Sunday, Mar 26, 2017

Crisis+More: About Jante's Law,
totalitarianism, ordinary people and groups

Sections                                                                     crisis index

1. Jante's Law
2. Totalitarianism
Ordinary people defined
4. Jante's Law, groups and groupthinking

This is a Nederlog of Sunday
, March 26, 2017.

Summary: This is not an ordinary
crisis log:

I did not find enough items that I want to abstract and review for the first time this year, and I also found an article in The Guardian of March 24, 2017, that is in part about what the Norwegians (and the other Scandinavians) call "Jante's Loven" i.e. "Jante's Law". I did recall Jante's Law, but the article in The Guardian gave a more complete version than the one I remembered.

Since I also think this "Law" is quite revealing about the ordinary totalitarianism that - I am convinced the last 50 years, mostly (I take it) because I come from a quite revolutionary anarchist and communist family (two anarchist grandparents; one communist grandparent; two communist parents; both parents and a grandparent in the resistance against Nazis; and parent and a grandparent locked up in German concentration camps for resisting the Nazis, where my grandfather was murdered [1]) - rules most ordinary people, and not only in Scandinavia, I decided to write about this today.

Also, it is and it isn't part of the
crisis items, which explains why I have fronted the title with "Crisis+More": Jante's Law and the ordinary totalitarianism of ordinary people explain a lot about the crisis, but they also are more comprehensive.

Finally, while I think that what I am saying in this Nederlog is quite important, I also know it will not be popular - but again Jante's Law explains this quite well.
March 26: As to the updating problem: The Danish site was again on time today; but the Dutch site again stuck on Sunday last (March 19). If over a year of signs are correct, this means it MIGHT be updated this Sunday, after a week of waiting, but I do not even know that.

Where my site on stuck for others I have NO idea AT ALL: It may be December 31, 2015. (They do want immediate payment if you are a week behind. has been destroying my site now for over a year. And I completely distrust them, but also do not know whether they are doing it or some secret service is.)
1. Jante's Law

I lived in Norway from 1.i.1975 till 15.viii.1977. I was then between 25 and 27, learned a whole lot, and generally much liked my staying there. Then again, there also was a
quite strong and somewhat peculiar conformism there, which was known and explained all over Scandinavia by "Jante's Loven", which is Norwegian for "Jante's Law" (and "Jante" is a girl's name), that was first formulated in the 1930ies. I give one version below.

I remember Jante's Law in several forms, of which the briefest was "Du skal ikke tenke at du er noen" i.e. "You must not think that you are someone", but in a recent Guardian I found an article by a Dane, who gives a considerably more comprehensive version.

Here it is (with the link to the Aksel Sandemose lemma on the English Wikipedia added by me):
I'm not the first author to discover that anyone with a free and different nature is considered a threat to existing culture. The Dano-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose wrote about it more than 80 years ago, setting down the regulating mechanisms that operate on Scandinavians from below, in what he called the Law of Jante. According to Sandemose, the 10 commandments that regulate our social behavior are:

1.  You mustn't think you're special.
2.  You mustn't think you're as good as we are.
3.  You mustn't think you're smarter than us.
4.  You mustn't imagine you're any better than us.
5.  You mustn't think you know more than we do.
6.  You mustn't think you're more important than us.
7.  You mustn't think you're good at anything.
8.  You mustn't laugh at us.
9.  You mustn't think anyone cares about you.
10. You mustn't think you can teach us anything.

The Law of Jante is legendary in our part of the world. It describes a way of thinking that no Scandinavian can avoid responding to. The law is embedded in us, and passed down the generations.
And that is the quotation. The writer is quite right that "the Law of Jante is legendary" amongst Scandinavians, although I am not aware that the interpretation I will give is very popular: Jante's Law seems most appealed to (at least in my memory) to explain the rather extreme tacitness - the silence, the not attending to others - that Norwegians show in nearly all social contexts, when they mostly pretend no one is there, even if  several tens are gathered for a party - except when they are quite drunk.

That explanation is also correct, but there is much more to Jante's Law:
I think you should start reading the above ten points several times and you should realize that it is totally totalitarian.

Also, it - effectively - takes down absolutely everyone to a level of an IQ of 100 maximum (which is in the center of where 68% of all humans are: They have IQs between 85 and 115) and does so in the most totalitarian way possible, by prescribing them what everyone must think and do (and by discriminating them if they fail to satisfy the prescriptions).

Indeed, by the above no one can say they are special, no one can say they are as good as those they are talking to, no one can say they are smarter than those they are talking to, no one can say they know more than those they are talking to, no one can say they are more important than those they are talking to, no one can say they are good at anything whatsoever, no one can say they have anything to teach to those they are talking to, and besides no one is allowed to laugh at those they are talking to, while everyone should realize no one cares one bit about them:

What reason does one have to speak in these circumstances?!

Well... there are some reasons, but not one which makes you stand out in any way whatsoever: That is offensive to everyone else who practices Jante's Law.

Incidentally, all of this is precisely the opposite of the Greek ways around 400 BC: There all children were taught to try to excel, and also were admired if they did.

2. Totalitarianism

Next, I shall quote quite a bit from my Philosophical Dictionary. The first lemma is about totalitarianism (the links in it are to other items in the
Philosophical Dictionary) and the first bit is as follows:

Totalitarian: Ideology or religion that is pretended to have final answers to many important human questions and problems and that is pretended to be thereby justified to persecute persons who do not agree with the ideology or the religion.

This is the usual form that every human ideology assumes - religious, political and otherwise, with science as the almost only partial exception.

The reason for the first property that defines a totalitarian attitude is apparently in part political and in part zoological:

One very important end ideologies and religions serve is to provide a human social group with a set of shared agreed upon supposed truths for the group and supposed ends of the group, and it is simply convenient and also seems to feel pleasant to most humans if these supposed truths and supposed ends simply are taken to hold for everyone, or at least for everyone who has the fundamental decency and human excellence of belonging to Us.

The reason for the second property that defines a totalitarian attitude derives from the first property plus the fact that ideologies and faiths of a social group serve to define and defend the group's territory and practices.

It usually takes the form of forbidding to think or argue critically about the fundamental assumptions of the religion or ideology and of insisting that following the religious or political authorities is morally good and socially rewarding, and that not following the religious or political authorities is morally bad and socially punishable.

One important reason that so many ideologies and faiths take a totalitarian form is probably the social nature of human beings, that makes it natural to maintain the pecking order of a group - who is entitled to what in the group - by correcting, repressing or casting out any member of the group that deviates from the average of the group (unless already a leader). This usually is claimed to happen "in the interest" of the deviating or different individual, and is called scapegoating (at least when goats give in to the same beastly impulse).

Totalitairian ideas and values are very widespread, and usually take the following general form in practice, if not as clearly outspoken:

Our Belief is the Only True Belief and Our Believers are the Only Good People, and everyone who does not believe, or do, or feel, or look like Us is inferior (sinful, bad, damned, bound for hell, fit for a concentration camp, and in any case not a proper well-thinking, decently feeling, morally behaving follower of Our True Belief, and hence certainly not comme il faut).

That is totalitarianism, which is well defined by the last paragraph. It is (mostly) due to two things: (i) the lack of intelligence and knowledge of the great majority (at most 1 in 50 have an IQ that exceeds 130, and most of those who do not also do not know much [2]) and (ii) the social nature and more specifically the group nature of much of human consciousness, that I will discuss in item 3 and item 4 (which differs from the individual nature, that human individuals also have, which tends to be mostly compressed in groups by conformism [3]).

Here is something on the background of most totalitarian thinking, which is due to either religious or political reasons:

The myth of the Chosen People of the Lord is not only biblical, but seems to be an article of zoologically and hormonically based faith of the individuals of most social groups: They - Our Kind Of People - and only they are the best, true, real, human beings, and every one who is not like they (We) are is not really good (and therefore may or should be persecuted by authority of the Lord or the Leaders of the group).

The supposed truths and values of any religion or ideology tend to be absurdities according to the common sense of whomever does not have the religion or ideology. And in general Voltaire's sharpwitted dictum applies here: "If we believe in absurdities, we shall commit atrocities."

Indeed, the main factual, moral and intellectual problem of virtually all religions and political ideologies is not that most of the key theses of the religion or ideology are nonsensical, false or not properly based on evidence, but the fact that these key theses are used in a totalitarian fashion.

And here is the connection between totalitarianism and wishful thinking:

For there is no danger in fairy tales, myths, fiction and wishful thinking as long as those who indulge it are clearly conscious that their ideological stories for the most part are just that: fairy tales, myths, fiction or wishful thinking, or at least as long as those who believe in an ideology or religion remain clearly aware that they may be mistaken, and that everything one cannot prove in a rigidly logical and mathematical way from evidently true premisses therefore and thereby cannot be imposed on someone else as what they are supposed to believe in and hold true.

Religious and political fairytales, myths, superstitions and wishful thinking are rarely understood and defended by their believers as if their belief is one possible hypothesis amongst many others about how people should live together and think rationally, but almost always are understood and defended by their believers as if their belief is The Truth, All Of The Truth, and Nothing But The Truth - and especially where this is clearly not so.

And this is why totalitarianism and wishful thinking are so dangerous. [4]

3. Ordinary people defined

Next, neither Jante's Law, nor totalitarianism, nor wishful thinking are believed or practised by all, but something much like it is commonly practised by ordinary men,
which I shall again define minimalistically as consisting of the 68% of the people whose
IQs are between 85 and 115 [5] and as follows:

Ordinary men: Ordinary men are those who are not individually remembered after death, because they are not and did nothing remarkable, for whatever reason. In terms of statistics, they form 9999 out of 10,000, and in terms of practice, it is they who do the work in any society, maintain its ideology and morals, protect or elect its leaders, and do its murderings and persecutions when ordered by their leaders. And no society can become better than the qualities and shortcomings of the ordinary men in it enable it to be.

This shows in principle that ordinary men are quite important in history and society, if not in person, but because it is they who form and maintain and do nearly all in any society, even though they rarely or never originate its ideas, values, science or religion, for ordinary men are followers and executioners much rather than leaders or thinkers.

In case you doubt my characteristic that 9999 out of 10,000 men are not recalled after they die, try to recall how many men and women you know by name from the 19th Century, which comprised in total something like 4 or 5 billion men and women, nearly all of whom are by now completely forgotten.

I also insist that it are the ordinary men and women who do nearly all of the work that made society, though indeed they did not often design any of the techniques they worked.

Here is more on ordinary men (and women: I tend to use "men" in the classical English sense, which comprises both males and females):

As defined - in terms of whether or not one is individually remembered after death, outside the circle of one's family and friends - ordinary men comprise the great majority of men, and include most of its intellectuals and artists, for these too mostly are when known locally in their own society in their own time mostly forgottten by following generations.

The fundamental problem this poses about the human state of the world and its possibilities for improvement may be indicated by a table like the following one.

Mr. Randolph J. Rummel has taken the trouble of finding out how many civilian persons have been murdered in the 20th Century apart from the many soldiers that were killed on battle-fields. He wrote a book about it called Death by Government, in which one can find, among other things, the following table - that lists only civilian deaths and no military deaths in wartime:

Dictator Ideology Country Years Deaths
Joseph Stalin Communist Soviet Union 1929-1953 42,672,000
Mao Tse-tung Communist China 1923-1976 37,828,000
Adolf Hitler Fascist Germany 1933-1945 20,946,000
Chiang Kai-shek Militarist/Fascist China 1921-1948 10,214,000
Vladimir Lenin Communist Soviet Union 1917-1924 4,017,000
Tojo Hideki Militarist/Fascist Japan 1941-1945 3,990,000
Pol Pot Communist Cambodia 1968-1987 2,397,000
Yahya Khan Militarist Pakistan 1971 1,500,000
Josip Broz Tito Communist Yugoslavia 1941-1987 1,172,000







When summed, this comes to over 200 million murders - nearly all committed by perfectly ordinary men, for what they considered to be the best of moral reasons, from love for Our Fatherland or Our Party or Our Race, and because those they murdered stood in the way of a better society, or so their leaders claimed and they mostly believed.

Indeed, most of these murders were committed by ordinary men, who murdered the ordinary men of "the opposition", and who did so mostly in a space of 50 years.

Here is more on ordinary men:

What the above table also makes somewhat credible is that a considerable part of the murdering that ordinary men do happens especially when they are caught up in totalitarian states, political ideologies, or religious faiths.

And what the above table is misleading about is the role of politics: In the 20th Century most murdering on a social scale happened in the name of totalitarian political ideologies like fascism and communism, but in early ages most murdering on a social scale happened in the name of totalitarian faiths like Catholicism, Protestantism or Mohammedanism.

These facts show that the abilities and inclinations of ordinary men are of fundamental importance to the state and shape of human societies, and of what is possible and impossible in it, and suggest a number of questions.

Also, it so happens that next to Rummel's statistics, there are some interesting studies about ordinary men and totalitarianism: Browning's "Ordinary Men", Conquest's "The Great Terror", and Laqueur Ed.'s
"The Holocaust Encyclopedia".

I strongly recommend that you read these books. Next, here is an explanation of what moves ordinary men:

And part of the reasons for the above table of results of the abilities of ordinary men especially when combined with totalitarianism can be gleaned from the following table and quotation that concerns research into the actual moral behavior and thinking of human beings by the psychologist Kohlberg. I quote from the "Introduction to Psychology" by Hilgard & Atkinson:

Stages in the development of moral values



Level I. Premoral

1. Punishment and obedience orientation

Obeys rules in order to avoid punishment.

2. Naive instrumental hedonism

Conforms to obtain rewards, to have favors returned.

Level II. Morality of conventional role-conformity

3. "Good-boy" morality of maintaining good relations, approval of others.

Conforms to avoid disapproval, maintaining good relations, dislike by others.

4. Authority maintaining morality.

Conforms to avoid censure by legitimate authorities, with resultant guilt.

Level III. Morality of self-accepted moral principles

5. Morality of contract, of individual rights, and of democratically accepted law.

Conforms to maintain the respect of the impartial spectator judging in terms of community welfare.

6. Morality of individual principles and conscience.

Conforms to avoid self-condemnation.

"Kohlberg's studies indicate that the moral judgments of children who are seven and younger are predominantly at Level I - actions are evaluated in terms of whether they avoid punishment or lad to rewards. By age 13, a majority of the moral dilemmas are resolved at Level II - actions are evaluated in terms of maintaining a good image in the eyes of other people. This is the level of conventional morality. In the first stage at this level (Stage 3) one seeks approval by being "nice"; this orientation expands in the next stage (Stage 4) to include "doing one's duty", showing respect for authority, and conforming to the social order in which one is raised.

According to Kohlberg, many individuals never progress beyond Level II. He sees the stages of moral development as closely tied to Piaget's stages of cognitive development, and only if a person has achieved the later stages of formal operational thought is he capable of the kind of abstract thinking necessary for postconventional morality at Level III. The highest stage of moral development (Level III, stage 6) requires formulating abstract ethical principles and conforming to them to avoid self-condemnation. Kohlberg reports that less than 10 percent of his subjects over age 16 show (...) kind of "clear-principled" Stage 6 thinking (...)"

And thus we have arrived in principle at some sort of explanation for the facts and numbers in the previous table: "actions are evaluated in terms of maintaining a good image in the eyes of other people. This is the level of conventional morality" and "many individuals never progress beyond Level II", which is that conventional conformist level.

And there we have returned to conformism, which also happens to be the moral level on which most ordinary men are stuck.

Next, here is a point-by-point description of ordinary men:

On ordinay men: Here are some human all too human weaknesses that - especially but not only - ordinary men easily fall prone to

  • Ordinary men
    • engage mostly in wishful thinking (so as to keep themselves "happy")
    • are ruled by bias and prejudice
    • do not know real science, logic, mathematics or philosophy
    • do not do unto others as one would be done to except (perhaps) within one's group
    • are role-players who play by wishful thinking, make-believe - "The quality or act of pretending; assuming something is true when in fact one knows it is not" (wiki dictionary) - and pretension who normally do not step out of their roles out of self-interest and because of group-sanctions
    • are collaborators: They mostly do as they are told by leaders
    • are followers, of fashions and leaders of all kinds, usually because it is the fashion and they are conformists
    • are levellers: The only ones who excel are the leaders of the group and what the media display as excellent
    • believe truth coincides with their interests and prejudices, especially as regards things that involve their or their groups' supposed interests
    • personalize or animate everything: all manner of abstractions - nations, corporations, groups, the people - are supposed to will and feel
    • do not reason in terms of quantified terms: Terms like "Some", "most" are carefully avoided, often to infer all from some without mentioning either: ("Women are emotional", "Germans are no good")
    • cannot reason abstractly on any high level
    • make all manners of fallacies esp. of generalization, ambiguity and begging the question
    • are not independent individuals with their own ideas and values intentionally gathererd by their own life's practice.

One result, supplementing Rummel's statistics, is this:

"I fear we live in a world in which war and racism are ubiquitous, in which the powers of government mobilization and legitimization are powerful and increasing, in which a sense of personal responsibility is increasingly attenuated by specialization and bureaucratization, and in which peer-group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral norms. In such a world, I fear, modern governments that wish to commit mass murder will seldom fail in their efforts for being unable to induce "ordinary men" to become their "willing executioners." " (Christopher R. Browning, "Ordinary men", p. 222-3)

I think that is true (and Browning is one of the specialists on Nazism).

4. Jante's Law, groups and groupthinking

Finally, here is some more on the relations between Jante's Law and social groups, and on two kinds of groupthinking:
Group in society: Human society is composed of groups i.e. collections of people that know each other personally, and that play roles in that society.

Indeed, "society" is an abstract, theoretical term, and such society as humans know in their own experience is made up of face-groups.

Most of what people believe they know about 'society' is propaganda or wishful thinking, and generally uninformed. Few people realize that, if they are 75 years old, there are - in the 21st Century - some 3 times more human beings in the world than seconds in their lives, namely 2,365,200,000 at age 75.

Also, it is noteworthy that there is little human awareness about their own mammalian and apish nature, although there is both amusing and bitter evidence about this gathered by e.g. Stanley Milgram and Desmond Morris. Some relevant points are

Note that the above points describe "what is normal" in society. Here is more on the groupthinking that is foundational for most (not: all) human groups:

Groupthinking: The kind of thinking, feeling, valueing and desiring that keeps human social groups together.

Much of the thinking that goes into groupthinking is totalitarian in principle, and is made up of principles based on wishful thinking of the following kind:

Usually the members of groups are hardly aware that their membership is to a large extent emotionally and intellectually based on principles such as the above, even though it is very easy to see these principles at work in the mental make-up or the behavior of members of other groups - political parties, religious organizations, soccer supporters, but also firms, schools, universities etc., for one way the human animal is social is by actively belonging to groups and by supporting the ideas, ideals, morals and practices that constitute, regulate or support these groups.

Finally, the above norms of groups are fairly innocent, even though mostly totalitarian in kind. The following norms are also valid in many groups and are far less innocent:

Also, it is noteworthy that the above principles involved in most group-thinking are relatively innocuous, and that most groups also practice such principles as

  • Whoever does not belong to Our Group is less good (perfect, humane, religiously or racially proper) than whoever does
  • Whoever opposes Our Group, Our Leaders, Our Ideologyor Our Faith is, therefore and thereby, morally or humanly or intellectually inferior
  • Whoever does not conform to the practices and principles current in Our Group is immoral or insane

Most groupthinking involves prejudice of all kinds, and the best excuse for this seems to be that, since human beings are social animals, there is an instinctual motivation to wish to belong to and to support a human group.

I am not an ordinary man, for I am too intelligent and too well educated, and therefore I am quite frightful that ordinary men will succeed in destroying human society. Indeed, they will not do this by themselves, but they will do so if they are being led that way - as has happened in two World Wars already, and those were without nuclear arms.


[1] I ceased being a communist when I was 20 and never believed the Soviet Union etc. was socialist in any real sense. But I did get a communist education, which I think in fact was quite good, and which predisposed quite a few of my conclusions after I had given up on communism. Also, few other persons got a communist education as I did.

[2] And this is also true of the vast majority of the intellectuals I met in (and after) university: Most had a lesser IQ than 130, and while the intellectuals did know something about the studies they had finished, few knew more outside their studies, except for some literature.

[3] I think all human beings have an individual nature and a social nature, where the latter is derived from the former and from the groups of which one is a member of  and from the norms, ideologies and values one has picked up there. In ordinary people, their social nature normally is both stronger and more explicit than their individual nature.

[4] Incidentally... most of this is goes back (for me) to the Sixties and early Seventies, in part because two of my reasons to give up my parents' communism were the very outspoken totalitarianism in the communist party and in so-called socialist countries (which I never regarded as socialist), together with my recognition that while totalitarianism was extreme in the communist party, it was quite common also in non-communist groups, although indeed usually in a less extremist way.

[5] Incidentally, while I have a high IQ I don't believe it is a good measure of  intelligence. Also, while is true that around 68% of the people have an IQ that is  between 85 and 115, I think one may just as well speak of the 68% or 70% of the
people who are normal ordinary men and women.

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