Pic of the day: An American flag on Norway's national day? It is not quite as bizarre as it sounds. Now in the age of the Internet, there is a little bit of America almost everywhere. But Norway started to be inspired by America much earlier... probably already in 1814.
Red, white & blue memes
May 17 is Norway's national day. It is not our day of independence, which is June 7th and far less celebrated. Rather it is our constitution day. Norway got its own constitution in 1814, although it did not gain full independence until 1905. In the meantime, the celebration of the constitution was a major way of building support for nationhood. It was also done very peacefully, for the most part. A strike of genius was to have cheering children with flags march through the streets, blissfully unaware of the political firepower they were wielding. In a society as advanced as Sweden was at the time, sending the military or even constabulary to attack children would be political suicide. Well done.
The concept of constitutions was fairly new in 1814. Most likely Norway got it from the USA, which we had been following for a while. I am not sure whether the red, white and blue colors in our flag was inspired by the USA or France ... this was back when the USA and France were on the same wavelength; as you know, this has kinda faded over time, as the student surpassed the teacher. Of course, the Union Jack is also in those same colors, but I am pretty sure that's not where we got them from. Back then the British empire was seen as conservative and a bit backward-looking, while the USA was the new and radical beacon of freedom, succeeding where France had tried but failed.
Nationalism was a big thing in the 19th century, as it also was in the late 18th. Its dark sides became grotesquely obvious in the 20th century, and today a lot of us have mixed feelings about it. A Norwegian politician who called the European Union "a higher form of civilization" did not speak for the majority, but a fairly large minority. I am not too convinced of that myself; it seems to be nationalism on a larger scale, adding another layer of government over those we already have. As if we don't have enough. But lately I have grown to doubt more and more that we will see the end of the nation-state anytime soon.
Part of this is the influx of refugees / immigrants from less developed cultures. Mind you, I am not a racist, or only marginally so. (I think natural selection has made Jews and Asians slightly smarter than us, but few of them – or us – use the brain to the fullest anyway.) Culture is what limits most of us in practice. And the culture of most of our immigrants is limiting indeed. It is downright primitive, with an unhealthy focus on the clan / extended family, to the point where people even marry their relatives as a rule (and when they marry outside the family, it is usually to form an alliance between clans, not because of love). For these people, suspended between the tribal and religious levels of cultural development, the nation with its higher integration is indeed "a higher form of civilization". I don't think we can expect them to surpass this level – what Spiral Dynamics calls the Blue vMeme – in one generation. As long as we keep them pouring in, we probably need to have these structures to offer them an alternative sense of belonging beyond the clan.
Another event that has changed my mind is regularly reading the blog of Dr Robert Godwin, whose book "One Cosmos under God" I have read but not yet reviewed here. The blog (also titled "One Cosmos") is intriguing because on one hand it is embarrassingly ethnocentric (America is the best thing since Pentecost, if not better, and American soldiers are very similar to Jesus, dying to save the innocent). On the other hand, it is obvious that Godwin and his friends (of which I am probably one, in a manner of speaking) have varying degrees of genuine spirituality. It really should not surprise me that someone living on the Blue cultural level can be spiritual. After all, this level was the best you could get during a couple thousand years, during which most of our spiritual heritage was unearthed and handed down to us. But it surprised me that people who have tangled with higher levels of culture and rejected them, still continue to reap the same benefits as their ancestors for whom there was nothing more.
In light of this, I now hold the Blue vMeme in much higher regard than I did even a year ago. I still hope we will be able to put it far behind us soon, but I realize that we will probably have to live with it – and can live well with it – for a long time yet.
(In all fairness, Godwin and friends are not true Blue. They are at least as much Orange, as in capitalist, individualist and entrepreneurial. But when it comes to nationalism, it is there in spades. Much like my old friends in the Christian Church ("Smith's Friends"), I feel sure these people would have no qualms about killing each other if they happened to be on different sides of the front line, secure in their knowledge that this would send their friend straight to Heaven.)
Back to the red, white and blue: It seems to me that American and Norwegian nationalism are more similar than either side would think. In part this is no doubt because Norway is "America's loyal poodle" as the far left here points out, with quite a bit of truth. But it is more than simple puppy love. Despite our higher tax level and lower crime rate, we actually share the American notion of freedom as the highest good. And entirely without self-irony, both of us are trying to change the world into our image. The Americans have the economic and political clout to do so, not to mention the military. Norway is a tiny nation with a population of less than 5 million, less than most well-known cities in the world. But my countrymen don't lose heart for such a trifle. Using foreign aid (we're filthy rich after all) and our reputation for innocence and love of peace, we meddle in the third world wherever we can, for their own good of course.
As I've said before, I think Norway would fit better in as a member of the United States than the European Union. No, seriously. We drink the most Cola and eat the most Big Macs outside the actual States, we play American games (and they play Norwegian games, they just don't know it) and take an avid interest in American politics. The Federal Reserve has much more influence on Norwegian interest rates than our own government. And above all, we share the same love for freedom. Of course there are plenty of differences; but if you compare Norway to e.g. Vermont rather than Texas, I think you will see what I mean.
But in the end, I hope we can stop classifying each other based on what side of an imaginary line we are born. I don't mind having the current states exist after that as administrative units, like towns and provinces, minding various local tasks. But there has to be an end to the insane thought that "this person is evil, because he is born on the wrong side of the imaginary line."
Visit the archive page for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.