Janteloven—The Laws of “Us” Vs. “You”
The Law of Jante is more of a guideline, but it’s deep-rooted.
A few months ago, Bjørn Dæhlie, a retired professional skier, announced he was leaving Norway for Switzerland. Dæhlie said he wanted to embark on new adventures, though high taxes were also part of the reason. Many Norwegians were incensed.
A prevalent reaction was a sense of betrayal. Dæhlie got his start in grassroots ski clubs which gave him the foundation to become one of Norway’s greatest athletes: eight Olympic gold medals, four silver. He owed Norway to stay and give back, never mind that he paid top taxes from his athletics company since 1999. Some proposed laws should be put in place to force him to stay.
This concept is called “Janteloven”—The Law of Jante—which stems from Aksel Sandemose’s 1933 satirical novel, En flyktning krysser sitt spor (A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks). A commentary on Scandinavian egalitarianism, the story is set in the fictional town of Jante, where those who deviate from ten tenets are considered outcasts.
You’re not to think you are anything special.
You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
You’re not to imagine yourself better than we are.
You’re not to think you know more than we do.
You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
You’re not to think you are good at anything.
You’re not to laugh at us.
You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
You’re not to think you can teach us anything.
It’s overly simplistic to claim all Norwegians subscribe to this attitude, and The Law of Jante is a polarizing concept. Some credit it for putting Norway high on the UN’s World Happiness Report, while others blame it for Norway’s high suicide rates. Reality might be a little column A, a little column B, but regardless: Polarizing as The Law of Jante is, it’s a mindset established well into the mainstream. Take Leif Welhaven’s commentary on Dæhlie in VG, Norway’s largest newspaper:
In the balance between “I” and “we,” there is no doubt that he has used the positive associations with the ski community for his own gain.
It is an important trait of our society to even out differences, and thus it sends bad signals if rich people and business owners tax little or nothing to our large community pot.
Going by those two statements, Dæhlie swiftly broke tenets 1, 3, 4, 7, and 9 of The Law of Jante.
People haven’t come rushing in Dæhlie’s defense, though based on anecdotal evidence, I suspect there is a large silent contingent who simply doesn’t care where he lives. That’s Dæhlie’s business, and no one else’s.
If I were a betting person, I would wager the country is split down the middle regarding The Law of Jante.
I’m not much of a fan of the law myself, but at the same token, I don’t think it is entirely without merit. With the neo-libertarian shifts we’ve seen lately, it’s not a bad time to remember the sage wisdom of George Costanza: “We’re living in a society!” It might make for a creative and interesting world to be more individual than the people of Jante, but looking out for the “we” shouldn’t be pushed aside.
Dæhlie, meanwhile, doesn’t seem too bothered by this whole hoopla, and he’s getting ready to make his move. That takes some chutzpah, particularly with the Socialist party hurrying to get a law in place to ensure he’ll be taxed in Norway for the next five years.
The Law of Jante’s eleventh unwritten rule:
Perhaps you don’t think we know a few things about you?
Which is kind of chilling and vaguely 1984-esque.
“Janteloven.” Wikipedia. January 5, 2022. no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janteloven.