Wednesday, April 05, 2017

The Law of Jante

From The Guardian:
The Dano-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose wrote about it more than 80 years ago, setting down the regulating mechanisms that operate on Scandinavians from below, in what he called the Law of Jante. According to Sandemose, the 10 commandments that regulate our social behavior are:

1. You mustn’t think you’re special.
2. You mustn’t think you’re as good as we are.
3. You mustn’t think you’re smarter than us.
4. You mustn’t imagine you’re any better than us.
5. You mustn’t think you know more than we do.
6. You mustn’t think you’re more important than us.
7. You mustn’t think you’re good at anything.
8. You mustn’t laugh at us.
9. You mustn’t think anyone cares about you.
10. You mustn’t think you can teach us anything.
I think these ten commandments are a bit harsh. But a lot of them sound familiar to me as a Minnesotan.

MInnesotans like everyone to be on the same level, which can be very good and not so good.

Patrick says he heard the same kind of thing in Detroit: 'Don't get above your raising.' My friend John Rezmerski, who ended up as a college professor in Minnesota, said his mother wanted him to get a teaching degree and teach high school in the Pennsylvania paper mill town where he grew up. It's a common working class attitude. Members of the middle class compete against one another and getting ahead of your neighbors is fine. The working class tend to value solidarity.

I don't know this fits with Minnesota's Nordic heritage. But Minnesota has had a strong union movement and a strong co-op movement. The local political party that is affiliated with the National Democrats is the Democratic Farmer Labor Party. We understand solidarity -- part of the time, at least. The country and small towns have a long tradition of helping your neighbors out. But economic and social changes have gutted rural Minnesota. Instead of many small farms we have a handful of big farms, and the small town main streets are often empty.


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