Get it right

I watched a news report on Norwegian TV recently about the Danish government’s plans to send refugees to an island. The report was misleading because the journalist repeatedly used words like Scandinavia’s Alcatraz, remote/uninhabited island, internment, disease, and Europe’s strictest immigration law.

I’m not sure how justified that was. The Danish island Lindholm is in the middle of a bay, in other words not remote at all. The reference to rabies comes from the veterinary institute that used to research animals diseases on the island, but it has been moved. Calling it an internment camp may not be fair either, because there’ll be a ferry that will go back and forth.

I’ve seen this kind of skewed journalism in stories about the Syrian refugee crisis, #metoo, vaccines, science in general, politics and many other fields. It may not be fake news, but it certainly isn’t objective. The goal is frequently to manufacture a public opinion. Granted, some people (such as Donald Trump) make it far too easy for their oponents, but sometimes it’s too obvious that the journalist didn’t try to get it right. I don’t find that appealing.

I’m writing about this on a blog about literature because there seems to be roughly two kinds of authors, those that never voice an opinion and those that do. I know about several public figures that more or less stopped doing it because of the massive attack from the malevolent forces in society. The question is then, should we withhold sympathy and help because we’d face criticism ourselves?

I understand why many people do, because if you do voice an opinion, there’s a good chance you’ll be condemned by a mob that grows bigger and angrier every day. I have been a fan of the dystopic trend in YA literature the last couple of decades, but in a way the world is a lot more dystopic than people realise. Things are getting quite blurred, and it’s no longer that obvious who defends the truth. A former counselor to President Donald Trump was ridiculed once for the phrase “alternative facts”. In my opinion it’s not a conspiracy theory at all to suspect people of presenting something that is one of many versions of the truth. It happens all the time. There is frequently no such thing as the undisputed truth, not even in science, as many feel pressured to publish prematurely, and preferably with dramatic conclusions.

My feeling is that we need to care and we need to get the facts. We don’t necessarily get that from media, so before we enter the ring, we have to do our own research and thinking. We are well qualified to do that.

Take the abortion laws that are debated in the USA these days. People that have a moral problem with aborting a life should also consider what to offer these babies. If they are to live, and the parents don’t want to keep them, it should be possible to leave them at any hospital. Society then has to offer help to the caretakers, such as educuation and health services, because the alternative would be a lot of Oliver Twists. Are we willing to do that?

The principle is the same in other areas. You can’t address inequality without addressing the wars we take part in. You can’t have open immigration without giving up socialism. You can’t be forgiven (for example from bullying) without changing behaviour.

As for the case in Denmark I don’t think many of the critics are being realistic. The refugees that will live on the island are foreign fighters, people that get their asylum application turned down, people that break the law (partuclarly related to guns, knives and drugs), and all of them will be people Denmark can’t deport because there’s a fear they’ll be tortured and/or executed. They have a status authorities there refer to as tolerated stay. You may want to pretend that you’ll want these people to move into your house, or next door, but you wouldn’t be honest if you did.


Lost knowledge – from Timbuktu to Haugesund

I mention from time time, here and in social media, that I’m working on a book. The novel itself sort of deals with forgotten or lost knowledge, and the research I’m doing certainly leads me down those paths.

I’ve done a lot of research about the West African country Benin this Easter, because I concidered using it for the novel I’m working on. I decided to have the character be Malian instead. It’s interesting that while the vikings travelled all over Europe, and as far as Newfoundland and Morocco, African scholars and Christian pilgrims were encouraged to go to Europe to seek knowledge (+ China if the goal was knowledge). Ethiopia also opened embassies in Fance, Italy and Spain as early as the beginning of the 15th century.

I find this fascinating, because as bad as the vikings were, they were sort of conquered themselves. The viking lifestyle wasn’t sustainable at all. It would have died out anyway, but one wonders if encountering a diversed Europe changed them, and sped up the process. There are some people today who think they’d like to go back to a Norse religion, but they wouldn’t like that at all. That would basically mean that your fate had been decided, and there wasn’t a thing you could do to change it, which is why I think they would have run out of steam eventually. Even Odin was powerless.

We had our traditional Easter breakfast today, and as usual we dyed the boiled eggs. This also reminds me of forgotten knowledge. The eggs symbolises the empty tomb of Jesus, and they were originally dyed red in memeory of the crucifixion. This tradition spread to us from the Christians in Mesopotamia, via the orthodox church in Russia.

But as many fake atheists like to point out, “you stole this!” It is true that many Christian traditions are much older, but that is still a weird indignation, as rhey have no interest i following pre-Christian traditions either. I suppose being pagan also means being religious.

Yes, it is true that Christians don’t live outside the world. They live in the world and interact with people and cultures, so they learn from others and teach others a thing or two as well. Stop whining and go pagan if that’s your cup of tea! That would mean replacing Christmas with something a lot like Samhain (but in mid January), sacrificing animals for a good harvest (and people if your luck didn’t change), and Easter would be a springfeast with more sacrifices. All of it would be about seeking protection against the mischievous creatures of the underworld, because life (and the forces of nature) were pereceived to be pretty frightennig a thousand years ago. No wonder the vikings went bonkers.

Many still find the world to be pretty dark. I write about writing on this blog, so in what category should I put this post? I think it’ll be work in progress (#WIP), #amwriting and #amreading. Interesting things happen when you start writing and looking for old knowledge. Incidentally, did you think that mead was more or less the same as beer? It’s mostly fermented honey and water, so it’s more like wine. It was, and still is, popular in Ethiopia and Eritrea (called Tej), as well as in Greece. When I do research I frequently find that we have more in common then we assume.

The music that writes

Wingshaped cloud.Under the right circumstances this might be interpreted as a UFO. I love that kind of distraction.
Under the right circumstances this might be interpreted as a UFO. I love that kind of distraction.

I’ ve heard about people who like to write in an environment that would be a total nightmare to me. Take the girl I’m developing these days. I’m thinking about creating a character that listens to Gothmetal and Symphonic Gothmetal. The music is great, but as I struggle with attention, this wouldn’t exactly be conducive to writing.

I need silence, so public spaces are not a favourite either. It’s alright to sit in a café and observe, but I can’t work with that much interference around me. There are some sounds that help me relax, though. I’ve found that music by Chopin, Debussy, And Liszt are quite effective. I feel a little bad about that, because the composers naturally wanted people to listen to their art. They didn’t want to be moved to the background. We don’t want readers to treat us that way either, but I do both. I also like to listen to the same music when I take a break from writing.

I sometimes play sounds of water (waves, rivers, rain), woodland, train, and a fireplace, as well as the NASA recordings from the probe Voyager as it passed the other planets in our neighbourhood. I discovered Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response-videos (ASMR) on You tube some years ago. I think it’s meant to reduce anxiety and help you fall asleep, for those that struggle with that.

As a big fan of Star Trek and Harry Potter I find these themes quite soothing. I write without any sounds in the background most of the time, but there are times when I just can’t focus. I like the atmosphere sound creates, and sometimes I listen to the soundtracks from The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Harry Potter. That’s a part of writing too, in a way, because I get ideas for my story when I decompress. I’ve never done mediation and mindfulness, but I suppose the atmosphere these sounds create have a similar effect. I take this time to reflect on the things I may try to avoid thinking about a lot of the time, as well on the life my fictional characters have. It’s like they are alive, and live in another bubble in a mulitiverse. I access this other world with the help of musc.

Moral posing

Michael Jackson cover. The cover of the biggest national newspaper today. Why are we shocked now?
The cover of the biggest national newspaper today. Why are we shocked now?

Do you remember when Michael Jackson was on trial? What about Living with Michael Jackson? That was a documentary where journalist Martin Bashir had followed the star for eight months, and shown different aspects of his life. It was controversial and Jackson himself claimed that the journalist presented a distorted picture of him.

Those two events happened between 2003 and 2005, and it appeared that we could handle it. He wasn’t convicted after all. There is a new documentary out now, with the same accusations as before. The leadership in NRK, the Norwegian equivalent to BBC, have decided to show the film, and at the same time they decided to stop playing Michael Jackson on their radio stations. They have 13, and this will effect three of them, because that’s where they mostly play Michael Jackson. This is not a permanent ban, but the reaction they get the two weeks it’ll last will decide whether or not they go back to playing Michael Jackson.

They claim to be doing this to protect their listeners, but what is it we can’t handle today that people could 14 years ago? Besides, is it a decision the government should make for us? The crazy thing about this is that NRK admits that the documentary violates their own requirements to journalism, as the Jackson family isn’t allowed to comment directly on the allegations. So they are showing something they would never have funded themselves.

This raises an interesting general question. In this case we are dealing with a man that has been on trial, and in a way he spent a big part of his life on a public trial. He was not convicted, but when we make a pose like this with the intention of looking morally honourable, we quickly get into trouble. Where do we stop, and why don’t we start most of the time?

The same broadcaster has a radio channel like P2, which focuses on culture, science, society, and current affairs. There are several programs where they debate and promote literature. There is a long list of excellent art that would become unavalable to us if we adopted this attitude. Knut Hamsun is one of our most celebrated authors, and I have good memories of reading the books he wrote in the 1890’s. There is a problem, though. During WW II he expressed a deep admiration for Hitler. He created wonderful art, but can we forget the opinions he had as an old man?

I have read Ernest Hemmingway in both high school and college, and the focus was always on the literature, but as a human being he had a lot of demons to fight. That seems to be a theme in the Hemmingway family, and in the author’s case, it led to abuse. J. D. Salinger seems to have been attracted to very young girls, and he had a relationship with Joyce Maynard from she was 14 to 19 years old. There may be people talking about abuse in this case too, but they don’t appear to be very loud about it. Some may feel that people like Jerry Lee Lewis, Edgar Allan Poe, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Tim Allen, Charlie Sheen, Sean Penn, and Hugh Grant were sufficiently controversial. Should the governments take it upon themselves to protect us from these people?

So the the question is, how much do we have to do in order to look good enough? Do you remember Corey Feldman from 80’s classics like The Lost Boys, Stand by Me, and The Goonies? He did what the #metoo campaign failed to encourage. He reported abuse when it happened, but was ignored. He tried again when the #metoo-campaign got massive attention, but I didn’t hear more about the TRUTH Campaign, so I assume he was ignored again.

I guess this turned into something bigger than I started with, because now it isn’t just about broadcasters looking good. Some people talk about separating bad people from the art they create. That way we don’t have to give it up. Why do we sometimes choose not to? Does it have any meaning if we choose to like the art when it suits us?

I believe in doubt

I started writing this on Facebook, but realized that it would be quite long, so I decided to turn it into a blogpost instead.

I read an interesting article about “coming out” today. The author Jon Michelet died from cancer in April 2018. He was a giant in Norwegian literature, and his final work, a six volume series based on the history of Norwegian wartime sailors, was a triumph. He worked hard at the end of his life to complete the series, and had just enough time. This moving story wasn’t over yet.

He was always an atheist, and active in the communist movement when he was young. His daughter studied theology in the 1990’s, but they never talked about her choice. Becoming a Christian in this milieu was seen as being unenlightened, so it was difficult to talk about. It took her a while to “come out.”

She was recently told by a churchwarden that her father had borrowed the key to the church, so that he could come there alone whenever he wanted. He never returned the key, and no one knows whether he used it or not, but the story does suggest that it’s hard to reject God completely. It’s hard to live a whole life without doubts.

That’s a feeling I understand. I understand doubt, having had it all my life. Incidentally, according to an accepted theory, the universe is mostly made up of what we don’t know. The universe is made up of 68 percent dark energy and 27 percent dark matter. It’s called dark because we can’t see it, not with our naked eyes or with any instrument. Scientists believe it exists because it’s the only thing that can explain the effects on the visible universe. So we can observe 5 percent, and truth be told, we don’t know that much about that either. It’s pretty arrogant to say that we know everything we can’t see.

I understand the doubter, though. I’ve never seen or felt the things some Christians talk about, those that talk as if they’re in heaven already. Nor have I seen that there’s nothing. The people I can’t understand are those that claim to have absolutely no doubt, either they believe or not. That has nothing to do with belief. That’s knowledge, something I haven’t been fortunate enough to acquire. Maybe what I have isn’t so bad. I wonder, which according to Merriam Webster can describe a feeling of curiousity or doubt, and surprise.

There’s a famous quote by Carrie Fisher I like:

I love the idea of God, but it’s not stylistically in keeping with the way I function. I would describe myself as an enthusiastic agnostic who would be happy to be shown that there is a God. I can see that people who believe in God are happier. My brother is. My dad is, too. But I doubt.

She was an actress some atheists liked to include in their ranks, but I’m not sure that’s fair, because as I understand a religion like atheism, there is no room for doubt. It may be hard to live with incompatible emotions, but I’ll continue to wonder. The photos are a reminder of a long tradition in my country. I believe the cross goes back to before there were churches here. When things get difficult hope doesn’t sound that bad. I don’t know what Jon Michelet was thinking, but I’d like to think he was hopeful too. Hope keeps the door to what we long for open. I don’t want to close it.

My own rules

Harry Potter notebook on my desk. I love to create worlds and characters, as well as explore other people's worlds at my desk.
I love to create worlds and characters, as well as explore other people’s worlds at my desk.

I like listenning to literature podcasts. I started with Your Creative Life with Vanessa Carnevale and Kimberley Foster a couple of years ago, but they only made 60 episodes. I have found some other onces I like, and fortunately they have so many episodes that I won’t get to the end for a while. Besides, they are still active, so there’ll be more.

I’m going to listen to episode number 100 of So You want to be a Writer tonight, which means that I have 169 ones left to look forward to. Allison Tait and Valerie Khoo really are… Yes, what I can I say about them? They are definitely delightful, but also a bit of a puzzle. Valerie Khoo may be the biggest one, because when she talks about how she rewards herself with food and binge-watching TV, I wonder when she gets the time to be creative herself. Apparantly she finds it.

They often end an interview with a request for three tips on how to write a book. I wish I could follow them, but as much a I need structure, I find it hard to function inside these rules. It would make things so much easier if I could, but I mostly rely on instinct, which means that I write what feels or sounds right. I have a vague idea of how the story should progress, but for the most part I have no idea what my characters are up to. Things sort of just happen, and these whims come to me in short moments of inspiration. I have never been the kind of writer that produces a couple of thousand words a day. It is true that living in a small apartment with two chatterboxes (wife and daughter) isn’t always conducive to writing, but it also makes me connected to a life outside my story (I’m not addicted to sosial media, but I have the same obsession about my manuscript). I create in short pockets of silence, but this works for me.

I guess I have some rules. One of mine is that I need complete silence. I can’t have any talk around me at all. It makes me unable to focus for hours. There’s no guarantee that I would do more if I had the house to myself all day. I do write more then, but I have never been efficient. My mind wanders all over the place, and I frequently research unnecessary details just because I find them fascinating.

Professionals talk about pockets of strength, while naive laypeople call it neurodiversity. I’m not sure what mine are, but I am certainly persistent. Reading is supposed to be a strength for those of us with Asberger and NLD. The literature on NLD describes children who decode well early, who are good at spelling and reading out loud, but these kids still struggle with reading comprehension. I wasn’t even a good reader. I struggled with reading and writing through all my years in school, and I’m still a slow reader. I don’t know what’s behind that, but the fact is that everything takes time. I can accomplish things, but it takes time, which is something I never had in work life.

I took 20 years thinking about writing. It was something I wanted to do, and I made several attempts, but never got anywhere. It was partly because I didn’t have the skills, and partly that I found it impossible to write with the all the things that went on around me. I won’t go into the private details, but I found this John Lennon quote to be quite accurate:

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

It’s from the song Beautiful Boy, which he wrote to his son Sean. I’ve found it hard to focus when there have been things I needed to deal with in life, and there’s been a lot of it, but I seem to be in calmer waters now. The story lived inside me for a long time, and it never went away. I have a feeling it was determined to get out. I don’t write hundreds of words a day, but I come a little closer to completion every day. I believe this will be the year I send my manuscript to a publisher.

It’s been a long journey. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t hope to make some money, as life with Asberger and NLD is a lot less profitable than you see on TV. No, I’m neither Spencer Reid, Temperance Brennan, or Sherlock Holmes. I’m not brilliant, at least not in a supersonic kind of way. I also want to show that I am more, that I am capable of more than the world has seen so far, more than the world believes. That’s a strong motivation, that’s the fuel that keeps me going, and I guess that’s why I like literature podcasts too. They inspire me because they tell me that there are no rules. The story may not be the greatest in history, but if I can show an ability to complete such a big task, it will be pretty special.

Branching out

Book cover of the difference engine. The book is starting to grow on me, but maybe more for the implications than the story.
The book is starting to grow on me, but maybe more for the implications than the story.

I like science fiction, but I usually stick to safe choices. I know I’m going to like authors like Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, C. J. Cherryh, Sheri Tepper, or magazines like Analog and Asimov’s Science Fiction. I sometimes try to branch out, which isn’t always succesful. I enjoyed my previous attempt, Elvenbane by Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey, but the book I just finished wasn’t quite the same, or maybe it was?

The Difference Engine received a mixed reception from readers at Gooodreads. It seemed like people either loved it or despised it, which makes sense after reading it myself. It’s an alternative history where the industrial and information revolution happened at the same time, from about 1820. I’m not going to spoil the fun for people that want to read it, but some of the more intriguing aspects of the book was that the USA was fragmented, and it was Britain, not the USA that helped Japan with technology and trade.

I’m torn about the book. I bought it because it’s seen as a modern classic and the first in a new genre, steampunk. Exploring an alternative history appeals to me, so I’m not sure why this was a struggle. It turned out I liked it better than I thought, and this may be one of those books that I need to re-read before I can really appreciate it, which I may do later. I also like to think about a book long after finishing. I like books I never really finish, and as hard as it was to finish this one, it may very well be one of those books. What would be the implications if technology started earlier, if Japan became a giant in technology and trade earlier, and if it was Britain, not the USA, that became the dominating force in the world? This country (or union) had colonies in Africa, Asia, and America at the time, so what would have happened there? A fragmented USA is an interesting idea, as some believe that is a realistic future scenario.

I guess my conclusion will be that I’ll continue reading new things, because exploration can, and often do, lead to useful discoveries.

Art from the other side

I think politics and religion are important, but it really is a shame how they tend to take joy out of life. They make things so complicated.

We seem to be moving fast towards a new cold war where everything Russian is viewed with suspicion. I don’t know if it was ever that bad here, but I have heard about other countries where authorities monitored what books you checked out of the library, and if there was anything Russian on your reading list in the 80’s, you could find yourself in trouble with the authorities.

All countries have dark chapters in their history. One of ours has to do with WW II. We have a short border with Russia and there were people in the county of Finnmark that chose to fight the Nazis on Soviet side, the socalled partisans. They worked closely with the Norwegian resistance movement, but were not well treated in Norway after the war. They should have been welcomed as heroes, but were treated as traitors and Soviet spies. There were also Russian POWs in Norway during the war, and they built some of our infrastructure, like the train tracks in Nordland county. There were no less than 84 000 POWs that were released and sent back to the Soviet Union during the summer of 1945, but that was never really talked about later.

I must admit that Russian literature is a blind spot for me. I like reading science fiction, and it was my intention to read some Russian science fiction when I became aware of it in the early 80’s, but for some reason I never got around to it. I have to do something about my literary bucket list soon.

Some of my sci-fi books. This genre is useful for creating another social and political system, and explore how it'd work, like the American Ursula Le Guin did.
Some of my sci-fi books. This genre is useful for creating another social and political system, and explore how it’d work, like the American Ursula Le Guin did.

I am more familiar with Russian music by for example Modest Mussorgsky, Igor Stravinsky, Sergej Rachmaninoff and Pyotr Tchaikovsky. The attitude from the 1980’s raises an interesting question: Should we ban, or at the very least discourage people from supporting art from regimes we find to be questionable? I think that would be incredibly sad, but that’s how people seem to think. It would be complicated too, because we (NATO) have made a habit out of supporting our enemies in order to fight another enemy. So who is the enemy? I suspect that many don’t like quite a few of the allies we’ve had since WWII, but they like their common enemy even less. It makes things complicated.

There is a tendency to support artists from regimes we don’t like as long as they criticize the government. It’s often literature, as that is the best way to spread ideas, but we never debate the quality of their work. The whole point is that we see them as our political allies, because we’ve been told that they are. It would be sad if I couldn’t listen to Mussorgsky or read Leo Tolstoy without people viewing me with suspicion, but with the return of the cold war, that may be the new reality.

There were a few good people in Germany during the war, although too many stayed silent, and there were evil people in some of the countries fighting the Nazi regime, such as Norway and Britain. I wish we could acknowledge art, and people with a heart, no matter where it came from.

Where is my Britain?

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was my first encounter with Britain as a reader.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was my first encounter with Britain as a reader.

I grew up reading and watching British classics. Many of them have references to the two world wars and the colonies in the empire. The latter was a really dark chapter in British history, but WW II shows another side of the national character.

The favourite TV shows in my adult years have been Foyle’s War, Land Girls, The Cazelets, and I have had a 40 year long fascination with Agatha Christie. The two wars influenced her writing, and although he wrote about a different world, I think it’s fair to say that war influenced J.R.R. Tolkien too. The same can probably be said about C. S. Lewis. They were all trying to make sense of it, and offer an escape, and then it happened it again.

I also remember We’ll Meet Again and A Family at War. The latter was made too early for me, but they showed it again when I was big enough to appreciate it. I also have fond memories of drama series that covered the years following WW II, like Heartbeat, The Royal, and most recently Call the Midwife.

The point is that the British have had a reputation for being a “we shall fight on the beaches-kind of people.” There is no doubt that Germany’s war machine was vastly superior to anything else in Europe, but the British Isles were still a bastion. Admittedly, it was partly because the Nazis were better at building than making decisions. They lost some of their big battle ships in Norway, and my country had the most pathetic defense imaginable. Actually, you can’t imagine it. That’s how bad it was. There was a rumour in my hometown in 1940 that the Nazis were planning to build an airstrip there, and use it to attack Britain. It would have made sense as Britain was close, but maybe nothing could have trumped the determination expressed in Winston Churchill’s speeches from June 1940.

So what happened? I wrote about us Norwegians in my previous post, The Norwegian legacy, which was prompted by a Russian journalist. I was saddened by the fact that our past doesn’t mean anything to modern Norwegians. The Russian journalist had observed the same in her country, and perhaps the Britons feel the same way? Maybe we all feel small?

It’s strange to see how media and Labour have one message they keep chanting: Britain is small, weak, and there is no way she can survive outside the EU. There is only one possible outcome of Brexit, utter devastation. There is a lot of effort to make people afraid, to make the EU our saviour. It’s like Britain is under attack, but from within. There are many things that can make us worried in today’s world, but maybe nothing clarifies the fear and apathy quite like the British. When they feel this way, you know it has come far.

I am once again reminded of Churchill: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. His point was that the situation required a sacrifice from everyone, but the aim, which was victory, was possible. Yes, life would probably be harder in the beginning outside the EU, but I don’t think anyone can afford to ignore these islands. They have inspired me and given me so much meaningful art. Life simply wouldn’t have been the same without all the books and TV dramas I have read and watched since childhood. I hope that will continue, but I’m hoping for an independent Britain.

The Norwegian legacy

I received an e-mail from a foreign journalist recently with an interesting question. It’s not easy to answer it, but I’ll attempt it in this post. These are the questions:

  • What does the viking age mean to modern Norwegians?
  • Do Norwegians consider themselves to be descendants of vikings?
  • Do children play viking?
  • Is Harald Hårfagre (Fairhair) a national hero?
  • Did he really exist?

These are complicated questions, and the short answer to the last one is yes. I don’t think there are any historians or archeologists that would argue against it, but it makes sense to ask the question. The vikings didn’t leave behind any written texts. That was an oral tradition, and it wasn’t until they became Christians that they learned to read and write. King Olav 3 Haraldsson (king 1067-1093) was probably the first king that could read, but it’s typical that we know almost nothing about him. He was peaceful and was on good terms with the Pope, William the Conqueror, and the Danish king Svend 2 Estridssønn.

The written sources concerning the vikings were written several centuries later by people that had completely different views of the world, so there could be details that aren’t accurate, but for the most part I believe archeology has confirmed the story. King Harald Fairhair is seen as the king that united Norway. Maybe it’s arguing semantics, but he probably didn’t control the entire country. Still, I think it’s fair to say that he started building a nation, but he also had children all over the place. In other words, many claimed the throne after him, and the winners may not have had any right to the throne, which of course resulted in neverending disputes.

So Harald Fairhair was real, but perhaps not the one and only responsible for uniting all the petty kingdoms. I still think it’s worth celebrating him as a kind of hero, but truth be told, there isn’t much, if any, viking culture left today. There was a crazy public debate a few years ago. A prominent politician from an immigration skeptic party said that massive immigration was a threat to Norwegian culture. I’m not impressed with what we have done to our own culture. Norwegians have more or less rejected Norwegian cuisine, they have abandoned the religion that built this culture, and they certainly aren’t interested in the pre-Christian culture. We are doing a pretty good job suppressing our own past.

I haven’t seen any evidence that the viking age means anything to us today. The vikings weren’t just tough. They were adventurous and developed crafts like blacksmith, jewelry, comb making, ship building, woodcarving, textiles, as well as trade routes. Swedish vikings went to Ukraine and Russia, Danish vikings went to England and the European continent, while Norwegians vikings went to Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland (Vinland), Ireland, Scotland, and Northern England.

I must admit that my views are strongly influenced by my experiences, because what I have seen makes me believe that the vikings would have been utterly disgusted with us. I find that many of us are two faced. It’s hard to get a straight answer. My country is supposedly based on equality, and many desperately cling on to this idea, so much that there is a strong pressure to conform. This is not a good place to be different.

The vikings had a reputation for being ruthless people, but that is of course a description given to them by their enemies. I don’t think they were utterly irremedeemable, but I’m not sure about the modern Norwegians. Friendship was important to the vikings. That meant more than family, so you could say that they chose an extended family if their own didn’t behave. I have seen behaviour in Norwegians that don’t reflect well on us. There are exceptions of course, but as a people I don’t like what we have become.

I see myself as an individualist, and although I have tried all my life to fit in, it hasn’t been easy. Many believe that Norway and Norwegians are superior, that we have the best this world has to offer. The vikings may have been ruthless, although I don’t know that what preceded and followed them was much better (Charlemagne, Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, Russian Empire, British Empire), but I believe we are being dishonest today when we are claiming to be everything the vikings weren’t. We just exhibit the aggression covertly. Many immigrants (and it isn’t necessarily about skin colour) and disabled people encounter this attitude daily, but the official story is that we are the most tolerant, the most accepting people on the planet.

I may have digressed quite a bit in this post, but let me conclude with the questions I started with. There is a viking festival in my hometown. This was the birth place of Norway and where Harald Fairhard was buried. The local viking club hosts this festival every year in June, and although they are doing a great job, there probably wouldn’t be a festival if they relied on Norwegians. They have a camp where members of these clubs have a viking market the whole week during the festival, but many of them are visitting from England, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, and Hungary. The entertainment is provided by actors and musicians from these countries. I especially liked the Hungarian band Bordó Sárkány that played medieval music.

In some ways this makes a lot of sense, as the viking society was diverse, but I still feel it’s a shame we have so little left. You see many children at the festival too, but it’s my impression that they are not really there for the history. You can see some of the smallest children being fascinated by archery and wooden swords, but this quickly fades. I retired from teaching five years ago, and I never noticed any interest in our own history from my pupils, which I think is incredibly sad.

The festival is popular, but the sad truth is that in Avaldsnes, in reality Norway’s first capital as the king lived there, no one really cares about the past. So I wonder, do we really have an identity? All people have a dark past, and ours may have been too. We should praise the vikings’ courage, determination, ingenuity, and work ethics, but not their willingness to conquer. The danger is, not as some seem to think, that immigration is a threat to our identity. The danger is that we have none. So how do we protect ourselves when we have nothing?