Ur posten

This is the Ur post, a post I’ll refer people back to for the basics of what this blog is about and who I am.

What this blog is about

I’d like to offer Danes an alternative point of view on American phenomena.  That raises the obvious question: “Alternative to what?”  The answer is: just about everything about America that you can see, hear, and read on Danish media.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re getting your news and information from Berlingske, Politiken, JP, Information, Børsen, TV2, DR, or even the CNN and BBC cable networks: what you’re getting is coming through a filter of profoundly biased editorial processes.  That’s not to say none of it’s true—although much of it isn’t—only that it represents only one side of the story.

On what basis do I say that?  On the basis that even the borgerlig media (Berlingske in particular) appear to employ American correspondents whose reporting is based on talking points from the Democrat National Committee.  I don’t have any principled objection to that: they’re private organizations and are of course free to employ whoever they like, and to publish whatever strikes their fancy.  (DR is not a private organization, so their bias is indefensible.)

What bothers me, what has been grating at me for the more than seventeen years I’ve lived in this otherwise wonderful country, is the consequence of this one-sided coverage.

For example, I was once asked about my politics by a Danish colleague.  Specifically, he wanted to know which of the two major American parties I supported.

“I’m a Republican,” I answered, with the same sort of casual air with which I might have told him what I’d had for lunch.

His response was interesting: he was aghast.

“Wow,” he said, “and you admit it?”

Having spent most of my adult life as a conservative in several of America’s most liberal cities, striving to succeed in the monolithically left-wing bubble of the arts, I had long ago learned the necessary art of deflecting political conversations.  (The arts community’s celebrated tolerance ends on contact with people who don’t agree with them on everything.)  As an American conservative in Denmark, I quickly learned that my skills at deflection and evasion had to be honed even further if I was going to carve out any kind of life for myself.  But to this point, I had never been made to feel, in either country, that being a conservative put me in the same category as pedophiles, rapists, and drug dealers.

Now, this colleague was a good guy, intelligent and thoughtful, reasonable and polite. His politics were well to my left, but so are those of most of my friends and some of my family.  And frankly, his response wasn’t that different in kind from what I’d already become used to in Denmark: it was mainly a difference of degree—and phrasing.  Maybe it’s just that he had finally said out loud what I suspect a lot of others had merely been thinking.

Why shouldn’t I admit that I favor limited and localized government, personal liberty, free markets, lower taxes, freedom of expression and religion, among other things? Where was the shame in wanting the best for everyone?  Were there not political parties and politicians in folketinget who agreed on those principles, for the same reasons?  Was the current statsminister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, not in fact himself politically conservative?  (The conversation took place in 2007.)

Conservatives can skip this paragraph, but I’d like to digress a moment for Danish readers of the left, who are after all the people I’m trying hardest to reach with this blog.  I’d like to make it plain that American conservatives like myself believe what we do not because we’re demented, evil, or hateful.  We believe what we believe because we, like you, want the best for everyone and believe that free markets, equality before the law, primacy of law, free expression, free association, and limited government (among other things) are the best means by which to achieve that.  I don’t support conservative candidates so they can, as Joe Biden asserted in 2012, “put y’all back in chains.”  I support them because I believe conservative policies are the best at tearing all chains apart.  And that’s not just metaphorical: not many Danes seem to know this, but it was a Republican president relying on conservative principles who prosecuted a civil war to end slavery.  (And it was Democrats relying on progressive principles who fought that war to preserve slavery.)

Back to my willingness to “admit” I was Republican.  My confusion at the time was a product of my own naivete.  When I said “I’m a Republican,” I meant all of the things I’ve touched on in the preceding paragraphs, and more.  What my colleague heard, however, was nothing like that, because his ideas of the Republican party had been shaped by the Danish media, which typically present American Republicans as absurd caricatures: country club capitalists seeking to exploit the poor, redneck racists, wild-eyed religious fanatics, gun-totin’ yokels, or some combination thereof.  CNN and the BBC were no better at the time, and have in fact only gotten worse.

My colleague therefore saw my willingness to call myself a Republican as a willingness to avow myself a racist, a misogynist, a homophobe, and who knows what else.  Based on what he’d been seeing, hearing, and reading in the Danish media, I can’t blame him.

I tell you as an American citizen who loved Denmark enough to have chosen to live here and chosen to become a Danish citizen, however, that almost everything you see about American culture and politics in the Danish media, and even most of the English-language media available on Danish television, is presenting an entirely distorted picture of the American political and cultural landscape.

For seventeen years I’ve been shrugging it off.  The shrugging ends today.

That’s the primary purpose of this blog.

What I’m about

My second objective for this first post of my shiny new blog is to offer full disclosure on my own politics, along with a little biographical data, in order to help you assess how much trust you want to invest in me.

I’ll start with a stupid riddle: what do Socialdemokratiet, the Catholic Church, the Trump Administration, the 1992 Danish national soccer team, Al Qaeda, the Red Army, Loyal to Familia, Joe & the Juice A/S, Black Lives Matter, Google LLC, and Abba have in common?

Got it?

It probably wasn’t much of a stumper: they’re all groups.  Political parties, gangs, organizations, corporations, teams, even a pop music band.  All groups.  Your degree in rocket science probably wasn’t necessary to solve that one.

The relevant point here is that groups are made of people, and everything that’s made of people is subject to the same dysfunctions.  People can be dishonest, corrupt, incompetent, lazy, stupid, cruel, selfish, vindictive… feel free to toss in your own adjectives.  And people are the active ingredient in groups.  We shouldn’t be any more surprised to find greed in a charitable organization, or ignorance in a law school faculty, or cruelty in the administration of an orphanage, than we are to find sugar in our candy or liquor in our cocktails.  It’s what they’re made of.

(And we don’t have to focus on the negative: you’ll also find love, loyalty, compassion, faith, inspiration, and creativity wherever you find people.)

This is hardly a new observation. 

Immanuel Kant wrote that, “out of the crooked timber of humanity, nothing straight was ever made,” which is a succinct way of saying the same thing. 

In trying to win the reader’s sympathy for Queequeg, Herman Melville made a similar point in Moby Dick: “…Heaven have mercy on us all—Presbyterians and Pagans alike—for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.” 

Jaroslav Hašek, in The Good Soldier Švejk: “It’s only human nature that a chap should go on making mistakes until he dies.” 

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity: “. . .human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. . .. they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.”

I could go on and on.

The old, obvious, and widespread idea that we’re all damaged goods is foundational to my own outlook: like most of America’s founders, I therefore believe that we’re most successfully served by systems that allow for our broken nature and build in the necessary restraints and checks and balances to compensate.  “To make it politically profitable,” as economist Milton Friedman put it, “for the wrong people to do the right thing.”

All of my political beliefs flow directly out of this.  Every single one of them.

It’s why I think we’re best governed by the smallest and most localized government feasible.  (G.K. Chesterton in What I Saw in America, paraphrased rather than quoted because his English can be tricky for non-native speakers: It is hard enough to get a little town council to fulfill the wishes of a little town, even when the townspeople meet the councillors every day in the street, and could kick them down the street if they liked.  What those councillors would be like if they ruled instead from the North Pole is a kind of tyranny that the worst dictators could only dream of.)

It’s why I believe people should be left as much sovereignty and responsibility for their own welfare as possible: the less of that power that gets handed over to others, the less it can be abused.  (John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty, also paraphrased for clarity: The only purpose that entitles mankind, individually or collectively, to interfere with the liberty of anyone else, is self-protection […] the only purpose for which power can rightly be exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.)

It’s why I believe markets, like every other human institution, work best when left as much alone as possible.  (Frederic Bastiat, in Harmonies of Political Economy, also paraphrased: We’re not surprised by what an honest, hard-working middle class family consumes on a daily basis, because we’ve gotten used to it.  But if we could compare their comfortable circumstances to the conditions they’d experience in a world without competition—if we had a tool to measure how much work a family had to perform to achieve the same level of comfort at different periods in history, we’d have to acknowledge that liberty, limited as it still is, has accomplished things so incredible that only their permanence prevents us from noticing.  And I may as well toss in another Friedman quote, from Capitalism and Freedom, no paraphrasing required: “[A free economy] gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”

As all of the above should make clear, I’m a political, economic, and philosophical conservative.  As I hope it also makes clear, I’m neither a country club capitalist, a gap-toothed yokel, a religious fundamentalist, a redneck gun nut, or any of the other popular Danish stereotypes of American conservatives.

Finally, without lapsing into an autobiography, I feel I should at least share a general picture of my background.

I grew up the American northeast, and went straight from high school in a Boston suburb to Carnegie-Mellon University’s performing arts program in Pittsburgh.  After a few semesters there I dropped out to found a theatre company (igloo ttg) in Chicago with a handful of other Carnegie dropouts.  Eventually I ended up going back to complete my education at Emerson College in Boston, where I studied advertising, politics, communication, and law.  My Emerson education was concluded at their extension program in Los Angeles, where an internship at the California Republican Party turned into a full-time job.  (My first internship had been with the California Gephardt campaign for the Democrat primary, because I’d started out on the left; how I got red-pilled—converted from left to right—is a story for another day.)  That propelled me into a career of behind-the-scenes political stuff that I enjoyed immensely, but after a few years I decided (along with the woman I had by then married) to chuck it all and give the arts another shot.

We ended up starting a theatre company in Chicago (Studio 108), which led to my writing for the nationally syndicated radio program A Prairie Home Companion for a couple of seasons.  The theatre died when our marriage did, but the APHC gig ended up inspiring me to put together a book of literary parodies based on skits I’d done for the show.  The 5-Minute Iliad came out in 2000, by which time I was living in New York with the woman I will only ever to refer to here as Herself, who happened to be a Dane.  Following the successful launch of the book, I worked at a couple of internet startups; not long after the second one went belly-up, Herself suggested we spend a year in her native Denmark.

We moved to Denmark in March 2003, were married five months later in front of Nikolaj Kirke, and the following summer our first daughter was born.  That extended our stay in Denmark, which was extended again when Herself decided (as I had once myself) to forget about acting and get back to school.  In the middle of her education our second child was born.  Meanwhile I’d done some writing for the Hitman video game franchise and had established a Danish career in marketing automation to help pay our bills.  Suddenly our one-year visit had stretched out for half a decade: we were married with two kids, we’d bought a house, we had a station wagon, and we both had professional careers.  Moving back to the states was suddenly a lot more complicated than just packing our bags and hopping on a plane.

And here we are.

You now have all you should need to judge my opinions based on what you think of me as a person.  Fortunately that American habit hasn’t yet manifested itself in Danish culture: one of the reasons I chose to resume blogging was my hope that I could, in some small way, help prevent the toxic identitarianism that’s metastasized in America from infecting my beloved Denmark.

We’ll see.