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Paolo Coelho, Adolf Hitler, Scandinavians and Jante Law

Discussion in 'Culture & Religion' started by Paul Lasaro, Aug 26, 2009.

  1. Paul Lasaro

    Paul Lasaro Active Member

    May 20, 2009
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    The famous writer Paolo Coelho, who is an intellectual authority for tens of millions readers in the whole world, has allowed himself to attack the conception of the Scandinavian world. What’s even more – he notices something that Hitler used to like in the standards of Scandinavian behaviour. In his book „Like a flowing river” he criticizes strictly the well-known Jantes law that is followed by many people in Scandinavia. On the basis of this law there is a thought by Danish writer Aksel Sandemose that nobody can think of himself being more intelligent, better or more important than others. In other words, nobody is something special, all are equal to each other. Coelho interprets it a bit differently and using more harsh words – „You aren’t worth a thing, nobody is interested in what you think, mediocrity and anonymity are your best bet. If you act in this way, you will never have any big problems in life.” ....

    However, it must be said that Coelho, who calls himself a Knight of the Light, afforded to be emotional enough and at the same time also careless. He lacked the Scandinavian prudentials and patience to make sense of the right point of the Jante law and why this law seems to be so interesting for Scandinavians. It should be remembered that for millions of people in the world Scandinavia seems to be the country of the light, many admire their achievements, freedom, prosperity and stability. Already for many years Scandinavian countries are proud with reason of their extremely high level of democracy and standard of living, incredibly thin gap between the poor and the rich. Is it really possible to reach something like this in a society where as Coelho states terrible standards or norms rule everything?

    Here it is advisable to look more carefully and in wider context. At first, the Jante law must be read very carefully and should be understood that it is only part of the sarcastic literary work. It is more likely to be interpreted as conditional Scandinavian philosophy and not like dogmatic commandments.

    Wikipedia about Jante Law:

    The ten rules are:
    1. Don’t think that you are special.
    2. Don’t think that you are of the same standing as us.
    3. Don’t think that you are smarter than us.
    4. Don’t fancy yourself as being better than us.
    5. Don’t think that you know more than us.
    6. Don’t think that you are more important than us.
    7. Don’t think that you are good at anything.
    8. Don’t laugh at us.
    9. Don’t think that anyone of us cares about you.
    10. Don’t think that you can teach us anything.

    Further in the book: 11. Don’t think that there is something we don’t know about you.

    It sounds bitter but not so awful as Coelho has explained it to millions of the readers. It must be understood that Scandinavian societies have been rather poor agricultural countries for centuries where people struggled with the wild nature and worked really hard. Especially in Norway, which Coelho talks about. Quite widespread was the ethics of Protestants where Arrogance, uppishness, flaunt were considered to be a dreadful sin. The principles of equality were respected which later turned even into the radical egalitarianism. As British explorer John Mole in his book „Mind your manners” points out – Scandinavians were pioneers in the compliance of national publicity principles – already in 1766 everybody, both Scandinavians and foreigners, had the right to check any shorthand record or document of authorities which were kept in an archives. Finland, that was relatively a part of Scandinavia, was the first country in Europe where already in 1906 women got their rights for voting.

    Maintained for centuries high respect for equality, honesty and publicity is on the basis of it. Once it was the basis of survival in the rigorous climate, nowadays it has proved itself of being the basis for stability and prosperity. Now in the world the economic crisis rules everything, Nordic countries go through it comparatively easy and stably. It is surely because Scandinavians weren’t keen on the bright life at any price – deserved or not. Including a huge wasting on varnish. They also couldn’t have done it because luxury goods that symbolize varnish are liable to strict taxes. It must be under the influence of the Jantes law.

    High taxes are necessary for society to reach as high as possible equality among all people. To get people agreed to pay such taxes it is necessary to have enormous state publicity about the application of the taxes. It is wrong to think that it’s only follow-on the nice principles. It could be too brilliant for pragmatic northerners. Finland is proud of one of the best educational systems in the world. The principle, on the basis of it, is that a good education has to be available for everybody, the same quality for the richest and the poorest. The main point is a pragmatic consideration that society must not lose not a single bright head, that everybody should be given equal possibilities to develop to the utmost his or her abilities and talents. In future an educated society will do good for everybody with a vengeance. No wonder that nowadays comparatively small Finland can take pride in having one of the most competitive economics in the world, it is also one of the most socially and ecologically stable countries in the world. It is not deniable that it’s partly because of follow-on the Jantes law. Only perfunctory observer will say that Finland’s only achievement is mighty Nokia. They have plenty of world-famous IT inventions, they build the biggest cruise ships in the world, create marvellous design works and architecture. Could it all be done by society depressed by glum and severe Jante law? Great achievements can’t be done by nations that are paddled by bright personalities. We can see similar achievements also in other Nordic countries – Denmark, Norway, Sweden.

    It’s significant that Aksel Sandemose published the Jante law in 1933. It was very hard time for Scandinavian countries – in Sweden, Denmark, Norway about 30-40% of labour force were out of work. It was one of the highest unemployment rates in the world overtaken by the crisis. If the world’s economics is bad then Scandinavians are even worse. Approximately at that time Scandinavians united in mutual pacts between employers and employees, between farmers and workmen. They provided the principles of mutual consensus and equality and after the war they were on the basis of the famous model of „Scandinavian prosperity”. It also helped to avoid the destructive ideologies of Nazi and communists. It’s quite sure to assume that society’s common settlement was based also on general understanding of the Jante law.

    It’s strange to read Coelho statement that follow-on the Jante law gave rein to Hitler:”Before starting the second world war, Hitler sent out several signals as to his intentions, and what encouraged him to go ahead was the knowledge that nobody would dare to defy him because of the Law of Jante.”

    According to Scandinavian understanding Hitler would have been cut down to size in accordance with the Jante law. Hitler preached that one nation is higher, more intelligent than others. A significant example of Scandinavians’ attitude during the war is Christian’s X - a king of Denmark – legendary scornful attitude towards Hitler. He highlighted in a demonstrative way that all people are equal and he went bitterly against Nazi offences against Denmark’s Jews. He was a striking confirmation of Danish loyalty to the Jante law.

    At the same time it has to be remembered that on the whole the history of Scandinavian countries has never been perfect and even today they do not think of themselves as being more special or intelligent than others. Even in spite of their creditable achievements. In accordance with the Jante law it is not a reason to become arrogant or proud. They had and have enough drawbacks that are worth thinking about, talking about and working carefully. Unwanted pride is a sin. Flaunting is nothing more than time taken away from work. Unnecessary wasting of money is a stealing of resources from the future investments. Can an extremely exclusive limousine compensate extra education possibilities for children? Can a needless fashionable villa compensate extra investments in the old people’s homes?

    There is something more important that should be understood – the Jante law is a dual carriageway. It also serves as an excellent protection for bright personalities. If somebody fancies of oppressing the freethinkers then they for their own protection use the same ... Jante law.

    Coelho should consider why exactly Scandinavian countries still stick by their own currency and haven’t joined to euro? Norway hasn’t even entered the European Union yet. Because they are not afraid of thinking differently. Politicians from Nordic countries were those who in the forums were not afraid to protest against the war in Iraq. Many famous Nordic politicians are significant global fighters for peace who consistently try to settle slaughterous conflicts in the whole world. It’s not a surprise that Finn Martti Ahtisaari got the Nobel prize last year. Not long ago on the BBC he said that he would address Obama so that he would take more active part in the peace-processes in the world. Ahtisaari on the BBC with his Finnish directness said clearly that the conflicts haven’t been settled for many years only because the big countries lack a will to solve them. Ahtisaari is only one of many Nordic politicians who has actively and gravely fought for peace in global level. In this context Coelho action is at least strange in invoking Hitler in accordance with the Jante law. It is an unfair reproach.

    Have a nice Day and happy Birthday Paolo Coelho,
    Paul Lasaro (www.paullasaro.com)

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