I have been talking now and then about Jante’s Law. Some may be wondering what it is. It comes from a book by Aksel Sandemose, who is a Norwegian-Danish author that lived mostly in the first half of last century. He wrote the book En Flyktning Krysser Sitt Spor or A Refugee Crosses His Tracks in 1933, where he developed the idea of Jante’s Law, which is said to be about the town he grew up in, Nyköbing Mors. The ten rules of the Jante Law are:
1. Don’t think that you are special.
2. Don’t think that you are of the same standing as us.
3. Don’t think that you are smarter than us.
4. Don’t fancy yourself as being better than us.
5. Don’t think that you know more than us.
6. Don’t think that you are more important than us.
7. Don’t think that you are good at anything.
8. Don’t laugh at us.
9. Don’t think that anyone cares about you.
10. Don’t think that you can teach us anything.
These are symbolic of a cultural code that permeates the modern day Nordic countries. Anybody who breaks these rules is treated with suspicion and coldness. Sandemose himself said “By means of the Law of Jante people stamp out each other’s chances in life.” When Finnish people read these they often say “Ahaaa”, when it dawns on them how familiar they sound.
This is said to be a relic from a past agricultural society, left over because of rather recent modernization and in industrialization. People had to work together in order to get things done. Community harmony was the rule and anyone who was perceived to be out of harmony was punished. The Jante Law rears its head in other societies as well, and you can see it in the sayings, such as “Hammer down the nail that sticks out” or “cut the heads off the tall poppies.”
Breaking the Jante’s Law will make your neighbours hate you, for example when you are too different, too wealthy or too individual.
This can also be seen in the herd mentality, where everyone does the same thing, and noone dares doing something that the rest of the herd is not doing.
The Jante Law can even show its head in a situation like telling about the holiday you had. Some people can get angry and defensive and perceive it as you bragging or showing off your financial ability to travel. People who have experiences of coming from other countries or of living in other countries are often treated indifferently or ignored, since it is hard to relate to them through the context of the Jante Law. They are, in a way, outside the law or “outlaws”.
In other ways you can see it when trying to give someone a compliment, they shrug it off and say “anyone could have done it”. Or if someone gives you a compliment and if you say, “Thank you, I appreciate that”, then that is perceived as you being arrogant, when you admit you did something well. So it is a no-win situation. Noone benefits.
In Finland, it shows through some of the legislation. If you find some strange laws that you don’t understand, think of them in the context of this law, and they may start make a lot more sense. The steeply progressive taxation, the public tax records, the overtaxation of the price of new cars, the day fines, and various invasions of privacy intended to leave successful people feeling very exposed. They don’t let anyone feel very comfortable or experience a sense of enjoyment with being financially successful while living in Finland.
In the modern day EU, Jante Legislation really has no place. Finland may find its capital-owning people leaving as “privacy refugees”, in order to be left alone to live in peace and quiet in the quiet mountains of Slovakia or on the lively islands of Greece, for example.
The Jante Law is based on envy and jealousy. When being envious of what one perceives to be a successful person, may be in fact a person who is very lonely and unhappy, someone more worth pitying. and the Jante Law treatment doesn’t make the person feel any better or any less lonely.
Libertarians especially hate the Jante Law mentality. Libertarians want to be left to live in peace and not be interfered with by nosy neighbours or an intrusive government.
Right here in the municipality where I live, one neighbour told me about a conversation she was having with another neighbour, who is on the municipal Building Board. This neighbour who is on the Building Board was telling about a guy who had just bought a lot and was planning to build on it. The Building Board member told how he was planning to reject this person’s building permit application because he earns so much money. He had gone and checked in Veropörssi how much this guy was earning when deciding on granting a building permit. The other neighbour told me how she “barked him right down into the ground” about how his envy has nothing to do with granting building permits. If this were ever to come to light with the authorities, that person could loose his job, be criminally charged with discrimination, be fined, etc. And it is totally illogical to keep someone from having money move here. What do we want, only poor people in our municipality? A guy with money at least has money to build with. A poor person might afford the lot, but can he or she afford to build on it afterward and move there and pay taxes to the municipality?
Already in Estonia from the very beginning, they have rejected Jante legislation. They have a flat tax, and the same taxation for corporations as for people – no discrimination. And privacy protection laws are in place, like in the rest of the EU.
As we can start to see, Jante legislation really doesn’t have much of a place in the European Union, and we will start seeing less and less of those strange laws that can only be understood in the context of the 10 rules listed above.
Wikipedia article about Jante Law.