write ideologically, satirically or other types of opinions. In other words, it’s not meant to be compared to CNN. On the other hand, there is a reason we need alternative media. I agree that some of the sites on the list deserve to be there, but there are also mainstream media outlets that are not as reputable as many think. They present narrative news.

It is important to be a critical reader, though, and I always compare different sources. I was recently reminded of this when a Facebook-friend shared a blog post she had read. The post stated that Sweden had much fewer cases of whooping cough than Norway even though the Swedes had not had a vaccine since 1979. The truth is that a vaccine was withdrawn in 1979 because it wasn’t effective, but it was replaced with a better one. What real news, or textbooks can confirm, is that although vaccines work, they are not as effective as many assume. One of several problems is that there are different definitions for the minimum concentration of antibodies needed to be ptotected.

Talk Radio is an important arena for sharing information. These programs mostly talk about conspiracies, but some of the topics are interesting. Coast to Coast is on the list,  but I don’t think they are suggesting that they are broadcasting more than opinions. Even Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute hosts a weekly radioshow, and although it’s presented as science, there is a certain amount of speculation involved. It’s not news, but should it be listed as mainstream when Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and others start blocking information?

Social media is a part of the infrastructure that has made it possible for whistleblowers and activists to get their information out. I think it would be inaccurate to say that mainstream media is truth, while the alternatives are lies. We all have a responsibility as readers, and an article isn’t automatically true because we read it in New York Times, The Guardian or heard it on CNN. NRK, the state channel in Norway gave me the biggest surprise of this election. They have a children’s channel, NRK Super, and in Super News they aim to explain the world to children. They did what everyone else did, they totally misrepresented the facts when they said that the election was a battle between good and evil. Donald Trump would start a world war , while Hillary Clinton was the saviour. Not surpringly it made many children worried, and this is regarded as the most mainstream we have. It was still fake news.

I don’t see how media could have any credibility left, so this would be a bad time to lose alternatives.

The dark side of cosy

purple candles
This is the time for kos.

There are several Facebook groups for Americans living in Norway. I am a member of one that also includes spouses, and my wife is the American in my family.

The word cosy keeps coming up there. It’s a sort of a joke that makes sense to all members. Norwegians are big on cosy. It drives me crazy because I hear people using the adjective kos/koselig constantly. Everything is koselig, which means that you are very comfortable. It’s the feeling you get when you spend time with your favourite people, but it is also one of the most abused words. It’s like awesome. It used to be that God was awesome, but it doesn’t feel quite as impressive when we also say that “the movie was totally awesome!”

We are generally a positive and naive people. Norway is basically The Shire. All is not well in the land, though. It is estimated that mental health costs us 60-70 billion NOK a year and 500-600 commit suicide every year. Just to give you an idea of how shockingly high that number is, I want to compare it to murder and deaths from traffic accidents. Those numbers were 23 and 118 in 2015.

I don’t know what is going on, but this is not something new. Trolls from the deep forests and the mountains have always been a part of our imagination. We have an old Christmas tradition that is similar to Halloween. During the thirteen days of Christmas it was believed that the veil between the spirit world and our world was thinner. There is also the tradition of the yulegoat that could abduct you if you had not completed the Christmas preparations in time. That meant that you joined the crowd of restless sprits. As if that wasn’t enough we also have a small creature that is associated with Christmas. This is our Santa. It’s not the same, but could be compared to goblin or gnome, and these could be mean as well. My people really knew how to spoil a party.

Those were horrible times, and I’m not especially eager to go back to darker times, but I sometimes wonder if we have lost too much. Norwegians used to meet for midwinter’s sacrifice in January. That had been our Christmas for a thousand years when Christianity showed up a thousand years ago. Imagine how much the light from a bonfire meant when the world literally was dark. We have all the light we could possibly need today. We have more than anyone else in history has had, but the trolls haven’t gone away. Just an observation as we approach advent. The world may seem darker than ever during my lifetime, but there is hope. That’s what advent and Christmas remind us of.

The revenge of the milennials

I have some sympathy with milennials, but it is limited. There are lots of sites written by milennials that claim they are better than their reputation, and they have a few points.

The apartment I spent most of my childhood in is a good illustration of the problem. These apartments typically cost 25 000 – 30 000 NOK ($ 3 000 – 3 600) when my parents bought one in 1975. The same apartment today costs 1,3 million + 3 000 NOK ($ 360) per month to cover the debt all the apartments share, and this is absolutely the cheapest you can find in my small town. It’s hard to find anything for less than 2 million NOK, and as the banks won’t even consider a loan application unless you have at least a 15 percent down payment, many get desperate.

My parents struggled with low income too, but these were affordable apartments in the 1970's. It's not anymore.
My parents struggled with low income too, but these were affordable apartments in the 1970’s. It’s not anymore.

Norway seemingly escaped the financial crisis completely, but there could be a milennial bubble waiting to burst. I have noticed a growing number of companies that offer loans up to 500 000 NOK without security, and many young people with a job use these loans for the down payment. The interest is usually around 9 percent, which doesn’t sound so bad compared to credit cards, and there are some that use credit cards too. This still means that they are very sensitive to very small changes, and many could end up without a house, but with a debt they wouldn’t be able to pay during their lifetime.

The milennials is the biggest generation so far, and it will probably be the first generation that have no chance of accomplishing what their parents did. They have been become victims of things they couldn’t control, and as they like technology, but have no money, they support companies that move the production to Asia. It is possible to make a difficult situation worse , and maybe that’s what milennials are doing when they cut corners. Some may have to accept the fact that it could take them 20 years of working and saving before they can buy a house.

I wonder if this impatience could explain the strong reaction after the US election as well. It’s like the rules many elementary schools in Norway have. Imagine that a child is being bullied. The victim is expected to forgive and forget, even when the bullying continues. So the victim is not allowed to turn anyone down. There is also a rule that if you invite one classmate to your birthday party, you have to invite all of them. It doesn’t matter how the victim feels about it. Nobody likes to lose, so we don’t learn how to deal with it.

George Bush won the 2000 election with a margin of 537 votes in Florida. Al Gore challenged the result all the way to Supreme Court, but eventually gave up. He also won the popular vote, like Hillary Clinton. It may seem like a flawed system, but that’s how democracy works in many countries, and the same people probably would have been happy if the situation was reversed.

The most disturbing part of this is how media is getting people worked up. Norwegian press had headlines for three days about Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote, while they were showing pictures of angry and terrified people. It’s over, and if these protests had been allowed to grow to a dangerous level, it would probably not have helped at all.

You are the change

The cover of a Norwegian newspaper the day of the election. Showing Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
The cover of a Norwegian newspaper the day of the election.

My friend Jay made an interesting comparison between the American election and the Israel described in the Bible (or the Tanakh). The First Book of Samuel describes Israel as nomadic tribes. They had the Ark of the Covenant, a gold-covered wooden chest that according to the tradition contained the two stone tablets of the ten commandments that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. This reminder of the pact between God and the Jewish people was a very holy object and only a select few could handle it. It was like a magical object, and when the Philistines stole it, it was as if God had been taken from the Jewish people.. Israel got the ark back, but they were still dissatisfied.

Israel didn’t have a king, but God filled that position, while the prophet Samuel was the last in a line of judges that had been the link between Israel and God. The people demanded a king, which was a sign they didn’t trust God. They wanted a physical person telling them they didn’t have to do anything themselves. God told Samuel to give the people a king, but he had to explain what that involved first. It meant that the king would require servants to provide a wide range of services, and the people would have to pay tax. The people still wanted a king, but Saul turned out to be a bad idea, and he was replaced.

The Americans are not in a unique situation, but that’s where it’s the most obvious at the moment. It’s about a human need to be taken care of. It wasn’t the people’s responsibility to change America eight years ago. That was Obama’s job. Many are sick and tired of the political elite now, and they voted for the candidate that promised to do something about the political corruption. People are still worried about the unknown, and many are worried about what Donald Trump will do. The most worrisome is still the fact that media, in Norway as well, preferred Hillary Clinton instead of Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump was seen as the plague we had to avoid at all costs. When the plan failed the shock was even greater.

Change has to start with ourselves, and we have the same problem in Norway. We have had mostly Labour-governments since World War II, possibly exactly because we want others to make decisions for us. We have a rare right-wing government now, and people are predictably calling for a return of the socialist saviour. I admit that there are many troubling things about Trump, but it remains to be seen what he will actually do. I have a Facebook friend that shared something a friend of her had written, and he demanded that Trump voters revealed themselves and justified their support for Trump. That’s something I might write about later because how would you justify voting for Hillary Clinton?

We can’t expect authorities to adopt change. They have to contribute of course, but we can make major changes ourselves. We have a responsibility. The Americans don’t have to wait for Washington and I don’t have to wait for Oslo. I think it would actual be hard for governments to change things if we don’t start with ourselves. We are the change.

I can’t take credit for these ideas. I mentioned Jay as a source, and one of her friends, Phil Fletcher, is being the change in Conway, Arkansas.

Ain’t the way I heard it

I took this photo with my cell phone on February 10th 2014. I believe it's Jupiter next to our Moon. I hope we get there some day.
The Moon and Jupiter

We’ve had an incredible autumn, and after a lousy summer we have had long periods without any clouds since August. It’s typical that the rain showed up again just as we are getting a supermoon, which is a full moon in its closest possible position to Earth.

This is not an unusual phenomenon, but the Moon hasn’t been this close to Earth since 1948. I’m not suggesting that the Moon has some supernatural effect on us, but this particular supermoon reminds us of a weird coincidence.

1948 was also an election year and the newspaper Chicago Herald Tribune made a remarkable blunder. Polls were relatively new as a tool for predicting a winner in an election, but it had been done long enough for there to be a tough competition. The most known companies were Gallup, Roper and Crossley. They had been accurate in 1936, 1940 and 1944, but things didn’t go quite as expected in 1948. Gallup called Dewey as the winner with 50 percent, while Truman had 44 percent and two other candidates got the remaining 6 percent. The actual result was almost exactly reversed. Truman had 50 percent, Dewey 45 and the other candidates got 5 percent of the votes.

The result was just as shocking to Americans as Trump’s victory this year. Everybody expected an easy victory for the Republicans, so Chicago Tribune didn’t think it took a risk by printing the result early. This would probably have been forgotten if someone had not taken a picture that would become quite iconic. It shows Truman smiling to the camera while reading that famous edition of Chicago Tribune. He supposedly said Ain’t the way I heard it.

Trump could be an interesting choice. He is not the candidate the political and financial elite wanted. It may not happen, but this could be an opportunity for the people to take some of the power back. This reminds me of Occupy Wall Street, and Donald Trump has possibilities for real change. There are of course many disturbing sides of the president elect, but what matters is action. Trump is a business man that passionately presents a simple message. He has to deliver of course, but Congress needs to let him if he intends to do some good.

This is on us

We have underestimated racism. We have underestimated right wing extremism. We have underestimated the hatred towards women… This is about the nationalistic wind that has swept across America. Across Europe. Norway as well.

I translated this from something Shazia Sharwar wrote in the biggest Norwegian newspaper yesterday. She is a journalist that works as a commentator/pundit in this paper, and she was trying to take some responsibility for the shocking result of the US election. She has a point, but I don’t think she can see the whole picture. The prejudices she referrs to don’t mean more than the political elite’s lack of ability or will to help the people that need it the most.

USA is a big country, maybe too big for everyone to feel that Washington DC is close, and I’m not talking about geography. You could sit in the same room and feel that the distance to the person across the table is measured in light. I think Hillary Clinton’s “Stronger Together” was supposed to indicate that she had middle class values, that she wanted to include the middle class in her team. The question is how electable she is. I think many see her as privileged, and as a part of an elite, certainly politically and possibly financially as well. If that’s true she is always going to have a tough job convincing people in a country with extreme inequality. At least in the present climate.

occypy tent camp
A protest from the Occupy movement in Cyprus is just one of many voices telling authorities that life is hard. The US election is another sign.
wikimedia commons

Donald Trump is certainly in the upper social layer, although no one could accuse him of having class. He is pretty tactless and many of his peers probably resent him for not trying to hide what may be a common personality among people that feel they don’t have to consider the vast majority. Trump still made many voters think that this was a rebellion against the elite holding the power. I think this can explain Brexit as well. Decisions are taken farther and farther away, and the people making these decisions don’t know or care what the people think. That will lead to some sort of protest, which I think is what got both Obama and Trump elected. It’s interesting that after Britain’s EU-referendum the minority wanted a new referendum. They thought they could put democracy on hold because they didn’t like the decision.

Media is a part of the problem. It has been called the backbone of democracry, but when journalists fail to be the mirror that tells us the truth about the world around us, one wonders who keeps the politicians honest. Media may be better in Scandinavia compared to many other regions, but they are inclined to avoid real journalism here as well. They all report the same and US politics seems to be a copy of articles from American papers. It doesn’t matter how independent they feel if they don’t appear to be a part of the solultion.

It really is a narrative when media is slanted, which Norwegian media’s coverage of the American election was. The message was that Trump made the world more dangerous, and Hillary would make everything better. The truth is that we are facing challenges it will take longer time than a couple of terms in The White House to straighten out, but I hope the next president will start the job. The problem is that the president can’t do the job alone. The US ambassador in Oslo could serve as an example of how difficult it is to work together in politics. When Barry White left in September 2013 after serving as ambassador for four years, it took 869 days to get another ambassador approved by the Senate. The last hold up was  because Ted Cruz wanted to pressure Obama to stop the nuclear treaty with Iran.

As for Hillary Clinton being less likely to go to war there are some that think she is a part of a tradition in the Democratic Party that see it as their responsibility to spread a liberal democracy through war. Harry Truman sent troops to Korea, Lyndon Johnson started the Vietnam War, and Bill Clinton intervened in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq. This isn’t the Democrats way. It’s American politics, and the Republicans are doing the same. Bill Clinton said in the State of the Union address in 1998 that Saddam Hussein was building an arsenal of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. That was his justification for signing the Iraq Liberation Act. Does that sound familiar? My point is that it would be wrong to assume that Democrats are less likely to go to war. Obama was, but Harry Clinton is different.

If the goal was to keep Trump out of the White House the voters will have to accept responsibility for failing, just as we all have to when we make decisions we couldn’t explain. Hillary Clinton seemed to be unelectable, but I think Bernie Sanders would have done better. He had some of Trump’s anti-establishment politics, but without any scandals. There were problems with Sanders too, like there always are with socialists, but he may have been what the USA needed right now.

Media also have some responsibility because, at least in Norway, they were much more inclined to give Hillary Clinton positive exposure than both Trump and Sanders. No one seems to have understood just how tired people are of the two parties that have governed, or failed to. It’s far too simplistic to blame angry, middled aged white men. There are many angry people.

I guess it doesn’t matter what Norwegian media do as they can’t influence Americans, but I wish they could report the honest truth and be critical, but fair. The Americans are moving into unknown territory now. They don’t know what will happen next, but this could also be an opportunity to take some of the power back. I don’t know what Trump is planning, but he can’t do it any more alone than Obama. If Trump turns out to be better than many fear I hope he will get help. This matters to Americans, but it matters to the rest of us too, because if America doesn’t work, the world doesn’t work.

A stronger America

You know, this explains a lot. Because all my life I’ve had this unaccountable feeling in my bones that something sinister was happening in the universe and that no one was telling me what it was. Arthur Dent

The long American election is finally over. Hillary Clinton was probably pretty sure she was going to win, and she had reason to. There didn’t seem to be any indication of anything but a solid victory. I was following a Norwegian newspaper’s live web-TV coverage from New York, and one of their pundits consistently talked about how Trump was doing well where he was expected to, but his only choice was to accept defeat.

There are many theories about what went wrong, but the truth may be simple. It is possible that Clinton was unelectable in the present climate. Donald Trump did a good job of alienating everyone, and even before the old recordings surfaced, it seemed like he didn’t want to win. Hillary Clinton had a lot of support from media, and Michelle Obama gave a couple of speeches that was probably worth more than any amount of dollar, and Clinton had a lot of them as well. In other words, Hillary Clinton couldn’t possibly fail. She should have won most votes from African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims and women for starters. This could also have been the election when family loyalty to the Republican Party didn’t necessarily mean anything.

Her slogan, Stronger Together, suggested that she wanted to be seen as middle class, that she understood the voters because she was just an average American. She probably chose this slogan because it was the opposite of Trump’s. Incidentally, many politicians have promised change. Bill Clinton said “It’s time to Change America”, while Trump followed a tradition of patriotism:

Let’s Make America Great Again, Ronald Reagan

A Stronger America, John Kerry

Restore America Now, Ron Paul

America’s Comeback Team, Mitt Romney

Many saw George Bush as a bad president, but changed their minds when Obama couldn’t fix everything. George Bush had a slogan in his second election that may differ slightly from his legacy: “A Safer World and a More Hopeful America.” I am no expert, but I wonder why the Republicans didn’t get a third term if Bush did everything right.

It’s hard to see how people are going to work together when not even Republicans in Congress support Donald Trump, but we should give them a chance. You may wonder why it matters to the rest of the world who wins the US election. This is our closest, strongest ally, and of course it make people worried when one of the candidates says that he may ignore NATO’s article five.

The road is called further

Our Saviour Church leads trourists to my street
Most towns have a centrally located church reminding us of hard things like forgiveness and human flaws.


We have normality. I repeat, we have normality. Anything you still can’t cope with is therefore your own problem. Douglas Adams

I am reading a book called “As agreed with the doctor – when the support system fails.” It’s a mother’s description of the outrageous treatment of her son in kindergarten, school and health service. He was diagnosed with ADHD, but the people that were supposed to help him made it a lot worse. One of the early episodes happened when the boy was eight years old. When his mother picked him up from the school day care facilities one day a sixth grader that wasn’t even supposed to be there, as this programme is for first to fourth grade, was sitting on his chest and hitting him. There were no one else in the school yard, and the teacher was inside.

The bullying had been going on since he started school, but when they still didn’t want to deal with it, the mother went to the police. The police couldn’t do more than talk to the pupils and encourage them to stop bullying in general, which is what they did. The teacher had used every opportunity up to this point to tell the mother what an awful person her son was, but from this point she was blamed as well. This school had a good reputation and had been mentioned in media because bullying didn’t exist there. The only problem as far they were concerned was that this mother could give them bad publicity.

There are many, not the least in schools, that think all relations should be restored, but that isn’t necessarily desirable. I know about cases where the victims have been forced to associate with the oppressors because they had a policy of not turning anyone down. That way you could camouflage your attacks, but make it very public when you offer your victim friendship. The victim would be expected to play with the attacker, but this could also be used as a way to isolate a victim by stealing friends. Many victims have had a lot of the responsibility placed on them. Forgiveness is expected to be expressed instantly, like it is a spinal reflex, and some schools seem to be bad about that.

What do you think the eight year old boy and his mother should have done? I am not especially focused on revenge, but it is pretty clear in this case that there were several guilty parties that refused to take responsibility (the school, the children bullying and the parents). They were not interested in acknowledging that they had made some extremely poor decisions. The Jews have a stance on forgiveness that is problematic for Christians because it’s about our relationship with God, but it works between people. This forgiveness occurs in several steps, and it is necessary for the guilty party to admit wrongdoing, show remorse and a willingness to provide reparation. That of course means asking for forgivenes, but that’s not nearly good enough.

Forgiveness is hard and I don’t have the answer, but I am pretty sure that pretending everything is hunky-dory isn’t it. The boy from the book shouldn’t be preoccupied with a hate that may never let go, but I don’t think he should be quick to seek what the school perceives as normality either. I like the Jewish model better than the schools’ desire to pressure victims into immediate forgiveness. I don’t personally have room for unreliable people in my life. I don’t see how I can trust people that have demonstrated an unwillingness or inability to handle reasonable expectations. Besides, doesn’t it go against our nature to forgive and forget?

I have been thinking about ethics lately. I also recommend Cooperation pays off.  I borrowed the headline from a Norwegian singer. Anne Grethe Preus has some fascinating phrases I don’t always understand. In this song she says “it’s a nameless mystery, a small Milky Way. It’s just called further.” That’s me. I press on. I hitchhike through the galaxy. It’s not about revenge; it’s about choosing who I want to spend time with.


Celebrate lost loved ones

St. Olav Church
The local St. Olav Church from 1250 reminds me of our old traditions, and some of them are worth keeping.

All Saints’ Day, All Hallows’ Day, Hallowmas, Feast of All Saints, Solemnity of All Saints. This days has different names in the English-speaking world, and in Mexico Dia de Muertos, Day of the Dead, is a public holiday. This is a Christian festival, but many don’t seem to realize that Halloween is too.

All Saints’ Day is a Christian festival where we honour the saints and on All Souls’ Day we commemorate our dead relatives. If you want to be accurate you are supposed to think about the faithful departed, so if you have been naughty I am afraid you can’t expect much from the living. Being faithful seems to be a minimum requirement.

Some believe Halloween was Christian from the beginning, while others think the Catholic church tried to Christianize the Celtic Samhain in the 8th century. No matter how you look at it this is a pretty long Christian tradition. It is important to note that pagan means pre-Christian and not occult.

I often pass a window downtown with a showcase/advertisement telling me that I can pay them to light a candle or put flowers on a grave. I thought the point was to remember the people that meant something to me, but if I don’t want the intimacy of going to the grave, it seems strange to pay someone to care. On the other hand, we don’t have to see the tombstone in order to think about our loved ones, and November 1 is a good day for it.

The Mexican tradition makes sense to me. I was eleven when my father died. The grown-ups around me went crazy, and although they had been talking about how wonderful it was going to be in heaven, it clearly wasn’t any easier for them to deal with it. I can understand it better today because no matter what you think happens, or doesn’t happen after death, it is the end of life. I hope there is an afterlife, but it’s not going to work if we remember the conflicts and unfriendly people we knew. So even in the most positive view it means that we are leaving for good. I think God would have had a bit of a challenge if we brought our memories, and I am not sure I would find happiness there if I had to forgive everything.

Dia de Muertos seems to be a much bigger event in Mexico than All Souls’ Day is to Europeans. This is a film about a child thinking about her dead mother. It’s a shame many see the grave yard as a creepy place, but maybe Mexican children learn to deal with death without suppressing these thoughts? This film does’t appear to have a preview image, but the film will still play

Cooperation pays off

"The Cross Hill" in my hometown is an example of stone-crosses that were erected all over the country in the 10th and 11th century. This is our culture.
“The Cross Hill” in my hometown is probably from the 12th century. It reminds me of our traditions and of how hard it is to get it right.

A fair amount of my posts have been about ethics, even though I usually don’t discuss the theoretical thinking behind the moral. There’s no doubt that we need to become saints in order to succeed with everything, but ethics is the theory and we shouldn’t apply all of it to our lives.

Many people are concerned with buying a few fair trade products, like coffee, or use public transportation, but then fail to intervene when they see injustice on the bus. When that happens we have helped people on another continent, but failed anyway. I think nearness plays a role, and showing moral courage is more important concerning your family and neighbours than a coffee picker in South America or inuits in Alaska.

Ethics is often about the right deeds and about becoming better people. Virtue ethics may seem controversial today and many consider it an insult to be called a paragon. Virtues are habits or qualities that help us live good lives. There are problems with all theories, but I like the focus on habits in virtue ethics. We are not born either good or bad, but have both possibilties. We can practice on making the right choices. It’s doesn’t really matter what we think about Muslims, skin colour, homosexuals or gender equality. We can still learn to treat people fairly.

Selfishness and altruism are extremes, but both could be negative. Most people pay attention to their bookkeeping and balance. When they help someone, even if they volunteered their services, they expect something in return. When I went to school we had a lot of group/project work and sometimes I ended up doing a lot of the work alone. This is also how some people’s idea of a relationship is, but it’s not exactly fair. We want cooperation, so there is an expectation of some sort of mutual exchange, like friendship or loyalty. You don’t necessarily get that with altruistic deeds and it could also be hard living up to an impossible ideal. Altruism is important in Christianity, and Jesus was the ultimate example, but I am not sure I want to try turning the other cheek. I don’t live in a world where that would be good advice.

I think we tend to get too focused on things that happen far away. I’m not suggesting we should forget about the rain forest, CO2-emissions, a fair salary for the workers at coffee or bananaplantations, or the exploitation of women and children, but we could accomplish a lot by just focusing on local affairs, and if governments stopped interferring. We could be more consistent because many want to save the Amazonas, but at the same time they support the social apartheid economy in Brazil. Our governments support an absolute monarchy like Saudi Arabia, while the democracy we imposed on Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and Libya hasn’t done much good. We have a responsibility for what happened after the Arab spring. We can talk about it and tell our governments what we think about their irresponsibility. If we don’t we have to rely on media, in which case we’re doomed.