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Older discussion of DN / Follow-up: The problem of too shallow knowledge / experiences in Sweden

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In a recent text, I discussed the decline of the Swedish news-paper DN (among other things).

In a much earlier text, dated 2009-11-03, I had already brought up some points relating to its decline, notably a severe attitude problem. This in form on comments on an online-chat* with the then editor-in-chief, who made a number of statements that are interesting both in general and in retrospect. It truly is no wonder that DN has failed as a news source.

*Except that it was no true chat at all, but just her answering pre-filtered questions in one sitting, as discussed in the linked-to text.

One question was “Where will DN be in ten years?”*, which is almost the time passed. The answer began “DN will still be Sweden’s most important paper.”*, which has not panned out at all in my eyes. (Discounting the question whether DN was the most important paper back then, which is dubious.) On the contrary, DN has made it self so useless that its importance in a weightier sense is very low. If it is important, the importance is increasingly more akin to that of the Kardashians than that of Benjamin Franklin. The answer continues “The number of readers is even larger through the online edition, and therefore our journalism has an even greater impact.”*, which is a hard claim to check. However: According to a graph on page 5 of a report (PDF, in Swedish), DN dropped from an estimated 905 thousand “print” readers** in 2009 to 570 thousand in the first quarter of 2018 (with a further decline until now likely). The “overall” (“total”) numbers beginning in 2017 confuse the issue and could be (mis-)construed to imply an increase, which I discuss in an excursion. Looking at some graphs for other papers, I suspect that DN has also lost ground relatively speaking (but I have not dug into the details and might well be wrong).

*In my translation from a Swedish original.

**Strictly speaking, if I interpret the very unclear source correctly, these numbers likely refer to the potential readers counted for e.g. advertising purposes. See an excursion on readers.

With great reservations for interpretation, my conclusion would then be that DN has lost readers both absolutely and relatively despite the online edition. However, in all fairness, the 2009 online edition was likely free, implying that the prediction was made under radically different circumstances.

Excursion on potential vs true readers:
The report speaks of “räckvidd” (“reach”), which likely includes e.g. all members of a subscribing household (or all in a certain age bracket), even if only one actually reads the paper. (Disclaimer: I might be off in the details, but the principle is correct.) These numbers are then likely inflated considerably above the true number of readers. The general trend should remain the same, however. If anything, I would speculate on the trend being understated, because of generational differences and different habits among the young “now” and “then”. (In other words, the children living at home were more likely to read the paper in the past than they are today.)

Excursion on numbers and types of editions:
There are potentially three types of editions (and DN uses all three): Paper, digital-but-not-web (e.g. as a PDF file), and web. It is not obvious how what is counted where, and this could distort the discussion. (Especially, if the treatment is different for different papers.)

The graph contains several measures. The line called “Total”, in my best guess, includes all readers of all three editions. The “Print” line likely originally was the paper readers, but after 2016 include “e-tidningsläsande” (“e-paper reading”), which I suspect is digital-but-not-web. The “Digital” line is very unclear, but might refer to the web edition, which would work well in conjuncture with “Total”, if we allow for a discount of readers who belong to both “Print” and “Digital” (leaving the “Total” number smaller than the sum of “Print” and “Digital”).*

*I suspect that the closeness of “Digital” to “Print” is just a coincidence, because the corresponding entries for e.g. Aftonbladet are quite far apart. If not, some closer connection might have been present and forced a different interpretation. The much larger “Digital” value for Aftonbladet is also well compatible with an interpretation as a web edition, because Aftonbladet’s web edition is free of charge.

If we work under this assumption, the “Total” number for 2018 is a highly misleading comparison for the “Print” number for 2009: There was a great number of web readers even in 2009. Indeed, there might* well have been considerably more of them than today, because the current version is “pay-walled”, while the 2009 edition was not. Also note that “Digital” has fallen throughout its few years of display, and that this trend might have been present earlier too. Correspondingly, I suspect that the drop** in “Total” had been even larger than in “Print”, had the number been available. Under no circumstance is it reasonable to imagine an increase of 166 (1071 – 905) thousand from 2009 to 2018. (This even assuming that the editions are roughly comparable. If not, the addition is even more misleading.)

*This boils down to a fight between the trend towards greater online activities and the loss of visitors through the pay-wall. Seeing that Sweden had a very large Internet penetration very early on, my money is on the latter.

**At least in absolute numbers. It might have fared better in relative numbers.

To boot, I suspect that the difference between potential readers (as reported) and true readers (more interesting) will be larger for the web edition. This partly because it is more convenient and more natural to share a physical paper than online access, especially if different computers or computer accounts come into play; partly because the lower price makes it less wasteful to have a subscription that only one person uses.

However, even if we were to look at “paying customers”, the calculation would be misleading. Yes, the number of these might actually have increased. However, this must be seen in light of a much lower* price for the web edition, with less money actually flowing in.

*Compared not just to the paper edition, but to the digital-but-not-web edition. The former difference might have been offset by printing and distribution costs, the latter is not.

Disclaimer:
I suffered a computer crash during late-stage editing. Some changes might have been lost.

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Written by michaeleriksson

March 28, 2019 at 9:00 am

The problem of too shallow knowledge / experiences in Sweden

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During my recent travels in Sweden, I encountered other information sources than I usually do, including Swedish news-papers and Swedish TV. As a result, I saw quite a few examples of how common a too shallow or outright incorrect knowledge is, how this can lead to an incorrect understanding of e.g. a situation, and how important it is to gain a deeper understanding before forming strong opinions or demanding action.* This especially when it comes to topics like public policy, whom to vote for, what cause is worthy of support, …

*I have discussed similar topics, although often less generally, on a great number of occasions, e.g. in [1], [2], [3], [4], [5].

A discussion I had with my father over a cartoon of yogurt provides both a good example and an analogy for the larger problems—the difference between the advertisy claims on the cartoon and the truth revealed by the “nutrition facts label”:

The front of the cartoon proudly proclaimed 0.5 % fat*—the more extensive declaration on the back, in fine print, noted sufficiently much added sugar to ruin the energy savings from the reduced fat content, when compared to “traditional” yogurt. Indeed, since sugar is likely worse than fat, this might amount to a health**-downgrade… In the same way that many just note the front of the cartoon and do not bother to read the true information, so many rely on superficial, incomplete, deliberately angled, or otherwise flawed information in other contexts—even when better information is not that hard to find and gives a very different view. (Of course, many even better examples exist, including sugary candies advertised as “0 % fat”…)

*I might misremember the exact number, but the value was of this order.

**Here and elsewhere I use “health” (and variations) in a manner similar to the usual discourse. However, I caution that I consider this use simplistic, sometimes even misleading. Phrases like “healthy food” could even be seen as illogical, because an excess of virtually any food is unhealthy—just like a too great lack of variation.

Among the many other examples:

  1. We ate the yogurt with müsli—another food stuff traditionally considered healthy. Said müsli contained a considerable amount of candied fruits…

    My father happened to know* what he was eating, but many others do not. They know that müsli (and yogurt) is supposed to be a healthy food, go by reputation, fail to look at the specifics of the product at hand, and find themselves eating unhealthily* while believing that they are doing the opposite. The food business, I suspect, even deliberately plays on this, adding sugar and whatnot to make a product taste better** than the competition’s alternative—hoping that the customers will notice the taste difference, not the health difference.

    *Note that there is not necessarily anything wrong with picking a less healthy alternative when it is an informed decision. (Indeed, I often go by taste or convenience myself. Moreover, I suspect that fanaticism with healthy food can lead to unhealthy eating too.) The issue here is how often the decision is uninformed—or even misinformed.

    Here we have a good example of a special case: Focusing too much on the name, reputation, appearance, whatnot of the thing rather than on its true nature. This especially through changes over time (e.g. in what an ideological label implies or what goals a party has), appropriation of names/reputations/whatnot by others (e.g. any number of brands and marketing gimmicks), and confusing the characteristics of one group member with those of another (e.g. by assuming that two party members agree on a certain question, or that “corresponding” parties from different countries have the same ideology and policy in detail).

    *It is conceivable that the yogurt and müsli at hand were still better than many of the alternatives—and certainly better than chocolate milk and whatever passes for breakfast cereal among sugar-addicted children. However, more traditional versions would have been better, and the problem is not limited to these. Indeed, many even sabotage reasonably healthy foods by own manipulation, e.g. by drenching a salad in mayonnaise. A notable complication is that müsli is very high in energy to begin with, making additional sugar the worse an idea.

  2. The culture section of Dagens Nyheter* (DN) usually contained about as many articles on topics like society, politics, economics, …, as it did on culture. Those that I bothered to read invariably were written from a very limited understanding of the issue at hand and very often with a one-sided perspective or an unnuanced black-and-white world view. As a result the texts were uninformative, poorly reasoned, and often** off in their conclusions. To boot, they often had an ideological tilt.

    *A major Swedish daily news-paper, to which my father subscribes. Also see excursion below.

    **It is possible to be right for a poor reason…

    Broadly speaking: Some culture expert, “cultural intellectual”*, or similar** develops a strong opinion based on an understanding and intelligence that is not or not much better than the average, and is allowed to write about it for an audience of hundreds of thousands of paying readers. Those among the readers who are not themselves well informed and/or good critical thinkers stand a fair risk of being worse off for reading these articles.

    *For want of a better phrase and too differ from those who have a broader intellectual background.

    **I have not investigated the authors in detail and, in all fairness, it is possible that some of them have another background (e.g. as regular news-journalists, who simple happen to express their opinions in the culture section). However, because similar topics are covered in the main section too, and often in an editorial or opinionating manner, I suspect that the culture section is the playground of a subset of the staff. (This in contrast to e.g. to a system where some types of content appear in the culture section as a matter of course, with the word “culture” remaining merely for historical reasons.) Either way, the problems with the contents remain unchanged and worse than in the rest of the paper.

    (I cannot give specific examples, because these readings took place during my first visit. During my second, where my specific recollections are fresher, I either merely leafed through this section or did not bother to open it at all… Indeed, even during my first visit, the low quality usually lead me to stop reading before the half-way mark of the article at hand.)

  3. I encountered a great number of articles (by no means restricted to DN or, within DN, the culture section) based on or propagating weird misconceptions and misrepresentations of “gender issues”, including claims that rape would not be taken sufficiently seriously in Sweden or how too few reports lead to convictions,* that women earn much less than men,** that there are too few women in tech/politics/whatnot,*** and so on. As long as people do not have the depth of knowledge and the ability to think critically to see through such misinformation, the impact on politics, public policy, business, education, …, will be considerable.**** Sweden provides a nightmare example of this, but the problem is present in large portions of the rest of the world too.

    *A ridiculous claim considering how strong feminism is in Sweden, how laws on consents have been altered in an insane manner, how rape is presented in media, etc. With an eye on conviction rates, I point to portions of an earlier discussion of rape statistics.

    **See e.g. [1]. This topic should be stone-dead by now. It has been debunked again and again and again by so many people over such a long time span, but I see it dozens of times per year, including several mentions last week alone.

    ***Questions like suitability, interest, willingness to sacrifice for a career, whatnot, are almost invariably ignored—worse, it is often considered sexist to even bring them up as possibilities. (Note that this unscientific and misological attitude would be a very bad thing even if there were no differences between the sexes. Of course, science tells of considerable differences when looking at groups, and evolution more-or-less necessitates them.) Instead, there is a blanket assumption that any difference is explained either by (a) some version of “discrimination” or “oppression” (I am often left with the impression that there must be some secret club of cigar-smoking men deliberately plotting to keep women down…), (b) “structures”, societal indoctrination, whatnot (i.e. it simply is not possible that their might be some biological difference in e.g. male and female career preferences—differences in behaviors and preferences must have an external cause).

    ****A particularly blatant example of such an impact, if only for one day: DN reported that (probably) Berlin’s public transport would give women a 21 % rebate to “compensate” for the difference in income—without understanding that there is no unfairness involved in the original difference, which makes the rebate unfair. To boot, this might be one of the many cases where it would be more relevant to look at house-hold income, which is often to a significant part shared, sometimes even mostly under the control of the woman—an aspect which I have never heard mentioned in main-stream media and politics.

    That was on regular days. During my second visit, the International Women’s Day reared its ugly head again. Nine years ago (cf. [6]), I already wrote a very negative piece on this. This year it appeared to be worse.

  4. Luring out school-children to demonstrate for the environment (or any other major issue) despite the clear majority knowing and understanding little more than what they have been told. Most adults do not have a sufficiently solid understanding of these issues that a measure like a demonstration* would make sense—for a young student this applies even more strongly. Worse: In many cases, this is likely to be more of an excuse to get out of school… To take such actions without having a reasonable** understanding is irresponsible and should be condemned—not lauded.

    *There are very few cases where a demonstration is legitimate and effective at all, but here, for the sake of argument, I work on the premise that demonstrations are a reasonable idea in principle.

    **Such an understanding is not reached by reading news-papers and listening to teachers, but requires going to deeper sources one-self, to look at both sides of an issue, and to actually think. This is not to say, however, that the understanding must be perfect and the opinion unchanging—such criteria would bring everything to a stand-still. Certainly, a weaker dedication/action/statement/whatnot requires less prior effort than a stronger one.

    While not a topic I encountered during my visits, I am also reminded of the malpractice of parents dragging even small children to demonstrations to protest issues that the parents do not understand sufficiently, e.g. nuclear power.

  5. There appears to be an extreme aversion towards flying, including some member of the “Green Party” demanding a ban on intra-country flights. In earlier times, I have repeatedly seen news-paper articles complain that too few would “klimatkompensera” (“climate compensate”) when flying, which amounts to making a “voluntary” monetary donation to, in some sense, offset the environmental impact of the flight*—on top of already existing taxes and whatnot.

    *Which, obviously, does not work very well: In the short-term, the environmental impact is entirely unchanged; in the long-term, it is dubious that charities handle money effectively and efficiently. Indeed, I cannot quell the suspicion that there is some aspect of scam to this, aimed less at saving the environment and more at getting money to keep charities running and their leaders well payed. (But I have not looked into this.) Note how a similar scheme for cars would make more sense, but would also be harder to guilt people into for practical reasons—they use their cars everyday, but fly far less often.

    This shows a great lack of thinking:

    Firstly, the main problem related to flying is not the means of travel (i.e. airplane) but the distance traveled. Questions like “Is it a good idea to travel long distances during vacations?” should take precedence over “Is it a good idea to fly during vacations?”.

    Secondly, problems through air travel are dwarfed by problems through cars. If current air travel was kept constant and car travel was removed (in favor of e.g. train travel, walking, or non-travel; or reduced through car-pooling; or made more environmental through non-fossil fuels), the effect would be much larger. Indeed, many in e.g. Germany spend one to two hours per work-day just with a car commute—to which various other trips must be added. (And then there is trucking of goods and whatnot.)

    Thirdly, it is a myth that air travel is unusually “dirty”. It does compare poorly with e.g. train travel, but looking at the cost (in some sense) per kilometer compared to regular car travel, it is often superior.* Note e.g. that planes are reasonably energy efficient once cruising (but not when taking-off), that the environmental impact of construction is larger for cars on a per-seat basis, and that airplanes are much lesser contributors to localized concentrations of emissions in cities (which are quite hazardous both for the local environment and the people in the area).

    *Beware that comparisons are often made unfairly, e.g. through assuming a car with four passengers, when many (most?) real car journeys are made by a solitary driver.

    More generally, climate debate in Sweden invariably forgets that what the Swedes do matters far less than what e.g. the Chinese do. I am not saying that Swedes should ignore the environmental impact of their own behavior based on this; however, for a comparatively small group of people to endlessly optimize* its own environmental impact is not the most productive of strategies from a global perspective, with an eye on other groups and on the issue of diminishing returns. This repeats the airplane-vs-car error of not putting in the effort where it has the largest impact.

    *As another example: During my first visit, DN had an article on eating “klimatsmart” (“climate smart”) almost every day. Apparently, the most import thing Swedes can do for the environment is to cut down on meat and whatnots… Here a detail is optimized even when there are targets much more worthy of optimization, e.g. the Swedish use of cars or the Chinese eating habits. In addition, the very phrase is idiotic, using “smart” (undoubtedly for rhetorical purposes) where e.g. “friendly” would have been appropriate, and speaking of “climate” where the more general term (and priority!) “environment” would be better.

    Looking specifically at the suggested ban on intra-country flights: It is true that air travel is often sub-optimal for shorter distances, which will include most intra-country travel in at least European* countries. Still, going from Malmö to Kiruna by car might not be ideal… For shorter distances, we have to ask why people chose to fly: Either they have some reasonable advantage over other means of travel or they should be informed about the benefits of these other means. (Of course, if they do have reasonable advantages, an additional approach could be to improve other means of travel, e.g. by a faster train that removes a time advantage.) A ban simply makes little sense. Indeed, a part of the reasoning for banning flights was that there would be no point in travel by plane between Göteborg and Stockholm, because there would be no time saved.** But: If there is no point, why do people fly?!? Either there is a point or they need to be informed better.

    *Which tend to be small area-wise compared to the rest of the world.

    **In a twist, while my father was reading the article and I had only seen the headline, I argued that there was unlikely to be much of a time gain between exactly Göteborg and Stockholm, implying that there was unlikely to be a major reason to fly, implying that a ban on that route would be pointless. Then I read the article myself, and noted the perverted turned-on-its-head reasoning by the “Greens”… (Note that the time for air travel also includes travel to-and-from airports, time for check-in and security checks, and similar. When I had a weekend commute between Düsseldorf and Munich, I soon switched to trains for this exact reason—the time needed was about the same, but travel by train was less of a hassle and more comfortable.)

  6. A U.S. admissions scandal found its way into even Swedish news-papers: Some few rich and famous had bribed colleges into admitting their children.

    What went without mention is how fundamentally flawed and arbitrary the U.S. admissions tend to be: Without these flaws, this scandal would not have happened (or, at least, not as easily)—and there are far worse consequences. An article dealing with these problems would have been a much worthier undertaking, but the journalists were likely clueless. (And such and article might have had less entertainment appeal to the broad masses…)

    For instance, consider that Asian* applicants regularly need hundreds of points more on the SATs than Black applicants (and/or a corresponding difference in GPA). For instance, consider that many “jocks” that are not college material not only get into college, but actually get scholarships—taking places from some “nerds” that are college material.** For instance, consider that having the right connections, notably alumni parents, can be a greater benefit than scholastic aptitude.

    *Whites are often suffering a similar disadvantage, but (a) it tends to be smaller, (b) the focus on Asians is justified through demonstrating that e.g. belonging to a minority is secondary to something else.

    **A sometime suggested justification is that college sports help with paying for colleges. So far, I am not convinced by this line of reasoning, considering factors like the immense profits of many U.S. colleges, the costs incurred by sports programs that reduce the profit from the same sports programs, and the possibility that even sports competitions involving non-bought talents would also earn money. (Nevertheless, this is an area that could need investigation.) In addition, even if we assume that the gains would be sufficient to ensure that the “jocks” do not steal places from others, we have to consider issues like the devaluation of academic standards and the value of a diploma.

    (To detail a solution would be beyond the scope of this text, but I would tend towards looking only at proved (e.g. through GPA) and projected (e.g. through SATs) academic ability, and using other criteria only as a tie-breaker. An essay is out entirely, as too arbitrary; an interview should be an exception, seeing that it brings little value, that many college applicants simply are too young to interview well, and that interview success is unusually coachable.)

  7. A more everyday example is given by a brief conversation about crêpes vs. pancakes, where someone mentioned that “crêpes Suzette” might or might not have been invented or named by the Swedish Prince Bertil. I took the trouble to check—and its “not”: According to Swedish Wikipedia, which mentions the claim, the dish existed by that name no later than 1903, which predates the Prince’s birth.

    Now, I do not check every claim that comes my way, nor do I investigate everything mentioned as a possibility, but I do have an investigative attitude and I do check many things and read up more in depth on others—or, as when visiting my father, I ask questions when I believe that someone has more knowledge in a certain area.* Above all, I realize that my opinions cannot be set in stone—when I encounter no information, when old information is revised, when new arguments are presented, …, then I must be willing to re-evaluate my opinions. Most other people, including typical journalists and politicians, do not do this to the necessary degree (if at all). From day to day, the impact might be small—but accumulated over a life-time it is enormous.

    *And I do not claim that every text I write is researched and thought-through to the last detail—especially, because I often use the process of writing as a means of learning and as a stepping stone to a better future understanding. Nevertheless, I do better than the typical journalists, and I only rarely write something that I would consider an outright blunder afterwards. (An example would be assuming that Linnaeus did not use Greek.) More often, the research or thinking brought on by the writing has led me to forego a text entirely or to write a different text on the topic than I originally had intended.

Excursion on DN (and other news-papers):
When I grew up, DN was one of the two “big” morning news-papers (Svenska Dagbladet/SvD being the other), considered to be of very high quality and vastly superior to various local and evening news-papers. My father subscribed as far back as the 1980s, and I must have read hundreds of them during my many visits. (During my first year in college, my student dorm subscribed to both DN and SvD, and I read both each day.) Compared to the local news-paper that my mother subscribed to there was a world of difference, be it in depth of coverage, quality, or number of pages.

Now, it is possible that I would be less enthusiastic about the “old” DN, had I encountered it today—a part of my different evaluation is almost certainly rooted in my own development. However, there is objectively much less text today than back then, which tells in terms of depth and breadth of coverage. Worse, the current* incarnation of that local news-paper that I encountered when visiting my step-father was often superior—something unthinkable twenty or thirty years ago. And, no, while the local news-paper might (or might not) have improved, the main explanation is the drop by DN.

*In my youth, this was a separate paper, “Bergslagsposten”, which merely cooperated with and had the same owner as “Nerikes Allehanda”. By now, the former has been integrated into the latter. (While I only very rarely read the latter in my youth, it was of a similar quality level as the former.)

More generally, there are many news-papers that have grown worse over the years, and considering the low competence levels typical among journalists, the populist take, and problems like an ideological slant and the natural limits of the format*, I see little reason to bother: My advice is to get a brief overview of the events of the day from some online source, to dig deeper in other (typically also online) sources when something is of interest, and to focus more on building a solid knowledge of various topics than on news when reading. This has been my own approach for years.

*For instance, that individual articles cannot cover all angles in depth without growing too large and that there are often time constraints involved.

A detailed analysis of the problems with modern news-papers is beyond the current scope, but I note poor writings skills, a lack of critical thinking, poor knowledge, and an attitude aimed more at getting attention and entertaining than at informing. I note especially the idiocy of weaving together several logically distinct articles regarding a larger theme into one, e.g. through having one logical article dealing with facts and arguments, one logical article dealing with human interest and emotions (often even a sob story), and then throwing them together into a chaotic mixture—which is poor writing caused by a wish to entertain. An interesting example of attention getting is DN’s common idiocy of using a number (!) as the headline of a shorter news item. For instance, five lines dealing with recent statistics on X might be head-lined (!) by “35” (or whatever the number associated with X was). Another is the inclusion of images of the journalists themselves…

Written by michaeleriksson

March 20, 2019 at 5:08 am

Further damage to democracy / Follow-up: The 2018 Swedish parliamentary election

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As a further sign of how democracy is increasingly lost, Swedish politicians appear to be going down the same perfidious path that the Germans have pushed with their unholy CDU/CSU and SPD coalitions.

Shortly after the Swedish election, things seemed to point to a non-Leftist government, with the traditional non-Left alliance of parties being roughly on par with the Social-Democrats (S) and their support parties, and upstart SD being less likely to support S. Item 6 of the linked-to text is particularly interesting in light of actual developments…

However, just as in Germany, there were endless* delays and negotiations, with the added perfidy that two parties of the decades long non-Left alliance have decided that it is more important to keep SD without influence than it is to support the alliance and to be true to their voters.** This despite a very clear understanding among the typical alliance voters that a vote for any one of these parties was a vote for the alliance as a whole and against S. To boot, said two parties (according to current reporting) would not even get seats in the government as a part of their thirty silver pieces, which would have given some pseudo-justification to this move. They have received some promises of policy changes, but likely none that could not have been handled better with an alliance government to begin with. Of course, these concessions also potentially open S up to criticism, but a lesser one, seeing that it actually gets most of the cake…

*My first text on the election was published four months ago, to the day.

**SD is still, despite having the support of more than every fifth voter in some polls, treated as a pariah by some other parties, in entire disproportion to their actual opinions, and is seen as carrying some type of guilt by association. (Well in line with typical Leftist propaganda methods of condemn-everyone-insufficiently-PC-as-evil-to-the-core: SD is critical of immigration policies and rejects the gender-feminist world-view of “Patriarchy” and “constructs”.) For my part, I would consider S the more extreme and unbalanced of the two… Certainly, it is absurd when parties refuse to even risk winning a parliamentary vote through SD’s support. Consider, by analogy, if the U.S. Republicans (Democrats) would refuse their own bills and nominations if they needed the support from a handful of Democrats (Republicans) to push them through. See also several older texts, including e.g. [1] from before the 2010 election.

As far as I am concerned, the said two parties,“Centerpartiet”–“the center party” (C) and “Liberalerna”–“the liberals”* (L), have de-legitimized themselves entirely, and I cannot at this juncture consider either of Sweden and Germany a true democracy: Democracy is more than just formally having a democratic system—it also requires that the players behave democratically and do not just use the voters as a mere tool for their own purposes.

*I note that the Swedish word “liberal” kept its original meaning for a lot longer than in the U.S., whose “liberals” are often anti-liberals by older standards. Indeed, as late as when I was a teenager, I used the word to describe myself and was correctly understood. However, L has long flirted with the U.S. style of “liberalism”—the more so since a name change, a few years back, from the then “Folkpartiet” (“the People’s Party”).

Excursion on the election procedure:
A potentially severe flaw in the Swedish system is that the new government (resp. the prime minister who appoints the government) is elected within the parliament on a negative basis: Rather than picking whoever can get a majority (or plurality) behind him, the job goes to whoever is not explicitly rejected by a majority. This peculiar system has likely strongly contributed to the current problems, and was behind the absurd 1978 choice of L as sole government party—with 39 (!) out of 349 MPs and roughly one in nine of the (popular election) voters as a basis. (According to Swedish Wikipedia, the in-parliament vote showed 39 for, 66 against, and 215 abstaining, and since the 66 were well short of half… While I see nothing wrong with minority governments in principle, this is too much.) It might be time to experiment with e.g. a knock-candidates-out-until-one-has-a-majority system.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 11, 2019 at 8:50 pm

The 2018 Swedish parliamentary election

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A few words on the recent Swedish parliamentary election, with some reservations for the results not yet being finalized:*

*Numbers are taken from two Swedish Wikipedia pages, on the 2018 election resp. the historical election results.

  1. Gratifyingly, the overall decline of Social-Democracy appears to be continuing. While the Swedish incarnation, and the current government former, did well by international standards, with 28.4 %; it also reached a new record low. The previous low was 28.5 % from 1911 and the first somewhat modern election.

    This, even without unholy coalitions, follows the trend in Germany, although the Germans are in danger of dropping below 20 %, while the Swedes just went below 30 %. (On the other hand, the joint Social-Democrat/former Communist/Green block is roughly equally strong in Germany as in Sweden. Also see below.)

  2. The main individual competitor, Moderaterna, dropped even more, but its three close allies saw a sufficient gain to more than offset this, leaving the group roughly on par with the Social-Democrats and its allies (a former Communist, now Leftist-/Feminist-populist, party and the “Greens”). The chances are good that the Social-Democrats will not form the next government.
  3. The “Greens” came close to missing the 4%-barrier*. Had they done so, it would have been easier to form a non-Leftist government. Let us see what the next election brings…

    *Parties with less than 4 % of the overall votes are not awarded seats.

  4. The Feminist extremist/populist party Fi did not only, again, fail to reach the 4%-barrier, but took a severe hit. With a mere 0.4 %, chances are that it will become a non-factor in the future. Unfortunately, this cannot be seen as an indication that Sweden is finally turning against Feminism, because many of the other parties are strong (if, I hope, not always honest) proclaimers of (Gender-)Feminist ideas. (Including Patriarchy this, structures that, men oppress women, domestic violence only happens to women, we need to spend as much time discussing female mathematicians as male in math books, variations of the 77-cents-on-the-dollar fraud, …)
  5. However, the further advances of Sverigedemokraterna could be a sign that this is happening: While the main focus of this party is immigration skepticism, it has also often clearly distanced it self from Feminism. With 5.7 %* in 2010, 12.9 % in 2014, and now 17.6 %, it has grown to be a candidate for second largest party, will potentially hold a lot of sway in the otherwise even parliament, and is increasingly forcing the rest of the parties to take issues around immigration and Feminism seriously. This is very positive, seeing that the refusal to discuss such issues in a critical and open-minded manner has had severe consequences for Sweden.

    *Entering parliament for the first time. At the time, many viewed this as a complete disaster and Sverigedemokraterna as the worst evil Sweden had seen in living memory. (Cf. e.g. [1] and a few links from there.) The reactions were worse than those of Hillary and her pack deplorables after the election of Trump…

    As an aside, Sverigedemokraterna is a good example of why the Left–Right scale is useless. They are almost invariably classified as Right-wing, Right populist, or even (usually by the extreme Left) as extreme Right. However, if we look at other issues than “anti-PC” and nationalism, they are (or at least were*) very often overlapping with the Leftist parties. Indeed, my first encounter with Anna Ardin (Feminist/Leftist propagandist and, later, infamous for rape accusations against Julian Assange) was relating to her loudly complaining about how a Swedish newspaper had pegged her as a voter for Sverigedemokraterna in an online test… A member of the (non-hyperbolically!) Loony Left pegged as having more in common with Sverigedemokraterna than with the party of her official choice…

    *I have not looked into their current opinions in detail, but they do appear to have drifted in a more conservative direction over the last eight years. However, the greatest criticism, often amounting to “Sverigedemokraterna are Nazis in disguise” came from that era…

  6. An interesting development is that the Social-Democrats have made overtures towards its non-allies to form a government without involvement of Sverigedemokraterna—well in line with their behavior in past years. For now, they appear to have been turned down. To boot, chances are that, with the current size of Sverigedemokraterna, it will be impossible for the Social-Democrats to push this through by swaying just one Moderaterna’s three allies to defect—at least two would be needed, which is extremely unlikely to happen.

    This is doubly gratifying in that it points to both a turnaround in the general treatment of Sverigedemokraterna and a refusal to fall into the anti-democratic trap that Germany has been caught in.

Readers from e.g. the U.S. should beware that the “political middle” is considerably more to the Left in Sweden than in the U.S. Applying Swedish measures to a U.S. context, the middle-line would not go between the Democrats and the Republicans, but splitting the Democrats in half. Vice versa, the U.S. political middle would cut the Swedish “Right” in half.

As for myself, I continued my practice of not voting—I see none of the current parties as deserving my vote, the choice being one of the lesser evil. (I have not done the leg-work to pin down said lesser evil in this election, but in the past it has usually been Moderaterna.)

Written by michaeleriksson

September 11, 2018 at 3:36 am

Me too five: Swedish Track-and-Field

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During the “me too” campaign, Swedish Track-and-Field hit the spotlight after Moa Hjelmer*, former European Champion, claimed** to have been raped. An investigation into sexual and physical abuse in the area of Track-and-Field was launched, and a report published.

*I have no idea whether she is included among the survey respondents (see below).

**To preempt outbursts from an irrational reader: I have no deeper knowledge of the matter, and neither deny nor confirm the event. However, experience shows that it is very important to approach matters relating to rape, sexual abuse, child abuse, …, agnostically and to use agnostic formulations until considerable proof is present.

At the time, I downloaded the report, fully intending to give it a thorough read and, if needed, comment upon it—but put this off again and again, expecting it to contain dozens upon dozens of pages. It does not…

It has a whopping four (4!) pages and a cover, most of the contents amounting to “look how seriously we take this”.

Looking into what is said about the investigation, I find:

  1. A survey had been sent to 404 Swedish athletes, of which 192 had actually answered.* The survey included both men and women, but neither their absolute numbers nor their proportions are mentioned.**

    *Note, below, that the low answer rate could imply that the percentages claimed in the report could be exaggerated by as much as a factor two for the overall survey addressees, seeing that those who have been victims tend to be disproportionately likely to answer.

    **Some speculation might be possible based on answer rates (or other numbers); however, the claim that 48 % of everyone, 53 % of women, and 48 % of men had answered makes this tricky: Either the rates are misreported or the proportion of male addressees must have been considerably higher than for female addressees. That 192 / 404 is roughly 47.5 % (48 % only with maximal rounding) makes the combination even less plausible.

    The athletes have been pre-filtered with the constraint that they were active in the Track-and-Field national team at some point in the range 2011–2017. While this ensures some degree of currency (and is generally not unreasonable), it could skew the overall results by including many events too far back to describe the current situation—e.g. that someone did a last tour in 2011, at age 35, and describes an event that took place when 15, i.e. around 1991. Here it might have been helpful to include some younger athletes without previous national-team experience and/or to restrict the survey to e.g. events during the last ten years. (Note that at least the “physical abuse” part below appears to be dominated by experiences pre-adulthood.) With regard to an athlete’s younger years, it should also be noted that Swedish Track-and-Field has seen a number of “imports” and that their prior experiences could skew the situation further.

  2. The survey uses the following definitions:

    Sexual abuse (“sexuella övergrepp”): Exposure* to some of the following against own will** (“Utsatthet för något av följande mot egen vilja”):

    *The Swedish original uses a very awkward wording, which is actually only partially reflected in the awkward translation. “Utsatthet” usually refers to a more persistent state and often has further going connotations of e.g. lack of protection than would be expected in this context. (In contrast, a formulation like “att bli utsatt för”/“to be exposed to” would have been more reasonable.)

    **It is not clear from context whether this is restricted to non-consensual activities or whether voluntary-but-reluctant activities are included—be it with regard to the intention of the survey makers or the reading by the survey takers. In another context, I might have given the former interpretation a nod, but in light of the common malpractice of including exactly voluntary-but-reluctant activities into abuse, or even rape, I urge caution. (Also note the absence of references to force and threats.) Similarly, it is not clear how e.g. welcome actions that took place without prior or implied consent are to be handled. No word is said about reasonable expectations of the other party (e.g. when two sexual partners are in bed together and the one makes a grab for the others genitals; cf. the first sub-item).

    • someone has touched your genitals* (“någon har berört dina könsdelar”)

      *It is not clear whether the genitals had to be naked, whether accidental touching is included, and whether non-sexual contacts are included (for instance, should it be considered sexual or physical abuse when someone is kicked in the groin?). An additional danger is that some might misinterpret this to include e.g. breasts or buttocks—a more explicit formulation would have been beneficial.

    • you have masturbated for* someone (“du har onanerat åt någon”)

      *The use of “for” preserves an ambiguity in whether the sense goes in the direction of “giving a hand-job” or “giving a show”. Unlike “to masturbate”, “att onanera” would imply a self-pleasing act (i.e. “giving a show”); however, “åt” points in the other direction (as does the general context).

    • you have had vaginal intercourse (“du har haft vaginalt samlag”)
    • you have had oral sex (“du har haft oralsex”)
    • you have had anal sex (“du har haft analsex”)

    (In the three last items, there is no specification of whether as “top” and/or “bottom”. Both could be intended or the survey could be skewed to exclude many abuses of men, which would not be unprecedented.)

    Physical abuse (“Fysiska övergrepp”): Exposure* to some of the following against own will** (“Utsatthet för något av följande mot egen vilja”):

    *The same remarks as for sexual abuse apply.

    **Somewhat similar remarks as for sexual abuse apply. Consider e.g. someone who gets into a fight with the intent of hurting someone else and is willing to pay the price of some reciprocal damage—but would prefer not to. The practice of hazing poses another problem: While some hazing is entirely involuntary, even physical abuse can occur on a voluntary-but-reluctant basis in other cases.

    • hit her/him* with the hands (“slog till henne/honom med händerna”)

      *Why the perspective has been changed from the first to the third person is unclear. The order of the pronouns is interesting, however, seeing that men are more likely to be victims (both a priori and in light of the actual survey results).

    • kicked, bit, or beat her/him with fists* (“sparkade, bet eller slog henne/honom med knytnävarna”)

      *Attacks like kneeing appear to be excluded. Why this and the above item is divided is unclear; one possibility is that the above item is intended for slapping and poorly formulated.

    • hit her/him with an object* (“slog henne/honom med tillhygge”)

      *“Tillhygge” has no obvious English translation, but would, at least in this context, likely imply any “wielded” object.

    • burned or scalded her/him (“brände eller skållade henne/honom”)
    • tried to suffocate her/him (strangulated*) (“försökte kväva henne/honom (tog struptag)”)

      *It is not clear whether this is an illustration, a clarification, or a restriction. My translation is simultaneously wider and narrower than the original: The original is restricted to using hands, but need not include actual or prolonged strangulation or choking. In both languages some ambiguity as to eventual intent could be present—are we talking e.g. pain, unconsciousness, or death.

    • Attacked her/him physically in another manner* (“angrep henne/honom fysiskt på annat sätt”)

      *This claim is so vague that it invalidates the earlier attempt to restrict, enumerate, whatnot. Either this should have been the whole or it should not have been present at all. I note that e.g. that the common Swedish practice of throwing a team captain into the water-grave for the steeple-chase upon victory could be construed to be included…

    The definitions suffer from a vagueness and completeness problem, and there is no discrimination concerning e.g. severity or who started what. (For instance, if a man jokingly and lightly beats a woman with a rolled up news paper and she retaliates by beating him senseless with a discus, it counts the same.) There is also no information on context (including age of the involved, previous provocation, whether the intent was to protect someone else or to apply discipline, whatnot). A deeper analysis might show further problems*. The definitions are certainly not the conscientious work of a competent scientist.

    *Indeed, I found myself adding new objections every time I read through the lists…

    (I make the reservation that the actual survey might have contained additional clarification. However, it is the responsibility of the report makers to include sufficient context for a reasonable interpretation.)

    Not including a section on emotional violence (and similar types of behavior) seems like a missed opportunity, but is not strictly speaking an error. (And emotional violence has a far greater subjectivity.) I would have let it go unmentioned, except for speculation about mobbing (cf. below) as a motivation for the physical violence, with mobbing usually being more non-physical than physical.

  3. Almost 12 % claimed to have been sexually abused, by the above definitions, independent of a Track-and-Field context. Considering the great vagueness of the overall formulation and the first sub-item of the definition, this number is nothing remarkable and could possibly largely arise even from a significant portion of the survey takers going with a wide interpretation. For instance, more-or-less everyone has at some point had voluntary-but-reluctant sex—and if only 12 % chose a “feminist” interpretation, the entire number is explained in one go.*

    *Note that I am not saying that this was the case—I merely point to the resulting low informative power of the reported number, as well as a fairly wide range of numbers around it, had they occurred instead.

  4. A whopping five (5!) survey takers (or 2.6 %) claim to have been sexually abused in a Track-and-Field context. Of these, two were drunk* and none claims to have talked to the authorities**.*** No statement was made as to which item of the definitions applied—are we talking groping or all-out rape? No statement was made as to the sex of the individuals.

    *Which (a) shows that “Track-and-Field context” (“friidrottssammanhang”) is given a very wide meaning, (b) implies that there is a fair chance that the other party was drunk too, (c) opens the door to the perpetrator being someone from “outside” (e.g. in that a group of team-members went to a party open to non-athletes/non-trainers/non-whatnots, one of which performed the abuse).

    **Which is at least an indication (but not proof) that the events were of a less severe nature. However, possibly indicating severity in two (!) cases: “Shy of half of the exposed claim that the abuse had consequences for their athletic activities; less energy to train, avoided some training elements and worse results during competition”. (“Knappt hälften av de utsatta uppger att övergreppet inneburit följder för friidrottandet; mindre energi att träna, undvikit vissa moment i träningen och sämre resultat på tävling.”) Then again, looking at the original storm, I suspect that much of it was directed at the fear of exactly such cases—and of 404 survey takers and 192 respondents, there were … two.

    ***The report makes several other subdivisions, which, however, are entirely pointless with so small numbers—40 % this, 60 % that, … Also see the “half” in the preceding footnote: Slightly less than half of five persons, implies two persons—why then not just say “two”?!?! The reason is likely that “half” sounds much better… (Or, depending on who is behind the survey, it opens the possibility for a Woozle after dropping context—“in a survey given to 404 athletes, half said that sexual abuse had negatively impacted their training or competing”, which would imply exactly the type of problem scale that the report thoroughly refutes…)

  5. The reporting on physical abuse is confused, but it appears that 8 % of the women and 13 % of the men have been “abused”* by an adult, most usually the father or a teacher, which in the overall context** gives me the impression of disciplinary or order-restoring action, e.g. that someone acted out as a child and received a slap or was forcefully brought to his room.***

    *As will be seen, I have great doubts that the majority of these cases refer to true abuse (but some of them might).

    **Including the above discussion of the definition and the considerably higher rate among male survey takers.

    ***In all fairness, even some such actions could be illegal by Swedish law—but that does not automatically make them abuse or “wrong” in a sense that matters (e.g. by causing lasting physical or emotional pain). We would have to look at the individual cases in detail to determine that.

    44 % of the men and 18 % of the women claim to have been “abused” by a minor, which “could also be interpreted as an indication of mobbing” (“kan även tolkas som indikation för mobbing.”). Yes, it could: It could also be a sign that some kids occasionally got into a fight… (Note the far higher number for the men.)

    Unfortunately, only the age categorization of the “abuser” is mentioned—not of the “victim”. To boot, the “minor” category would need a better subdivision, e.g. to differ between those who might have been in a fight (or mobbing incident, or whatnot) at ages 5, 10, and 17.

    Unlike with sexual abuse, there is no mention of whether a Track-and-Field context was involved in any given case.

All in all: In as far as a problem exists, it is basically unrelated to Track-and-Field, and the Track-and-Field related part of the “me too” storm has obviously taken place in a tea-cup.

Excursion on whom to blame for the report:
In situations like these, it is often hard to tell whether the authors of the report, the survey makers, or other parties yet, are to blame for any specific short-coming. I make no such assignment of individual blame—but I do note that the end result is a complete fiasco not worthy to be considered science.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 12, 2018 at 6:55 am

Opinion corridors and related topics

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I recently randomly encountered a Wikipedia article on “opinion corridors”, or “åsiktskorridor” in the original Swedish.* While this particular word had flown under my radar, it is hardly a surprise that my native Swedes are the inventors: Sweden is one** of the countries, outside of dictatorships, where the tolerance for “heretic” opinions is the lowest, where those holding such opinions are exposed to the most denouncement*** (sometimes even hatred and persecution), and where politicians are the most likely to ostentatiously profess their (real or pretended) orthodoxy. Indeed, the expression “the Official Truth” (“den Officiella Sanningen”) is often used to derogatorily describe the problem that an unholy alliance of media, politicians, pseudo-academics from the field of “gender studies”, and various interest groups has dictated a certain “truth”****, the questioning of which is grounds for a virtual excommunication: Those with the “wrong” opinion are condemned, censored, see their positions severely distorted (e.g. by leaps like “He said something negative about Islam; ergo, he must hate Muslims.” or “He wants to reduce immigration; ergo, he is racist.”), etc.

*While the Wikipedia article lacks a formal definition, the general intent is easy to understand: Opinions that lie within or move along a certain corridor are acceptable; others are not.

**Unfortunately, this problem has been rapidly expanding in the rest of the world, including the U.S., over the last one or two decades—and is the reason why I have great fears about the current obsession with “hate speech”: The cure could very easily turn out to be a greater threat than the supposed disease.

***Note that I speak of a denouncement on more-or-less moral grounds—not factual analysis and sound argumentation, as can be used against e.g. homeopaths, or even a “you are so wrong that you must be an idiot”. No, a typical reaction amounts to “anyone with such opinions is evil”.

****Often it has little or nothing to do with the real truth, stands in contrast with actual statistics, disagrees with real science, …

This concept, along with several others linked to in the article (including Overton window and Hallin’s spheres), overlap strongly with many of my previous texts, observations, and complaints.* Indeed, one of my most repeated claims is that only actions, not opinions, can be a legitimate cause for condemnation—while e.g. many members of the PC crowd engage in wholesale moral condemnation of opinion and allow themselves to take any action they see fit to silence dissenters. (Leading me to repeat another observation: Fascist is as Fascist does.)

*To mention but a few: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5]. Also note a great many earlier texts on the topic of censorship, especially through feminist bloggers.

This issue complex is one of the most important in today’s Western world, and one of the greatest threats against democracy, enlightenment, sound governance, and even science. Worse, it is a threat against the finding of truth and the development of human knowledge and understanding: We cannot know with certainty, which of our opinions, no matter how plausible they seem or how many others share them, are right or wrong—but we can say with virtual certainty that some of them will be wrong to at least some degree, possibly entirely. By preventing the expression of dissent, the development and improvement of opinion is severely hampered.

That this is not a hypothetical situation can be seen e.g. in the feminist blogosphere where exactly the comments that stands the greatest chance of affecting a change in opinion, e.g. through solid arguments and published statistics, are those most likely to be censored—and in the mean time, the pseudo-knowledge of propagated Woozles, slogans void of arguments, and emotional perception remains the “truth”.

A very interesting example of how opinion corridors, Overton windows, et al., can exert undue influence is the situation of the Christian Churches* (especially the Catholic): Large blocks of the population seem to believe the absurdity that the Churches must modify their opinions (e.g. regarding homosexuality and female priests) to match the surrounding world. However, if we accept** that the premises of a religion are true, the opinions, behavior, whatnot of a Church must obviously be based on these premises—not on the current opinion corridor. There can be legitimate instances of changes to an official stance, e.g. because of new revelation, a find of alternate text sources (like with the Dead-Sea Scrolls), a development of the understanding of old texts based on new scientific methods, the discovery of an incorrect translation, …—or, obviously, a previous minority interpretation developing into a majority interpretation. For instance, if a scroll is found, pre-dating the Gospels, relating Jesus’ blessing of female priests, and considered authentic by the Vatican, this could be valid reason to allow female Catholic priests. In contrast, to reject some two thousand years of policy, with a base in Biblical interpretation or theological contemplation, merely because the opinion corridor in overall society has changed, would not be a valid reason.

*While these are the potential victims in this scenario, they have historically very often been perpetrators.

**In my case, as an atheist, arguendo; in the case of those religious, this is almost a given as a matter of definition. Should we not accept these premises, chances are that the Church or religion must be rejected in its entirety. (Similarly, it can be legitimate for someone to see a religious position not matching his own preferences as a reason to reject a particular Church or religion entirely. An obvious example would be a Church that insists on a literal interpretation of Biblical events that are not compatible with mainstream science. Still, this only gives the right of rejection—not the right to force the Church to change its own stance on any given issue.)

Particularly dangerous areas, especially with an eye on artificial “echo chambers”, include:

  1. Governmental restrictions on opinion, be they direct (e.g. an outright ban) or indirect (e.g. in that only sufficiently orthodox parties or scientists receive public subsidies).
  2. Deliberate abuse of or naturally developing “echo chambers” in the education system to enforce some set of of opinions. Unfortunately, this is by no means restricted to the lower stages—as demonstrated by the current U.S. crisis of the college system.

    (If influenced by the government, this can overlap with the previous item.)

  3. A press dominated by some set of opinions.

Note that these can all (a) have a massive effect on the overall population through a very wide reach; (b) can tend to be self-perpetuating, e.g. in that non-conformant parties are hindered from gaining votes through less founds and can therefore not affect changes to the rules for public subsidies, that the chances for a college student to eventually join the faculty can depend strongly on having the “right” opinions, and that an aspiring journalist faces a similar situation. And, yes, these are all definite problems in today’s Sweden.

Excursion on topics, fiction, and similar:
Unfortunately, these problems extend into areas not directly relating to opinion, e.g. in that certain entire fields of investigation, topics for books, choices of characters for a movie, and similar can be unduly suppressed or altered, in order to avoid controversy and criticism. For instance, (real) science that deals with e.g. biological differences between men and women or psychometrics is often viewed very negatively by ignorants. (Say, as inherently sexist or racist, or as modern versions of phrenology. Worse: Some seem to believe that even if there is something to discover in this area, it must not be discovered, to avoid influencing opinion in the “wrong” direction.) Similarly, a work of fiction that shows a hero rescue a damsel in distress (or any number of other scenarios) stands the risk of being condemned as e.g.“perpetuating stereotypes”; while it is common to see tiny women with some martial arts training easily beating up men twice their size and with more martial arts training,* women abounding even among “STEM” professionals, …—that the world depicted is sufficiently PC is more important than that it is realistic.

*Going well beyond the typical, already unrealistic, “hero bonus” that is so common in fiction.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 18, 2018 at 2:36 am

Negative language changes in Sweden / “nyanlända”

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Deliberate attempts to change language are often a bad idea (cf. e.g. [1], [2], [3]); especially, when driven by a wish to influence thinking, avoid “offensive” terms, or similar.

A particular annoyance in this regard is the Swedish word “nyanländ”*: This word has long been used in everyday language in a wide variety of contexts, including “nyanländ immigrant” (“newly arrived immigrant”), “nyanlända turister” (“newly arrived tourists”), “nyanlänt flygplan” (“newly arrived airplane”), “de nyanlända”** (“the new arrivals”) …

*Literally: “newly arrived”. A more idiomatic English translation might often use “just arrived” or “new arrival”. In the context of immigration, until recently, “fresh off the boat” would have covered much of the same intents. (But differing in that “fresh off the boat” often has derogatory implications of e.g. making humorous mistakes regarding the local language or customs.)

**The use as a noun resp. an adjective with an implicit noun is common with the old meaning; with the new meaning, it appears to dominate the use as pure adjective.

At some point in the last few years, these uses appear to have been suddenly deprecated in favour of a sole technical meaning referring specifically to some groups of foreigners within Sweden.* This, in and by it self, is so obviously wrong that it beggars belief. However, there is also the significant problem of meaning:

*I am unclear on the motivation, but the overwhelmingly likely candidates fall within the “control thinking”, “euphemistic use”, whatnot family. Note that issues around immigration and refugees are in great discussion in Sweden, and that there is often a great divide between the (real or ostensible) opinions of the politicians (greatly in favor) and the populace (increasingly negative); see also an excursion at the end. A specific conceivable intention could be to communicate the message that “they are Swedes too; just newly arrived”—as opposed to e.g. “they are refugees, who just happen to live in Sweden right now”. (The only other candidate that has even a remote plausibility to me, is the wish to make a more fine-grained categorization, possibly relating to a law mentioned below, in combination with extreme lack of judgment as to what words might be suitable.)

It is not obvious what groups are intended. Indeed, until today, when I read up a little, I had assumed that the intent was to find a common term for the sum of all newly* arrived non-tourist/non-visitor foreigners, including regular immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, … (possibly excluding those who were not given a residence permit). This does not appear to be the case, however, with sources pointing specifically to a group in transit between asylum seeker/refugee and regular resident—to boot with a great vagueness about the details.

*With a great degree of uncertainty as to what “newly” implied. Would e.g. an immigrant remain nyanländ until his death/until he left again, or would his status expire after some time or once a certain other condition had been met?

For instance, the government agency Migrationsverket claims*:

*Here and elsewhere, my translations can be a bit approximate due to both reasons of idiom and the use of many words with a technical meaning. I deliberately keep “nyanländ” and variations thereof untranslated, since these text deal with definitions or explanations of that term. I will translate the Swedish word “person” with its English cognate through-out; however, I note that this is not necessarily the expected formulation in corresponding English texts, which might opt for e.g. “individual”, while many every-day formulations (in the plural) might opt for “people”.

En nyanländ person är någon som är mottagen i en kommun och har beviljats uppehållstillstånd för bosättning på grund av flyktingskäl eller andra skyddsskäl. Även anhöriga till dessa personer anses vara nyanlända. En person är nyanländ under tiden som han eller hon omfattas av lagen om etableringsinsatser, det vill säga två till tre år.

(A nyanländ person is someone who has been received in [by?] a municipality and has been granted a residence permit due to refugee reasons or other protective reasons. Next of kin to these persons are also considered nyanlända. A person is nyanländ during the time he or she is covered by [a specific Swedish law], i.e. two or three years.)

This presumes to redefine not merely “nyanländ” but “nyanländ person”!* To boot, this new meaning is not merely limiting the original meaning, it is in parts contradictory to it, because the same individual can be counted as not nyanländ when he is newly arrived, and then become nyanländ when some time, possibly months, has passed… The tie to a specific law is also problematic, e.g. because laws can change or be abolished, and because it should not be the role of the law to define the meanings of words outside of highly legal contexts. I note that regular immigrants are counter-intuitively not included in this meaning.

*This would e.g. make it impossible to speak of “newly arrived persons” when they are tourists stepping of an airplane or citizens stepping of a train. One might make the argument that this should be seen as an ad hoc definition for a specific context (which is both legitimate and commonly occurring); however, this argument falls on the extremely common use in Swedish media and by Swedish politicians. (And presumably in corresponding discussions within the population.)

The paper Metro has an article that explains the difference between various terms, claiming to draw on official sources. It says*:

*In the section with apparently more formal definitions at the end. The article contains several variations in the main text that I have not additionally analyzed.

Nyanländ – En person som har fått uppehållstillstånd i Sverige, blivit kommunplacerad och fått svenskt personnummer. Personen är alltså inte längre asylsökande och har fått rätt att stanna i Sverige. Under två år kan en nyanländ ansöka om etableringsersättning.

Nyanländ – A person who has received a residence permit in Sweden, been assigned to a municipality, and has received a Swedish [personnummer: an official identifier, similar-but-not-identical to a U.S. social-security number]. The person is, correspondingly, no longer an asylum seeker and has the right to remain in Sweden. For two years, a nyanländ can receive [a specific subsidy].

Note that this attempt at definition makes no mention of the above law, that the restriction in time only covers the subsidy (not the status as nyanländ), and that we have a tie to having been an asylum seeker, which is not necessarily (depending on interpretation) present in the first definition. To boot, at least the mention of personnummer is unclear in its compatibility. (The awarding of a personnummer could conceivably be an automatic effect of something else or it could be a new constraint. I have not researched this further.)

The same article quotes one Pierre Karatzian from Migrationsverket as having said:

Begreppet nyanlända används i olika sammanhang och det är oklart om det finns någon tydlig definition. Ibland används det för att beskriva personer som fått ett uppehållstillstånd.

(The concept nyanlända is used in different context and it is unclear whether some precise definition exists. Sometimes, it is used to describe people who have received a residence permit.)

This use, obviously, would typically include regular immigrants (with some reservations for EU citizens, who underlie special rules).

Swedish Wikipedia does not have a dedicated article, but Swedish Wiktionary has an entry. This entry gives two explanations:

som nyligen har anlänt

(who* has recently arrived)

*This is an imperfect translation of “som”, which has no true equivalent in English. This based on the contextual assumption of “NÅGON som nyligen har anlänt” and the correct translation “SOMEONE who has recently arrived”.

This amounts to the old and established use.

flykting som fått uppehållstillstånd

(refugee who has received a residence permit)

This is a variation of the new use, but which drops the asylum-seeker aspect and focuses directly on refugees. (Most refugees with a residence permit are likely to have applied for asylum, but it is not a logical necessity and there are likely practical exceptions.)

The entry continues by quoting the same page from Migrationsverket that I use above, leading to further questions of interpretation.

To complicate matters, English Wiktionary also has an entry. This entry gives “newly arrived” as a generic translation (compatible with the old and standard use), and then provides an example that lands half-way between the uses:

Den nyanlände invandraren ska studera svenska för invandrare, SFI.

The newly arrived immigrant must study Swedish for Immigrants, SFI.*

*The disputable translation is part of the quote. While “ska” can intend “must”, it is rare; and “is going to” is considerably more likely. Depending on context, “shall”, “should”, “will”, or “wants to” could also be a better translation in terms of intent or idiom. In contrast, “måste” would be correctly translated by “must”.

Note that this example deals with immigrants in general; not (or not specifically*) refugees or asylum seekers.

*Whether these form a subset of immigrants or an independent group can depend on the source.

Excursion on Sweden, SD, and changing attitudes towards immigration:
A quite interesting development is that the party SD was originally seen with great aversion, often even hatred, mostly for its take on immigration and related issues. (Cf. e.g. [4], [5].) Currently, however, it is in contention for the position of Sweden’s largest party, and I seem to recall a recent survey which placed it as a clear number one specifically in the area of immigration policy, with roughly one third of the survey takers rating its policy the highest.

As for the reason for this change, I can only speculate. However, the immense* influx of foreigners to Sweden has likely led to changing opinions, e.g. in that someone who supports free migration in principle now sees a need for pragmatic restrictions for reasons of sustainability. Another reason could be that the presence of SD has made the topic acceptable again and that more people are willing to stand up for an unpopular, non-PC opinion. (Cf. ideas like the Overton window, on which I am planning a text.)

*The influx has been around one percent of the population per year in the last one or two decades; with an upwards trend and a massive additional increase during the recent European migrant crisis. I briefly looked for more detailed numbers, but found this tricky, due to factors like numbers being outdated (and obviously changing over time), the inclusion or exclusion of refugees being unclear, unclear treatment of Swedish emigrants who are now returning, whatnot; and I am not confident in being more specific. To this must be added that these numbers only reflect migration—not demographic changes through higher/lower birth and death rates in various groups.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 4, 2018 at 10:24 pm