Sunday, May 24, 2009

Never believe anything you read about Norway or Scandinavia

Here's some advice for my foreign readers.

Every once in a while pundits bring up Scandinavia as an example of why one should or should not walk down some political or cultural road. In American politics, Sweden in particular is the archetype of socialism and cultural liberalism, but Norway may be used instead if that better proves the point one is making.

Never believe any of it.

Here's why: We're small countries. People don't care what happens here, except when they're out to make a point. There's no reason why they should. Which means there are basically two sources of information available about Scandinavian countries: Statistics and myth.

Statistics are reliable, but difficult to interpret correctly, especially without the right context, a role that is often then filled by myth.

So don't believe anything you read. If you must believe something, choose the alternative that is the most boring. As in:

"Does Norway prove that socialism works?" No, because we've abandoned so much of it.

"Does Norway prove that all socialist ideas are bad?" No, because we've kept several of them, and we're doing okay.

"Should everybody copy Norway?" That would probably be difficult.

The same applies to anything Norwegians tell you about their country, which falls into three categories: People who boast about it because it's the only place they know, people who complain about it because it's the only place they know, and English-writing bloggers with marginal viewpoints.

You can, of course, believe everything I've written here. Or can you?!



At 24 May, 2009 14:55 , Blogger Konrad said...


At 24 May, 2009 15:13 , Blogger Forbitret fossil said...

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At 24 May, 2009 15:20 , Blogger Forbitret fossil said...

I completely agree: whenever Norway or Scandinavia is brought up, the facts tend to be a bit skewed. Have you seen this article? Norway isn't even mentioned, but my main issue with this article is that the writers discuss Scandinavia as some sort of secular heaven, not accounting for the fact that our societies are based upon the Christian fatith. ...our flags are modelled after the cross, for heaven's sake!

Also, Scandinavia consists of three countries, and although there are similarities among our nations, we also have different cultures. I hate that this is rarely brought up whenever Americans talk about "Scandinavia."

At 24 May, 2009 15:30 , Blogger Bjørn Stærk said...

Well, we are fairly secular these days. I grew up a Christian, (now I'm an atheist), and I was always very conscious of what a minority we were. A minority with their own separate culture, often invisible to the Norwegian mainstream, which speaks politely about "belief" and a "people's Church", but doesn't really believe in the life-changing way that Christianity entails.

So on one side there is more of a Christian presence in Norway than people realize, but on the other side it's probably correct to say that Norway is not a Christian nation. We definitely have a Christian history, though, so that claim in the article is wrong. We also had our own puritan movements. (The book I reviewed by Nina Witoszek a few days ago claimed that our priestly/religious inclinations have been transformed into a sort of missionary approach to world politics, and I guess there may be something to that.)


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