Printed: 2020-07-09

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Happiness, Freedom, Equality, Rudeness: Welcome to Denmark!

Hank Pellissier

Ethical Technology

March 26, 2011

The miniscule Scandinavian nation is a world leader in multiple best-nation categories. But is it a role model for technoprogressives?

The fevered goals of the Enlightenment are still hot today in the cold, flat, windy peninsula and archipelago of 400 islands that contains fewer inhabitants than Maryland. Once the base camp of ravaging Vikings, Denmark is now the world leader in multiple harmonious categories. 

I’ve already admitted in another article that I am addicted to international comparison charts, and there I pointed out that Denmark is #7 in Peace and #7 in Women’s Equality, plus it is the fifth wealthiest nation per capita in the world.

Those categories, however, are just Denmark’s weak spots! In numerous other desired benchmarks, it ascends to the summit. Check out this ranking of the World’s Happiest Places, for example…


Ha, Ha, Ha! Jolly Danes are #1! 

In Most Democratic, the southernmost Scandinavians are also at the upper peak. Since we’re on the subject of fairness, let’s check out how they rank on the Least Corrupt chart… once again, the Danes are victorious. What about Most Egalitarian? Same again. In Press Freedom, the little nation was also #1 in 2009, a characteristic they displayed in their publication of the Mohammed cartoons. What about Engineering (citations per paper)? Yes, #1, again. Sorry I’m so predictable. 

Let’s hurry through some more categories: #1 in Best Countries for Business, #1 in Best Countries for Entrepreneurs, #1 in Clean Technology / Sustainable Development, and oops! Denmark slips to #3 in Fewest Prisoners Per Capita, and #3 in Most Charitable.

To summarize the above, here’s a rundown on the Danish dynamo:

#1 Happiness
#1 Most Democratic
#1 Most Egalitarian
#1 Least Corrupt
#1 Press Freedom
#1 Engineering
#1 Best Country for Business
#1 Best Country for Entrepreneurs
#1 Clean Technology / Sustainable Development
#3 Fewest Prisoners Per Capita
#3 Most Charitable
#5 Per Capita Income
#7 Women’s Equality
#7 Peace

Quite impressive! Is Denmark the planet’s most advanced nation? Should the rest of us— the lagging barbarous nations of the world—be following in their footsteps?

If anything at all is “rotten in the state of Denmark,” it isn’t visible from a distance. One has to query inhabitants, so I tracked down a Dane to pester with questions. Joern Pallesen is a blogger at Transhumanisten. The 59-year-old Copenhagen dweller is an admiring reader of Susan Blackmore and Nick Bostrom, and his son is Denmark’s reigning under-18 Youth Chess Champion.  

Here are the highlights of my jabbering with Joern. Status-scornful Danes generally refer to each other via first names, so this report will adhere to that custom.

Hank: I’ve heard that Denmark’s egalitarianism is reflected in its language and social manners—can you tell me about that?
Joern: We use gender-neutral word like sin, which has no equivalence in English. An example is “Enhver sin mening” which means “Everyone has his-or-hers own opinion.” In formalities we are also a lot more “rude” than American, French, Germans, and even Swedes. We rarely start a sentence with “Please” and we hardly ever use “Sir” or “Ma’am.” Additionally, we never use the often-false expressions like the commonly-used American greeting: “Nice to meet you.”

Danes are also the least gelotophobic nation on earth. Gelotophobic translates as, “fear of being laughed at.” An Aarhus Univerity study revealed that only 1.67% of Danes have this, due, in part, to our high degree of freedom of expression. Interestingly, Denmark has found itself in confrontations with Arab nations in the aftermath of the Muhammad cartoon crisis, and Arabs are at the opposite end of the scale; 33% of them suffer from gelotophobia. 

We are also not overly respectful of authority, and political correctness is widely frowned upon. There is little respect for politicians. The general opinion is that any really INTELLIGENT man or women would consider it below themselves to waste their time as parliamentarians. Rather, they would aim for top-posts in the private sector. “Bad manners” are also on the loose in schools, where pupils show little of no respect for teachers. All in all, I would say that Danes are less cowed by status than anyone else I can think of.

Hank: I have heard that Danish wages are near-equal for most occupations. Can you provide some information regarding this?

Joern: It is true, we are the most equal in the world in terms of income. For example, a doctor at a public hospital makes less than $70,000/year (starting wages) and a garbage collector—or, to use the politically-correct term, “Renovation Technician”—also earns $70,000 on average. In Denmark, the income for the 10% richest is only five times higher than the 10% at the other end of the scale, whereas in the USA the difference is 16 times higher.

Hank: Do you think having wage equity results in numerous benefits for society?

Joern: Yes. In a book titled The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, the authors found a strong connection between income disparity and social-and-health problems. Mental illness is five times higher, risk of ending up in jail the same, risk of getting murdered is many times higher, there are more drop-outs from school, number of teenage-mothers is higher, number of drug-addicts is higher, violence is more severe, social mobility is low, etc. etc. A large number of statistics consistently show that the USA, England, and Portugal do poorly in all of these areas, compared to Japan and the Scandinavian countries. In addition, the authors claim that the same is true when you compare the USA state-by-state.

Hank: How would you change the United States, to make it more egalitarian like Denmark?

Joern: First and foremost: a change of mentality—coming to terms with outdated models of who works and who cares for families. Then I would mandate, for starters: public childcare, higher minimum wage, more equal pay, more flexible work schedules for families, and redesigned family and medical work leave.

Denmark should invite over here a greater number of Americans—preferably of a Republican bent—to show those enemies of the state, extensive welfare, high taxation, etc. that there are many advantages in our system, not only for the poorest 10%, but also for the wealthy, in terms of mutual trust, lower crime rates, and so on.

Hank: Are there categories that you see Denmark lagging behind in? Reasons that people would not like Denmark?

Joern: Denmark is doing very poorly in Life Expectancy. We’re ranked #36, tied with the United States. We eat more meat per capita than anyone else in Europe, and we have bad habits, i.e., too much smoking, cheap and lousy foodstuffs, and Danish teenagers drink more than any other teens in the world. Paradoxically, Denmark is also the nation with the highest per capita sales of organic food.

Hank: My editor, Mike Treder, is curious about Denmark’s “citizen consensus councils.” Are they uniquely Danish?

Joern: “Consensus” is a high-value word in our small nation, where there is a fair amount of mutual respect and cooperation. The layman has reasonable respect for the expert, without being submissive. Experts do not ignore the sentiments of the people, and ordinary folks listen to experts, but with a “healthy” amount of skepticism. This attitude is very much the opposite of the EU, whose aim it is, according to many Danes, to merely use the lowest common denominator.

There is a heavy “battle” going on between adherents of National sovereignty and EU-supporters. Danes do well in their attitude towards cooperation, and consensus is “hot” in Denmark. An example of this is the infamous Danish climate-sceptic Bjorn Lomborg, who has received millions from the government for his “Copenhagen-Consensus” conferences.

Hank: Do you see Denmark as a role model, a desired society for technoprogressives?

Joern: This may disappoint you, but I’m not convinced that egalitarianism is a prerequisite for technoprogressiveness. Judging from a list of the top 50 universities for engineering and technology, technoprogressiveness appears to have little to do with equality. The top five universities are all American, and three of them Californian, epicenter of transhumanism!

In terms of technoprogressiveness, I’d point to Israel as a role model. Israel registers more patents per capita, has a higher percentage of scientists and engineers, and Israel is not a particularly equal society, as its income disparity is greater than in any EU country.

I would suggest that techno-progressiveness is a function of having a sufficiently large elitist group of people with a higher education, having attended the best universities, and having atheist beliefs. Repeating myself: In terms of technoprogressiveness, I don’t count Denmark as a better place. What counts is not income equality—indeed many suggest the very opposite! —but rather the existence of a techno-elite, as in California, with fine universities, and of course a flow of funding. It is the size and strength of a country’s elite, in terms of science, that is the determining factor for techno-progressiveness.

I would also suggest that FREEDOM is of greater importance than equality, in relation to techno-progressiveness. Let me give you a small story that illustrates the inhibiting power of religion: A Turkish teacher has received a warning for talking about Darwinian evolutionary theory, as it is not part of fifth- and even eighth-grade curriculum, and we are talking here about an officially secular society! Freedom of expression is of paramount importance in all areas of life, period!

Hank: What is the transhumanist scene like in Denmark?

Joern: The Transhumanist scene in Denmark is very small, as witnessed by only eight members of the Danish H+ chapter. In comparison, the Israeli chapter has 45 members. A Danish web-based and user-accumulated news-site (180grader) has a transhumanist user-group of seven members, but so far only one article has been added. It is strikingly clear, that ALL of these members are political liberals, meaning, over here, Republicans, who fight for economic reforms, i.e. cutting down on welfare, lowering of taxes etc.—arguing feverishly that the Scandinavian Model is NOT supporting progress. These people are all voting for the new party, Liberal Alliance, or are, at times, apolitical.

Hank: Thanks very much, Joern. I’ll be visiting Denmark with my family in June, and we’ll continue this discussion. I’ve told my children that Danes are happy, rude, and devour huge quantities of meat, and they assure me that they will fit right in.

Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Managing Director and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.


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