28 Aug 2017

Collision of the Minds


A Visit Across the Pond Brings Some Pointed and Surprising Insights —

We’re back at the keyboard having returned from two weeks abroad. While away, Mr. and Mrs. PolicySmith caught up to our Swedish relatives, laid over in Iceland and checked to see if there was anything still rotting in Denmark.  We came away with some surprising insights, some pointed observations from our kin, and happily no casualties or collateral damage.

Our overriding impression of these Scandinavian – and Scandinavian origin — countries is of calm, happiness and security.  There is a curiosity about the US — more accurately defined as a quizzicality, even incomprehensibility on the most basic level.  They don’t get us…and they’re a delight while saying so.

The disconnects cross politics, energy, world view and attitude (consensus vs. conflict) personal outlook.  The US was born as rebels, immigrants, conquerors, fiercely independent politically with a strong Judeo-Christian foundation.  We have experienced multiple wars, one with ourselves, the tragedy of slavery and its demise.  We’ve also been the world’s great innovators, wealth creators and policeman.

The Scandinavians have largely been isolated, homogenous, and until the mid-1900s relatively modest economically and bystanders on the world stage.  Their natural reticence and reserve have stood them in good stead as the conflicts around the globe rarely affect them and their everyday lives.  They’ve managed quite well and have earned their contentment.  Their placid objectivity and unified culture allow for an outward view that feels to these visitors like “how is life so difficult and conflicted for you in the US?  It’s not that complicated…”

In terms of energy, these happiest of peoples husband a core belief in “renewables.”  Sun, wind — any discussion of energy must begin and end on green street with conservation a necessary element.  Hydrocarbons are so yesterday and the planet “is in imminent danger.”  In a world apart, those views hold sway and the view into the US finds the green element in agreement with that view.

Our discussions ranged far and wide, finding little agreement, but in a most agreeable way.  In fact, one cousin said, “I really like you, we agree on almost nothing and I don’t understand why.”  It was contrary to the brutal discussions common in the US, so much so that the PolicySmith had to suppress a laugh.  “You say you are green, but nothing you advance is green…have you heard of Bjorn Lomborg?”

At last!  A breakthrough!  Mr. Lomborg, a Dane, is author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” and the PolicySmith is a sworn acolyte.  He advances real world solutions for those unable to support themselves in poverty-stricken, energy-deprived regions.  And our discussion was off to the races as a bridge across the ocean was finally in place.

Of course, that common ground is not nearly enough to bridge all the chasms.  The cool, objectivity and general consensus there in a nearly 1000-year old culture of 10 million or so kindred souls contrasts mightily with a nation of 330+ million only 250 years old.  The US has become polarized to near stalemate.  It reminds us of the stand-up comedian Steven Wright’s joke about putting a humidifier and a de-humidifier in a room and letting them fight it out.

The US pitched battle between motorists and bicycles is unthinkable In Denmark.  The prevalence of bicycles and their own traffic lanes is promoted and works well – it’s unanimous.  It’s a daunting challenge to the US vacationer.  They whiz by and you’d better learn quickly to cede the right-of-way.  Polite but firm instruction from the cyclist is visited upon those who misstep.  The uniformity of attitude and belief systems is jarring in its good will and objectivity.

On the political front, their surprise at American’s skepticism of government was a delight to discuss.  Perhaps this is the point of greatest diversion between the cultures.  The US was born of government distrust and remedial measures are written into the US Constitution.

Those elected and in government service in Sweden are virtually identical in background and temperament to those they serve.  The independent, self-sufficient, gunslinger mindset of the American is an aberration in Scandinavia.  Expressions of individuality and “rebellion” (such as they are) show up in the abundance of graffiti, even in Iceland, and unusual hairdos and tattoos.  That’s about it.

Of high interest to the PolicySmith was the publicity in the western press about the difficulties encountered with the emigration of Syrians and other Middle East refugees to Sweden.  How bad is it, we queried?  We were untold it is a fabrication, that there is no conflict, no-go zones do not exist in Sweden and there is no trepidation anywhere.  We were told Sweden needs people, and those who have arrived are industrious and contributors.

The same was expressed in Denmark, site of the Jyllands-Posten conflict.  Anti-Muslim cartoons published in late 2005 resulted in an outpouring of anti-Dane rhetoric from Muslim activists.  Today there is little evidence of conflict, despite a sizable Muslim influx, in what surveys have proclaimed the happiest country on the globe.

Though the Scandinavians are sanguine, individuality and self-interest could be cracking EU solidarity – EU members are getting a taste of the diversity that is a US hallmark.  Britain’s exit is a crack in EU unity and the dominant Social Democrat model.  Fiscal problems in Greece and Italy harken to fiscal problems in Illinois and other spendthrift US states and municipalities.  The due-bill for fiscal profligacy and irresponsibility is rapidly approaching…and the whining for bailouts will be evidenced here and in the EU.

With good humor and give and take, our families bandied about the effects of American foreign aid, European colonization of Africa and South America in centuries past, their perception of US hegemony as contrasted with Russian expropriation of the Crimea and threats to the Baltics.  All were spirited and contentious, but there was virtual unanimity on a key issue, the need for US exports of LNG, and crude as well.  Russia’s grip on EU and Pacific energy markets is suffocating.  perhaps the single most effective non-military counter to Putin’s aggression and schemes is US entrance as a seller into world energy markets

It’s not impossible to part with Scandinavia on bad terms, but it’s highly unlikely.  It seems they created disagreement without being disagreeable.  A walk through the King’s Garden in Stockholm, or down the street from the Hallgrmskirkja church in Reykjavik, or sitting outside the Palace Hotel in Copenhagen enjoying a libation, will warm the soul and provide a long look into the basic goodness of mankind.

Even the most resolute of cynics can’t help but be uplifted…the PolicySmith knows – firsthand.

2 Responses to Collision of the Minds
  1. I enjoyed your observations.
    We visit Sweden every summer and enjoy their lifestyle. They have a very strong sense of family,community and seem to be most content.
    In many ways I feel like I am back to the fifties growing up.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.