Monday, May 3, 2010

An Uneven Trade

A letter came home from the school the other day to warn of a man in a car trying to lure young kids into his car. It was in the more affluent suburb of Lidingö, an inner archipelago island northeast of Stockholm city. Such letters are not to uncommon in the United States. However, here in Sweden, we live in a sort of denial based illusion that it is still incredibly safe. That it is still this 1970's society of unlocked doors, Abba and unfledged blonde innocence.

Children are routinely out and about in the city alone. They ride public transportation, sometimes long distances, either alone or with their mates. They shop alone. They get off to school alone. Originally, I was a little jarred by the sight of a pack of smelly eight year olds making their way through the T-bana, lollipops in mouth and skateboards under their arms. But eventually, as they say, when in Rome do as the Romans. I found myself doing the same.

The Lidingö letter was a bit of an intrusion into my bubble of self delusion. I knew there was an underbelly. I can read enough Swedish to make out many of the articles in my local freebie paper that told the tale of a sex crime ring involving immigrant children in the Odenplan area. I had never witnessed anything unusual in that area and I quickly brushed it out of my mind.

It makes you question how a country loses it's innocence and the sadness that it does. Many Swedes look back to the 1970s as the golden days. It was a small homogeneous culture, newly wealthy and teeming with idealism of a still undemonstrated welfare state. They never locked doors, I am told. Crime was nearly non-existent and many of the social ills Sweden sees today were less prevalent. I do not know if all that is true but I have bought into it simply from desire to believe it was.

My own country lost it's innocence in the 1960s, following what many perceive as the blissful decade of the 1950's. Regardless whether you share that view, it was indeed a more innocent time. Values were more universal. I've also come to realize the level of siege we have grown to accept in the United States, even in the antiseptic suburban settings. Our kids don't know what it is to roam their neighborhoods, we clutch our wallets pumping gas, club our cars and, many of us don't carry lightly, if you catch my drift. Other, more urban, areas are straight out Mad Max. Once bustling and opportunity laden cities, like Detroit, have become habitats for feral humans.

Cynically, it is probably more the natural state of the human condition and that our two societies were anomalies in a brief span of time. I am more inclined to think the larger the government, the smaller the individual. Smaller individuals make smaller citizens and they build smaller and less desirable places to live. The only rightful role of government is to protect a man's rights, to protect him from violence. In this context, sane people should be looking around and seeing the state is an abysmal failure and asking themselves, "just what are we hanging on to here?"


  1. You bring up a really interesting point that I ponder often. How do places lose their innocence and decency? On one end of the spectrum you have affluent towns where people still do not lock the doors, and then at the other end you have South Africa-like places where every house as an armed response unit ready to come with assault weapons if anyone makes it passed the barb-wire fencing. How do things get that way, especially in places with people that are afforded the freedom to think for themselves?

    One thing I have found interesting is the way in which a culture does or does not coddle their children. In the USA, many of the parents these days do not let their children stay alone ever. When I was younger, we used to roam around the neighborhood and get dirty. However, now there is such a fear-based culture that it is unthinkable to let children run around free, at least in the places that I have lived. In Asia, however, there are seemingly far more dangers to be careful of with no warning signs. Broken shards of glass placed in walls, open drains that fall several meters, ditches, broken side walks, a seedy underground sex world, etc. Yet the management of these dangers is not addressed in a systematic or governmental way. There are no signs. Either they think the dangers are obvious, even to children, or there is just too much else to deal with in a growing third-world area. All I know is that a girl in the States fell down an open manhole into a sewer because she was texting on her cell phone. People drive while doing their hair, nails, and talking on the cell phone. In Asia, people seem to be raised to pay more attention. Maybe survival is so much a part of the consciousness that even children just pay more attention. I am not a big fan of signs, especially obvious ones, and think the Asian system is better. How can you not be strangulated by fear with signs coming at you from every angle warning about this and that minutely possible occurrence. In California, every building says that it could give you cancer. I still have to enter the buildings, so does it help me?

    Anyway, these are the things that I think about. I think maybe the innocence you speak of leaves when a society gets too fat, dumb, and happy. Maybe people realize how impermanent things are and try to hold on as best they can, but the best we can hope for is small communities that last for windows of time in a blissful state of true freedom without fear.

    I still have hope that their are pockets of these good places left in the world and in the USA and your article saying that Sweden still had it confirms this hope. I just need to find or form a place back home with that kind of atmosphere.

  2. Probably many different factors involved. Perhaps, a lot, lot, lot of it has to do with a real tendency for people, especially people of a certain ideological bent, to refuse to accept evil exists in this world or when it does that it can be bargained with.

    And as always one axiom holds true: For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.

  3. I've enjoyed reading your blog for many months now. I'm a U.S.-based Scandinavophile, and have a very different ideological take on the world than you, but enjoy the challenge that your perspective presents to me.

    While the world has indeed become much more globalized over these last decades, and Scandinavia is not as exotically different as it once was, I still suspect both that the streets are significantly more safe there than they are here (despite their great big government), and that the streets here are (for the most part) not nearly as dangerous as our fear-based media wants us to think they are. We shelter our children far too much over here these days. Also, not everyone remembers the fifties as blissful - in many respects they were extraordinarily narrow-minded times and we've actually progressed quite a bit - in my humble opinion.

    But carry on. You write very well. :)

  4. **Also, not everyone remembers the fifties as blissful - in many respects they were extraordinarily narrow-minded times and we've actually progressed quite a bit - in my humble opinion. **

    I get that. For sure. Too bad we can't take the real progress we have made and leave the rest behind. It seems we take one step forward and three back.

    We do shelter our kids too much. But it is a difficult balance. For instance, where I live in the east valley of the Phoenix suburbs, about 9 years ago, a 10 year old girl disappeared in broad daylight in the middle of her middle class subdivision. Just like that, poof. Never seen again.

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