PANDEMIC-REACTIONS: What does the crisis reactions say about Swedish culture?Jean Kelley March 23, 2020 27 Comments
The coronavirus is now officially classified as a pandemic. Strong indications suggests that the world is now in a systemic crisis which involves both infrastructure, ideology and the economy. My name is Henrik Jönsson and I am an independent libertarian entrepreneur and social commentator. During last week, the spread of the coronavirus dramatically increased in Sweden, and government communication is starting to show signs of a budding crisis awareness. Why has the coronavirus been framed as a left-wing/right-wing issue? What does Swedish crisis communication look like – and what do the reactions tell us about Swedish culture? These are the issues that I raise in this week’s video. Do you appreciate my videos? If so, I’d be very grateful if you support me using one of the payment options to the left. My videos take between 2-3 whole working days to produce – every week – and I cannot continue making them without your financial support. Big thanks to those of you who already support my video production! Also, don’t forget to hit the subscribe-button down below if you haven’t already done so and select ”all” when hitting that infernal bell-icon so that you just may get notified when I publish new videos – which I do with surgical precision every Sunday evening at 7 PM CET or 1PM Eastern standard time, in the US. Today, I’m talking about epidemics, strategies and ideology. Stay tuned! The corona-pandemic is tightening its grip on the world, and the number of infected are increasing drastically by the day. The virus’ spread has revealed serious systemic weaknesses on both Swedish and international level, and has as a consequence been politicized in the public debate. Many of Sweden’s authorities are getting increasingly more politicized. This has prompted the Swedish authorities to recruit management based on ideological conviction rather than on merit – which in the face of crisis is hampering their capacity to function. This is a contributing factor to the lack of crisis awareness and the loss of capacity to handle a crisis which more and more Swedish authorities are now displaying. Back in 2004, when a Tsunami wave hit Swedish holidaymakers in Thailand, crisis preparedness was non-existent and a constructive response was severely delayed. The flow of migrants through Europe in 2015 revealed the same lack of preparedness, with poorly structured laws and ill-advised, drastic decisions as a consequence. In the now-infamous Board of Transport-scandal of 2017, in which high ranking directors deliberately had tried to ”bend the law” is a third example of this. A combination of lack of competence, poor planning and insufficient preparedness lead to the authority revealing classified information regarding national security, to foreign, non-authorized personnel. “Do they have a code clearance?” “It’s an older code, sir, but it checks out. “Leave them to me, I will deal with them myself.” In 2018, the Department of Foreign Affairs showed a serious lack of judgement. The authority circulated an internal plea against a change of government under the pretext that this would be in conflict with the authority’s own ”moral values”. In 2019, National Police Commissioner Anders Thornberg admitted that there no longer was any international equivalence to the levels of violent crime in Sweden. Today, due to the corona pandemic, all eyes are on The Public Health Authority. In line with the established dramaturgy, a conflict arose between the left who trivialized the virus’ spread as rightwing-populistic alarmism – and the right who saw the virus as a societal danger which civil society must now gear up and defend itself against. ”I’m doing my part.” ”I’m doing my part, too.” In order to get an overview of how this conflict is playing out, I’ve compiled a timeline showing how people in Sweden have been commenting on the corona pandemic. 2nd of February: The public health agency issues the statement that there is no risk with welcoming airplanes with Swedes from the virus’ epicenter in Wuhan, China. The risk of this group spreading the coronavirus in Sweden is said to be ”non-existent”. Sweden has one confirmed case of Coronavirus at this time. 8th of February: Swedes are not discouraged to travel to the Alps as usual during the ski holiday season. Instead, they stress that there ”is absolutely no reason to worry about the coronavirus” 23rd of February: More countries are now enforcing travel bans and have issued statements to the public saying to avoid crowds and public transportation. Austria is stopping all trains from Italy. At the same time, Sweden’s largest daily Newspaper, Dagens Nyheters, organises a climate activist train-journey TO Italy, and some sixty swedes visit the carnival in Venice, which is partly canceled due to the infection risk. 28th of February: Northern Italy is quarantined, both leaving and entering the area is now prohibited. Sweden now has eleven confirmed cases of the coronavirus. 29th of February: A local newspaper is criticized for portraying the coronavirus as less dangerous than a normal influenza, and it’s editor in chief Pia Rehnquist says in an interview that their primary responsibility is to focus on what they perceive to be important rather than epidemic facts and figures. 1st of march: The Public Health Agency claims that children do not transmit the Coronavirus. The claim that children do not transmit the coronavirus is shortly thereafter refuted by a Chinese study. Social-media influencer and Epidemiologist Emma Frans ridicules civilians who are attempting to prepare for crisis. 3rd of March: Political journalist Olle Lönnaeus insinuates that Swedish media coverage of the coronavirus is populistic alarmism. Sweden now has 30 confirmed corona-cases. 5th of March: Now things are starting to move faster: The Public Health Agency confirms that ”Italy is the great motor in spreading the disease.” The Public Health Agency ALSO speculates that the worst part of the epidemic is now over. They quickly correct the statement to only apply to imported cases of the coronavirus. This also turns out not to be true. Agnes Wold, social-media influencer and professor in clinical bacteriology, tries to rationalize the Public Health Agency’s communication. Sweden now has 94 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. 6th of March: Denmark decides to conduct its Eurovision Song Contest without an audience due to concern of spreading the coronavirus. Sweden makes no such changes. Agnes Wold praisingly tweets that people do not understand what dangers the Swedish authorities just saved the population from. Sweden now has 136 confirmed cases. 7th of March: Sweden allows the Eurovision song contest to be performed with an audience of 35,000 at Friends Arena. People who feel ill are kindly asked to stay at home. Agnes Wold tweets that the number of newly discovered cases is now falling, and says in an interview that citizens should not isolate themselves. Sweden now has 162 confirmed cases. 8th of March: Even though Italy is considered to be the ”center of the spread”, the Public Health Agency dismisses the idea of barring Italian airplanes from landing Sweden, even if they are now expressing surprise that the epidemic has not yet slowed down. Sweden now has 203 confirmed cases. 9th of March: The entire country of Italy is quarantined. Social gatherings are prohibited and the population is urged to stay at home. Dr. Emma Frans heckles the speculations of uneducated masses. Agnes Wold heckles the speculations of uneducated masses. Sweden now has 260 confirmed cases. 10th of March: The Public Health Agency suddenly increases the risk of domestic infection to ”very high”. Sweden now has 356 confirmed cases. 11th of March: Sweden’s first coronavirus death is now a fact, and the WHO relays that the Coronavirus is now considered a pandemic. Denmark closes all schools, universities, cultural institutions, sends home all public employees who do not have critical tasks, prohibits gatherings with more than 100 people indoors – and restricts public transportation. Sweden remains passive. Harvard professor Marc Lipstich writes in The Boston Globe: “School closings clearly hamper transmission of seasonal and pandemic flu” The Public Health Agency has not yet revised their claim that school closings are “irrational”. Anders Tegnell at The Public Health Agency is interviewed and expresses concerns over inequality as music streaming service “Spotify” now encourages their employees to work from home. Tegnell states that ”everyone should have the same chance to stay healthy.” Sweden now has 500 confirmed cases, and the municipality of Stockholm announces that they have decided to stop performing tests on those who are not already in hospital or belong to a risk group. Swedish infection statistics will no longer provide an accurate picture of the number of infected. 12th of March: Agnes Wold now announces an emergency, urging people to prepare for an acute crisis… and to not argue about who said what and when. Emma Frans also encourages crisis preparedness, and asks people not to be wise in hindsight about who has been right or wrong about the crisis. The purpose of this timeline is not to accuse or blame any of the just mentioned, but it serves as a summary of how the politicization of the pandemic has been communicated in Sweden. Any critique of Swedish crisis preparations has been viewed as alarmist attempts to undermine the credibility of the Swedish authorities. Anyone not agreeing with the decisions of the government has therefore been ridiculed and ostracized. I recently participated in a podcast together with the social democrat Björn Rosengren and Jenny Lindahl, editor-in-chef of the leftwing-organization Arena Opinion. This is what they had to say: All communication coming from the left wing has been constructed as double entendres: while willfully downplaying the seriousness of the situation – they have also added subtle caveats that they might be wrong. When needing to revise over-optimistic appraisals of the situation, they have used those subtle caveats as an excuse to make it appear as if they had been taking it seriously all along. This attempt to support confidence in the authorities has proven to be counter-productive. A company can lose the confidence of their customers in exactly the same way: by exaggerating the advantages of their product – while at the same time concealing serious problems by burying them in the terms and conditions. “You read the entire Terms and Conditions?” This behavior appears to be part of a bigger, ideologically motivated Swedish defense mechanism which is used not only regarding the corona-pandemic, but against all sensitive issues such as migration and crime, for instance. The reaction pattern is similar: A collectivist ideological ideal is defended in all cases against an ever-more diverging reality. Anyone daring to raise criticism of the ideal is quickly dismissed an enemy of the state, or ridiculed for their foolishness and lack of understanding. In response, the upholders of the ideal deliver a one-sided, biased and often emotional defense of the righteousness of the ideal. Regarding migration, this behaviour is exemplified by the overly optimistic estimates regarding the competence of the newly arrived refugees. Excited ideologues spread wildly exaggerated projections concerning this issue under many years. Regarding criminality, the same defense mechanism manifests in creatively presented data with the message that society is getting safer, while the level of violence in reality is increasing. In the case of the corona-pandemic, my timeline describes the same type of reaction: dismissal and ridicule of ideological opponents, support for overly optimistic data and an increasing discrepancy between the governmental narrative and the reality experienced by the population. “Are you here?! Are you on this planet?!” As always, unrealistic ideals sooner or later inevitably collide with reality. This comes with a great loss of trust in those who have invested their credibility in the overly optimistic narrative. Because of this, they then tend to pretend that this story never existed – but that they have always held the position which they have now shifted into defending. Regarding migration, the government of Sweden performed a break-neck, 180-degree turn at the last possible moment. Regarding crime, national police chief Anders Thornberg finally admitted that violent crime in Sweden lacked an international equivalence. Regarding the corona-pandemic, we’re now heading towards the same abrupt restructuring of how reality is portrayed. This behaviour closely corresponds to the psychological concepts ”group-thinking” and ”denialism”, which together contribute to the reactive, ill-prepared and short sighted politics that have characterized Swedish society for the past 15 years. GROUP-THINKING is a psychological phenomena that can arise in a group or in culture whose members value agreement higher than truth. These types of groups tend to get progressively more critical to divergent ideas, and its members tend to avoid raising objections that threaten the stability of the group. In its utmost form, those engaged in groupthinking sometimes choose to completely reject reality in order to preserve the unity of the group. “We crushed the forces at Saddam International Airport and we cleaned the whole place of the airport.” DENIAL is a psychological defense-mechanism. Denial expresses a wish to reject reality in order to avoid confrontation with an undesired reality. “Hy-Brasil is sinking!” “But you don’t know our safety precautions!” The ability to imagine the consequences of your actions, and to be able to make plans based on this is challenging – but it is also this uniquely human capacity that makes civilized society possible. Ranging from when the first seed deliberately was planted in into the earth, to the moon landing, human progress has been characterized by the ability to envision a better future and plan for it. If, on the other hand, you don’t plan, and don’t WANT to be in contact with reality, but prefer to relate to ideals rather than to reality – then there is no time for planning – when reality finally hits you in the face. This is sometimes called REACTIVITY, and it is a notion which in its passivity contrasts against the responsible PRO-ACTIVITY. The proactive leads. The reactive follows. The proactive decides. The reactive obeys. The proactive chooses. The reactive accepts. Swedish politics are now characterized by reactivity, as a consequence of the deep need of denial grounded in group-thinkings and the need for consensus and unity. Reactivity ultimately expresses the impotence of collectivism. To recognize this issue of denial and reactivity is more important than any crisis at hand, regardless wether it’s about bombings, infections, poorly prepared laws or a sudden closure of the Öresund Bridge. Because it is really an existential question: REACTIONS control the behavior of animals – but the latent ability to ACT belongs to man alone. If, man chooses to make use of this gift of reason, rather than succumbing to the deceptive slumber of reactive idleness. Here is some important and solid advice for you to ACT on now, as the pandemic is strengthening its hold on the world. Please heed this advice even if you are not personally worried about becoming infected – because it is also your responsibility to limit the spread of the infection to more vulnerable groups. Stay at home if you feel unwell! Don’t be that macho-guy who ”never stays home sick”, only to infect your entire workplace. If you’re an employer – urge your employees to work from home if they can. I’ve done this myself, regardless of whether the Swedish authorities might think it’s inequal. Avoid crowds. Wash your hands thoroughly and often with soap, and if you have it, clean your hands with hand sanitizer with at least 75% of alcohol in it. Clean objects that you regularly use, like your cellphone and computer. Sneeze and cough in the fold of your arm fold rather than in your hand. Avoid touching your face. Take care of your hygiene and your general health. This is the wrong time to smoke cigars at sweaty nightclubs and hook up with strangers. There will be time for that again, soon enough. (I REALLY hope there will be time for that soon again.) Do you think crisis preparedness should be independent of ideological conviction – regardless if it is right or leftwing? If you do, I think you should share this video with your friends – and why not subscribe to my YouTube-channel while you’re at it! Do you have your own experiences of crisis communication during the corona-pandemic? If you do, please, share your experiences in the comment section down below. I appreciate all respectful communication. My name is Henrik Jönsson, and I strive to ACT rather than to REACT. Thank you very much for watching this video.