The land of the setting sun

The town hall in Haugesund where many incomprehensible decisions are being made.
The town hall in Haugesund where many incomprehensible decisions are being made.

It’s controversial today, or at least it ought to be, to talk about owning people. Yet, it is a relevant question: Who owns your children? A more precise question would be “who has legal rights to make decisions on the children’s behalf? There are many indications that the government see it as their right.

We have a couple of laws in Norway that are probably being violated more than any other. They deal with children and the Child Protective Services, and they state that “the biological principle” is important. That means that parents are more important and have more authority concerning their own children than the authorities. However, it’s not that simple in reality.

The Norwegian CPS is very controversial because it has a history of very aggressive actions. They frequently send the Police in unnecessary numbers to handle CPS-cases. There’s also been cases where the CPS went to court to get a child extradited from its home country, as well as a number of cases where CPS ignored orders from the court, even Supreme Court, to reunite parents and children. Actions like this has made Norwegian CPS controversial in many countries. A secondary question would be, why is this more important now than it used to be? This aggressive policy is new, so something has changed. Why do parents have less rights now? This is hard to understand, but the idea of the right to make decisions could explain some.

There is a simple mathematical problem we need to solve. In a society with a birth rate lower than 2,1 there is going to be a reduction in the population, and if it drops to 1,4 or lower, there is a risk of collapse within a couple of generations. Immigration solves that problem, but if you also don’t like immigration, you have a serious problem.

That’s the situation in countries like South-Korea and Japan, and the latter is in an especially tricky situation. They’ll probably manage as their population was high to begin with, but it’s dropping rapidly. So rapidly in fact that some conspiracy buffs with a You tube channel thought it had something to do with Fukushima. The problem is the birth rate. 1,3 million people died in Japan in 2016, and for the first time since they started this statistics in 1979, less than a million babies were born. With a high population to start with they have some time to turn this around, but now might be a good time to allow immigration.

I read an article today that makes me wonder if they understand how serious this situation is. A woman had to apologize to her employer for getting pregnant, and although her apology was accepted, the woman was later harassed. This is a part of a bigger problem in Japan. Women have to follow a pregnancy schedule, and this is just one of many forms of gender discrimination. Apart from the fact that we shouldn’t treat people like this, is this something Japan can really afford?

There may not be a conspiracy concerning the Fukushima nuclear plant, but there is still a leak, seven years after it was destroyed by an earthquake. According to an article in The Independent from February 2018 The Tokyo Electro Power Company has admitted that it could be another two years before the contamination issue is resolved. Personally I have never understood how a country that has experience from two nuclear bomb experiments can willingly take this risk.

To loan a phrase from the financial news, no one is too big to fail. That goes for countries as well. Japan is not too big to be wiped out. None of us are. That makes me sad because I have always been fascinated by Japan. I discovered anime and manga as a child, and read about buddhism and shintoism from I was about 15 years old. I had a Japanese dream when everyone else had an American dream. Unfortunately, it was an illusion. My Japan probably never existed, but I wonder if Norwegians’ illusion of America ever did too.

Japan suffers record decline in population

Wait your turn if you want a baby

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Minimalist mental health

Are you a disturbed individual? Do you find that less disturbance creates more of it? The calm minimalist lifestyle could be louder than you’d like. I hope you are healthy in every way, but I think mental health is an important part of minimalism. Take a look at this video.

This woman is very healthy. I think she expresses very positive attitudes to life and in my opinion she is highly admirable. I’m not sure most people could do what she’s doing. The idea of being completely alone for periods scares some people, and if it’s not natural for you to do that, you really shouldn’t.

I have been writing a lot about minimalism lately, which isn’t just about living on a smaller space and owning less stuff. It’s also about reducing the clutter inside your head. As we scale down the monsters from within are getting louder. You are more likely to hear your personal demons. Having more noise and clutter around prevents you from dealing with your demons, and perhaps this is even one of the motivations for our diversions. It makes it possible to push troublesome thoughts away. I believe that cleaning up in our mind is a vital part of a minimalist lifestyle, and if we don’t we haven’t really understood what it’s about.

Some people could benefit from therapy, but I sort of do that myself. I find it useful to reflect on my thoughts and ideas. If I’m in a situation where I think negatively, and familiar automatic thoughts pop up, I try to analyse them to see if there is any evidence for my assumptions, and what they are based on (facts or feelings). Could it be that I misunderstood or that there are alternative ways of handling the situation? I usually find that my initial reaction was wrong, but I find that it’s hard to do these things with a lot of noise around me. That is a good reason for choosing more silence. We don’t need to listen to TV and music every moment we are awake, and by applying some of the minimalist ideas we can focus more on strategies like this.

I can only speak for myself, but I function better with less distraction. I have had NLD all my life, but was diagnosed only eight years ago when I was 42. Having lived that long without knowledge and without help, I am comfortable about dealing with this alone because being alone is comforting. Other people may be better off going to a therapist, and that’s what I recommend.

There is another benefit of going minimalist. I referred to the Danish sociologist Rasmus Willig in my previous post. He claimed that the welfare society created after WW II has been replaced by the competition society, where it’s everyone against everyone, and striving for perfection makes us sick. It’s not easy leaving that race, but the people that do are probably a lot healthier.

Reducing the noise and dependency to things also makes it easier to love people. Things just get in the way. Incidentally, there are books about how to do cognitive therapy yourself. That might be a good place to start. That is, if you need it.

Finding the old me

a cup of black coffee.I didn't love coffee at first. As with adulthood it was very much something I had to get used to. I like to add flavours and spices, but simplicity tastes pretty good too.
I didn’t love coffee at first. As with adulthood it was very much something I had to get used to. I like to add flavours and spices, but simplicity tastes pretty good too.

I read a short newspaper article about the Danish professor of sociology Rasmus Willig recently. He believes that the post-WW II welfare state has been replaced by the competition state. We are constantly being evaluated, and to be honest, there’s no way we can win. We are compared to a perfect, impossible standard, and striving for this perfection makes us sick, according to Willig.

I think he has a point. I will publish this on my other blog as well, the one where I focus on autism, nonverbal learning disorder, and ADHD. The standard is even more out of reach for people that are different, more likely to live outside the box in one way or another, or people that struggle with skills others take for granted.

There are many reasons why you should consider choices like indie, minimalism, and counteracting stereotypes. It is true that policy and lawmakers make life a lot more challenging, but it’s also about the choices we make. We have to be an active participant instead of allowing things we can control, which admittedly is the tricky part. It’s so easy and comfortable to continue in the same track, and I frequently find that I have to make myself do things.

The three choices I mentioned are important because they are not just about you and making your life better; they are also about creating a better society. When you see someone who is apparently poor, maybe even homeless, do you make assumptions about this person? When you see someone that appear to be an aspie, do you assume that this person lacks empathy, and is possibly dangerous? When an immigrant family moves in next door, do you assume that they are a threat to the Norwegian, American, Canadian, English and so on way of life? When you see someone with Down syndrome, is your first thought to feel sorry for them because they couldn’t possibly have a life? You may even think that the parents should have aborted. The truth is that if society is willing to embrace difference, and do the work necessary, everyone can get a meaningful life. But sadly many have prejudices, and most of the time they don’t even realize it.

You can be very accepting of your gay neighbours, but still harbour subconscience attitides towards religion, skin colour, social status etc. I don’t think there are people without prejudices. Some may not know about them because they make these assumptions without reflecting on them, and some may be aware, but refuse to acknowledge them. As with minimalism less is more. This is what Hatter told Alice in Alice in Wonderland:

You’re not the same as you were before, he said. You were much more… muchier… you’ve lost your muchness.

In short, we need to have the right kind of muchness, or to be much in the right places. We could lose some and gain more on our minimalist journey. It’s sort of about finding back to who we used to be. I’m not in position to buy anything at the moment. I wish I could buy a home, but that will have to wait. As for possessions we sort of had to go minimalist four years ago. We were living in Nordland county, which is a three day drive from my hometown, and it would cost well over $ 5000 to bring our stuff to Haugesund. I didn’t know what else to do but to leave all books, DVDs, furniture, kitchen equipment etc. That was a pretty serious blow. So I don’t have a lot of possessions today.

Minimalism now is more about what I focus on. I have big problems focusing. Reading is never easy. It may sound like I hate it, because I have to force myself to do it, but I actually enjoy it. I just find it so hard to focus that it’s difficult, which is partly because I have chronic pain in both arms. That makes holding the book open a challenge, but I do a combination of reading and listening.

I also find writing worth while, and as I’ve mentioned in previous posts I like listening to podcasts. The Minimalists like to ask their listeners on their podcast whether what they are doing adds value to their lives. I believe I have added value to my and my family’s life, but of course I’ll never reach the finish line. I used to call myself a recovering teacher, which means there’ll never be a day when I have officially recovered. I remain a work in progress, I keep moving forward.

It’s also about trying to be the person I want to be, and even though I sometimes feel that minimalists can be a little unrealistic, it’s not a bad philosophy for change because when we remove more and more of the clutter, both in the physical space around us and in our minds, we are more likely to get a life we rather enjoy.

The democratic minimalist

Oil rig at the ship yard. My town likes to portray itself as environmental friendly, but the shipyard works for the oil industry. This rig was made in Thailand, but is being completed here.
My town likes to portray itself as environmental friendly, but the shipyard works for the oil industry. This rig was made in Thailand, but is being completed here.

I continued thinking about the topic of minimalism after The Minimalist Taurus responded to my post The world is maxed out. What would really happen if we all became minimalists?

The Minimalists have an article about that, Stimulate the economy like a minimalist. I’m not sure they offer a solution. It certainly isn’t a quick fix because that’s not possible. The Minimalists defend the only possible position, which is that we need consumption and not consumerism. So a true minimalist is not interested in stimulating the economy, but that sounds problematic to me, because how do we make extreme changes like that?

People, and especially children, have always wanted what others have. The fictional character Anne of Green Gables for example wanted a dress like the other girls had, but Marilla was a very minimalist mother. There are degrees of minimalism, and each individual and family must figure out where they draw the line. Many families today have multiple pc’s, androids/iphones, ipads TV’s, game consoles etc. We frequently want things we think we need, but that may not be the case.

This is a deeper, much deeper question in my opinion. I used to write a lot more political posts, and in one of my older posts I referred to a liberal report from 1975 called The Crisis of Democracy. The point wasn’t that democracy was fading, but that it wasn’t. The report is known for the phrase “an excess of democracy”, used to describe the period in the 1960’s and 70’s where the people had used its voice to protest inequality. That is a threat to powerful people. The fear of democracy is an old one. It probably goes back to when kings and a small elite governed the people, and when democracy was created, they wanted to keep most of their powers.

The US constitution inspired the founding fathers in my country too, and there was a strong aversion to small democracies among the US founding fathers, maybe strongest in James Madison. Some have defended Madison saying he didn’t really hate democracy. He supposedly only attacked democracy because he wanted a big country with a strong central government, rather than local government close to the people. That’s arguing semantics, because if you want to increase the distance between the government and the people, you are not exactly getting too much democracy.

Knowing this it’s reasonable to assume that there’s been a struggle between the majority and the elite from the beginning. One side wants democracy, the other one doesn’t. The few people at the top, whether they have political or financial power, don’t want less of it. The point isn’t that they could manage just as well with $ 100 million as they do with $ 200 million. They simply don’t want the rest to be better off. They don’t want people to think and to become minimalists.

Many rich people are probably incredibly bored. They are used to getting anything they want, and they don’t have to wait for any of it. Rich people today have more opportunities for diversion than a fictional character like Mr. Darcy, but otherwise nothing much has changed. Life is mostly about chasing the next high. We all have that lifestyle today. We use the things we buy to feel better. It may sound like a conspiracy theory, but I think businesses and governments have encouraged this development. This has been a way to fight “an excess of democracy.”

It makes sense in my mind to spread the wealth. Imagine a big business that has a profit of $ 1 billion a year, and perhaps a handful of families own a big chunk of the stocks. There is a limit to how much money these families can spend locally. They could buy a hundred cars, and go completely indie either we are talking about food, skinproducts or culture, but why would they if they have the attitude to people many of them have? They are not going to reform themselves on their own.

Now imagine that they paid the workers so much that the surplus would be reduced to $ 700 million. The shareholders would still be the absolute elite, far above the majority. This wouldn’t be a socialist regime that hates capitalism, but there would be another $ 300 million for workers to spend on buying goods and services. Instead of a handful of people going to the salon, restaurant, movie theatre, traveling across country and staying in hotels, there would be thousands doing it. That seems like a better way to fuel the economy. I like the term we use for locally produced food, short-travelled food. It comes from people, not machines and warehouses. You know you support a sustainable lifestyle, and ultimately give people democratic influence.

I wonder what the power’s response to a massive shift would be. Countries that claim to be against regulations would join socialist countries in regulating people to death. Unfortunately, my own people loves being regimented. They are far too willing to go along with anything the authorities come up with. So they wouldn’t protest if for example a farmer’s market in the town square suddenly was banned. I still think it would be worth the fight.

The world is maxed out

For the want of a nail the shoe was lost
for want of a shoe the horse was lost
for want of a horse the knight was lost
for want of a knight the war was lost
for want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
So a kingdom was lost – all for want of a nail.

Some might read this proverb literally and take it to mean that logistics is important in war, but I’m thinking more about the need to address a minor flaw because it might lead to a much bigger one later. I have used the metaphor the butterfly effect in a previous post. It explains how small causes can have large effects in a sensitive system, such as the weather. I think the butterfly effect, or the nail, can explain almost anything. The political situation we have today didn’t just happen. There are conditions in the past that explains everything, because we can’t act without causing something else to happen, something we didn’t intend. The same goes for the economy.

I freely admit that I don’t understand politics and economics at all, and I don’t understand how people can use it to destroy innocent people, but they do. It comes down to empathy. There are two kinds, shallow and deep empathy. Politicians generally have a lot of shallow empathy, which means they can sense a mood or an atmosphere, and use this knowledge to their advantage. The reason they also can ruthlessly exploit people is because they don’t have the deeper empathy, so they are not bothered when they should be. Empathy is nothing more than a tool to them.

I was a student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2001. I watched TV after 911 and witnessed what this did to the country, but Americans were also betrayed by Enron that year. I had a professor at UALR I liked a lot. He was the kind of person you don’t want bad things to happen to. He was about to retire, but lost his money in the Enron scandal. It could have been a lot worse, because even though he was getting old, he had the ability and opportunity to work. Still, he had to work during the years he had planned to do something else. I haven’t researched what, if anything, the politicians did that could have created the Enron collapse, but they are usually not entirely innocent.

I’m not sure it’s over. There will always be winners and losers in the economy because it seems to be a giant Ponzi scheme, where new people finance the profit the older members get. As I said earlier I don’t understand how the economy works, why it works most of the time, and sometimes collapses, but a Ponzi scheme would explain a lot. I have never understood how some countries can get deeper and deeper into debt, and how a country’s economy seems to be based on most of the population being heavily in debt. I am not sure most countries could do this, but the ones with power can.

The USA is an especially large mystery. It has a lot of federal debt, as well as credit card debt in the population, so this may not be a good time to build a wall, start a trade war with China, and insist on a Cold War with Russia. At least it seems like a gamble, but if it works everybody will be happy. But what do I know?

It's not exactly a family home, but it'll provide stability to many individuals. Photo: Thomas Quinones
It’s not exactly a family home, but it’ll provide stability to many individuals. Photo: Thomas Quinones

The economy is debt driven, which means that people are more likely to accept work they don’t like. I still talk as a novice, but let’s say we all became minimalists. I have been listening to podcasts and watching You tube videos on minimalism and tiny houses in recent months. I find that independence really appealing, but I also wonder how it would work on a large scale. The economy is based on a lot of people spending money they don’t have, and then they have to work hard to pay for these things before they die. What if people only spent what they had? Would that even be possible in today’s world? Even in socialist Norway banks and insurance companies make a lot of money. It’s so profitable that anyone wants to cash in, and I regularly get junk mail (paper) from an airline and an electronics store that just want to help me make my dreams come true, but at a cost. A loan up to 100 0000 NOK (about $13 000) has to be paid back in 5 years and typically has an interest on 15-18 percent, while the banks offer around 3 percent on a 25 year house loan. What would happen if this was greatly reduced and what would happen if people stopped spending money to the extent they do today? I think it would be disastrous. When people stop spending in this system, everybody suffers.

I never hope for collapse. I like stability. I still wonder if collapse is inevitable in a system where we seem to use new debt to cover old. Sooner or later that won’t work. Rich people call it a natural correction when there is a crisis, while to others it means that hope was brutally murdered. I’m not a gambler, so I never win big, but I would be content with not losing.

Incidentally, the headline refers to news stories about US credit card debt. A large number of people have maxed out their cards, so they are not going to spend money for a while. That doesn’t sound like good news to me.

Your neighbour is an alternative

It was just a coincidence that it happened at the same time, but I have been thinking about alternatives to Facebook lately. The latest scandal isn’t that shocking because Facebook has always used its dominating position in the marked to gather information. That’s one of the features of the like buttons for example. This social network is also controversial for the psychological effects it has on people. Many find it difficult to give up Facebook, but there are some alternatives worth exploring.

Nextdoor.was originally a network in San Fransisco, California that enabled people to connect with locals, but it has now spread to the Netherlands, UK, Germany, France, and is about to launch in Norway.

There is a lot of stuff on Facebook I find irrelevant, with dogs and cats high on the list. There are alternatives for pet owners, such as Catster and Dogster where you can share photos of your furry family members.

Vero is reminiscent of Instagram, and is probably meant to be a competitor. I don’t know how big it is, but if it isn’t as popular as Instagram at the moment, it may very well become the next big thing.

Tumblr. I spent a brief period on this blog before I decided for WordPress. I liked their dasboard that included recommended blogs and blogs I followed, as well as the option of sending and receiving messages from other Tumblr users. It was just as much a social network as a blog.

DeviantArt is probably the biggest network where you can share your own art.

My Space. Do you remember this one? This was Facebook before Facebook. It was originally intended for unknown bands to present themselves, but it developed into a community where anyone could blog and share photos of anything. That made it the largest social network in the world, but it faded into the background when Facebook became the dominant network. It still exists, but I believe it’s more about music again now.

iTunes Podcasts. I listen a lot to podcasts. This may not strictly speaking be a social medium, but there is still a certain amount of communication involved. Many podcasters invite listeners to comment or ask questions, which they address in a later episode. One of my favourites at the moment is Grammar Girl.

I am probably not going to give up Facebook, and I doubt very much whether people really are serious about #deletefacebook. I can see myself using several networks when that is expedient. If you are worried about Facebook sharing what you are interested in with a third party, you might want to consider doing something else.

#Metoo didn’t kill romance

Photo taken from the bridge over to the island I live on. I walk passed the ship yard on my way home. The island has a bit of a reputation, so even men need to pay attention to things around them, but the bad reputation isn't very accurate.
I cross this bridge on my way home. The island isn’t as bad as it’s reputation, but women should still be careful.

I searched for romance and #metoo in WordPress today and found many posts debating how #metoo would influence the genre. I’m not convinced it will have any impact at all.

I have been listening to creative writing podcasts lately. It’s hard to find the right ones, but I have a couple of ones I have managed to listen to. Vanessa Carnevale is one of the more captivating ones, so it’s a shame she ended her podcast, but there are 60 episodes available on Spotify and iTunes. She interviewed mostly women writers in her series, and there was a lot of romance and historical fiction among her guests. That seems to be a favourite genre among women writers. I’m not that familiar with romance, unless you include classics like Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë, but I have read some historical fiction. There seems to be a fascination for harsh frontier conditions and scenes that can only be labelled as rape. Does that mean that women have a secret fantasy about being raped?

Of course not! I still wonder if it’s something similar to the fascination for roller-coasters. They are terrifying, but we know that the likelihood of dying is very low. So we can make our lives more exciting without putting ourselves in danger. I suppose it’s the same with crime novels or historical drama. We don’t want to be in that situation, and we don’t get any pleasure from watching innocent people being raped, tortured and murdered. We still like to read about it.

You’d think that #metoo would change everything. I don’t think it will. One of the posts I read described a common scene from a park, and this happened in real life. A woman was walking her dog in the park when a man started talking to her. He asked if she was single and followed up with an invitation for coffee. She was freaked out and said she had to leave, but stopped on her way out of the park to answer a text on her phone. The man caught up with her and started talking to her again.

This may seem scary the way the world is today, and I’m sure it is if the man refuses to accept a no, but as the blogger pointed out, many romantic encounters start with a few words in the park, at the supermarket, or at work. I believe the couple in 101 Dalmatians met in the park, and the idea that we can accidentally run into the right one anywhere, that we don’t have to do anything special to make it happen is an appealing one. We should still be more careful and less naive than many fictional characters, but I can’t see readers changing that much.

The blogger I read shared the story from the park because she raised the following question: “If we women write this kind of story, aren’t we telling men that this is what we want?” I ask myself when grown up stories are not creepy. The most popular genre in Scandinavia is probably crime, and some of the most successful writers have been women. That strikes me as creepy, but that’s how the adult world is. We need to teach our boys and girls what acceptable behaviour is, and enforce the boundaries, but no matter what genre we are talking about, these books were never intended for children.

Incidentally, I like Star Trek, both as books and film/TV, and I have to admit I am a little fascinated by the Klingons. That doesn’t mean I want to become one of them. Before Worf married Jadzia Dax in Deep Space Nine he had to go through Kal’Hyah. He invited his closest human friends, who believed this was just like a human bachelor party. It was a little different because a Klingon bachelor party is a mental and spiritual journey. They had to endure six trials over four days: deprivation, sacrifice, pain, blood, anguish, and death. They had to do this while fasting. That’s very Klingon! No thank you, I am pretty sure I don’t want a Klingon life, anymore than women want to be transferred back to frontier Australia or North-America.

The Norwegian Personality Disorder

Narcissism is sick or harmful self-love. It’s not just a matter of falling in love with one’s own mirror image, like Narcissus in Greek mythology, but this personality also enjoys his/her own skills, abilities, successes and products.

We’re used to thinking of it as individuals having a personality disorder. These are people who think highly of themselves and their own significance. A natural consequence of these thoughts is that they are so unique in their own eyes that only people with a similar status can understand them. The operative word is self because a narcissist is self-confident, self-absorbed, self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-loving and inevitably self-destructive. A narcissist is sort of under cover or clandestine because nothing is real.

What if an entire society has this disorder, what if society actually encourages this behavour? Some people point to most of the Americas, Russia, Japan, Germany, Britain and France as countries with strong narcissistic traits. Most countries may have a collective narcissism today, and I nominate my own country. Norway is probably high on the list.

A Norwegian flag from the Constitution Day parade. We like to think that everything Norwegian is good and that it's typical Norwegian to be good. In fact, my country isn't that great.
A Norwegian flag from the Constitution Day parade. We like to think that everything Norwegian is good and that it’s typical Norwegian to be good. In fact, my country isn’t that great.

We tend to believe that we are better and smarter than anyone else, and that we deserve special treatment. The latter is especially evident in sports where Norwegian athletes have specialised in using fuzzy rules to their advantage, and sometimes they probably cross the line to doping. Nevertheless, it’s never their fault when they are being suspected of cheating. Most Norwegians defended the skier Therese Johaug after her 13 month ban from sports, and it’s always been Norwegian policy in equivalent cases from other countries that no matter how little or how the substance entered the body, there are no excuses. The are no alternatives to the strongest condemnation possible, and many also argue that this athlete should never be allowed to compete again. The only exceptions are Norwegians. We are unique in every way.

There is a lot of collective narcissism in international politics and Norway wants to be a player in the best league. We are desperate for some praise from the more powerful countries, and every time a celebrity lands at the airport in Oslo, journalists are practically begging them for some “trophy words” about our capital and us as a people. That way we can feel good about ourselves. Norway pays just as much to the EU, if not more than members, to get the benefits of membership. It appears that my government is trying to pressure Britain because it doesn’t want our neighbour to have what we have. We are talking about a country/union with the fifth largest economy in the world and the tenth strongest military. I don’t know how Norway is ranked, but even with our oil we are most likely puny compared to the big players. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad to work with our old friend and ally instead of turning them into an adversary?

I haven’t watched a conventional TV-channel for years, and I’m particularly thankful for that during the Olympics. I know the games have started, but I’m trying to avoid news these days. The Norwegian narcissism is nauseating enough on an ordinary day, but it’s hard to live with it during the winter Olympics. I listen to music and podcasts on iTunes and Spotify a lot, as well as watch a few favourite series on Netflix. There is a wonderful absence of Norway in my entertainment now, which gives me a lot of interesting impulses.

Narcissistic People and Cultures

Scandinavians need a history lesson

Norwegians don’t really debate racism. We have strong opinions when someone says that we shouldn’t use the word negro. We usually start the debate with whining, and it doesn’t get any better from there. I was surprised to find out that the Americans do the same. Not all of them, or maybe it is something they learn when they move here? I’m a member of a Facebook group for Americans in Norway, and their partners. When the group discussed H&M yesterday it was just like a Norwegian discussion about negroes.

H&M published a photo of a black child wearing a hoodie with the text COOLEST MONKEY IN THE JUNGLE. Many couldn’t understand how calling children monkeys was anything but cute, and maybe it would have been without the black child, but it’s hard to believe that no one knows anything about the history behind.

There is a long history of depicting Africans as monkeys. It goes back at least to the 16th century with books by European thinkers describing Africa south of the Sahara as a place where animals and humans had sexual intercourse. Jean Bodin even described Africa as a breeding ground for monsters because of this sexual union between humans and animals, and he used this as a justification for slavery. Josiah Scott and George Gliddon wrote several books in the 1850’s where they tried to establish a hierarchy of races, and Africans were in their view between Greeks and chimpanzees.

This is just a little of the large amount of information people can find online if they are interested, and it continues with relatively recent books like The Bell Curve (1994). Some Europeans may be ignorant about this today, but a lot more know about racism in football. You don’t see it as much today, but just a decade ago you could hear fans making monkey sounds and throwing bananas at black players. I don’t think anyone saw that as a compliment.

The maddening thing about the story I read in several outlets yesterday was the fact that H&M were only sorry this offended people. They didn’t see that they had done something wrong. I was also irritated when I read the comments on some of the websites that wrote about this. When people say that they are offended it’s not our right to tell them how they should feel. I wouldn’t stop shopping in H&M because of this, as some have suggested, but I don’t agree with those who seem to think that consumers shouldn’t speak out when they think a business has done something wrong.

My wife is African-American and our daughter has visible African ancestry. According to some people racism doesn’t exist anymore because they were raised to see only human beings. They were not raised to see skin colour, but I have been in many situations that tells me that people are not going to respect us if it’s up to them. It’s not that long ago that my daughter would have been too black to be fully included, and some people still see her as less because she is less white. Those attitudes may never go completely away. Perhaps the best we can do is to insist that people behave. It doesn’t matter what they think as long as society makes them behave, and correcting errors or ignorance is perfectly acceptable.

A Swedish company should know better, but maybe they just don’t get it? This is a story from 2012 where the Swedish culture minister opened an installation about female genital mutilation, Her job was easy. She was going to open the event by cutting a piece of cake, but understandably the event made the headlines for the wrong reasons. Art is supposed to shock I guess, but perhaps the minister should have been more circumspect in this case:

Sweden: the country where racism is just a joke

We have the same thing going on in Norway. We seem completely unable to see other people’s point of view because we don’t experience racism ourselves, but perhaps we should try harder? Autism research talks about theory of mind, aka mindreading or mentalizing, which means that you can predict what’s on other people’s minds. Autistic people take longer time developing this skill, and some don’t. Maybe few neurotypical do when it comes to racism? Theory of mind involves observation and interpretation, because the information isn’t always available to us, but in some situations it should be pretty obvious. Do you think I would be happy or angry if people started referring to my wife and daughter as the monkeys?

It’s not a pleasant sight, but if you want to understand a search for “blacks as monkeys” or “coons” would fill you in That’ll give you some idea of what experiences you haven’t had.

 

The journey of hope

Nativity scene exhibited in a Christian book shop. It's the most inspiring story ever told.
Nativity scene exhibited in a Christian book shop. It’s the most inspiring story ever told.

I am astonished at people, and not just the few genuine atheists, or the masses that have chosen this path out of convenience. Many of us seem to forget the awesomeness of the story, and then I am thinking of the Biblical meaning of the word. Awesome used to be a strong reaction to something so amazing that anyone witnessing it found it hard to describe the experience in words. The closest a dictionary can get is defining it as a strong feeling of fear, wonder and inspiration. The Christmas story is the most awesome ever written and it isn’t over yet.

The Christmas story is a fascinating story about journeys. Take the three wise men for example. There are many legends about them, but the point isn’t really where they came from, how many they were, or when they came to see Jesus. The point is that they had to travel a long distance, and they didn’t let anyone or anything stop them. It probably wasn’t an easy journey, but they were determined to find what they came there for, and they did.

Mary and Joseph had to travel too. They went from Nazareth to Betlehem, and then they had to go to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath. I don’t think we reflect enough on the difficulties these parents faced. Jesus probably heard a lot of comments as well. That’s how people are today, and human behaviour hasn’t changed that much.

It is true, as some have pointed out, that Mary was betrothed to Joseph, which was legally binding in the Jewish culture. It may not have been that shocking with a pregnancy in between the betrothal and the wedding, if Joseph was the father. He wasn’t. People would have seen Mary as just another pregnant teenager, and the punishment would have been stoning. Joseph’s initial reaction was divorce, so they both had a long journey ahead of them. The big story is of course that God invited all people to make the journey, to be united as his family.

The next big oil platform is currently at the ship yard. It's a giant Christmas tree reminding us of the star the three wide men followed.
The next big oil platform is currently at the ship yard. It’s a giant Christmas tree reminding us of the star the three wise men followed, their courage and the hope for something better..

It’s silly, like some people do, to argue whether or not Jesus was poor. That’s irrelevant, but there are indications suggesting that he was born into a family that did quite well. It may not have been very rich, but Jesus had a profession that would have been a strong currency at the time. There probably wasn’t a place where he couldn’t find employment. According to the genealogy presented in the gospels Jesus was related to Noah, Abraham and David, three men that God made a pact with. That doesn’t look like low status to me.

I think Jesus had different experiences because he was intended to represent everybody, It is true that his beginning was humble. It doesn’t matter whether it was a real stable or a part of a house where the animals stayed. The point is that Jesus was unusual no matter what you believe or don’t believe in. He surrounded himself with powerful friends, as well as enemies, but he was never afraid of controversy. He protected children, defended women others despised, and in the end he was betrayed by his most trusted friends. Many say that life comes without an instruction manual, but the ideals Jesus expressed isn’t a bad recipe in today’s chaotic world. Jesus didn’t just inspire the Jews and gentiles, because most of what we see as our best humanist Western ideas don’t differ much from the life and teaching of Jesus.

It is often said that Christmas is about hope, and this is where the courageous people in the story can inspire us. Hope is not necessarily something we have to wait for. It could very well be a decision we make, and hope doesn’t have to feel good at all. That comes later when you see the consequences of you decisions.

One of my favourite bloggers, Extra Dry Martini, wrote a very sobering post the day before Christmas (we celebrate on the 24th). I like the phrase I’m on the other side of darkness now from her post Instructions. I know what she’s writing about. I have written a lot about autism spectrum disorder, nonverbal learning disorder, ADHD, and their comorbid conditions depression and anxiety. That may seem like a sad topic, but I think many people see the wider story. It’s a journey and there is always a path leading back from the outland. There is hope along the way, and that isn’t a bad reminder to get on the darkest time of the year.