Raindrops on roses
And whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things
Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells
And schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things
Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver-white winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favorite things
“You dirty racist!”
Do you like warm fires, candles, generalized coziness, intimate gatherings with family and friends, even pumpkin lattes and warm socks? Beware! you are guilty of fondness for Hygge, a Danish kind of reactionary thinking that Slate deplores.
Christina Cauterucci last Fall, in response to last years publication of several books on Hygge, mocked the hankering for candles, doubted that Hygge was even achievable for American residents of “drafty apartment[s] with no fireplace, no grandma, nothing but sweatsocks, and an understuffed sofa,” and described Hygge as essentially a yearning for a return to the uterus. She didn’t come right out and say so but, back in the uterus, there are no bearded Muslim refugees looking to cut your throat, shoot you full of holes, or blow you up.
More recently, Alex Robert Ross identified the sinister connection between a liking for candles and warm socks and Racism and Populist Xenophobia.
This all makes sense. A collective craving for childlike comforts in response to social trauma is a psychoanalytic classic. It was Carl Jung who wrote in The Practice of Psychotherapy, â€œThe patientâ€™s regressive tendency[…] is not just relapse into infantilism, but an attempt to get at something necessary[â€¦] the universal feeling of childhood innocence, the sense of security, or protection, or reciprocated love, of trust.â€ He was a half-sentence away from extolling the virtues of homemade yogurt, eye contact with close family, and a deep, abiding hygge.
Hyggeâ€™s turning inward against the world outside comes with a more sinister edge, however. As Charlotte Higgins pointed out in her deep dive for the Guardian last month, hyggeâ€™s ties to the far-right in Denmark are remarkably strong. Pia KjÃ¦rsgaard, the leader of the right-wing, anti-immigrant Danish Peopleâ€™s Party, has publicly extolled the virtues of the lifestyle, insisting that her office remain cozy and hyggelig at all times. Denmarkâ€™s welfare state and reputation for tolerance may be admired by progressives in the U.K. and U.S., but, as Higgins points out, the countryâ€™s love of hyggefied thatched cottages with closed doors suggests a conservative undercurrent. â€œAnything that threatens that safe community, including alien values and ideologies, cannot be tolerated,â€ she writes.
The journalist and author Michael Booth had the same sensation when he moved from England to Denmark. â€œHygge can seem like self-administered social gagging, characterized more by a self-satisfied sense of its own exclusivity than notions of shared conviviality,â€ he wrote in The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle. Bloom says that it falls in line with a â€œpostcolonial drawbridge theoryâ€”the â€˜What was lost without [will be found within]â€™ way of valuing what little cultural and economic capital Denmark had left after the loss of its empire.â€
Indeed, Denmark has been struggling with its colonial legacy lately; a rise in the number of refugees over the past two years has uncovered the limits of Denmarkâ€™s famously progressive outlook. The government can now seize any item worth more than $1,450 from a refugee in order to pay for their sustenance and upkeep in the country. And after slashing refugee benefits last year, the government advertised the news in Lebanese newspapers, just to be sure that the country didnâ€™t seem quite so attractive to newcomers. The far right Danskernes Parti, or â€œDanesâ€™ Party,â€ handed out â€˜Asylum Sprayâ€™ in the port town of Haderslev in September. Pepper spray being illegal, they filled the cans with hairspray instead, but the message remained hideously clear. â€œWe wanted to figure out a way for Danish people, in particular women, to protect themselves,â€ party leader Daniel Carlsen said. â€œIn the short run we want to provide solutions to make life better and safer for the Danish people.â€
If his words sounded a little hyggelig, itâ€™s no coincidence. Poured into hyggeâ€™s candlelit sweetness, like a cloying cream filling, are inevitable and explicit cases of xenophobia and racism. In their recent study of online communities in Denmark, Ahmad Beltagui and Thomas Schmidt explored the hygge of the closed chat room. In one instance, this sense of community was fostered with â€œwhat one [user] referred to as a â€˜â€˜little Hyggelig racist jokeâ€™.â€ This online interaction had an unsavory conclusion: â€œThe rapid escalation saw the opponent being addressed in upper case text and accused of both not speaking Danish and being homosexual.â€ Though such bullying, the researchers write, would not ordinarily be particularly hyggelig, the abuse came â€œfrom a user with the word Hygge in their username.â€ With racist, homophobic abuse online being a cornerstone of right-wing populism today, this little hyggelig anecdote should raise doubts about just how apolitical hygge can claim to be.
The big brains at Slate discuss “The End of Men,” the topic of an impending debate to be held at NYU on September 20th, featuring Hanna Rosin. Slate never even tells us who (or what) will be debating the negative on September 20th.
Hanna Rosin’s 2010 Atlantic cover story, “The End of Men,” was one of the most talked-about magazine articles in recent years. “Man has been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind,” wrote Rosin, an award-winning journalist for Slate and the Atlantic. “But for the first time in human history, that is changingâ€”and with shocking speed.” …
Why are men finished, exactly? Rosin says they’ve failed to adapt to a modern, postindustrial economy that demands a more traditionallyâ€”and stereotypicallyâ€”feminine skill set (read: communication skills, social intelligence, empathy, consensus-building, and flexibility). Statistics show they’re rapidly falling behind their female counterparts at school, work, and home. For every two men who receive a college degree, three women will. Of the 15 fastest-growing professions during the next decade, women dominate all but two. Meanwhile, men are even languishing in movies and on television: They’re portrayed as deadbeats and morons alongside their sardonic and successful female co-stars. …
Rosin: The question I always have to respond to is, ‘[if women are taking over] why are there so many more men in power?’ If you look at Hollywood, or you look at the Fortune 500 list, or you look at politics, there’s a disproportionate number of men in the higher positions of power.
Slate: Why is that, then?
Rosin: Men have been at this for 40,000 years. Women have been rising for something like 30 or 40 years. So of course women haven’t occupied every single [high-powered] position. How would that be possible? The rise of women is barely a generation old. But if you look at everything else, like the median, the big bulge in the middle, it’s just unbelievable what has happened: Women are more than 50 percent of the workforce, and they’re more than 50 percent of managers. It’s just extraordinary that that’s happened in basically one generation. It seems like whatever it is that this economy is demanding, whatever special ingredients, women just have them more than men do.
This is the kind of analysis that is actually taken seriously by the scientific, intellectual American elite that is so much better qualified to make all the decisions for the rest of America.
Canadian-born Dahlia Lithwick is Slate’s jurisprudential authority and commentator on Supreme Court decisions. Her response to a recent statement by Christine O’Donnell demonstrates both Lithwick’s lack of regard for Constitutional fidelity and her general unfamiliarity with its text.
It is understandable, I suppose, that someone who grew up in Canada might be a little vague on the fine points of the American Constitution and legal system, but it does seem ironic to say the least that she could graduate from Yale and Stanford Law School and be unacquainted with Marbury vs. Madision.
It is often observed that our establishment media characteristically features a perspective differing radically from the viewpoint of most ordinary Americans. It just might be that the prominent contributions of so many not-genuinely-assimilated foreign-born journalists to the commentary of the American establishment plays a significant role in moving the consensus of the elect away from the American mainstream toward the left.
I have been fascinated by Christine O’Donnell’s constitutional worldview since her debate with her opponent Chris Coons last week. O’Donnell explained that “when I go to Washington, D.C., the litmus test by which I cast my vote for every piece of legislation that comes across my desk will be whether or not it is constitutional.” How weird is that, I thought. Isn’t it a court’s job to determine whether or not something is, in fact, constitutional? And isn’t that sort of provided for in, well, the Constitution?
Jacob Weisberg, Slate’s editor in chief, is a liberal, but he seems to have miraculously suddenly developed a healthy concern about the growth of government. I don’t believe there is the slightest possibility of Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi listening to any of this, but Weisberg’s Make It Stop editorial features both a refreshing dash of libertarianism and the kind of common sense which recognizes both consequences and limits and it is just not the kind of thing one normally ever finds being written by a commentator on his side of the debate.
At this point, Obama and the Democrats may be destined to learn the old lesson once again. But if they hope to avoid a repeat of Clinton’s 1994 fate in 2010, the president and his party might think about fixing a long-term upper limit on the size of government. Because of the bank bailouts and stimulus, federal spending will exceed 25 percent of GDP this year, and public spending at all levels will exceed 44 percent. But if liberals were clear that, in normal times, federal spending shouldn’t be more than 22 percent and that the public sector as a whole shouldn’t exceed a third of GDPâ€”the level during Clinton’s second termâ€”the fear of Democrats covertly foisting a social-democratic model on America would begin to melt away. This kind of ceiling would mean that government couldn’t grow at the expense of the economy, because it couldn’t grow faster than the economy as a whole. To substantiate his commitment, Obama should unilaterally propose large, specific cuts in programs and subsidies to be phased in as the need for stimulus spending recedes. Raising the retirement age, privatizing space exploration, and eliminating agriculture subsidies would make a decent start.
Beyond actually endorsing smaller government, Obama could identify himself with wiser government by developing the responsibility theme he sounded in his inaugural address but has returned to infrequently in the period since. Health care reform based on an individual mandate is a good example of government linking a private duty to a public benefit, but Obama hasn’t emphasized this “values” aspect of the plan. Another example might be to require public service work in exchange for extended unemployment benefits, on the principle of welfare reform. A nicotine-addicted president should also steer clear of paternalistic, class-tinged policies like taxing soft drinks. Letting personal behavior that doesn’t harm others slide means recognizing another kind of limit on government.
There’s a risk of harming the country by failing to address fundamental threats and problemsâ€”which is where current Republican policies would leave us. There’s also a risk of Democrats responding in a way that leaves behind more government than we want or need. Obama could help himself by letting people know he’s worried about that danger too.
I think most Republicans really would be fairly content, if an adequate portion of the federal budget remained reliably devoted to defense expenditures, to let the liberals have the equivalent of a spousal allowance, all the rest of the federal budget beyond defense to spend on the charitable, artistic, or environmental good works of their choice, as long as overall federal spending was not consuming so large a portion of the national economy as to curtail growth. But, would a liberal upper limit to government growth and spending ever be conceded by the American left? I have a lot of trouble picturing that.
The left would have to abandon its imperialistic drive toward limitless expansion of the state. It would have to relinquish its favorite tactic of demonizing its political opponents as selfish and greedy and its habit of identifying this year’s chosen socialist scheme as an absolute moral imperative. It would have to, at some point, stop demanding more and try to decide on reallocating what it already has, which seems far, far too difficult to ever happen.
Still, reading Weisberg today brings to mind a pleasant fantasy of a less divisive American political culture, one missing our own’s customary shrieks of hysterical accusation, one featuring occasional bipartisanship and overall rationality. That isn’t the world we live in, but it would be nice.