Tag Archives: society

The kite runner, Khaled Hosseini

I was going to start this review by saying that I think everyone in the west ought to read this book. But as I started writhing it, I realized that’s not true. I think everyone ought to read this book. Even the people of Afghanistan  – especially the people of Afghanistan. Not because I think they don’t know what their lives are like, but because Hosseini has something quite unusual: the ability to see the Afghan society both from the inside (having grown up there) and from the perspective of Western citizens (having lived for a long time in America).

Through the eyes of a troubled boy-then-man, us western folks get a (hopefully authentic) glimpse at Afghanistan’s history and culture. A depressing matter: Hosseini spares little effort in painting the a picture of a deeply dysfunctional society, of a country that could have become great, but was seized by the Taliban, of a culture in ruins and a people in despair.

Yet at the same time, the story has more than sorrow. There’s always something – his subtle humor, an expression of love, a waft of roses – that prevents me from just shutting the book and resort to crying. This makes the storytelling touching and emotional, but sometimes a bit too sentimental.

A system in which institutions are controlled privately and for profit…

I have no clear definition of where I stand on the political left-right spectrum*. Left in theory and right in practice, I suppose. To most people that makes no sense. Think about it though: one camp wants things that are all wonderful, it’s just that the methods they want to use to get there could be devastating to large parts of society. The other camp has a harsher view on human beings, less appealing goals, yet a political agenda that’s far more functional in the reality we live in.
For what is capitalism, if not a raw and unyielding strategy for survival and profit, favorable for the masses only when tamed by various laws and regulations?
It’s perhaps most apparent in the animal industries, where slaughter, torture and rape are profitable and, as a result, have been normalized. Small scale farms have long since been replaced by gigantic compounds, where cows have no names and workers have no time; where feed formulas are carefully calculated; spaces confined; sprinkle scarce and beaks trimmed. Animal rights activists are necessary to maintain the status quo.  Would this be a reality if farm owners had not been striving towards profit? Of course not. Our entire society is based around the concept of profit and many would be impoverished if they let compassion get the upper hand.
The problem is that we have nothing better. The only alternatives I can think of are a socialist planned economy and small hunter-gatherer societies. The first has, through the course of history, proved to be inefficient and rarely (if ever) compatible with democracy. Communism (which isn’t synonymous with socialist planned economies, but have enough in common to be treated as the same thing in this short, unqualified post) has, historically and invariably, meant that a totalitarian regime has replaced the aristocracy then led millions into poverty and starvation. Few humans are willing to work hard without personal gains, and that’s basically a requirement for socialism to work.
The second alternative – a hunter-gatherer lifestyle –  was abandoned a very long time ago, in our ancestors’ strife for a better life. I think it would be pretty counter productive to return to that, and anyway, nobody would do it willingly.
Bottom line: It’s a horrible system. Deeply dysfunctional. But it’s the best we’ve got.

* Unfortunately, there isn’t really a standardized political spectrum. I think of it as illustrating both economical models – socialism to the left, capitalism to the right – as well as ideologies about the role of the state, where the left tends to stress equality and communion, whereas the right is more about personal freedom.

Leaving Harry Potter Land

A month in London is a short time, but in a way I feel like I’ve been here all my life. At the same time it’s as if I just arrived. It is a wonderful city, vibrant and colourful – one can find practically everything, from tea at the Ritz to halal street food; from designer boutiques to street vendors; West End musicals to cheap comedy clubs; everything I would ever want.

While Sweden does have a fairly similar culture, the differences stand out. There are private schools that cost money – perfectly normal for most of the world, but to a Swede it seems really strange. News are very local – one day  I discovered that first side stuff was that some grocery store had moved their sweets aisles. Crisps and chocolate are considered perfectly normal lunch items. There are lots of sales assistants – I practically stumble over the friendly lot whenever I step into a shop. Teachers are good but tough (good, as in really understanding the subject they’re teaching. Tough, as in telling the entire  class what grades people got, and that they spell like five-year-olds and have scarily bad geography knowledge).

I’ve went to a Catholic school (which I thought would be incredibly difficult as an atheist, but turned out not to be a problem), that really is Catholic, which is a very new experience. They don’t learn about other religions! They have masses! They teach sex ed from catholic ethics! For the first time in my life I’ve been feeling quite patriotic. We get low PISA scores, but at least school is not about being brain washed into a particular religion.

But all that is insignificant. What I will remember is not the bad water taps, it’s the good people. The first thing that hit me when I stepped inside school was the friendly atmosphere, and that expression only grew stronger. I’ve made friends that are just unbelievably cool, smart, beautiful and kind. Leaving them – even with facebook profiles and phone numbers exchanged – feels like… like leaving a group of really awesome friends. As much as I look forward to seeing my friends back home again, a part of my soul is going to remain in Camden with them.

Shalom, Mr. Speaker of Parliament!

many A couple weeks ago, Swedish PM Löfven announced a re-election, leaving my country in chaos. His government has been a failure from start to finish. A coalition of Social democrats and Green party, it never had a majority in the parliament, thus couldn’t pass their budget.

Who’s fault was it? Everyones of course! Read: it was the fault of the new “political climate”. Read: it’s because Sweden democrats became a weigher, so that no established bloc was in majority.

30 years ago it was a neo-nazi party (though in recent years some of the most extreme members have been excluded and the opinions that are expressed in public are not as extreme as Hitler’s). Their slogan is “Safety and tradition”, their goal to reduce asylum immigration by 90%. Their leader recently spent 60 000 € on gambling. Three members attacked a popular comedian with iron pipes. Another couple of top-cats made the following statements: “Art should not provoke”, “Rape is a deeply rooted part of Islam”, “homosexuality is unnatural”, “Jews and sami can have a swedish citizenship, but they are not Swedes”.  The list goes on.

They are bullied and ostracized by all mainstream parties. Which is to be expected, nobody with any ounce of intelligence would want anything to do with them. But, that has enabled them to play the role of the victim. It has – worse – enabled them to play the role of the only real opposition. Because that’s what they have become. That, and 13% in September’s Parliament election. And that scares me.

Nazi or not, do they have a point? Is immigration harmful? To answer that question you have to look beyond the why question, because reducing the number of refugees we take in will of course ruin thousands of lives. People will be forced to stay in war torn Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, et.c.

No, the question is wether immigration is beneficial for US. Unfortunately, many mainstream politicians are afraid of discussing this. Immigration does mean that more homes will have to be build. Education in Swedish will cost money, and without it employing them anywhere will be nearly impossible. There is a risk that extremist islamists will be among the newly arrived. But, they will also  contribute workforce to a community with an aging population. They will also enrich the culture of a falafel-loving people. They will also – hopefully – be given the chance of a better life.

And yes, our beloved Swedish culture will change. Of course it will change. Would you rather that we froze time? That we got stuck in a specific period, a specific culture, a specific degree of development? Sweden would change any way. 

Note (to any non-swedish reader): The Swedish democracy is based on three levels: commune, county and Riksdag. The Riksdag is  our parliament, formed in accordance to percentage of votes. A government in then formed by the bloc which received the most votes. Right now, eight parties are represented (on the national level). That gives a nuanced debate, but also difficulties. As for the current situation, the government didn’t manage to get a serious cooperation with the center-right bloc, something which would have made a passable budget.

Boys, man down!

The modern feminism is a multifaceted movement, where many wills and opinions come to express themselves. What they all share, the lowest common denominator if you so will, is the ideal for equality: the strife for women and men to have the same rights, responsibilities and possibilities. Therefore it’s time to let men into the feminist debate. Equality is beneficial for men and women, we can all get hurt when laws and norms put gender first. 

Feminism begun as women’s lib for women’s rights, but just as society it has changed a lot since the late 1800-hundreds. In a way it might be a misguiding name; Emma Watson launched the #HeforShe campaign for just that reason. In her speech (link here, in case you haven’t seen it) she deals with a – unfortunately very common – misconception: feminism is not man hating. Feminists think that men and women have the same worth, and ought to have the same rights in theory as well as practice.

That doesn’t mean we have to erase all differences, because some of them actually exist. For example the average woman is better at memorizing faces, whereas men tend to orient themselves better. The thing is, these are averages. Individual differences are usually bigger. Besides, many prominent gender differences aren’t in any way connected with our biology. What “is” male or female has changed a lot through the history, and of course it will continue to change. But from birth we are indoctrinated into these, and we are forced into templates that do not fit everyone. To create a society where everyone feels respected and participating, we must respect masculinity as well as femininity – and above all let the worth or value of an individual be completely set apart from his or her sex.

calvin-klein-underwear01

Beauty ideals are one of the areas where gender differences are still obvious. In part, of course, because of our different physique – but expectations and ideals play a huge role as well. Girls want to loose weight, boys want to build muscle.

Which is stranger?

Which is stranger?

It’s starting to resemble an epidemic, where people in general are unsatisfied with their looks, and girls in particular get eating disorders. Is it really so strange? Sweets and escalators are available everywhere, and the population in general is getting fatter. Thus, ideals become skinnier – simply because skinniness nowadays is harder to achieve. This is usually considered a problem that only affect girls, when in fact 10% of those seeking help are boys (underreporting is to be expected). On top of that, many boys and men feel bad for looking feeble and weak. Sales of steroids are going up – quickly – despite their destructive side effects.

Traditional femininity has been discussed in endless pages of analysis, political text, blog posts, fiction, philosophical pieces and whatnot. For good reasons; how many times haven’t women been discriminated against? How many women are still suffering because of this femininity? However, I think there is a screaming lack for such a dissection of masculinity. Traditional maleness is harsh and strong, almost agressive. It can manifest as a need to dominate: I think this is a common reason for rape. It’s about hobbies: boys (especially younger ones, I think) will refrain from things they consider girly, such as horse riding and ballet. It’s about life style choices: male vegetarians and vegans are often harassed for being “unmanly” and “gutless pussies” for not brutally murder an innocent animal for no reason whatsoever. It’s about degrading fathers, motorcycle accidents, boys who never read a novel, forbidden and hidden tears, fashion, suspicions… It’s about men who can’t live life to the fullest.

Some may object that “narrow social norms” are trifles, in comparison to rapes, childhood marriages and sex-linked rights to education and voting; things that are still legal in many parts of the world. And yes, I’m aware that my life is a sheer privilege compared with those women’s. I intend to use this privilege, by supporting the ideas that made my life tolerable. By questioning patriarchal structures, the thought processes that create inequality. By showing that we are all, first and foremost, sentient and thinking beings.

Let’s question social norms, let go of prejudice, open up. Change won’t come if only half the world cares, men must engage. For their own sake, not just for the women’s. For the girl who is tired of being submissive when she feels strong, for the boy who is tired of being strong when he feels vulnerable. For the the girl tossing out her muffin tray, for the boy longing to find one. For the boy who is forced to compete, for the girl who isn’t allowed to. They exist.

 

Statistics and images:
http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-205285/90-teens-unhappy-body-shape.html
http://www.dn.se/nyheter/vetenskap/konsskillnaderna-sma-i-vara-hjarnor/
http://www.veggieboards.com/forum/60-vegan-support-forum/137754-males-vegans-out-there-do-you-feel-more-manly-after-choosing-veganism.html

http://www.wwd.com/media-news/fashion-memopad/calvin-klein-inc-to-make-super-bowl-debut-6679003
http://vsallaccess.victoriassecret.com/swim

1984, George Orwell

It’s been a while since my last post… Apologies for everyone! I haven’t had a lot of time for blogging, and not that much inspiration either. My reading schedule has been mostly school related, and thus would be very boring to review. (near the end, there is a plot twist: X comes into the picture! Which completely changes how we viewed the previous information, and force us to think of Y as a mere percentage of the price…)

I choked down one book though! 1984.

It’s kind of like my civics book. It contains a very important lesson, but reading… Well.

It has all the potential! Written shortly after the war, it’s a dystopian novel that takes place in an imaginary 1984. The world as we know it (or, rather, the world as Orwell knew it) has collapsed, and what remains is three monster states with similarly awful governing.

It’s scary how relevant the book still is. While democracy is – luckily – getting more common, to say that lots of people still have little influence over their lives would be an understatement. With internet, there are great conditions to create a control society.

Even if it wasn’t relevant, 1984 could still have been an enjoyable read.

The dullness, though. It would contradict the whole idea if Airstrip One was anything but grey, thus it’s grey. It would contradict the whole idea if Winston was used to thinking for himself, thus he doesn’t. It would contradict the whole idea if Ingsoc was a humane way of governing, thus it is. It would contradict the whole idea if the characters found it easy to express their emotions, thus they don’t. However, it would NOT contradict the idea to let the characters have some emotions. It would NOT contradict the idea to throw in some details and adjectives here and there, spice up or shorten some environmental descriptions, let Winston feel AND think.

Basically 1984 wasn’t very fun to read. Unfortunately.

Divergent series

I want to say that I loved the Divergent series (trilogy by Veronica Roth) but it wouldn’t be true. I loved Divergent, whereas Insurgent was too “slow” and had a few to many plot twists. I was shocked, then sad, when [SPOILER REMOVED] near the end of Allegiant – smart move, Veronica.

Starting from the beginning. In a dystopian future, Chicago is isolated and its citizens are split into five personality based factions. At the age of sixteen everyone go through a test to see which faction will suit them best, and thereafter choose where they want to live the rest of their lives. A person (such as our protagonist, Tris) who don’t get univocal test results, but are partly suitable for more than one faction is seen as a threat to society and is forced to keep their divergence hidden.

That makes well needed social criticism – the world has a sad habit of sorting people into narrow compartments, and those who don’t fit are miserable outcasts. In order to make this spoiler-free I can’t tell you how – at the very end of Insurgent – this allegory is given a new layer, one that I don’t entirely understand.

Love, friendships and enmity add new layers to the story, making it a whole lot better.  Throughout the books these relationships develop, and as we get to know the characters better more complications occur. We loose characters we love, and we realize that those we hate aren’t all that bad.

Roth has a way of writing, that through surprises and cliff hangers keep me constantly  on tip-toes and longing for more. It’s a common technique and she is a master.