Friday, August 18, 2017

In favour of better jokes.

Some days ago we learned that the Norwegian minister of knowledge (education, I guess) delivered what he thought was a funny joke about white power. He immediately after had to do what it took Pewdiepie months to do - renounce stupid nazi jokes. Which proves that if nothing else, he is quicker in the uptake than at least one well-paid streaming star. The apology is however not going over well with - why am I not surprised - white men with some education. They claim it is another example of the supression of free speech. (And I am not directly quoting here because no way am I pointing the shamers and trolls of the world at individuals who are not elected officials or Youtube millioneers.) (If you don't think you said anything like that, I am not talking about you.)

Anyway - I suspect the problem with not acknowledging the danger of these casual jokes and what they symbolise isn't that Norwegian educated men any moment now will be donning the SS-shirts hanging in their closets. (Note: I do not believe all white educated men are secret nazi's. Was this a bad joke? Perhaps, if so I apologize. Irony is hard. It's based on stating what we all know is impossible or unreasonable. It stops working if the other party doesn't know what you said is impossible.) Our lack of acceptance that "race" is important is rather the opposite of the problem with America: where they reject the existence of class, we reject the possibility of ethnicity and race as dividers of the population.

Scandinavian social democracy, whether we have a red, green, blue or darkblue government, has a set of basic ideals, and one of those is the value of honest work. There is no shame in what your work is, as long as you work. Of course, like with all ideals, this isn't perfect. There is still a shadow of class arrogance between neighbourhoods. There is a center/periphery divide with a definite class flavour to it. Classic markers like language, taste in music, reading habits, artistic ability, education, etc etc - they still influence us. They make it easier to get jobs, gain influence, find the right kind of friends. We are however aware of them, know how to navigate the class issue and how to either counter or take advantage of it in different situations. Through the acknowledgement of the existence of a class-based society, we can work on making the effects of it less obvious and painful.

Gender is also getting there, although it takes a bit longer. This is among other things because the fight for class equality for a long time overshadowed the issue of gender equality. I apologize for not translating the following quote, but it is mainly here to demonstrate that I am not taking the socialist movement resistance to gender equality from my own imagination:
Fagorganisering av kvinnelige arbeidere foregikk i siste halvdel av 1800-tallet, men gikk tregt. Kvinnene var oftest ufaglærte, og de fleste var unge og så på lønnsarbeidet som midlertidig. Noen var gift og hadde både arbeid ute og mann og barn hjemme. Dette kunne gjøre organisering av kvinner vanskelig. Det hjalp ikke at menn i arbeiderklassen ofte var svært negative til å få kvinner inn i sine organisasjoner. 
Mange var mot at kvinner i det hele tatt arbeidet i industri og håndverk, blant annet fordi de hadde lavere lønn, og dermed kunne konkurrere med menn om arbeidsplasser. Samtidig mente mange menn, og som regel også kvinner, at det var langt bedre om kvinnene var hjemme og tok seg av familien.
So, yeah, minimising class difference is better explored and the tools better developed than for minimising  gender difference. On this background, it makes sense that we still have difficulties dealing with a more ethnically diverse society. After all, while the first labour movements started to bloom, and the first socialists started to talk about votes for all, we still had a paragraph in our constitution that denied jews access to the country. It was removed in 1851, and one of the most active builders of the image of Norway, the poet Henrik Wergeland, was a vital agent in opposing it, so we got on with it reasonably quickly, but it wasn't at the top of our agenda.

The tragedies that followed in the second world war, and the time it took for Norwegians to understand what was really happening, not even the heroics of the border guides and shetland boats could totally wipe away. Norway's past, when it comes to ethnic diversity, is blotted with attempts to eradicate the culture and language of the Sami and the Norwegian travellers, "taterne". But it is coming together, slowly, as the basic value of equality means that there is a positive trend in Norwegian society. Lately, however, the societal changes have just been too rapid for this slow assimilation. And so it is hard to understand why a bunch of white men can't, in a private party, joke about "white power", if black men can use racial epithets about themselves.

The difference is: the white power groups were very busy eradicating all the others, and not enough time has passed to let the ideology pass into history. While armed protesters still march to insist on white supremacy, racist jokes are bad. Perhaps wait a few generations after the last nazi is gone before you start, like with the white knights. If it is hard to understand, think about Isis. I suspect it would be time for some apologies if a muslim politician joked about fighting for Isis in a private party, that is, if the terror police didn't get him first. And that is not even a joke. A muslim politician being overheard as speaking in favour of Isis could end really badly, no matter how funny he thought his ironic comment was.

That is my point though: we haven't learned how to be a multicultural society yet. We want to be, and we want to not feel guilty when we do the wrong things, and we want to be funny when we crack jokes, and we want everybody to understand that we are working hard on being a society with strong values on the side of democracy and equality. But we have to give ourselves time to learn. Learning is painful, not only for the teacher, but also for the student, and right now, we Scandinavians are students of how to live in a heterogenous society. We will do stupid things. We should apologize. We should rethink. And then do smarter and more universally funny things. Because a joke only you like isn't really a joke worth retelling. Let's all aim for better jokes all around.

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