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.
how do you find this crap a? so totally untrue
A reply by the author of this text: “I actually used to like Sweden and Scandinavian and Nordic countries in general. I even studied some Swedish like ten years ago, I even learned some Bellman songs and really loved Scandinavian literature, but unfortunately the unpredictable events of life did not give me the opportunity to practise further and to deepen my knowledge of the language and the Swedish society in general. I actually used to admire the Nordic model, a lot. This article is more to be meant as a movie review, the commentary here is entirely based on the impressions gained from the movie, nothing more.”
Hej! I am a Belgian living in Sweden and totally submerged in Swedish culture since some years. I totally recognise what the movie depicts. Swedish people are truly lonely. I have a need for deep relations and co-dependency. I believe that to allow yourself and others to be dependent on each other is a primal condition for developing deeper meaningful relationships and love. This even allows to develop a very hard and important skill: to walk the thin line between a healthy “care for each other” and exploitation. I believe there is only one love. That loving yourself and loving the other is the same. If you, who i love, suffer, i will suffer. I will help you, and in that way even i will feel better. To love you equals to love myself. That is how i feel, but also the friends and loves i have connected with in Belgium feel this way. For us, a real friend is a soulmate. We are connected.
Swedish people, on the other hand, even the worst hippies spreading peace and love and hugging randomly and excessively (there is a huge hippie movement in Sweden) are totally stuck in the “independency” ideal which always translates relations into conflicts. The highest ideal in human development is to become a strong individual that is not emotionally attached and needy. To be needy is to be weak. Self love is first and “to love yourself before you can love the other” is credo. In stead of one love, there is conflict. If the other needs me, i have to sacrifice and the other person will try to manipulate me into sacrificing. If i need the other, then that person will need to sacrifice. How can i obtain that? Relations become calculations.
Everyone traveling through Sweden will notice that Swedes are very friendly. Much friendlier than Belgians. Everyone is being “trevligt” and superficial. Easy going, socially skilled. But calculating. Unable to rely, to depend and to truly connect.
This said, of course i have good connections with a bunch of Swedes, mostly Swedes that have lived abroad themselves and somehow god infected with a different set of values. I feel deep love for my Swedish friends, but it always took a long long time for them to come over there boundaries of daring to show their vulnerabilities. And i am happy to have lots of international friends in Sweden who live through the same experiences. Would be harder without them.