#meeto needs a truth and reconciliation commission

As we root out a rotten culture, let’s not forget about grace.

woman holding paper with metoo sign written

After a lukewarm reception three years ago, the #metoo movement is getting a second chance in Denmark. Sparked by a personal account by TV personality Sofie Linde at an awards show a few weeks ago, the media industry especially is having a long, hard look at itself. By so is politics and the arts – and many other industries should probably be following suit.

Why now? I don’t know. Maybe we’ve matured in the past three years. Maybe having a female PM helps. Whatever the reason, the ball is rolling with appalling stories about offensive behaviour hitting the media almost daily.

This should have happened long ago, and a despicable sexist culture should have no place in a modern and equal society.

But let’s make sure we don’t turn it into a witch-hunt. For example, a 12-year old case has resurfaced, in which the current Danish foreign minister had sexual relations to a girl 19 years younger than him. He committed no crime, but his political career was hampered, and he lost his position at the time. He has apologised and moved on, and recently repeated his apology. Which is fair, because he did a reprehensive and stupid thing – but it should not continue to haunt him for the rest of his life.

Believe in people’s ability to change

Yes, we may need a period of finger-pointing to drive the change. We do need to talk about this for everyone to understand that harassment is not ok. But if we are to move on, eventually the finger-pointing will have to stop.

Calling out jerks is better than not calling out jerks. But even better is a culture change where people stop misbehaving, so we won’t have to call them out all the time.

If what we really want is culture change, we can’t just sit around and wait for the next generation to grow up and hope they will fare better. We need to also believe that people here and now – even boomers – have the ability to change.

Giving jerks a second chance

So let’s get it out in the open, and then let’s draw a line in the sand and move on. Some people may need to face consequences for their actions. Some may lose their jobs, or even face criminal charges. Justice should be served. At the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, only around 10% were actually given amnesty.

But after that comes reconciliation. When people have atoned, they should be given a second chance. If they are honestly sorry and want to change, we should have the faith to – if not forgive, then at least say, “That was then, now let’s move on.”

This is not a carte blanche to continue being a jerk. And we probably do need a potentially painful period of rooting out the problem. But when we root out that culture of harassment and sexism, let’s not make the mistake of replacing it with a culture of condemnation and never-ending judgment.

Disclaimer

I’m a privileged white male – how do I dare say anything about sexism? Answer: with big humility and some fear, but hopefully good intentions. If I have ever personally offended someone, I’m truly sorry. There is a culture that needs to change, and I am sure I have prejudices of my own that need to be challenged. But for the greater good, I hope I can be a part of the solution, not the problem.

The politics of charity

Surprised that China and Russia are sending aid to Europe? Let’s try not to be.

“Beware the Greeks, even when bearing gifts.”

The corona crisis is truly global, and unlike other global crises, we’re presumably in it together. The enemy is not other countries or civilizations, it’s a virus – carrying no agency or ill intentions, just plain biology.

So we should all work together and trust each other, right?

We do on many levels, of course, with the WHO leading tremendous efforts, and scientists across the globe rushing to develop a vaccine, for instance.

On the other hand, you don’t need to look hard to uncover cracks in solidarity, and seeping mistrust.

Do you trust the giver?

There is the case of Italy, who had trouble receiving assistance from old friends in the EU, but then Russia stepped in with massive aid.

Or there is the ongoing debate about how to portray China – as hero or villain. There is no consensus yet, but apparently President Xi has had some success in improving relations to Trump, who had been shaming the Chinese in many of his remarks.

In Denmark, many were surprised by the news that Chinese billionaire Jack Ma donated substantial amounts of medical supplies. Comments on social media ranged from simple thankfulness to hostile suspicions to the intentions.

Why would someone from China or Russia send donations to Europe? What is their ulterior motive? For some, not reading politics into the situation is impossible. But there may be something else at play, too.

Helping the poor in order to feel rich

In rich Northern Europe, as well as the U.S, we have become so entrenched in a perception of reality where we are the masters of the universe – we are the strong and generous ones. When there is a disaster, we are the ones who send aid, not the ones who receive it.

The notion that China or Russia would have the capacity to help us out is a challenge to a world-view where we don’t need anybody’s help.

Which once again raises a question I have posed before: Do we give to the poor in order to feel rich?

The aid industry feeds on this notion, at least partly and often subconsciously. Whenever we donate to charity, we in effect pay for a feeling of having done something good. Often this comes with the added benefit of being able to say: Thank God it’s not me.

We’re all in it together

The problem with corona is, it is also me. It affects us all, and even hard-liners are waking up to this reality. Despite his rhetoric of maintaining control, Trump is now reaching out for assistance. The Italian foreign minister said of the Russian donation:

“There are no new geopolitical scenarios to trace, there is a country that needs help and other countries that are helping us.”

Let’s make sure we all remember that.

What Would Jesus Do with Corona?

No, leprosy was not a global pandemic.

The world is shutting down. Across many countries, including my native Denmark, schools, bars and churches are closing. We are told to essentially avoid other people, if possible, while ensuring that vital societal functions remain open. All to halt the spread of the virus, limit the strain on the healthcare system and protect the weakest of our fellow citizens – and ensure that the economy can recover afterwards.

This is unprecedented, and to some degree unnerving, but also quite reasonable and in a stable society like ours fairly manageable.

But last night I came to think about Jesus, two thousand years ago. He was a man of the people, isolation definitely not his thing. He notably mingled with and touched lepers – the outcasts of the day. They were untouchable for a good reason, to avoid the spread of a deadly and incurable disease.

We usually hail Jesus’ compassion for the lepers as good thing, a quality of his unequivocal love for other people. I don’t contest that. On the other hand, leprosy in 1st century Palestine was an isolated phenomenon, not a global pandemic.

Which once again renders the question “What Would Jesus Do?” irrelevant, despite any good intentions.

If you do want to follow Jesus, don’t copy him, but learn from his advice. Remember his parable of the sheep and the goats:

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matt 25:37-40, NIV)

Today, we might paraphrase this into: “When did we stand next to you and cover our mouth when coughing? When did we wash our hands thoroughly before touching you? When did we stay at home so we did didn’t infect your old mother with a heart condition?”

So why isn’t God stopping the virus? In a sense, he is – through the hands of the countless people making sacrifices to contain the spread and protect the weak.

Let us remember to thank all the healthcare workers, police officers, shopkeepers, ambulance drivers, politicians, journalists, and more, who are doing their best to get us all safely through the crisis.

Jesus taught us compassion; in this case let us show compassion to others by doing what we can to prevent the spread of the virus. For ourselves and our families, and for our neighbours as ourselves.

Things we gained from the virus

Once we get over the panic, is the coronavirus an opportunity to give globalization a reboot?

The current outbreak is a true 21st century crisis, and also a good indicator that life in the 2020s is quite different from the beginning of the century.

This is globalization running on speed: People travel more than ever before, so diseases can spread globally very quickly. Information also travels more quickly than ever before, even in and from ‘closed’ countries – and so does panic.

As highlighted for instance in this New York Times article, the panic is giving fuel to opponents of globalization and open borders.

But after the panic is over, will we find that the countermeasures have given us something valuable?

What if we all improved our hand hygiene, for instance, and halted the spread of the flu and other diseases?

Many countermeasures to the virus are real, and drastic, often boiling down to: avoid other people. In our hyper-digitalized society, that’s easier than you would think. Work interaction runs smoothly across locations using digital tools. We order our groceries online, with home delivery. And travel is fun, yes – but is it really necessary?

In the discourse about social media, a recurring theme is the lack of physical interaction. In the extreme version, this is scary, of course. One of my favorite movie characters is Warlock from Live Free or Die Hard. Or take the movie Surrogates, where nobody leaves home for real.

Bruce Willis saw through all of that. We need to be with other people, but would it be so bad if we mostly spent time with people living close to us?

What if the key to fighting the outbreak is in virtual globalization, and physical localization? We would still move goods physically where needed, but might even revisit consumerism. Services would be mostly virtual, and we would keep ourselves local. This would jeopardize the business model of the airlines, for instance, but we might end up saving the planet while we’re doing it.

Just look at this image of pollution levels in China:

At my workplace, there is a ban on non-essential travel and large meetings, and everyone brings their laptops home every day, so they can work from home as a backup. Why not make this the standard?

Let us make this a wake-up call for the world to revisit globalization. Let us save the good and beneficial elements, but get rid of harmful practices that should be left in the last century.

Unless we all die from the virus, of course.

Bye, Bye, Britain

My two-penny worth on Brexit.

London 14
Me in London back in 2009.

After the shock result more than three years ago, and the on-and-on-and-ongoing farce of negotiations, this is finally it. The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union today, although many practical implications remain uncertain. Will we see long lines on the borders? Supply shortages? Economic decline? War in Northern Ireland? An independent Scotland? Time will tell.

For now, let’s just say: We’re sorry to see you go, Britain – let’s stay in touch, and don’t be a stranger.

Although I never lived there, I have visited London a dozen times and always felt at home. Furthermore, the cultural impact of England has shaped us, and me, in many ways.

It gave us the world’s lingua franca, but also a shared legacy of popular culture. Yes, so has America, and sometimes we fail to distinguish between the two, but what would the world be without: Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Queen, the Beatles, Monty Python, Inspector Morse, The Office, Hugh Grant, George Orwell, J.K. Rowling, Richard Branson – to name just a few.

The UK joined the EU on the same date as Denmark, in 1973, and our two countries have shared a scepticism towards the project. Like us, they kept their own currency, and they never joined the Schengen agreement. As the odd one out, it might make sense to leave.

But I still believe that both will lose out. The EU will lose a strong member state with global influence, and the UK will lose the backing that could have given it continued relevance on the world scene. The onward decline of the British Empire is inevitable, as stronger players take over on the world scene.

If the Union ends up dissolving, with Scotland leaving, the only thing we’ll have left is a mid-size country that used to host an empire. Not unlike Austria: some pomp and circumstance, and a rich history, but no real power. That may take decades, but it’s not an unlikely scenario.

England has been an ally of Denmark for centuries. Long forgotten and forgiven is the bombing of Copenhagen in 1807 – with a forced hand, Denmark had chosen the wrong ally in Napoleon.

During WW2, the Danish government was in exile in London, and after the war, we naturally looked west for leadership – to the UK and the USA. That we will still do, and the United Kingdom will remain a friend of Denmark. We still need the UK in NATO, and while the political project of the EU has met a setback, friendship across all of Europe is needed now as much as ever.

So long – and thanks for all the fish!