Testosteroned Child. Sad. – Or the dawning of a new Renaissance?

I couldn’t help it, I had to contribute to a broader understanding of what is going on, why Trump became president, and how we can protect our democracies. Not just from Trump and his (mal)administration, but from ourselves.

Testosteroned Child. Sad. is out on Amazon, and you can read more about the book here.

Paperback ISBN 978-87-92240-70-5

118 pages

amazon.com $ 14.99
amazon.co.uk £ 9.99
amazon.de € 13.90

eBook ISBN 978-87-92240-73-6

eBook on iTunes USD 6.99

Kindle and other eBooks are on theirway…

The Nordic Secret

The Nordic countries get a lot of attention these days and in May, the prime ministers of the five Nordic countries are invited to The White House for a special US / Nordic summit with president Obama.

Many explanations for the success of the Nordic countries have been suggested and together with my Swedish colleague, Tomas Björkman, I will be suggesting another one. It is a cultural phenomenon and a number of institutions that usually do not get very much attention but which are fundamental to the very fabric of the Nordic societies.

You can read what it is in our upcoming book, The Nordic Secret, and on our website where you can follow our progress on the script: nordicsecret.org.

Bitten By the BUG: Bildung – Unlimited Growth


Not only have I spent the past month in Stuttgart, I am also digging myself into German and the roots of German thinking. At street level, I still speak like a 3-year-old, but my reading is improving tremendously. I am also realizing how vibrant the German debarte is and that the lack of a pan-European intellectual conversation is killing not only European identity and coherence but also national school systems and culture.

Here are some of the things I have learned in December 2015:

I am more German than I realized (and so are all of us if we went to school in the Nordics). The focus on personal development in each child in our school systems has its roots in Wilhelm von Humboldt's university reform in 1809. Humboldt's work sparked intense debates among intellectuals and educators in the Nordics in the following decades, and though the patterns of implementation varied a bit among the countries, we nevertheless created educational systems that are fundamentally very similar. In Denmark, Grundtvig turned Bildung into an agenda for the enlightenment of the rural population, in Sweden, university professors were among the first to pick up the new ideas and later the workers focused on study circles.

I knew I had to check out Wilhelm von Humboldt in order to understand the Nordic concept of dannelse / bildning, since we got it from his concept of Bildung. But I had no idea that this endeavor would take me all the way back to Kant and Schiller, nor how rich and clever the current German debate is compared to what is said and written in Denmark.


National agendas are ruining our national as well as European culture. In each Western country, intellectuals and educators are having the exact same, frustrating debates over how PISA tests are ruining the school systems, they keep the discussions within the national borders and therefore have no impact. The OECD is trans-national, and so are the McKinsey and others who work as consultants to our governments. National debates are helpless against this.

Germany is way ahead of the Nordic debate. The Bildung debate that has just caught on in Denmark has been well underway in Germany for at least 5-10 years and German intellectuals know what they are talking about. As the picture shows, I am currently reading Julian Nida-Rümelin and a number of other German Bildung thinkers.

Nida-Rümelin is a professor of philosophy in Munich and for some time he served as Germany's minister of culture and media. He is also a Social Democrat, and coming out of the Nordics, I have to say: reading a Social Democrat who can think is a new experience! (Well, actually, reading anybody active in politics who can think is exotic.)

As you may be able to tell from the highlighted text (if not, click here to get the picture full size), Nida-Rümelin connects the dots of Bildung and unlimited growth. I like it. And it inspired me to the "Bitten By the BUG: Bildung – Unlimited Growth" heading this post.

Which inspired me further to a few loose thoughts on Bildung Without Borders - Bildung Sans Frontiers - Bildung ohne Grenzen; I'd be among the first to be bitten by the BUG and sign up to be a Bildung teacher somewhere if such an organization existed. Heck, I might even start working for it to exist. As a matter of fact, it would make sense to just get started within the EU or even within the Nordic countries with some cross border Bildung.

And on that note, please enjoy this fabulous interview with the Dutch philosopher Rob Riemen about what it means to be European. It's in Dutch but Google Translate does a decent job.

Also enjoy, please, this global call for an end to PISA tests and for the OECD to keep their hands off the way that our schools work. It is telling that this international outcry does not seem to have had much attention in national debates.

Preparing for the Post-Industrial World

As part of my job as a research associate at the University of Southern Denmark, I was one of the main organizers; Next Scandinavia was not involved.

Science and technology are changing our societies at a tremendous pace - or are they?

If they are, how should we deal with it as societies and what should politicians be aware of and do about it?

In order to find out, 40 scientists met at the Lorentz Center in Leiden for a week. We also engaged 30 students of science communication and society in order to communicate our results. We are now working on a whitepaper for the scientific community and on how to best reach and help the policy makers.

Read more about the workshop and our ongoing work at postindustrialworld.org.

Almost all the participants at the workshop; scientists from a broad range of fields, people from the arts and the students of science communication and society.

To the very left in the white shirt, professor Steen Rasmussen who was the main organizer, behind him, professor Jos van den Broek who runs the science communication program and organized the students, and behind him Norman Packard, the third organizer.

Some of the scientists and their presentations can be found on postindustrialworld.org

Some unusual contributions

Everybody at the workshop contributed in their own unique way and we had managed to bring together an extremely interesting group of people with very diverse kinds of knowledge.

On the one hand, I do not want to single anybody out, on the other, I would like to share how diverse the group actually was: Below are three contributors, all rather unusual at a scientific conference.

I think we got everybody to think outside their normal boxes and everybody dared to leave their comfort zones. I am very grateful that we managed to do that.

Wael Ghonim - Thursday skype

Our first session Thursday morning was a skype with Wael Ghonim, Egyptian activist and founder of Parlio, about social media's role, possibilities and risks concerning activism and the fight for democracy.

Wael it just too cool and everybody was both moved and encouraged by his presentation.

Thank you Wael, for taking time to share your insights with us at the workshop!

Zarqa Nawaz - Muslim comedy

Later Thursday, Zarqa Nawaz who has bridged a number of gaps between Muslim immigrant and Canadian culture through comedy, presented her story and her work. Without a doubt the funniest presentation at the workshop, but first of all very enlightening and an eye-opener to all. 

Thank you Zarqa for crossing the Atlantic to meet with the scientists and for adding this rather unusual part to our work.

At the last session at our workshop was a discussion with Kristina Persson, the Swedish Minister for Strategic Development and Nordic Cooperation (5th person from the right, black jacket, white shirt).

Before the session, Persson had spoken personally with several of the scientists, one of the students had interviewed her, and she had participated in the working group on changing narratives.

Urbane Change

Booklet about the future of cities

The Nordic City Network just had its annual meeting, this time in Aarhus, Denmark, and besides a presentation about the future of cities, they also asked for a booklet they could hand out to their participants.

The booklet is in Danish and my presentation was in Swedish - a pleasant surprise to the Swedes, Finns and Norwegians, and the cause of a funny, surprised look on the faces of the Danes. It all went very well, and the feedback on the book has been amazing.

An English version of the book should be on its way soon...

Tomorrows’ technology

My colleague Steen Rasmussen and I just had our first article published in The Conversation.

Photo by Humanrobo, CC BY-SA

Tomorrow’s technology will lead to sweeping changes in society – it must, for all our sakes

Throughout history, whenever new technologies have emerged that change our means of production and ability to communicate they have tended to transform society. The rapid technological development of the past century – in biotechnology, information technology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence – holds the promise to do the same for our current, post-industrial world.

Our political institutions, the rule of law, human rights, the banking system, our education system – and even capitalism itself – are products of the industrial age. We have learnt to navigate the industrial economy as individuals, and as societies we can exert some control to define its shape and limits.

But what comes next, in a post-industrial world? Even in the past decade, digital products and services, the internet and mobile technology have changed our lives. This is the result of accumulated advances over the past 50 years; there is much more to come. For example, recent studies indicate that digitisation is likely to replace about half of known jobs within 20 years.

Read the full article

Challenges of the secular society

The Nordic countries are among the most secular in the world. This has allowed us to achieve great personal and other freedoms and we are among the most prosperous societies in the world. But could there still be something we are missing?

Photo by Vaishnava108 / creative commons

Spirituality and religion around the globe

This summer a fan of my books recommended that I watch the film Baraka. It is an extremely beautiful film showing landscapes and spirituality from many places around the globe.

At first I just found it fascinating. Then it struck me: with very few exceptions, only men appear in the film.

The more feminist side of me thought: How typical! The women have to stay at home and work and take care of the household while the men can go to the temple and have fun and get a kick out of doing all kinds of rituals.

But quickly I realized that it is a typical pattern: In general, it is the men who define most religions. But is it only men who practice religion? Or is it that only men's religious practices are worth filming?

Robust societies

Then it struck me: I asked the wrong question.

Rather than asking "Why do we only see men practicing their religion?" we should ask "Which are the most stable societies in the long run: the ones that occupy men with religious practices and guide their thoughts towards rewards in another reality, or the ones in which there is no spiritual guidance and religious community, and where each individual male must find his path in life on his own?"

Women traditionally take care of their children and generally don't need heavenly rewards in order to do the right thing here and now; crying children have let their mothers know what is needed of them throughout history.

But to keep thousands upon thousands of testosterone-laden men calm and on the right track in the city states of the Bronze and Iron Ages may not always have been easy.

Enter priests, rituals, collective trances, hierarchies to be climbed by abstinence and moral virtue, celibacy, self-torment, feelings of guilt, promises of numerous virgins in the afterlife, dietary restraints, etc. and wouldn't that just be the perfect recipe for social calm and a long lasting society with few inner, violent conflicts?

Modernity and its young men

Post Enlightenment, Darwin and secularization it is hard to tell people that heavenly rewards will await them if they behave well and follow certain rules and practices.

Rather, in order for people to follow any kind of rules in the modern, industrial and postmodern, post-industrial society, the rules must make personal sense, and only if certain behaviors pose dangers to others can we put constraints on people's personal freedom.

Unfortunately, while throwing out the religious rituals and spiritual practices that kept people, especially the men, emotionally aligned with the interests of the greater society, we also lost the language for morality and talking about what is good and bad behavior.

Sports are the only field in which it is still OK to demand that people follow certain rules that constrain their personal freedom and for which they will get a reward. Actually, it is the main point in sports: If people followed individual rules, it wouldn't be worth playing.

The problem with - or rather: the poverty of - sports is that it only has a limited language and a one-dimensional outlook on life. It only knows about winning and losing, fighting and achieving. It doesn't deal with existential questions or personal development at an emotional and/or moral level. There may be individual coaches who are great human beings and who can guide youngsters towards good values, but the more commercial sports have become, the less the focus is on the development of young minds.

A failure of the Nordic countries

One failure of the Nordic, postmodern, secular societies is the number of gangs and subcultures, religiously extreme or plain criminal, that attract a lot of young men.

Maybe it was worth considering how, within the framework of metamodernity, we can re-establish ways of reaching these young men and offer them meaningful, hierarchical, challenging communities in which they can develop morality and a language for personal and spiritual growth, and in which they can align themselves with the greater society.

Sports seem to be the default answer whenever these issues come up, but after hundreds of years of cultural evolution, is that really all we as a society have to offer?

Denmark vs. Sweden 1

Two of the world's most progressive and prosperous countries are currently fighting over how to handle the realities of the 21st century. It is a cultural war fought in each other’s media, and it is about who we are and who we want to be. It involves feminists, nationalists, journalists, opinion makers, naked women, immigrants, and Pippi Longstocking – and one should never underestimate the strongest girl in the world!

Photo by norden.org

For better or worse

Whereas the rest of the world has a hard time distinguishing among the three Scandinavian countries – Norway, Denmark and Sweden – among ourselves there are some interesting differences.

For the past 20 years or so, Denmark has taken a turn towards nationalism and xenophobia. No political party in Denmark hoping for successful elections dares to not be tough on immigration. Also, since the cartoon depicting Mohammed with a bomb in his turban, not only has freedom of speech become sacred and elevated to almost religious heights in this otherwise secular country, being rude, especially towards Muslims, is now close to being a hallmark of being Danish.

Sweden, on the other hand, has embraced mass immigration and feminism. No political party in Sweden hoping to succeed in elections dares to speak out against immigration and poor integration of immigrants or to not have a feminist agenda. In fact, feminism is so popular with Swedish politicians that the Feminist party didn't even get elected in the recent elections, the rationale being: Why vote for a party with only a feminist agenda when all the other parties have feminism plus a program?

The only exception seems to be Sverigedemokraterna / Sweden Democrats who are the xenophobic nationalists and traditionalists looking towards Danish politics for hope and inspiration.

This would hardly have crossed the border had Denmark and Sweden been two ordinary neighboring countries but, like an old married couple, not only do we get on each other’s nerves and keep nagging, we also cannot live without each other. Neither of us gets into these kinds of struggles with Norway. At the same time, it does seem that the Danes obsess more about what goes on in Sweden than the Swedes do about Denmark. Which, of course, only makes it so much more frustrating for the Danes.

So, what is going on?

In spring 2013, Danish musician and provocateur Thomas Blachman made a series of TV programs in which two fully dressed, middle-aged men watched and commented on a naked woman posing live in front of them. It wasn’t pornographic as such, it was just a naked woman and two non-naked men.

To be honest, the show was actually very boring and in Danish media it was considered anything from progressive to adolescent and in poor taste. But in Sweden it created an outrage. http://www.expressen.se/kvp/nakna-kvinnokroppar-analyseras-i-dansk-tv/

Later that summer, Danish anthropologist Dennis Nørmark wrote an op-ed simultaneously in both a Swedish and a Danish newspaper telling the Swedes that their “new feminism” is unsympathetic http://politiken.dk/debat/kroniken/ECE1987497/jeres-nyfeminisme-er-usympatisk-kaere-svenskere/ in Swedish called “Dear Swedes” http://www.dn.se/kultur-noje/kulturdebatt/kare-svenskere/

The very next day, Swedish feminist Nina Björk wrote a reply, also in both papers. In Swedish “We don’t tolerate Danish sexism” http://www.dn.se/kultur-noje/kulturdebatt/vi-tolererar-inte-dansk-sexism/ and in Denmark “Our feminism is decent, dear Nørmark” http://politiken.dk/debat/kroniken/ECE1988618/vores-feminisme-er-anstaendig-kaere-noermark/

And so it continued until fall that same year when a young Danish poet of Palestinian descent, Yahya Hassan, told the world his honest opinion about his miserable, violent childhood, his failing immigrant parents and hypocrite Islam - just to mention a few things.

It crossed and crushed established fault lines in the Danish debate about immigration and, among other things, it was discussed whether such politically incorrect texts could possibly be published in Sweden.

Eventually they were, and one of the reactions was from Athena Farrokhzad, Swedish writer of Iranian descent, who in her review of Hassan’s poems worried and asked him directly if he wasn’t at all afraid that he was handing the xenophobes all their own arguments against immigration and Islam on a silver plate: http://www.aftonbladet.se/kultur/bokrecensioner/article18217879.ab

A worry that in Denmark was generally misunderstood as an attempt to silence Hassan and take away his freedom of speech, and therefore created a new swedophobic debate.

During all of this, the Swedes decided to get rid of the gender referring pronouns “he” and “she” / “han” and “hon” and to replace both of them with the gender neutral “hen”. Furthermore, in a popular Swedish Christmas toy catalogue, all traditional gender specific toys were meticulously being played with by both boys and girls. For both initiatives the Danes only had scorn and ridicule.

This summer, the Danish radio station 24syv (i.e., 24seven) started a program “Voice of Denmark” broadcasting politically incorrect debates in Swedish for the Swedes, inspired, they said, by “Voice of America” which used to broadcast Western content to the communist countries.

Then this month two new chapters were added to the fight between the two countries:

The Swedish theme park Astrid Lindgreen World withdrew from their souvenir shop a Pippi Longstocking curtain depicting Pippi with two black kids waving shading palm leaves over her head after the mother of a black kid found it offensive. Furthermore, this week it came out that in the reissue of the Pippi TV series from the 70’s, Pippi’s father is no longer referred to as “a negro king” but just “a king”.

Also this month, a Swedish artist, Dan Park, was sentenced to jail and had nine of his paintings banned for racism by a Swedish court, the sentence including destruction of the paintings. Radio 24syv got the paintings to Copenhagen and wanted to display them in order to check out the reaction and the limits of freedom of speech (and possibly to piss off some Swedes in the process), but eventually, due to legal problems, the radio station decided not to display them after all.

Let’s go meta

This fight is probably going to go on for a while, at least as long as Sweden pursues its open-border feminist agenda, Denmark sticks with nationalism, and both countries insist on being right and their neighbor wrong.

What would be so much more fruitful, however, would be if we realized, in both countries, that we are facing the exact same challenges as the rest of the Western world, that for historical reasons the two of us have approached the challenges very differently, and that neither of us has found the right solution. Yet. We are still struggling, we are both doing it with the best of intentions and we both have so much to learn, not least from each other.

The Swedish agenda points towards the future. It is developing some of the answers and values we need if a global community is going to thrive. It has a vision for a better world and it wants to address global challenges. But it suppresses freedom of speech and throws away the Swedish soul. Political correctness makes many Swedes deny that there even is such a thing as Swedishness, but to the rest of us there is and we don’t want the Swedes to get rid of it. It is not a metaphysical “spirit”, but the sum of Swedish experiences and narratives; it would not make Sweden (or the rest of the world for that matter) a better place if the majority of Swedes gave it up. The world would be a poorer place without the Swedes being Swedish.

The Danish agenda looks backwards. We are so obsessed with being what we once were that we are utterly blind to the real challenges coming from technological development and globalization. We become more and more self-absorbed and only care about ourselves and our own country (plus Sweden). Nobody would be better off if we as Danes lost our Danishness, but we need to find ways to open our nation and culture to others who want to join, and we have to learn how to be polite around strangers, also in the public debate.

The fallacy that both the Swedes and the Danes commit is that one has to either identify with the entire human race (Swedish PC) or identify with one’s own nation and people only (Danish PC). In neither country have we been able to develop a narrative allowing us to be both citizens of the world belonging to the same humanity, AND to be the Swedes and Danes, respectively, that we are, rooted in the cultures and historical heritages that have given us our languages, narratives, values, identities, and much more.

This lack of a shared narrative is what the current cultural war between the two countries is really about. Once both countries have come to realize that we must both identify with the entire species in general and our local culture and heritage in particular, Denmark and Sweden have each their own set of experiences which are complementary to one another and which when combined should be able to help us figure out how to be thriving nation states in the 21st century. By admitting that neither of us has all the right answers right now, we could learn from each other. By doing so, we ought to be able to figure out how to keep our distinct heritages alive and evolving while including newcomers into the respective cultures and peoples.

Now, that would be an interesting and inspiring process and debate to follow in the media of both countries.