Once upon a time, when dad was my age and went to LSE and lived in London, he didn’t wear a suit and tie. He had a foot-tall bright red Mohican and torn jeans and a jacket with the anarchy symbol on the back.
You wouldn’t know this if you met him today, when he wears a suit and tie and his hair is cropped short because the hairline is climbing higher and higher up the scalp. In a crowd, he’d look just like another accountant.
Another one who looks like an accountant claimed today that youth were narcissist, and only cared about being seen, instead of being proper and good. Instead of getting an education, we wanted to go on X Factor. Not at all like her generation.
So, I spent the time when I had to listen to her flipping through the family albums in my head, thinking about the Mohican dad and his friends wore, and about the stories he has told. And the stories mum has told to fill in those gaps that dad doesn’t want to share.
It seems today that if you have a bit of self-confidence, you’re a narcissist. You must confirm to the grey mass of humdrum lives to be worthy. If you try to stand out, if you try to be seen, if you try to benefit from whatever talent you have, instead of working in a shop for your entire life until retirement, there’s something wrong with you. It reminds me of the laws of Jante.
The laws of Jante were written by the Danish writer Aksel Sandemose in the 19th century as he explored the national psyche of the Danish. The laws have taken root in all the Scandinavian countries as an accurate description of certain parts of the national mood.
“You shan’t think that you are anything. You shan’t think that you’re better than us. You shan’t think that you’re different than us. You shan’t think that you’re more clever than us.” Those are some of the laws of Jante. I never imagined that they would be so strong in this country too.
In the consensus model of the Scandinavian countries, that which stands out and that which is different is suspect. You are expected to conform to the main of human expression. You are certainly not expected to excel in anything as that makes you visible and strange and threatening.
The Scandinavians are famous for being egalitarian. Sometimes this egalitarianism is all about conformity, and is not positive at all. You keep your talents hidden, and you keep your intelligence in check. You don’t excel, and you don’t take a chance. You stand still, and try to blend in. Social pressure is there to make sure that you do so.
Sometimes I think that the Dane law of the middle ages implanted the Laws of Jante into this country, and those laws have fermented and mutated into its own thing here; a thing that allow a public figure to stand up and say the things that this one did.
I swear that I will never be afraid to speak my mind, and that I will always be independent in thought and deed and words. Then I think about the Mohican that dad used to have, and how different the pictures in the family album are from the reality today.
Will I too, one day, stand there and decry myself for being narcissist and selfish? Will I have conformed to the faceless humdrum mass of humanity? Will I be like dad today, or this woman, and strive to fit in by adopting the Laws of Jante? Maybe I’ll just have this nostalgic view of this time, as I put my tie and suit on and go to all the other comfortably numb people and still think of myself as a rebel in disguise.