The secret of human production is out in the Nordic Model countries—and it makes the biggest and most shocking cultural difference.
In Scandinavia, the working class (WC) knows that it is the WC and the ruling class (RC) acknowledges that it is the RC. In other words, the RC knows that the WC knows that it (the WC) is exploited. (Note: I mean exploited in the objective-mechanical, not the pejorative, sense. Surplus value is (as they now say) a thing. It comes from somewhere and is transferred from worker to owner. This is just a structural feature of value production. We could just as well substitute harnessed or utilized instead.)
So the RC admits that it lives off the WC. It’s on the news and in ordinary conversations. People are on about it like Americans are on about sports. Iceland’s PM resigned after it was discovered that his family attempted to hide some money in a tax haven. He’s there to serve; that’s the desire that motivated him to take the job. In Norway, some young (and very wealthy) conservative frat boys came over to vent about how ashamed and angry they were that Norwegian arms dealers are … selling arms.
Anyway, the fact that owners life off of workers is an open secret changes everything about their culture, including mental health, intelligence, happiness, and something that I have never felt in my life in the US—especially growing up in far-right Little Havana where people were only friendly when they were scared: a genuine caring and well-wishing and trust that others as a group are allies. People are happy to help each other when the system doesn’t present it.
For starters, everyone acknowledges that the RC ought to be as generous as possible to its providers. Most importantly, the RC acknowledges this. As the cashier at Max Burgers put it:
If you live off of someone, treating them well is not self-sacrifice, it’s rational self-interest. It’s also common courtesy—to treat well those you support you.
So the RC is happy to pay high taxes in the same way as a farmer is happy to buy good feed. The payoff for the RC is it gets to live without having to work. That is a big deal, and worth making a small donation to preserve.
But it is the cultural (emotional) result that I want to talk about. Something both alien and familiar. You are suddenly among people you can count on from the get-go. You feel … good will. The Nordic Model abandoned American-style welfare in favor of universal services, so that everyone gets free higher education, free medical services, free eldercare, and a minimal survival safety net.
Automatons? Hardly. People still compete. But they compete to outdo each other in their nobility. One night I asked someone for directions, a 20 year-old. In the US, 20 year-olds in the US are at the top of the asshole cohort. They see narcissism and disdain as indicators of high social status. Not in Norway. With a genuine concern for my understanding, this dude gave me a PowerPoint presentation on his phone … until his friend interrupted and decided that they would walk us there. “I’ll see your $10 and raise you $20!” It was like that everywhere.
Also weird: people were relaxed and playful (offensively so, in my damaged and pessimistic view). It wasn’t the fake and nervous friendliness you get in the US—the predatory smile of the teeth-sucking gangsta (head leaned back and eyebrows raised), or the obsequious milquetoast smile of the fearful or tired, or the dutiful smile of the politician (see image), or the mischievous one-upmanship smile of the cellphone staring teen who wants you to know that she’s happier than you. They grinned because they were happy to meet a new friend and have a chance at delighting them with friendliness-value. Outsiders, strangers, and truly-others do not exist; everyone already belongs to the same club. And if you do assume the “stranger danger” attitude, they don’t reinforce it with reciprocation. Paranoiacs are not targets to fuck with, but victims acting out their damage from past mistreatment. Healthy locals might adjust their happiness to match your particular gloom, but only as a skillful means to help you snap out of it. In Scandinavia, the other is more important by default; everyone is treated as a houseguest, and everyone treats like a host.
Back in the American cultural organism, the Genie of Myopic Capital runs the show. In Europe, where the farmers “know a little bit” about their grapes, survival trumps squeezing every fucking little drop out of labor, even if cities are burning and toddlers shoot their teachers. As long as the graph is going up for the next 12 months—we’re good.
That’s because America is the laboratory for kinds of deal-makers that are called superpredators—no conscience, no empathy. How did it come to pass that rough-riding rural folk started medicating their sorrow over shit wages, poverty, and fear of doctor bills with the bitter cocktail of flag-waving and darkie-hating? How came it that they got teary eyed about the most arrogant member of the class of people that shits on them? In his golden toilet? And they cheer when he says “THE ELITE”? How!? It’s always the dumbest slaves who stand up to cheer for the master as he sodomizes them. Because they know that somebody else will be getting it even worse
Trump is the dominant monad. But I have hope that he will be the best thing that ever happened in US politics. In Trump, we get privileged access to the Republican Id. Best of all, we get to see how it is that Republicans have ever been able to get votes from the people they hurt the most: by promising to punish groups outside the culture of white social conservatives. Blacks? We hate em because their poverty has made them criminals. Mexicans? We hate them because we can’t compete with their work ethic. Gays? Their sex drives us crazy, and anyway gratuitously abusing them is well-established. Abortion? Women having sex for pleasure is nerve-wracking. And the newest enemy on the list: Workers? Well, fuck us too, because if we get free health care and a living wage, so will the niggers and greasy Mexicans.
And the newest enemy … Liberals? Poor white social conservatives have now been engineered to hate the only members of the RC who are trying to help them. Liberals, meaning the educated wealthy class, are the only people in office who actually have, on their policy agenda, policies benefitting workers—public works, union support, higher wages, free health care, welfare, social security, drinkable water, and workplace safety. Getting the WC to hate their only benefactors was the greatest achievement of Republican marketing.
Once upon a time, Republicans had nothing to do with bashing their own cultural practices. Nor did poor people obsess over sex, religion, and race. Back when consciousness was tethered to action, humans voted with the intention of shaping policy for their own class benefit. Then came the Republican emotion engineers:
- First, we will stimulate and amplify WC resentment about really trivial stuff, like gay sex.
- Then we will argue that these peeves are causes of WC suffering and resentment. (I got laid off because God is punishing us for not killing the gays.)
- Then we will announce that if our party gets elected, we will make the WC’s resentment targets suffer.
The problem is that the RC enjoy all the activities they publicly attack. Rich people are the first to get the very best medical care for their families; the very safest abortions for their daughters’ accidental pregnancies; they bail each other out all the time and treat each other like good socialist buddies. Race doesn’t mean jack to the rich—if you’re eating at the same restaurant with them, you’re accepted. Sex? No one cares. All this follows simply from their being educated. The bottom line is what the RC really cares about; they raise bullshit social issues to excite fantasies of revenge in the idiots they’ve primed.
And it’s working. The poor, the miserable, the suffering—the desperate—will accept the most outlandish explanations for their plight. Just like the medically desperate will believe things they know to be false just in case … it might be true. (Cf. Andy Kaufman’s trip to the Philippines for psychic surgery.) Could it really be true that they are poor because God’s not getting enough meat smoke, as the Bible says? Why not?
The night Trump “won” the election, the Republicans’ master, the Genie of Myopic Capital, sat him down to welcome home its incarnated master. Trump had, up to that point, contrived an air of rebellion, and the Genie just wanted to give him a corrective pep talk. Trump was the undisputed master of inventing fake racial problems to distract dumb white people from real economic ones. The Genie just wanted to make sure that Trump knew that he and it were family, and that their only difference was in their expressive styles.
Genie: I’m sorry to differ with you, sir, but you are the caretaker. You have always been the caretaker. I should know, sir. I’ve always been here.
Trump has always been the caretaker. The only difference is that now the emotional delivery finally matches the policy.