Denmark is often described as a society of contradictions, and I put that down to the Danish concept of democracy. It’s apparently not enough to elect a government now and then and devolve decision-making to local authorities and such. That’s quite normal in any democratic country. But here it’s taken further – much further. The endless political debates about the seemingly most trivial subjects reflect this society’s obsession with individualism. There is apparently room for everyone’s opinion about everything, whether or not they are indeed qualified or informed enough to express one.
Of course, this has been aided and abetted by the blogging culture that sprang up in the wake of the internet and, following on, the ever-pervasive social media that allow the empty-minded to reveal to the world the extent of their empty-mindedness. But the influence that this manifestation of ‘people power’ exerts is such that institutions such as the BBC, hitherto respected for its high standards of broadcasting, feels the need to devote entire programmes to vacuous statements from the present-day equivalent of ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’.
The assertion that Danes are some of the best informed people in the world is seemingly justified by the quantity of newsprint that abounds in this country. But for people to be informed, they must read and understand what has been written, and my gut feeling is that the assimilation of knowledge is somehow inversely proportional to the sheer quantity of ‘information’ that is thrown our way. And there is apparently a generation growing up now who won’t be able to read the stuff anyway! So from where do we glean the informed public opinion necessary to run such a meticulous, finely-tuned democracy?
What’s more, the amount of personal information available in the public domain in this country is quite staggering. (Though not as staggering as in Sweden, I’m told, where everyone’s personal details are hung out to dry.) We are at the moment trying to sell our house, and not only can prospective buyers find out about it on the web, which is quite reasonable of course, but once it’s sold, any busybody will be able to see what we sold it for and even how much we might have had to reduce the price by in order to sell it.
A similar thing happened when we bought our summer-house. The neighbour appeared quite unannounced though a gap in the hedge and, after the niceties of introducing himself and welcoming us to the area, soon cut to the chase and demanded to know what we had paid for the house. Now this sort of thing engenders an odd combination of emotions in me: I feel offended and embarrassed, but at the same time am unable to do anything but answer for fear of being rude. The fact that my upbringing tells me that he was being rude by intruding on my private affairs is immaterial: it’s the ‘when in Rome’ principle I suppose.
So one’s personal circumstances are everyone’s property, but then how does this tally with the insistence that one’s personal actions are not up for discussion? Just think back to the SAS debacle a few weeks ago. Everything hung on the Danish trade unions swallowing the bitter pill of changing a previous agreement. One union had allowed ‘negotiations’ to pass the official deadline, when the finance minister, Bjarne Corydon, had the gall to text the chief union representative and remind him of the grave consequences for Denmark of not backing down.
Indignation – man skal ikke blande sig! Incredible! The same indignation that I get when I remind someone that perhaps he or she should not be cycling on a pedestrian crossing, or when I gesticulate at some idiot who’s texting or phoning while trying to drive a car. The response is either complete passive indifference or a sarcastic (sorry, ironic) demand to know whether I’m a policeman. I don’t mind being told to mind my own business when it’s clearly not my business, but I draw the line when it’s my personal well-being or even my life that’s on the line.