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When intolerance is spelled affirmation and sympathy

About half of the Swedish population feels they cannot speak openly about their political and religious views.

EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES AUTOR 241/Olof_Edsinger 18 DE NOVIEMBRE DE 2022 09:46 h
Stockholm, Sweden. / Photo: [link]Yang Yang[/link], Unsplash, CC0

Sweden as a moral superpower has been the stronghold of democracy and humanist values, and we have been happy to tell the rest of the world about our solutions to humanity's big and small issues.



At the same time, it has become painfully clear that the image of Sweden as a shining exception no longer holds - if it ever did. Today, we too are grappling with problems that only a decade ago were perceived as unspeakable - with the problems in vulnerable areas being particularly conspicuous.



At least as serious, however, is what is happening to our democratic reflexions. A recent survey by the SOM Institute at the University of Gothenburg shows that about half of the Swedish population feels they cannot speak openly about their political and religious views. This is because those around them might perceive their views as offensive.



Even more seriously, according to the same survey, one in five Swedes is prepared to restrict the fundamental rights and freedoms of groups whose views they disagree with.



More than one in three is prepared to abolish their right to demonstrate or to form their own interest groups.



An important reason for this development is that in recent years we have seen a renaissance of identity politics thinking traditionally associated with socialist and nationalist milieus, an observation underlined by the fact that the most intolerant, according to the SOM survey, described themselves as Social Democrats and Sweden Democrats respectively.



But this pattern is most evident in the US, where the Democrats' focus on minorities in general and the racial issue in particular carries the potential to tear the whole fabric of society apart.



Already in primary school, children have recently begun to be drilled in concepts such as "intersectionality" and "white privilege".



Under the leadership of Joe Biden and former Barack Obama, there is a push for the nation's schools to open girls' sports competitions - with accompanying locker rooms - to transgender students.



This creates tensions in the population that in many cases drive polarization and antagonism rather than alleviate them. Mainly because the racial issue has left behind the old civil rights mantra of colour-blindness - now it's race-consciousness that counts.



As if this were not enough, cultural pressures in both the US and Sweden have moved from embracing coexistence and tolerance between different groups, to increasingly demanding affirmation, sympathy and benefits for minorities and groups perceived as weak.



At first glance, this may sound liberating, as most of us prefer to be affirmed wholeheartedly rather than just tolerated by our surroundings. But as Lena Andersson wrote in a high-profile editorial in Svenska Dagbladet:



"Any society that regards tolerance as 'insufficient commitment' becomes totalitarian." And further, in a response from Andersson to a rejoinder from LGBTQ activists, "The eternal rebellion with demands for the right positions, not just reasonable action, creates a new suffocating dominance that is unfavourable for social peace. The freedom of liberalism presupposes that there can be a certain distance between people. Everyone will never appreciate everyone else's choices and inclinations".



Speaking of Andersson's talk about "right positions", this too is a central part of the ideological shift of our time. On a number of issues, it has become more important to think and say the right things than to raise one's arms and make a difference in action.



Quite logically, there is talk today of both "goodness signalling" and "cancel culture", the former being about what you say being more important than what you do, while the latter is about those who do not signal the right views being declared undesirable.



And this is true whether you - like the debater Kajsa Ekis Ekman - come from the left or whether you - like the party leader Ebba Busch - come from the right.



And apart from the fact that this ultimately leads to a frighteningly narrow corridor of opinion, it leads to an almost unabashed open hypocrisy.



It does not matter whether those with the "right views" are merely engaged in signalling, or whether those who are erased from public view devote all their active time to making the world a better place. What matters is symbolism and the right opinions.



Is there a way out of this ideological morass? Lena Andersson suggests that we go back to the concept of tolerance. "Tolerance," she writes, "means that large areas of society are not politicised.



Tolerance is the minimum and maximum and a better ideal than love and solidarity, which are too big and too charged emotions".



I myself belong to a different tradition of ideas than the secular humanist Andersson, but I come to the same conclusion. It was, after all, a cross-fertilisation of Christian revivalism and secular Enlightenment thinking that pushed for the liberalisation of European societies to which we today derive so much of our modern democracy.



Moreover, a central part of Christianity's moral vision is that the true transformation of society needs to begin with transformed hearts.



There must be an inner drive behind the changed behaviours, something that leads to the conclusion that neither goodness signalling nor cancellation culture should have anything to do with a Christianly shaped society.



And perhaps most importantly, in our day there is very little room for grace and forgiveness. Anyone who has said, done or thought wrong should be reproved, to be erased. Without pardon.



I hope our culture will find its way back to the Judeo-Christian heritage from which it began. Not in the all too often stifling form of the state church but in its voluntary and ideologically life-giving form.



At least for me, the options are looking increasingly frightening.



Olof Edsinger, General Secretary of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance.



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