I went to the UK as a visiting professor in April 2016 and stayed for about two months, commuting from modest lodgings in Sheffield to work in Manchester.
It’s not a very long period, but it was long enough to convince me that the sheep in England must be the happiest in the world. They graze freely and undisturbed on the bright green grass of the beautiful Peak District. It was long enough to discover that the British people are among the most polite and friendly in the world. I am “love” to the bus driver and hairdresser. And if I sneeze in an elevator, the other passengers say “bless you”. Even the toughest looking English person says “please” every time they ask for something. It’s very different in Norway, where I come from.
I see more similarities in the media. On the television in Norway, just as in the UK, chefs are competing to prepare the best dishes, designers are competing to create the finest garments and reality stars are competing to execute the most strategic sex acts. Facebook has become too popular in Norway, just like in the UK, so our elites have fled to Twitter. Newspapers will soon only be found in museums. A good idea is not worth anything if it can’t be formulated in a quick rejoinder. Public debate is regulated and cut down to 28 words. And this is what we call freedom of speech.
The ideological perspectives are the same. Both countries embrace diversity, empowerment and internationalisation. In neither country do socialists realise that these concepts are perfect for implementing liberal, capitalist politics. Diversity legitimises more difference, empowerment legitimises individualism (and the idea that everyone is in charge of their own destiny). Internationalisation supports big businesses, such as airlines, which compromise the environment.
It is, however, thanks to this climate-threatening internationalisation that I arrived in Manchester in the first place. Internationalisation pollutes but it also expands perspectives. Comparisons help us see and understand.
What do I see and understand better or differently after my stay? I see and understand that I, who has been against the EU for 35 years, and who voted no in the referendum in Norway in 1994, would vote to remain if I could take part in this British EU referendum.
I’ve come to understand that the eurosceptic wish for autonomy can be the creator of its own antagonism. In seeking the outside, you can become an outsider. Autonomy is a widely celebrated ideal, but its latent effect is disconnection and isolation.
When I hear, night after night, the arguments about taking back control of British laws and British borders, I’m reminded of King Herod, who suffered from paranoia and built forts to protect himself from the outside world.
The most famous of them is Masada, which sits atop an isolated rock plateau by the Dead Sea. Here, Herod was theoretically to be able to live self-sufficient for many years. The fortress was tested, not by him but by persecuted Jews. Close to a thousand people lived in the castle for several years but ultimately committed mass suicide rather than surrender to advancing invaders.
There is something paranoid in Britain’s euroscepticism. Paranoia is a terrible disorder that is difficult to control, once allowed to develop.
I saw a group of young and old people on the BBC, gathered to discuss the pros and cons of EU membership. An elderly man thought Britain would lose its identity if it was further mixed with other cultures. He has, in my opinion, forgotten British history. Britain was not long ago a mighty empire, leading to frequent intercourse with strangers. It is this intercourse that has developed Britain’s trademark identity.
And if history means nothing to you, take it from your rich neighbour in the north: standing outside the EU is incredibly expensive.
Take care, dear Britain. Counter-EU ideology is not in tune with your trademark, as I have come to understand it – which is, courtesy and kindness.