[HCCN] 8/30 Bar Harbor: The Nordic Theory of Everything -- why we are less free than people in those "socialist nanny states"

Dick Atlee atlee at dickatlee.com
Wed Aug 24 18:05:09 EDT 2016

If you have a couple of hours to spare Tuesday evening, August 30 at 7:00 
PM, you might consider an interesting and entertaining presentation at the 
Jesup Library in Bar Harbor.

The event is a book talk by Finnish journalist Anu Partanen 
(http://anupartanen.com). (Full disclosure: she is the wife of my stepson 
Trevor Corson (http://trevorcorson.com), who wrote "The Secret Life of 
Lobsters" and "The Story of Sushi.")

Her book, released by Harper Collins in June, is "The Nordic Theory of 
Everything: In Search of a Better Life." It looks at the ways the Nordic 
societies of Scandinavia and Finland are arranged that contrast with the 
American approach, looking for ways the U.S. could use to improve its 
increasingly anxiety-producing "quality" of life.

The topic might sound dry, or "we've-heard-that-before." That this is not 
the case has been amply demonstrated the reception the book -- and Anu's 
presentations so far -- has received, as well as my own experience in 
finding the book hard to put down.

Anu is an excellent and entertaining writer, coming from years of 
experience in writing for popular magazines and newspapers. Her approach to 
the subject is very personal, arising from the shock of her experience in 
moving here (for love!) from Finland and becoming a U.S. citizen. She 
thought at first her growing anxiety was due to being a foreigner, until 
she began to make friends and found them as anxious about their situations 
as she was.

Threaded throughout her narrative is a concept she calls "the Nordic Theory 
of Love" -- "love" here being used in a broader-than-usual sense. It refers 
to the Nordic societal philosophy of providing *all* individuals with the 
freedom that offers an optimum opportunity for pursuing fulfillment in 
their lives.

Central to her case is the irony of the stereotypical and false contrast 
between American "freedom and rugged individualism" and the Nordic 
so-called "socialist nanny states." As a newcomer with a fresh analytical 
eye and harsh personal experience, she observes the unhealthy dependencies 
that Americans have in their relationships at all levels. She dissects them 
-- employee/employer, child/parent/child, married couples, and many more -- 
in ways I'd honestly never thought of, and shows how they all derive from 
the financial uncertainty and insecurity inherent in the way our society is 
set up.

She contrasts this with the Nordic approach ("socialism" is clearly a 
misnomer), which supports the freedom and autonomy of the individual in all 
these relationships. She extends this into the irrational and personally 
destructive ways so many of our institutions are organized -- education, 
healthcare, employment, parental and spousal roles, childcare, and taxes, 
among others. She supports her analysis with statistics that portray the 
stark human consequences of the contrasting Nordic and U.S. approaches, but 
always brings it down to the personal level. (On the issue of taxes, I love 
her comment about her shock at the complexity of taxes here. In Finland, 
they are less complicated than ordering in Starbucks :-) And they are *not* 
significantly higher than here, and you get a LOT more bang for your buck.)

She addresses the usual counterarguments that show up in any discussion of 
this topic -- the relatively small size of the Nordic countries and the 
supposedly large Nordic/U.S. differences in diversity and poverty -- and 
shows how they are not nearly as significant as they are often portrayed.

But her case isn't totally one-sided. She doesn't shy away from pointing 
out the warts on the Nordic side and the differences among the Nordic 
countries, and she speaks of her love of the dynamism and creativity she 
finds in the U.S. But as she says, her complaining friends in Finland don't 
know how good they have it, and her complaining friends in the U.S. don't 
know how bad they have it.

 From all this, she teases out practical institutional changes Americans 
could make in the search for a better life.

I found her insights into the American world we live in fascinating. I 
think it likely you wouldn't regret the time spent in a brief look at 
http://anupartanen.com and talking with her on her fourth stop in the Maine
leg of her book tour (http://www.anupartanen.com/booktour/).


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