Hanne Nabintu Herland: The need for Solidarity and more Kindness in Europe

Time Magazine’s Simon Robinson has said it quite succinctly:  “If Europe wants to become a global power, it needs to stop acting like a collection of rich, insular states and start fighting for its beliefs.”

Today the old concept of brotherly love, another term for solidarity, is no longer in fashion. It has slowly become legitimate to be self centered and tend only to your own needs. A fear of setting boundaries is today’s overshadowing mantra.   In terms of morals, sexual liberation threatens the existence of the family.  However the condemnation of social authorities goes much further. On a broad basis it includes both political and social conditions that act self-destructively on society. The sixty-eighters’ rebellion has completely stripped traditional authorities for their ability to sanction, be they teacher, priest, or law enforcement officer.  Today who has the authority to advise and reprimand young people? In the classroom teachers lack sufficient clout to keep rude and obnoxious students in line.  The police are paralyzed. Not only do they lack the economic means to keep law and order, but the social and legal accept for their actions  to control crime are deficient.

In addition the absence of boundaries is apparent in relation to the material culture of greed as well as politics. Politicians find that their popularity sinks the moment they speak favorably about setting boundaries, be it questions of limiting sick pay or rights to benefits. Cultural challenges associated with a singular cultivation of benefits-oriented individualism is described by the American author Christopher Lasch in The Narcissistic Culture. When riding the carousel spinning ever more rapidly in the direction of Narcissus, culture approaches a moral anarchy, the condition previous to the fall of civilization. The years following World War II saw the establishment of a political system that emphasized fair distribution. The general development of welfare has dramatically increased the standard of living in most European countries.

However, since the 1970s society has evolved from a work-focused responsible society to a bureaucratic rights and benefits society. The former leader of the Nobel Committee, Francis Sejersted, asserts that the concepts of solidarity that first characterized the labor movement deteriorated in the face of the freedom revolution and the emphasis on self-realization that flooded the 1980s. An old working class slogan was: “Do your duty, demand your right.” As time passed more emphasis was placed on freedom of choice and individual rights than on the old concepts of solidarity. Europe has a Court of Human Rights, but no institution demands that people do their duty.  The singular focus on rights is galvanized by gigantic bureaucratic systems—with the state as everyone’s mother, in the tradition of good socialism, the individual is freed from taking responsibility for their own actions.

The old focus on community has been replaced by a focus on self-realization. The duty of the individual is no longer mentioned. Now it is all about demanding your rights. Social democrats have made provisions for the substantial material wealth to drip down to citizens in the form of benefits and sick pay programs that encourage people to take a few extra days or months free.  We are busy enjoying our free time, short work day, and long vacation.  An African taxi driver in Paris once informed me that he would rather call himself an American than an African. He had lived a few years in the USA, and when asked about his origins, answered the USA. “It is shameful to be an African in a country like France,” he exclaimed. “Most come here with the intention of working hard and building a better life, but because the French state so generously distributes benefits, and especially to us with an African background, we get lazy. Most Frenchmen despise us, and with good reason.”  This man worked hard and refused to let himself be relegated to the line for French benefits, a line which, according him, primarily consisted of Africans with no work ethic.

In an August 2009 edition of Aftenposten, Norway’s largest newspaper, businessman Christen Sveaas offered a timely reminder of a simple fact. He wondered if Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg had forgotten where the state’s money originated. The European welfare model would not be possible if company owners, business owners, and everyone else who pays taxes, financed the building of the state. The task of the welfare state is to manage these values.

Today it seems that the state is everyone’s mother. Anyone that has economic challenges, does not receive sufficient benefits, or thinks that they have a right to support from the state, can contact the authorities and demand economic assistance. At times it appears that the Minister of Finance mercifully grants money to various disadvantaged sectors with no understanding for where the money really originates and without respect for the thousands of private companies that pay taxes and fees to fill the state coffers year after year. The state’s income primarily comes via these substantial contributions and the stream of billions from the oil industry, and should be managed  in a completely different manner than simply being sucked into a benefit sector. This particular sector should be reduced by billions in many European countries.

Concerning Norway, the welfare model that the Labor Party and the Left continually take credit for in reality receives its income from the private sector and the oil industry. Luckily nothing lasts forever. Norwegian petroleum production is already declining in this highly temporary Age of Oil. What consequences this will eventually have for the economy of the Norwegian State, one can only imagine.  Dagens Næringsliv, a Norwegian financial newspaper, pointed out December 15th, 2009 that oil production topped in 2001 at 3.3 million barrels per day. Since that time production has dropped steadily. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is probably thankful that his time will be over before the gigantic consumption made possible by oil must come to an end. If not before that, socialism’s time will then definitively be over.

Statistics from Upstream show that by 2020 the party will for all intents and purposes be over.  The fact is that the reserves decline drastically until 2030 when they will reach 1978 levels. In reality the Norwegian oil party will end over the course of the next twenty years.

Rough calculations show that the Norwegian State’s annual expenditures on benefits totals 220 billion kroner. Today the oil fund has savings  totaling 1400 billion. The question is, how does this affect the welfare state?

With today’s total expenditure on benefits it will take only a few years to spend the Norwegian oil fund. The future is not so inviting as the vote-dependent politicians would like us to believe. In a country where nearly 800,000 people live on benefits, it is clear that the system lacks soccer’s offside rules. What would happen if soccer did not limit the player’s access to the opposing team’s side of the field? The goalie would probably be repeatedly assaulted by angry users standing on their rights to wait for the next payment. However the offside rule sets strict requirements: the one that runs wrong, is effectively called off.

Today Norway is in the midst of the most serious crisis in many years. Little is said about the fact that in the course of a few years oil production will be half of what it was in 2001. For many years Norway was third on the list of the world’s major exporters of oil, only surpassed by Saudi Arabia and Russia. Oil Norway is definitively in a crisis, which is not easy to understand if you read the country’s newspapers.  The media neglects to focus on the dramatic need for social change to deal with the future economic consequences of the rapidly sinking oil income.  For the time being the benefit billions roll out of the state offices and Norwegians are satisfied. We drive happily, with increasing speed, towards the edge of the cliff.

We have become the world’s best country, also in our own eyes, with all the pleasant luxury that accompanies such a status. At the same time we have had a perplexing development that few wish to discuss. Norway has one of the world’s highest suicide statistics among young men. Raw and destructive substance abuse, proliferating broadly throughout all social classes, drags our society down, and remarkably little is done to stop it. An incredibly high number of abortions, a gigantic abuse of pills among women, and associated mental issues, all indicate deep-seated cultural afflictions and challenges we can no longer blindly ignore. The oil age has not managed to solve critical social problems. The time has come to ask ourselves how one of the world’s most materially successful countries can be so fearfully haunted by mental and social disorders.

From 2004 to 208 the legal consumption of sleeping pills and calming medications increased by 17.5%, according to the Pharmaceutical Records. The number of prescription recipients increased by 50,000, according to journalist Tom Arild Haugen. He claims that consumption continues to increase despite our ever increasing knowledge about the negative effects associated with the use of Sobril Alopam, Stesolid, Vival, and Valium. He describes the relaxed attitude of the authorities to this massive social challenge,  that in terms of numbers far exceeds the number of people commonly associated with the illegal drug industry, as publicly directed drug dependency. Haugen calls  the physician’s right to write prescriptions for calming medications a historic mistake that has negatively affected thousands of lives. In other European countries similar debates have occurred, particularly among Catholics, who regard this social development with appropriate skepticism.

The secular society needs a new understanding for and new constructive attitudes to the role of religion in motivating decent actions, says Habermas, and considers, for example, the state institutionalizing of care as problematic. During the award ceremony in 2005 he said, “With the elimination of capital punishment, liberal abortion laws, the unconditional rejection of torture, and generally giving priority to individual rights over collective goods such as national security, it seems that European countries have left USA behind on road they once shared.”

Moral anarchy leads to depreciation of human values and culture begins a process of disintegration. Moral decay diminishes the whole of European culture.

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