Episode 111: What is the (dark) truth about the Nordic miracle?

michael boothIn this episode I have the delight of connecting with English journalist and author Michael Booth. He has written a book titled The Almost Nearly Perfect People – The Truth About The Nordic Miracle, a truly witty and engaging exploration into the wonderful and not so wonderful aspects of the five Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland). Given that this podcast show is embedded in a Scandinavian context, which by the way only refers to Norway, Sweden and Denmark (sorry Iceland and Finland), I thought it would be fun to have Michael on the show. Moreover, the show’s intention is to explore different approaches to personal, relational and societal transformation and in this regard I believe it’s important to engage what I understand as cultural shadows. So, what are some of the cultural “blind spots” in the five Nordic countries? What is left out from the reports and surveys that often place the Nordic countries at the top? Is there perhaps a need for some critical self-examination into the ways in which we create and uphold these collective narratives? Well, my sense is that Michael’s critique and caricature of the “Nordic miracle” is more than timely!

Back in January this year Michael wrote an article in the Guardian that seemed to trigger a lot of people from both inside and outside the Nordic countries, making it one of the most read articles in the history of Guardian’s online edition! In that article, titled Dark lands: the grim truth behind the`Scandinavian Miracle´ he wanted to pull the Guardian’s readers out of the Nordic trance that had swept parts of the world for quite some time. The article generated a lot of critical feedback and angry remarks, especially from Norwegians, and because of this he was later invited to write a follow-up piece for NRK (The Norwegian Broadcasting Service). Since then he has been a regular guest on radio shows throughout the region, he has participated in a Danish TV-series and has also become a popular speaker in many different contexts.

Book by Michael Booth

Book by Michael Booth

In the attached podcast above you can learn more about Michael’s background, the creative process behind the writing of the book and why he chose to blend humor and seriousness in the way he did. We also engage some of the myths, shadows and challenges embedded in the Nordic culture, for instance the Danish “hygge jihadism“, the Norwegian Oil Fund and the hypocrisies related to Norway as a peace nation and climate change leader, islamophobia, Anders Behring Breivik, racism, growing polarization in Swedish politics and the rise of right-wing parties in general. We also address Finnish taboos and problems related to alcohol, violence and depression, and the Icelandic economic meltdown. To balance things out we also explore some of the more positive and wholesome Nordic offerings to our global society, themes such as the high level of gender and economic equality, high trust and social cohesion, volunteerism, sharing mentality, work-life balance, Danish pioneering efforts in relation to green tech and much more. I hope you enjoy our conversation and I would be glad to see your own comments and reflections below.

If you feel inspired or provoked by our conversation feel free to add your comments after the interview. You can also send in a written piece of work and get it published together with this episode. Further details can be found here.

Episode links:
Michael Booth, personal website
Dark lands: the grim truth behind the ‘Scandinavian miracle’” Michael’s article in the Guardian
Noen ubehagelige sannheter om Norden“, Michael’s follow-up article on NRK Ytring
The Almost Nearly Perfect People, book by Michael Booth
–> Danish translation
–> Norwegian translation 

James Alexander Arnfinsen (redaktør)
James Alexander Arnfinsen (34) er lærer og arbeider i Osloskolen. Han har bred erfaring innenfor dialogbasert prosessledelse, nærværstrening og konflikthåndtering. Ta kontakt med James på følgende adresse: james.arnfinsen @ gmail.com
James Alexander Arnfinsen (redaktør)
James Alexander Arnfinsen (34) is a teacher, his subjects being geography, religious studies and sports science. He is currently working as a teacher in Oslo, Norway. In his spare time he practices Aikido, a Japanese martial art.
  • James Arnfinsen

    Michael Booth og jeg nakker blant annet om Norges klimahykleri, et tema han skriver svært treffende om i boken vi baserer samtalen vår på. Talspersoner fra Miljøpartiet de Grønne har skrevet en kronikk i NRK (15.12.2014) der de omtaler noe av det samme:

    I stedet for å være verdensledende på en bærekraftig omstilling av samfunnet er vi blitt verdensledende i klimahykleri. Mens Tine Sundtoft har forhandlet om en ny klimaavtale i Lima, forbereder oljeminister Tord Lien utdeling av nye oljefelt i 23. konsesjonsrunde. Poenget er at så lenge regjeringen har tenkt å pumpe opp olje alt hva remmer og tøy kan holde, hjelper det forsvinnende lite at Sundtoft snakker pent om klimaansvar på internasjonale klimakonferanser.


  • James Arnfinsen

    Just came over this Jung quote in a book I’m reading titled Everything is Workable – A Zen approach to conflict resolution:

    Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle. – Carl Jung

    The cool thing about Michael’s book (above) is that it really brings out the extremes. Maybe this could help us in finding some kind of middle ground?

  • James Arnfinsen

    In the interview with Michael Booth I alluded to that the terrorist attacks we saw in Norway, by the hands of Anders Behrring Breivik, could possibly be understood as a symptom of something which is more collective, and not only as an act carried out by a single “nut case”. In response to the resent terror attacks in Copenhagen Atle Thorberg from Nørrebro wrote a “letter to the terrorist”, a letter which has become popular in social media (read in Extrabladet). In an interview on NRK he also says something in the same line as I was thinking:

    – Terroren har ikke kommet til oss. Den har vokst opp blant oss. Den er et produkt av vårt samfunn. Det er hans skyld, det er han som har skutt syv mennesker. Det er aldri noen som kan ta skylden fra ham, men hele systemet må gjennomgås.


  • James Arnfinsen

    “Five things that are wrong with the world’s best country” (18.12.15), article from BBC that calls attention to some not so flattering fact about Norway.

  • James Arnfinsen

    Obama talking about “wild” Nordic culture 😉