This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.
A FEW IMPRESSIONS FROM RETURNING TO NORWAY
I am just back in Norway, and a few things strike me.
I love being here. It’s quiet, safe, and civilized. The nature is beautiful, as is spring. The public transportation is great, at least where I am. (Oslo area.) I am looking forward to spending time at some of my favorite areas here. (The forest near where I am. The harbor in Oslo, Frognerparken, the botanical garden, the museums, Hovedøya and other islands, Bygdøy, and to go swimming in the ocean.) I am also very much looking forward to going to spend time at the cabin which is at a lake southeast of Oslo. (Østmarka.)
I also notice…
The abundance of insects, birds, and wildflower fields from my childhood is gone, along with the wild edges that used to be in people’s gardens. Now, people have lawns, few flowers, no wild edges, and they seem to love a manicured desert. I rarely see any insects, apart from a few bumblebees. The flowers I see have very few insects on them. And the swallows and many other birds are gone. There are probably many reasons for the dramatic loss of insects over the last couple of decades: industrial agriculture and insecticides, loss of nature, loss of meadows and flowers, and more.
This loss of insects is hugely concerning. It’s part of a continued and increasingly dramatic unraveling of our ecosystems and our own life-support system. So it’s baffling to me that so many seem oblivious to it, that there is not more focus on it in the media, and that it’s not one of the main priorities in politics and for the voters. (I have written about this in other articles.)
The food is noticeably more expensive, as I knew it would be. Also, there is still very little organic food in the grocery stores, and it’s more expensive than chemically produced food. Considering the dramatic loss of insects, and that insecticide use in agriculture likely plays a big role, it would make sense for the government to subsidize organic food and organic food production. Why are they not doing it? I am not sure.
As an aside, I also took a look at some popular history magazines read by a couple of family members. Ironically, these magazines seem out of touch with history. They largely focus on the history of Western Europe, war, technology, and famous men. And they leave out just about everything in history I find important and interesting: The history of ordinary people and the marginalized. The “green” history of the world and human interactions with ecosystems. The history of worldviews and orientations. The history of other cultures. And so on.
Of course, these magazines reflect and are aimed at more folks with a conservative mindset, and I am coming from a more progressive mindset, so it’s predictable that I would have that reaction. And it’s still a bit surprising to me that they take such an old-fashioned approach to history.
MAY 4, 2023
I have a great deal of sympathy for the people of Israel and what they and their families have gone through. At the same time, I see that Israel is doing pretty terrible things towards some of their neighbors and some of the people in their own country.
It’s possible for both to exist at the same time.
The Jewish are one of the groups that are especially traumatized and need safety and support. And trauma is never an excuse to hurt others.
And when understandable criticism of some of the actions and policies of Israel is called anti-semitism, it’s obviously unfair, a logical fallacy, and an attempt to shut down legitimate criticism. And that unfair strategy needs to be countered and called out.
All of it and more can have truth in it at the same time.
MAY 6, 2023
ARCHETYPES AND EMPIRE
King Charles III has his coronation today, and it brings up a few things about royalty and empire.
Why do some love royalty? Perhaps because it has to do with tradition and familiarity. But also because of archetypes. Royalty mirrors something in us, and something important in us. It mirrors the feminine and masculine dynamics in us that rule the country of our psyche. Or the captain of the ship. Or, said in a more democratic way, the conductor of the orchestra of our psyche.
And in the world, royalty represents the accumulation of wealth from the people and a history of tyranny. In the case of the British royalty, they also represent and reflect the empire. They reflect the extraction of resources from around the world, and the suffering and work of countless people from around the world. The empire, and the British royalty, are built on the backs, work, and suffering of innumerable people.
MAY 7, 2023
US & UKRAINE
Why hasn’t Putin given up the (so far) failed invasion of Ukraine? It’s difficult to see that anything good can come out of it, even from his perspective. I assume one answer is that he is hoping that the US will have a Republican president next, and that he (because it’s unlikely it’s a she) will withdraw the US support for Ukraine, allowing Russia to take over.
MAY 10, 2023
There is something I have noticed since last fall, and don’t quite understand.
Several ultra-nationalists in Russia regularly criticize Putin for how the war with Ukraine is going. They tell him to mobilize more soldiers, use more powerful weapons, and show less mercy. (Not that they are known for their mercy in the first place.)
In the Western media, journalists like to present this as Putin losing control.
To me, it looks very different. If Putin didn’t like what these people said, they would be gone. They would be put in prison or killed, as his other critics are. The reason they are allowed to say what they do is that Putin approves, and it serves a purpose for Putin. It makes him seem more mild and reasonable. And it gives him leeway to do all the things they suggest, if and when it makes sense to him in the bigger picture.
This form of criticism is not a sign of a weakened Putin. It’s a sign that it serves a purpose to him.
So why do Western reporters present it the way they do? I am not sure. Is it wishful thinking? Or because they think presenting Putin as losing power gives them more readers and viewers? It’s difficult to imagine that they don’t see that and how it serves Putin.
Considering the regular ambitions of Russia to create an empire by swallowing up neighbors, Putin’s explicit desire to recreate the empire, and the number of people in Russia supporting that ambition, there is no reason to assume that the Ukraine war will be the last. Even if Russia has to retreat from Ukraine with a demolished military, they will very likely rebuild the military and prepare for future conflicts. They may even have learned something from the debacle and be less incompetent. And that is not good news for Russia’s neighbors, and really not anyone.
Of course, Russia can go in many different directions. They may move in a more democratic direction. (Unlikely right now.) They may continue as now or with an even more dictatorial and paranoid orientation. (Seems most likely for the foreseeable future.) They may fracture and lose states that don’t want to be part of Russia. (Possible if they are sufficiently weakened.) Who knows.
MAY 14, 2023
THE ALCOHOL CULTURE IN NORWAY
In general, I don’t understand the drinking culture in Norway. I don’t mind a glass of wine with food, but why would you intentionally get drunk? Is it so you can put yourself in a situation where you can say and do things you otherwise wouldn’t, and then later have a (very poor) excuse for it?
And why do people put pressure on you to drink if you don’t want to? Is it because they feel uncomfortable with a sober gaze on them? Do they feel that the sober gaze prevents them from engaging in their strategy of doing and saying things they otherwise wouldn’t?
All of that seems bizarre to me.
Also, it seems that when political parties in Norway have their gatherings, there is often a lot of alcohol involved.
To me, this seems even more inexplicable. They are there to make decisions about the country. Why would they intentionally do something that clearly will impair their ability to make good decisions? Why do they distract from that focus? Why do they create an atmosphere where young participants feel uncomfortable? Shouldn’t they instead make sure the youngest ones feel especially welcome?
MAY 21, 2023
WESTERNIZING EASTERN EUROPE
Being a neighbor of Russia is risky, as history shows us. Russia has invaded every single neighbor except Norway, often more than once. (Why not Norway? Likely because the border is far north and short).
So there is no wonder that Putin’s aggression towards Ukraine has motivated more countries to join NATO. (Finland and Sweden so far.)
And there is no wonder that former Soviet countries are moving closer to Western Europe – culturally, politically, and through wanting to join the EU and NATO.
They do it for their own self-preservation. And simply because a more democratic and prosperous way of life is more attractive.
MAY 27, 2023
OVERSELLING THE COUNTEROFFENSIVE
The Ukrainians and Western media have talked about the coming counteroffensive for months now. I understand the temptation to do so, but it can easily be counterproductive. If you oversell something, talk about it for a long time, and it doesn’t live up to the expectations, people will get disappointed. And that can lead to a reduced will to continue to support Ukraine. It may be better to undersell something, lower the expectations, and then possibly surprise people by doing more than what was promised.
The first strategy may work better in the short term, increasing the support here and now. But it’s risky if the counteroffensive is not as successful as people expect. The second may not increase the support short term, but it seems less risky long term. If it doesn’t go as well as expected, there is less disappointment. And if it is successful, it will likely lead to increased support.
MAY 28, 2023
THE BREXIT WE EXPECTED
It seems that few in Great Britain are happy with Brexit these days, which I find ironic since the Brexit they got was the Brexit that was more or less inevitable. By looking at the reality of what would happen, you would see that it wouldn’t benefit BG financially or even in most other ways.
They would be excluded from easy trading within Europe. They would still have to follow most and nearly all EU regulations to be able to trade within Europe. They would gain far less autonomy than some seemed to think. And they would lose a say in the EU processes and the shaping of EU regulations.
I saw someone sum this up nicely:
Brexiteers: This is not the Brexit we voted for. (Of course, it was, even if they deluded themselves and engaged in wishful thinking.)
Remainers: This is the Brexit we voted against. (A sober view predicted what happened.)
MAY 30, 2023
NEGOTIATING WITH PUTIN?
I still see some in the West talking about negotiating with Putin to end the Ukraine war.
To me, that seems surprisingly naive. (About as naive as it was before WW2 to think you could successfully negotiate with Hitler.)
This is the business of the Ukrainians, and they will not negotiate with Putin, at least not until they have regained all of their country. (And even then, they will likely not believe anything from him.)
You cannot trust Putin and what he says or any agreement. He repeatedly says one thing and does something else. An agreement will be worthless. (The Ukrainians know that which is one reason they won’t negotiate with him.)
Putin has to be defeated. His project is to recreate a Russian empire, which means invading and occupying several of his neighbors. If he gains a foothold in Ukraine, he won’t stop there. (And, realistically, even if he is stopped in Ukraine, he will just rebuild the military and continue invading neighbors in a few years.)
JUNE 3, 2023
OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHER SPECIES
A neighbor cat comes to stay with me most of the day and evening, although I don’t give him food and he has to go home to his family at night. (I don’t want to steal him!)
His family is home most of the time, so he is not here because they are gone. I suspect he comes because I give him attention, and perhaps most of all because I treat him as an equal.
I see him as consciousness, just like me, that just happens to operate through a slightly different body.
This consciousness here operates through this body, which happens to be human. And that consciousness there operates through that body, which happens to be a cat.
In the realm of stories, it’s similar. We are both expressions of life, existence, and the universe.
He is the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe, just like I am. He is the universe taking the form of a cat. I am the universe taking the form of a human.
And in terms of evolution, we are closely related. What we have in common is infinitely more than the little that differentiates us.
In all the ways that matter, we are equal. We are the same.
Just like I would with any visitor, I try to be a good host for him. I give him water. I let him out when he wants to go out if the door is closed.
And just like I would with a child, I try to be a good steward of him while he is here. I rescued him when he fell down into the basement. (He fell into a ventilation shaft while exploring, and landed on a cardboard box and was unharmed.) I make sure he goes home at night to spend the night with his family.
Many treat cats as… cats. They see them as mainly different from us, and they adopt a lot of the cultural baggage of how we in the West treat non-human species. Cats are generally OK with it, but it does create a sense of division. Humans see themselves as divided from cats, and cats sense, adapt, and respond to that.
I and others treat them as equals. We are all living beings. We are all fundamentally consciousness to ourselves. We are the universe taking these local and temporary forms. And cats respond to that as well. They seem to enjoy it. Just like us, they enjoy being related to as equals.
JUNE 4, 2023
US EDUCATION SYSTEM
When I came to the US to study, I was surprised by how immature university students in general seemed. Many of them behaved as I would expect from middle schoolers in Norway. (In Norway, you are expected to be and act as an adult in high school.)
I recently listened to a quiz podcast. The guest were three youngish people from the US with a science channel on YouTube, and I was surprised and dismayed by their lack of knowledge of basic history. They knew roughly what happened in the 1900s – WW2, cars, Vietnam War, etc. – but had a very poor grasp on when.
In Norway, it would be close to impossible to go through the school system without knowing the years and decades of these things. I would also think it’s almost impossible to live in Norway without knowing it since general historical knowledge and information is so much part of the fabric of society – of conversations, articles in magazines and newspapers, TV series, movies, and so on.
The main sports organization in Norway has been in the media over the last few weeks and months, mainly because of what looks like terrible leadership. (Fortunately, they just got a new leader.)
I am also struck by so many talking about elite sports and getting results. I understand that’s a (small) part of it.
But shouldn’t the main focus be on grassroots sports, inclusivity, and fun? That seems far more important and interesting. That’s something that impacts all of society now and in the future, and not just a few on the top and people in general for a couple of hours in front of the TV.
THE VICIOUSNESS OF THE MEDIA AND (PARTS OF) SOCIETY
I haven’t followed the Phillip Scofield case closely, but I have picked up a few things.
He was a successful and beloved presenter of a UK TV show, had an affair with a younger colleague, and somehow that derailed his career and made him the target of attacks from parts of the media and some people.
A lot of this seems like a tempest in a teapot. He had a relationship with a younger colleague. So what? They are two consenting adults, so they should do what they want. If it happens to go against some corporate policy, then that’s an internal case for the corporation, not something for the media or the public.
I understand the argument that it was potentially an abuse of power. He was older and had a more prestigious position. But if it can be considered an abuse of power depends on a lot of particulars that I and others in the public don’t know. Again, that would be the business of the corporation they both work(ed) for, not anyone else.
The way he is treated is just one of many examples highlighting a certain viciousness in parts of the media and from some individuals. Why attack and try to ruin the life of someone who loves his job, and who is loved by his audience, just because he happened to have an affair with a colleague?
Is it to get more readers and viewers? Are you really willing to ruin someone just because of that? (Judging by what I know about UK tabloids, the answer is “yes”.)
Is it to act on your own toxicity? And to try to make someone else as miserable as you likely are? Are you willing to ruin someone just so you can, for a short moment, feel a little better about yourself?
Would you be willing to say to him personally what you say and write in the mainstream media and online? If not, maybe next time ask yourself what you would be willing to say to him in person and limit yourself to that.
Would it have happened in the same way if it was a heterosexual relationship? If it has something to do with it being a homosexual relationship, then people need to take a look at their values. Are you really so superficial that this makes a difference?