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?

My favourite escape

Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that is all too real. Nora Ephron

I recently overheard someone talk about reading with a certain amount of guilt. He assumed that reading was an escape, which may or may not be a good thing. The only situation I can see as bad is if escape is all you do, but there is healing in just the right amount of escape. It also depends on what you choose for your escape of course. Alcohol and drugs may give you a sort of escape. It may make you feel good for a brief period, but that’s a scary form of escape, and many feel the dark side of this psychoactive substance.

a book and a coffe. LIfe offers us many delights. Coffee and books are high up on my list.
LIfe offers us many delights. Coffee and books are high up on my list.

We all need to escape from time to time. Modern life is pretty hectic, especially if you live in a city. I have lived in towns with a population from around 500 to 50 000, and I find that there’s not really such a thing as a quiet place anymore. The places may be quiet, but the people aren’t. We’re all affected by the pace. You can live in the middle of nowhere and still have an urban lifestyle, so we all need to escape the influence of modern life. It’s too stressful. I don’t know if it’s my challenges related to nonverbal learning disorder (NVLD), but there is a lot of sounds and sights to deal with, and as if it wasn’t enough with the people we encounter, we have do deal with a constant flow of bad news in media.

How do we make the escape be more than a little break, how do we turn it into healing? Many believe in meditation, and yoga, but I believe that has a dark side too. I like music and reading, but I also find writing highly therapeutic. I don’t think writing is either therapy or escape. It’s both. Two of the authors I admire, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, had some major things to deal with (two world wars). One of the things I hope to incorporate into my own writing is that war is never a good thing. It’s necessary sometimes, but killing and watching people die, has to change you.

It’s the same with life. It changes us. Change is natural, and I think a natural consequence is also that joy is frequently mixed with sorrow. Thinking of things I lost along the way makes me sad. It’s like that in the fiction I like the best too. Many like to focus on the best memories, and they may try desperately to recreate a situation or feeling they miss, but that is probably a delusion.

I also like books as an escape because the stories offer solutions and different mind-sets, as well as help to deal with difficult emotions. I find fiction to be a great teacher. In fact, I get so much from fictional characters that I wish they were real.

It makes people think

Divergent in the bookshelf with Hermione and Rey figures. My daughter's latest read together with a couple other characters that used their head.
My daughter’s latest read together with a couple of other characters that used their head.

My daughter likes to point out that I’m half a century old. I’ve spent 40 of those years reading and watching science fiction. I watch old favourites, but I appreciate the occasional new film too, like Arrival. The film had an interesting alien with a language humans didn’t understand. The aliens sent a ship to 12 countries and tried to communicate with them.

It eventually dawned on the main character, the linguist Louise Banks, that the Chinese had misunderstood the aliens. They had translated the word tool with weapon, and as I understood it, the language and/or Louise were the tool. There was probably frustration on both sides, and after a month of not getting anywhere, the aliens said “use tool”, which the humans first believed to be weapon. I think it meant that the 12 sites should listen to Banks, as she was the closest to understanding them.

It’s a fascinating idea, either we refer to people or the language as a tool, because that’s what language is to us. It is a tool. I had an interesting talk with my daughter the other day. She’s 13 now and we’ve had many incredibly engaging conversations since she started talking. Many of them are about wildlife, astronomy, environment, geology, and politics. She asked me recently how we could figure out when politicians were lying.

That’s a good question, and I’d probably get all the Nobel prices if I cracked it. After all, this has been a problem for as long as there’s been people. Politics is loaded with whataboutisms, a technique used to discredit opponents. It can be quite amusing listening to USA and Russia/China accusing each other of not respecting human rights and democratic principles. I think it may have been the government shutdown in the USA that triggered this debate in the family.

I’m not sure which one deserves the most trust in this case. I remember Nancy Pelosi’s speech from 2007. She had just become speaker of the House, and used her speech to talk about “a new America.” She also said that “after years of historic deficits, this 110th Congress will commit itself to a higher standard: pay as you go, no new deficit spending. Our new America will provide unlimited opportunity for future generations, not burden them with mountains of debt.”

Barack Obama moved into the White House two years later and basically paved way for the unelectable Donald Trump. I’m not impressed with my own country either. I remember Jens Stoltenberg as prime minister. He had a tough stance on immigration and frequently defended his decision to deport 450 children. These were children that were either born or raised in Norway. His position was that we couldn’t allow everyone to stay. Labour has also been very much against buying health and social services from private companies. So it seemed hypocritical when Labour as an opposition party criticized the government for a strict immigration policy, and for buying healthcare and child welfare services from private companies. This development increased dramatically during Stoltenberg’s time. Why was it responsible then, but not now?

I’d like to make some adjustments to our democracy. We don’t have that much influence today. There are 169 seats in the Norwegian parliament, and 19 of them are leveling seats (one from each county). Parties that have support from more than 4 percent nationally can compete for this extra seat. I’d like a system where not supporting your own causes in parliament would have consequeces. A ballot could include an option for the leveling seat. Voters could choose to give that seat to a specific party.

This is what the tool is useful for. I love literature for its entertainment, but it’s also useful for its ability to make us think. The film Arrival has supplied us with opportunities to do so. Hollywood films tend to include propaganda. In this it was the Chinese that decided to respond with aggression to something they didn’t understand, while an American saved the world. At the end of the film the Chinese general that almost blew up the aliens thanked the American linguist for saving the world. That sounds familiar.

I gave my daughter the Divergent series (four books) for Christmas, which isn’t a bad teacher either. There are a lot of positive messages there, and we need those in a country with no inividuality.

Sexy music

I grew up in a world that seemed a lot less visual. In terms of games I think it was pong and pin ball machines that fascinated me the most. Commodore 64 and the first Nintendo were on the market, but the graphics in early 80’s wasn’t exactly sophisticated.

I was a teenager and young adult when music videos were the cool thing to watch on TV, but my parents took forever getting cable. Maybe it wasn’t a big loss that I missed Pat Sharp and his fashionable 80’s mullet (VJ on Sky Channel in the 1980’s), Samantha Fox, Sabrina Salerno, Sigue Sigue Sputnik and others that may not have made pop music from my teens that memorable.

Boys later coveted Spice Girls, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, while girls wanted to be them. They were visual performers, and although one of them had a decent voice, they all seemed to focus on what they assumed we all found visually appealing. Maybe I’m too oldfashioned, but when I think of visual women in pop music, I think of Whitney Houston, India Arie, Norah Jones, and Katie Melua. I’ve never felt that they were not enough.

People have been trained to become more visual. We seem to have cravings we didn’t used to have, but do we need to be superficial? I have been listenning to more classical music recently. Maybe I’m making too much out of this, but I get a feeling that the pressure to be more visual has increased there as well. A study by Chia-Jung Tsay of University College London suggested five years ago that appearance is more important than sound. The participants in the study had more success picking out the winners from classical music competitions by watching silent videos than by listenning. Most people expect it’s the other way around, but maybe not.

Eva Knardahl was one of my first encounters with classical music, and I only discovered her because she was on TV a lot in the 80’s.  I don’t want to sound judgmental, but I’m not sure she would have been as mainstream today. I didn’t think about her appearance and age as a problem, but I had an experience recently that makes me feel ashamed.

I was browsing the TV channels and there was a concert with Khatia Buniatishvili on Mezzo. I looked her up on Spotify later and listened to her playing Liszt, Chopin, and Rochmaninoff. I enjoyed it, but I asked myself, would I have shown the same interest if it was Knardahl? I hope so, as I tend to make different choices than many others in general, but I believe appearance played a part this time. It made me stop, listen, and judge whether or not this concert was worth my time. Not that classical musicians use their good looks consciously to increase their popularity, not to the same extent as pop singers do at least. We still like a pretty face, don’t we? The face may not make us keep listenning if it’s crap, but I believe it gets our attention.

When I googled Khatia Buniatishvili I discovered how much we obsess about image. There are sites that actually rank the sexiest or hottest female classical musicians. OK. Sexy and Franz Liszt in the same sentence might be a little disturbing, but I suppose that sound has become less important in general. It’s all around us. Music is in the background. We don’t really listen.

The politically correct thing to say would be that we only focus on the music. That sounds great, but how realistic is it that the world around us, with its obsession on appearance, doesn’t influence us at all? I like books with a message, and as I’m writing a book I think will appeal to children around 14 years old, it bothers me that some of the strongest messages in society today is that nothing matters more than sexual appeal. The musicians I have mentioned don’t want their only value to come from being physically attractive. That’s not the milieu I want to kids growing up in either. I think I should be conscious of how I am influenced, and how I want to influence others.

Music is beautuful no matter who plays it, and tonight I’ll listen to some Chopin performed by a guy from my home town, Leif Ove Andsnes. Who knows, perhaps he is someone’s Khatia?

The travelling words

It’s not surprising that I as a writer like words, process, travel and organization, although I have a somewhat strained relationship with some of these concepts. I love words that come to me from afar. They travel through time and space to entertain and educate me. Imagine the power these people  have.

Language is also sound, organized sound, just like music. I listen to a lot of different music and I tend to focus on a particular genre before I move to something else. It was jazz before Christmas, but after a holiday of more classical music, I have started the new year with Danielle de Niese singing Mozart, Patricia Petibon singing Italian and French baroque arias, and Steven Isserlis playing Schumann with his cello.

If I had had that kind of organization skills my first book would have been published before J.K Rowling made her debut. I am approaching something, though. When I have combined what I have on computers, a memory stick, and two note books, I’ll be ready to do the final details. Yes, I do know a thing or two about procrastionation, but the delay is mostly caused by a storm. There’s a storm of words, ideas and feelings inside me, most of it completely irrelevant, and this slows down everything I’m trying to accomplish. They say that we shouldn’t digest something processed, but just like meat doesn’t have to be robbed of the content that maintains life, our words can benefit from going through the correct process.

I haven’t enjoyed this long process. There’s been a lot of days and experiences I could have managed well without, but I am starting to see a solution to many of the challenges now. Not that I expect to create art, but I really like the processed sounds the great names of the past, and today’s performers, have given us. It’s motivating to think that what some people did centuries ago , still makes life interesting.

Become a better citizen with books

bookshelf. The Difference Engine is my first read of the year. It received mixed reviews on Goodreads, so I'll probably like it.
The Difference Engine is my first read of the year. It received mixed reviews on Goodreads, so I’ll probably like it.

I believe I have touched on this subject before, but it’s important enough that I’ll gladly do it again. Reading has a lot of benefits, and it makes perfectly sense to me that researchers want to test the hypothesis that reading can make us compassionate.

When I write about literature as a teacher I often mention Harry Potter, which I think is one of the more impressive book series ever written. I like the fact that the main characters are flawed, that they learn something. They make mistakes, and their first reaction is to withdraw into guilt and anger, but they don’t leave the fight. Ron left Harry and Hermione just as they were preparing for the final battle, but he came back. Professor Snape made the mistake of confusing Harry with his father. Snape saw a lot of James Potter in Harry, and although he saw Lily too, the animosity he still felt towards James almost ruined everything. He came back, though. Snape and Dumbledore did a bad job raising Harry Potter, and for a long time Harry didn’t know his own son, Albus Severus. Harry didn’t have an easy relationship with any of his father figures, or his son, but he learned. When they learn, we learn.

I grew up reading British literature with favourites like Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Roald Dahl, Arthur Conan Doyle, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Kenneth Grahame, Charlotte Brontë, and loads of science fiction. I can see how these influenced me. I’ve never been good at making and keeping friends, but I believe my fictional friends have been a good help. I have learned quite a bit about people from them.

The reason for this short post is a study or analysis I stumbled across today. A comparison of 14 studies suggests that readers make good citizens because reading develops social cognition. I believe in cognition in general. I write about it frequently on my other blog, where I focus on autism spectrum conditions, nonverbal learning disorders (aspieish), and ADHD. In my opnion, anything that develops the brain is a good thing.

I’m also fond of music and right now I have an appointment with Modest Mussorgsky. That’s a new acquaintance for me, which is also a good thing. The brain likes to do things it hasn’t done before, and music doesn’t just make us feel. The brain has to work to make sense of music. I find both books and literature to be important ingrediences in life. I see some people claiming in social media that people are not worth befriending if they have other interests than books. I wouldn’t go that far. In fact, is anything positive if there is no balance at all?

The country of sickos

I usually don’t write about the highlights or the top five posts on my blog, but it’s tempting to mention the by far most popular post from 2018. I wrote The Norwegian Personality Disorder in February this year, and it’s one of the subjects I tend to reflect on from time to time. It’s only fitting that the last word of the day on Merriam Webster this year is hark back.

I’m still quite exasperated with Norwegians. Not all of them, and not all the time, but I have enough experiences that the feeling never goes away. The best word I can think of to describe my people is insular. It can mean situated on an island, or characteristic of an isolated people (such as a provincial viewpoint).

There could be elements of both isolation and insulation in us. We use the same word for both in Norwegian, but I believe there is a difference. The first could be used when you withdraw or remove yourself from other people, for example if you go to a remote area. The word insulation is often used for the material we need to protect ourselves from the cold outside or the electricity in the wires. You could live in a big city like New York or London, but protect yourself from some of the consequences of urban life.

We are in some ways both isolated and insulated in Norway. We are far removed from other people’s influence. We tend to think that we are superior. Some years ago when Jens Stoltenberg was prime minister of Norway he talked about how we would guide the world into a climate friendly future. His project failed miserably. The present Conservative government is also claiming that we are world leading on so many areas, while the evidence against us is overwhelming.

We are well insulated against the outside world, so we are not bothered when others criticize us, but we could do with some protection against ourselves. Many Norwegians tend to make themselves feel good by treating others as less. Being different in any way is not a good thing in Norway, and not being Norwegian is seen as a particularly big flaw.

One hopes that Norwegians have the ability to change, but I’m not optimistic. I still maintain that many of us have a personality disorder.