For reasons you need not know, I just did something very odd … watched about ten minutes of Oprah. And I watched as she sat and had a bite to eat with a table of atheists. Whoa…..

The atheists were Danish women in Copenhagen. They talked about the system of government, economy, social services, and so on. And at one point Oprah said “I heard you claim to be happier because you are not involved in religion” or words to that effect. Oprah seemed interested in that, but also said that she just didn’t understand it.

Overall, this was a very interesting event. Oprah was displaying for her viewing audience, and herself, how things work in a country that is far, far more “civilized” than the US. They even have more closets than we do. And somewhat fewer items to put in them. So they have more room, and ultimately, more happiness.

I guess the point of the show was to examine “the happiest people in the world” … The Danes… And it turns out that they are less materialistic, more family- and children-focused, have a full range of fully funded public services, minimal difference in wealth between the richest and poorest, a progressive tax system that rewards following a career that suits you rather than one that makes more money, and atheism.

I wonder how much of an impact this will have?

The Oprah show on line is here.
I’m not sure if the atheist bit is shown.

Comments

  1. #1 Kitty'sBitch
    October 21, 2009

    Hello and welcome to another round of…
    I DON’T PHUCKEN BELIEVE IT

    What’s the chance this is posted somewhere?
    I can hear the religionuts stirring already.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    October 21, 2009

    This just happened so I doubt it is posted anywhere. If someone sends me a link or something I’ll post it.

  3. #3 Obama
    October 21, 2009

    “less materialistic, more family- and children-focused, have a full range of fully funded public services, minimal difference in wealth between the richest and poorest, a progressive tax system that rewards following a career that suits you rather than one that makes more money, and atheism”… That’s change we can believe in! But if you’re suggesting we need more open closets in this country, well, let’s not get over-ambitious.

  4. #4 EMJ
    October 21, 2009

    But, as any Christian will tell you, happiness is just a temptation that the devil pulls to turn you from salvation. That and socialized medicine.

  5. #5 Bob
    October 21, 2009

    Denmark was too rich for my blood; I’ll take Sweden, thanks.

    I spent 10 days in Varberg this summer, consulting at the four unit nuclear site just 30 minutes north in Ringhals. Beautiful country, good food, wonderful people – the focus on quality of life is simply amazing.

    A number of things struck me there as good ideas that just would not work in America simply due to the prevailing attitude and character of the people. My best example is traffic control and the roundabout.

    There were very few stoplights in Varberg; I think I found one or two. Most low-traffic intersections are uncontrolled or guarded with yield signs. Higher traffic intersections go into a roundabout, again without little or no overt traffic control (stoplights, etc.) You slow down, look for a way in, and go when you can. No being stuck in traffic for long periods of time, no stop and go traffic, nobody roaring through the intersection or otherwise acting like an aggressive asshole. No cops looking for an excuse to dick you around. Just people calmly going to where they need to get to. Bikes and pedestrians watch for traffic; traffic stops for bikes and pedestrians – none of the typical scofflaw cyclist and he-man bike-hater bullshit.

    Take away religion’s deathwish, the need to punish, the arrogant righteousness, and the overconfident fuck-the-present-the-afterlife-is-my-reward and what do you get? People who focus on enjoying the present, not as dissolute sensualists, but just normal people with jobs, kids, houses, and friends. Nobody seems conspicuously wealthy but I think I saw one guy sleeping on a park bench. I don’t recall being panhandled the entire trip (I may have been; I just don’t remember.)

    Sweden’s no paradise, but if what I saw was the result of decades of atheism and socialism, I’m hard pressed to find an obvious public downside. Yeah, taxes are comparatively high, but given decades of wage stagnation in the US and skyrocketing health care costs (assuming you’re fortunate enough to have a job that offers insurance), it’s pretty much a wash.

    A final note: it’s really weird going to IKEA in the US after a week in Sweden. I kept expecting to see big signs reading “REA!”, worried if I had enough kroner, and kept fumbling for my phrasebook. Happily, I was used to reading the signage, I knew exactly how the cafeteria tray bussing system worked (it’s like that all over Sweden), and I could get jars of herring in mustard for breakfast. Love that herring…

  6. #6 Jacob Bendixen
    October 21, 2009

    A a Dane I can say that as life is mostly easy, but our system is being mangled to pieces by our current government.

    We now have gang wars, with plenty of shooting, in the streets, because of some resent decisions by said government. It is really getting fucked up. That said, it will be some time before everything collapses, at least I hope it does.

    Being an atheist is extremely easy, as the religious are quite embarrassed, which they should be.

  7. #7 Revyloution
    October 22, 2009

    Jacob, you mentioned gang wars and plenty of shooting. I thought the gun ownership laws in Denmark were fairly restrictive. Where do the illegal firearms come from?

    Im quite conflicted on the issue of guns. I acknowledge the statistics that show owning a gun raises the chance that you will be shot, but I also see a trend in world history that shows the more unarmed a society is, the more likely they are to be oppressed. And of course it’s far more complicated than that.

    Just a quick anecdotal opinion: Do you think most Danes want stricter gun control, or more access to guns for law abiding citizens?

  8. #8 tacitus
    October 22, 2009

    All countries have their problems, but it’ll take more than a few gang shootings to rival the problems in US cities. And remember, there are 7-times more Americans in prison than there are Danes in prison in Denmark (per capita, of course).

    The success of countries like Denmark and Sweden — heck, the whole of western Europe really — illustrates how bizarre and idiotic the right-wing conservatives’ screeching about the eeevils of ‘socialism’ really are. Surely if ‘socialism’ was the satanic force the wingnuts claim it to be, then Denmark and Sweden should be basket cases, failed states along the lines of Somalia and North Korea.

    We don’t have to imagine the effects of liberal economic and social policies, we can see them at work in a dozen or more of our closest allies. And it’s not the horror story that Republicans would want us to believe — less violence, lower crime rates, lower poverty rates, far lower prison populations, health care coverage for all, and so on.

    Europe’s not a ‘socialist paradise’, of course, (it’s not really even that socialist any more, except by American standards) and there are still serious problems to be tackled, but it’s flabbergasting to see the US wrestling over such basic moral issues as universal health care when the last western European country took the plunge over a decade ago now (Switzerland).

    So, good for Oprah. It’s good to show Americans how people in other more liberal democracies really live (not just from the religious viewpoint either), and maybe some of her audience will learn to be a little more skeptical about the dangerous nonsense the right-wing in American keeps peddling.

  9. #9 Michael
    October 22, 2009

    I’m living in Denmark as well. “gang wars and plenty of shooting” would be by DANISH standards. Not by the standards of other countries. A single shot fired anywhere in this country makes for huge news in the danish media.

  10. #10 Marcus
    October 22, 2009

    @Revyloution

    I’m Danish too, I live in Copenhagen, so I’ll try to comment on it. It’s true that there’s been quite alot of shootings, mainly between Hell’s Angels and gangs of ethnic minorities, mainly immigrants from the Middle East.

    The gun ownership laws are very restrictive, as far as I know, you can only buy guns if you’re a certified hunter, and even with that you need to have your weapons securely locked up. The gangs get most of their weapons from break-ins in military depots and private homes. (In January 200 weapons were stolen from a military depot). However, it should be noted that the gang members are not doing this out of desperation or poverty, most of them come from well-functioning home.

    “Just a quick anecdotal opinion: Do you think most Danes want stricter gun control, or more access to guns for law abiding citizens?”

    I am convinced that the majority do not want more access to guns. However, our weapons restrictions are kind of ridiculous right now. A little while back a man received jail time for having a stanley knife in his car (he was a carpenter or something), so there’s a lot of criticism about that at the moment.

  11. #11 llewelly
    October 22, 2009

    People who focus on enjoying the present, not as dissolute sensualists …

    What the fuck? Not as dissolute sensualists? What the hell did I become an atheist for, if not to be a dissolute sensualist?

    Dudes. If Atheism is not TOTALLY about nihilistic hedonism, ORGIES, and most especially, MORE ORGIES, I am checking out now.

  12. #12 SQB
    October 22, 2009

    For reasons you need not know…

    Let me guess those reasons in just four words: your wife is pregnant.
    So, how is everyone?

  13. #13 Benjamin Geiger
    October 22, 2009

    Bob @ #5:

    Roundabouts do tend to work in smaller towns. The town I grew up in has one… well, three, if you count the two in the new Walmart’s parking lot. Granted, virtually nobody bicycles around there (mainly because it’s in the mountains and nobody is insane enough to bike up and down mountains every day), but for pedestrians and cars, it works well enough.

    Problem is, it doesn’t scale well.

  14. #14 csrster
    October 22, 2009

    I’ve lived in Denmark for 8 years and I think the number one reason for the generally high level of life-satisfaction here is the provision of adequate maternity leave and guaranteed daycare which allow people, especially women, to achieve a reasonable balance between family and career.

    Regarding gun crime, I have always assumed that most of the weapons were coming in from Eastern Europe. There is no real pressure to liberalise gun laws here, but there was a case last year of a shop owner (a watchmaker, to be precise) who was so tired of being robbed that he
    took the matter into his own hands and shot the next guy who tried it. He got a lot of public sympathy and six months in jail for unlawful possession. Oddly, he was acquitted of the actual shooting on the grounds that he was lawfully entitled to shoot in that situation, even though he wasn’t lawfully entitled to own the weapon!

  15. #15 Tina St. Sebastian
    October 22, 2009

    One part of the problem in Copenhagen is the government’s silly drug policy. If you haven’t heard of Freetown Christiania, you should check it out. I suppose Americans would call it a hippie compound, but it really is more complicated. Basically some people took over abandoned army barracks in the seventies, and managed to build a rather nice little community. They didn’t allow hard drugs, but they did openly sell cannabis from booths on ‘Pusher Street’. Add to that the fact that the Freetown is located on prime real estate, and you can guess what happened. ‘Pusher Street’ was shut down, and of course that meant that the cannabis trade largely moved away from the no-hard-drugs dealers and into the hands of gangs. People used to be able to sit down and have a quiet joint, with virtually no risk of coming in contact with anything stronger, but now your weed is sold by gangs who also happen to deal in everything else. Ergo: problem.

    Also: they have a political party called Venstre, which means ‘Left’. It’s a center-right party, so so much for honesty in advertising.

    Also also: A lot of them seem to think Iceland is still under Danish control, and/or are pissed that we don’t speak Danish.

    That concludes today’s ‘Three things I don’t like about Denmark’. Everything else is fine. Especially Roskilde Festival. Thank you.

  16. #16 Day
    October 22, 2009

    I’m Danish too, and agree with Marcus on the gun issue. weapon ownership, is really strict, and too strickt, but I don’t think the danish people think that it’s too strickt because the fear for their safety, that might be because most of the gun related crimes aren’t actually against “civilians” so to speak, but more criminals shooting at criminals. Not even police vs. criminals, where the criminals shot after the police. I don’t think there has actually been a crime against a normal citizen with a gun in some time (at least not in the news). That doesn’t mean normal people don’t get hit by crossfire though.

  17. #17 impal
    October 22, 2009

    The US is becoming a big well, with the GOP and its fans the frogs. They’ve got their heads stuck in that place where the sun don’t shine no more.

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    October 22, 2009

    SQB: Fine, thanks. Yes, we were looking for the latest tips and tricks…

  19. #19 Steve The Mud
    October 22, 2009

    I’ve been living in Denmark for nearly three years and I can tell you it’s a great society to be a part of. Almost everyone here appears to feel a part of the collective and as a result there is minimal antisocial behaviour compared to the worlds most unequal societies such as the US and the UK. Just shows what can be done when humans evolve beyond their primitive religious roots.

  20. #20 Soren
    October 22, 2009

    Another thing worth mentioning is that education is mostly free (as in beer), in fact the government will pay you for taking an education, not much, but you are allowed to have a modest income without losing your government grant money.

    This and other things, means that social mobility is quite good in Denmark. In fact here it is feasible to be born poor and underprivileged, and grow up to get an education and a better life than your parents. Social mobility is much better here (and in the rest of Scandinavia), than in the US, where your station in life is pretty much set when you are born (unless you get unlucky and it gets worse)

  21. #21 Mikko
    October 22, 2009

    I saw the video of Oprah touring what they labeled as a ‘typical’ Danish home. I’m Finnish and I’ve only visited Denmark, but I’d venture a guess the home wasn’t exactly typical. The interior was ultra-minimalist with nearly all surfaces completely white. Absolutely no decoration anywhere, no curtains and the upstairs shower had a glass wall facing the rest of the space. I thought it was beautiful, and I like modernist Nordic design in general, but as an example, I’d say it was more like the most minimalist interior they could find. They do have curtains in Denmark!

  22. #22 SQB
    October 22, 2009

    Greg, have you found a name yet? If not, may I suggest the completely on-topic name of a nephew of mine (who, incidentally is expecting a sister any day now): “Dane”?

  23. #23 The Science Pundit
    October 22, 2009

    The atheist bit is now on YouTube.

  24. #24 Anders Jakobsen
    October 22, 2009

    Mikko, you are completely right. The minimalist home is certainly NOT typical. Fun fact: Its on the market so perhaps the smallish rooms arenĀ“t exactly as great as she claimed :D The other home OTOH is completely typical of central Copenhagen.

  25. #25 Slaughter
    October 22, 2009

    Michael @ #9 said: A single shot fired anywhere in this country makes for huge news in the danish media.

    I know what that’s like. I was in Toronto a couple of times in the early ’80s, and one day the paper had a huge Page 1 headline about — a homicide! Here in Phoenix, we sometimes don’t bother reporting them. But didja see what we had the other day? An Iraqi man was accused of running over his own daughter because she was becoming too Westernized.

  26. #26 supra shoes
    October 23, 2009

    We don’t have to imagine the effects of liberal economic and social policies, we can see them at work in a dozen or more of our closest allies. And it’s not the horror story that Republicans would want us to believe — less violence, lower crime rates, lower poverty rates, far lower prison populations, health care coverage for all, and so on.

  27. #27 True Religion jeans
    October 23, 2009

    They didn’t allow hard drugs, but they did openly sell cannabis from booths on ‘Pusher Street’. Add to that the fact that the Freetown is located on prime real estate, and you can guess what happened. ‘Pusher Street’ was shut down, and of course that meant that the cannabis trade largely moved away from the no-hard-drugs dealers and into the hands of gangs. People used to be able to sit down and have a quiet joint, with virtually no risk of coming in contact with anything stronger, but now your weed is sold by gangs who also happen to deal in everything else.

  28. #28 H.H.
    October 23, 2009

    SQB, that name is forever tainted by Dane Cook.

  29. #29 Phillip Helbig
    October 27, 2009

    “Also: they have a political party called Venstre, which means ‘Left’. It’s a center-right party, so so much for honesty in advertising.”

    Wrong. The title goes back to the founding of the party in
    the 19th century, when “left” essentially meant “more in
    favour of democracy than monarchy”. The fact that what was
    then leftist is now (correctly) seen as conservative is
    an example of progress. :-)

    Yes, it is a centre-right party by Danish standards.
    However, it is far, far, far to the left of anything which
    Obama (good as he is from a US perspective) would ever
    consider. Denmark has the highest taxes in the world.
    (And, as this thread shows, one of the most just societies
    with some of the happiest people. Norway is very similar.
    Sweden used to be, but might be losing ground now.) And
    it is ruled by a centre-right party. There are parties to
    the left of Venstre. Just shows you how much the entire
    spectrum is shifted in Europe with respect to the US: our
    conservatives are literally more liberal than your liberals.