Monday, May 14, 2012

Hej Då Sweden

I have always had a soft spot for the country of Sweden.  The city of Umea was (perhaps still is) the sister city of Saskatoon, the city where I was born and went to college.  One of my best friends in college grew up in a home where they spoke Swedish pretty much exclusively, and I remember listening to their lilting conversations and wishing I could take part more fully.  During my first year playing for the University of Saskatchewan soccer team our modest fortunes depended largely on the skills of a foreign student, Stig, who had come over from Sweden for a year of study.  And though I no longer have any admiration for the regulatory heavy-handedness which decrees that companies must provide lengthy parental leave for new parents (480 days in Sweden, shared between the mother and the father, with 60 days reserved for each), one can at least surmise and admire the notion that the Swedish government believes that lasting parental involvement is the most important factor in the development of successful and happy children.  Well, up to a point.

Once a child is a year old or so, the Swedish government is no longer so concerned about lasting parental involvement.  At that point, other priorities take over, and parents who do not surrender their children to daycare and then the school system are now harassed and fined.  Until 2010, it was possible to home school in Sweden.  New laws prevent the practice in almost all cases, and private schools have to teach the state curriculum.  Parents who wish to home school are actually fleeing the country--many are going across the Baltic sea to the Aland Islands, a part of Finland where the locals speak Swedish and parents can home school in peace.  One has to wonder, why the heavy hand? Why the disconnect between the official philosophy of the first 16 months and the next 16 years?

I suspect I know the reason.  Gender equality is a huge issue in Sweden, and the implementation of policy designed to achieve it is backed by the full force of the government.  The website Sweden.Se says this:
"Sweden has one of the highest levels of gender equality in the world.  This is based on the belief that when women and men share power and influence equally it leads to a more just and democratic society.  A well-developed welfare system makes it easier for both sexes to balance their work and family life."
What this means, without saying it explicitly, is that the traditional division of labor between husband and wife is not really an acceptable arrangement any more, because men and women are not sharing power and influence equally.  In this way of thinking, the sharing of power and influence only occurs when men and women are out in the workforce together, doing the same jobs, and having the same dreams and ambitions.  To further that, manufactured rights (all children have a "right" to daycare), and punishment (in the form of fines and harassment should a family choose to buck the system and home school their children) are all designed to promote the idea that a woman's place is decidedly not in the home.  To show just how serious (and creepy) the Swedes are about their genderless society, there is a  preschool in Stockholm called "Egalia" (makes me gag) where the children are not boys or girls, only genderless "friends".  Pronouns such as "he" and "she" are not used at the school and have been replaced by new words that do not appear in any dictionary.

I have written in earlier essays that once you move beyond the functions of government that are broadly accepted by everyone -- infrastructure, national defense, the police, objective application of the rule of law -- it is very difficult to reach any sort of broad consensus on how the limited tax dollars of a country should be spent.  Inevitably, though there may be some significant number of citizens who feel that every child should attend a federally funded public school, and are willing to contribute their tax dollars toward this effort, there will be other citizens who prefer a different option.  Though I have no problem with a government sketching broad outlines designed to ensure that all children are indeed being educated, why should it matter how it happens?  What if you are a Swedish woman (or man) who is every bit the intellectual, accomplished, and ambitious equal of your spouse and you want to devote your waking hours not to the functioning of a retail store or a hospital, but to the education of your children?

Sorry, but you can't, and the reason you can't is that a small group of influential people have projected their vision of the correct way to live upon the Swedish population at large.  Tyranny results.  It's a soft tyranny at first; you only notice it if you pay attention.  This is the time when the utopian dreamers (all of this is for a better world) are satisfied to try and cajole and educate.  They print pamphlets, make television commercials, lecture at universities, attract disciples, and lobby politicians for expanded mandates and additional funding.  But there are always holdouts who are not enlightened enough to see the beauty of the new way of living, and this is when the totalitarian tendency always appears.  Friedrich Hayek put it this way in his landmark book, "The Road To Serfdom":
"... planning leads to dictatorship because dictatorship is the most effective instrument of coercion and the enforcement of ideals and, as such, essential if central planning on a large scale is to be possible."
In other words, the planners, the dreamers, the visionaries who only want to secure a better way of life for everyone say, "you know, if we're really going to get this thing done, we're just going to have to get rough with those who refuse to go willingly."  Which is why on one day in Sweden you are able to homeschool your children (though you must do it in the face of official discouragement), and the next day you cannot, unless you want to be fined and harassed.  Don't complain, it's for your own good.

I will always think fondly of my college friend, and the game-saving skills of Stig, but I am losing my interest in Sweden, the country.  I would hate to live under that sort of nanny-statism.  The Swedish people are not free, and I suspect that as time passes a very many of them will come to realize they have lost something very precious indeed.