Sweden is nothing less than the most progressive country on earth, again and again appearing close to the top in the list of the most developed countries in the world, and the people in Sweden are apparently were well aware of (and make no mysteries about) it. But what does this being “progressive” mean? At which cost does it come? These and other questions are the ones that the documentary “The Swedish Theory of Love” (2015), by the Italian-Swedish director Erik Gandini, attempts to answer. The picture he paints of Sweden is not an attractive one.
What better ideal for our age of democratic triumphalism that a society of independent individuals, who pursue work for self-realization more than for pure material needs? What better ideal than a society where men and women are really equal, and where women do not have to be dependent on a man, do not need to have man and can choose to have children without going through the unbearable hassle of having a relationship with a troglodyte man? In case you missed it, the key idea here is “independence”. A society which has made being “independent” individuals its core value, however, ceases to be a society.
Is it a “society” when women would rather prefer self-insemination to satisfy their need to reproduce, choosing between several candidates looking at their pictures on the internet and buying frozen sperm online than find (wait to be found by) a man? Is it a “society” when people die alone in their houses, with hundreds of thousands of euro lying on their bank accounts, and nobody notices that they are dead, because they had lost contact even to their closest relatives for decades? Is it a “society”, when, like the great sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, who appears in the movie, says “people have lost the ability to socialize”?
They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. At the beginning of the movie we are told how in the 1970s Sweden, at the time already at the vanguard of progressiveness, modernity, social justice and equality, decided to go a step further, completing the liberation of the individual – from the burden of his family. It turned out that when the government created the economic conditions to free the individual from its family, the family lost its reason to exist. It is rather ironic for a progressive, hyperliberal society, where the power of the government should be not too intrusive, to see that its government has replaced the family. Before if you needed help, you just went to your family and friends. Now you just go to the government, and family and friends are not there to help you anymore, their function having been overtaken by the state and asking them for help would be a shame. If even the government can’t help you, you must be a lost cause, this seems to be the thinking.
The great and abstract ideal of progressiveness, of which our minds are so irreversibly permeated, seems to have substituted our stupid, little, primitive but genuine feelings based on our stupid, little, but real life experience. Based on these impressions of a country where it looks like all feelings of humanity have died out in the name of progress, equality and efficiency, it may come as even more striking the fact that it is exactly Sweden the country that last year took the most refugees as a percentage of its population. As with Germany, this seems to be another case of grand utopian idealistic policies triumphing over uncomfortable realities: it is the fetish of cultural tolerance, to which everything must sacrificed, and any concerns about the preservation of the nation are labeled as retrograde. There is a moving moment in the movie when a Swedish teacher working with refugees, herself originally from Syria, explains to her students that the Swedes do not talk much and like to be on their own, not even caring about their brothers or their mothers, and recalls the words of one of her students who asked her: “Why should I learn Swedish if they don’t talk anyway? What difference would it make?”.
The Swedish scenario painted in the movie might appear bleak to some, and certainly in Sweden some of the most depressing features of this reality are taken to the extreme, but there is nothing that suggests that this is a uniquely Swedish phenomenon: “Sweden is the future” is proudly said in the movie by one professor explaining the virtue of the Swedish ethical and societal organization, based on the core value of individualism, with Sweden outperforming all countries in the “self expression” and “secular-rational” values (how you can actually measure self expression and secular-rational values on a precise scale from -2 to +2 remains unclear to me). For many of us, the future might indeed look a bit Swedish. Except that there might not be any “us” anymore. We have come to take many of the things we see in this movie for granted and acceptable. There are already many women out there who firmly believe it is their right to be impregnated and to give birth to a child without having had a single encounter with a man.
In the Swedish theory of love there seem to be very very little love. Even for a not overtly social person, it would almost be preferable to live in a “backward” country than in this infernal utopia, without needs and without happiness.