You’re Still Here: The mechanics of a Danish debate
I have a friend back home who emails me every time Denmark makes the news.
Dogmatic Danish debating
The most recent email was about the bunny killing stunt live on air. “Kelly, it was on the radio – why didn’t they just pretend?” I mumbled something about the Danish need for authenticity ever since Lars von Trier’s Dogme 95 filmmaking movement, but what am I really supposed to say to that? How do I explain the concept of ‘starting a debate’ here in Denmark?
While cultures all over the world start debates with words, Danish culture starts them with stunts. Many other cultures conduct debates for the outcome. Danish culture starts them for the conversation.
To bunny boiling point …
First, you need someone who likes to claim objectivity to get things started. Despite all humans being subject to the vagueries of their sensory processing, the bias of their experience on interpretation of events, the Danish debate starter is a cut above. He (and it is usually a ‘he’ – blame the patriarchy if you must) is special. He is the one who can see outside of Plato’s Cave, and he is going to help you to take a peek.
Second, he needs to find something that many people have agreed is a difficult and/or controversial problem. For example, animal welfare, cultural sensitivity, religion etc. While in other countries, many people are happy to weigh up the different viewpoints and come to a measured opinion, the Danish debate starter has no need of an opinion in either direction. Related to the ‘Devil’s Advocate’ common to most cultures, the Danish debate starter has no subjective opinion on the matter. All he thinks is that having opinions either way is ‘wrong’.
Third, he must find the most extreme viewpoint he can and devise the most reductive way to illustrate it. For example, if he wanted to show all the flawed subjective people that their ideas about animal welfare were hopelessly jumbled with nuance and consideration, he could plan to kill an animal. In this way, the people would see their own prejudices for what they are: hypocritical.
… where butter wouldn’t melt
The next step is the most important. When people complain, he must double down and give no quarter to any of the criticisms levelled at him. He absolutely must not engage with the substance of the debate. He may defend himself with any number of counter-claims. Often “It was a joke” or “This is how Danish culture works” is deployed to great effect. On this occasion, “Other animals are inexpertly killed by untrained windbags” was the main comeback.
The very last step is the big reveal: “All this was just to start a debate!” Big pause. “And it did!” Other cultures end debates with a vote or a decision, Danish culture ends debates with an excuse.
No-one is intended to learn anything or do anything with the new information gathered through the process. All they were supposed to do was express their intrenched positions, get called hypocrites and then forget about it.
Kelly Draper is a British teacher who came to Denmark for work. She acts informally as a critical friend to Denmark. This has not gone down particularly well with Danes, who often tell her she should like it or leave it. Her blog is at adventuresandjapes.wordpress.com