Passive Pacifist

For over 20 years I have received Pax, the journal of the Swedish Peace Society. I have always read it as a matter of duty. Rarely has it interested me much. I am a passive pacifist — a passivist, as a radical relative of mine once wrote me from prison, where he had been put for vandalising a fighter plane.

Now Pax has been discontinued. I won’t miss it. I’ll just continue to pay my membership dues and a monthly donation to investigate the Swedish arms industry. In fact, I’m going to hike the donation up to compensate for inflation.


Dynamic Map of Chinese Unrest

The Chinese Twitter equivalent Weibo censors searches for the names of places where there are protests (currently Shenzhen). You could write a script that searches for the main Chinese cities on Weibo and plots the ones that are censored on a map. Presto, a dynamic map of Chinese political unrest! With data supplied by the Chinese government, no less. Who will do it first?

Update same day: Daniel Becking points to the highly informative web site Blocked On Weibo. It has a wide remit. The most recent entry explains why the two characters for “pantyhose” are blocked.

Racist Eugenics Scholar Makes A Positive Difference

i-56a45a17d3642d03c3de790eb7975cc2-200px-Herman_Lundborg_(1868-1943).jpgThe memory of Herman Lundborg (1868-1943) is insolubly linked to the Swedish State Institute of Eugenics that he headed, and thus lives in infamy. Eugenics was the pseudoscientific belief that human populations deteriorated over time unless care was taken to weed out weak specimens and keep them from procreating. Somehow, these allegedly weak specimens tended to have foreign looks and/or a low income and education. But the social pseudo-Darwinism of the early 20th century explained that people were poor and uneducated because they were stupid, and they were stupid because they had bad genes. Bad blood. They needed to be culled from the flock, or more humanely, sterilised, not necessarily with their informed consent.

The other day I learned, by chance, that Herman Lundborg actually managed to solve a serious public health problem, thus performing a great and lasting service to the inhabitants of a small part of Sweden. This was the Lister peninsula in Blekinge province (incidentally home of the Viking chieftain Krok in the childhood home of Red Orm, hero of F.G. Bengtsson’s immortal novel The Long Ships).

Unverricht-Lundborg disease is a rare genetic condition, also known as Baltic Epilepsy. It is a form of progressive myoclonic epilepsy that leads to early dementia. First described in Estonia by Heinrich Unverricht in the 1890s, it was found to be endemic in Lister as well (just across the Baltic Sea). Herman Lundborg’s award-winning 1901 MD thesis dealt with myoclonic epilepsy and demonstrated that Baltic Epilepsy is a recessive Mendelian trait, much like blue eyes. Recessive traits are only expressed if you get two copies of them at conception. The reason that people in Lister were so afflicted was that they commonly married their cousins to avoid splitting up land holdings. This was nothing unusual in rural Sweden, but it had tragic consequences for isolated gene pools that had acquired a recessive trait like that of Unverricht-Lundborg disease. Lundborg’s results were communicated to the people of Lister, they changed their marriage customs, and the disease disappeared in a generation.

Where Herman Lundborg went wrong was in his wider interpretation of what the Lister case meant. He believed that it demonstrated the kind of genetic deterioration that demanded a eugenic response. But in fact, such deterioration does not exist and the problem didn’t really lay with the Lister people’s genetic makeup. It lay with their social anthropology. From the point of view of “racial purity”, few populations could beat the Lister people since they were so unwilling to mix. If Lundborg had not looked at his scientific data through racist glasses, he would easily have understood that his work made a strong case for international intermarriage, not for any controlled breeding of Swedish peasant stock.

Welcome to Sweden, little Christina, whom my friends Martin & Nanna have just adopted from Lesotho.

Does Judicial Punishment Mainly Serve A Revenge Motive?

Here’s a few thoughts stemming from comments on my recent post regarding the Norwegian terror shootings. The discussion got a little confused as people thought I wanted to discuss psychiatry, when I was really only commenting on the judicial concept of criminal responsibility versus insanity.

Why do modern states have systems of judicial punishment? If you look closer at this issue you’ll find that there are several independent motivations that sometimes operate against each other.

1. Violence monopoly and collective revenge. Having been wronged, many people want revenge on the perpetrator. State societies reserve a monopoly on legal violence, so to keep a man from avenging his murdered sister, the state will step in and take care of the revenge. This saves society from the vendetta, the endless cycle of revenge and counter-revenge in pre-state societies that is generally much more harmful to the collective than the original crime. Also, judicial revenge means that people whom nobody would avenge because they are poor or lack family are also avenged.

2. Deterrent. If crime is known to lead to punishment, then hopefully this will lead to less crime.

3. Containment: keeping criminals off the streets. A criminal in jail is much less likely to commit crime against people outside while he is locked up, and it could be argued that crime committed against other convicted criminals a) is a lesser social ill than other crime, b) contributes to the deterrent effect.

4. Reform. Maybe there are methods (short of murder) to force a a criminal to change his ways.

Now, I don’t care about revenge, and I wish that this irrational motive didn’t figure in our judicial systems at all. Once a crime is committed, it can’t be undone by hurting the perpetrator. All society can do constructively is help the victim, preferably at the perpetrator’s expense. But thinking about this I realised that as long as people are irrationally driven to avenge wrongs, we have to deal with this aspect or they will start taking matters into their own hands. This would lead to exactly the sort of violent crime the judicial system is designed to counteract. People have a strong Old Testament feeling that if I cause someone harm, then I should by rights also suffer harm.

Prisons are designed to combine revenge, deterrent, containment and reform. In most parts of the world where prisons are really nasty, they do well at the revenge and containment bits. But they fail resoundingly at deterrent and reform. Inmates come out of prison equally or more likely to commit crime as before. In Western countries, prisons are so humane that there isn’t actually much revenge involved either – prisoners are mainly just very bored and miss their loved ones. Even in humane prisons, having convicted criminals as your entire social circle is not a good way to learn how to lead a peaceful, honest and productive life.

It interested me to read, recently, that most Swedish prisoners prefer jail to an electronic surveillance manacle and a term served at home. The reason is that with the manacle, apparently they feel isolated from their peers – which is of course good both regarding revenge and reform. But a manacle sentence should always be combined with some kind of mandatory productive work.

The judicial system’s intense interest in whether a perp is sane enough to be held responsible for their crime only makes sense from a revenge perspective. Of course it would be unfair to avenge ourselves on someone who doesn’t understand what they did. But if you drop the revenge bit, just as a thought experiment, you’ll find that the determination of free-will responsibility becomes irrelevant. Our need of deterrent, containment and reform is the same regardless of the mental state of the perp. The main issue simply becomes “How do we keep this guy from repeat crime, and guys like him from their first crime?” And this lands us in a social engineering perspective.

If people weren’t so emotionally invested in revenge (and, conversely, in the humane treatment of prisoners), they would demand that public funding for the judicial system be invested only in well-studied, evidence-based, efficacious methods of deterrent, containment and reform. Any current measure that fails to further all these three goals at once would have to be dropped. I don’t know how far criminology has come on these points. But maybe it would turn out that there is no practical, evidence-based reason to keep a lot of current prison inmates locked up. Maybe we pay all that money only for revenge’s sake.

How Can We Keep Students From Jobless Subjects?

Here’s a piece of radical Libertarian politics for you. The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, Svenskt Näringsliv, is a respectable mainstream employers’ organisation. Their people have identified a problem with the Swedish university system, viz, that unemployed people are entering undergraduate programs that do not actually make them employable. The Confederation points out the Humanities specifically. And they suggest a solution: students in these programs should not receive the same amount of study loans as other students.

I agree that the problem exists, but not with the suggested solution. The problem is actually due to the orthodox marketism that the Confederation espouses, where universities compete for students according to the students’ demand. If the students want an MA in queer Mickey Mouse studies, then that’s what Swedish universities will offer. Trouble is, the students are not making rational or informed choices. They do not know or care what education they need to have a decent career. They are 19 and choose on a whim.

My solution to the problem is to change whose demand decides what university programs will be offered. Don’t ask the students. Ask the employers, by means of the unemployment statistics. It is much cheaper for society as a whole if university teachers in jobless subjects are allowed to do research full time for a few years than if they have to educate a new generation of unemployed queer Mickey Mouse experts.

Via my buddy Ny Björn, who doesn’t share my views. See also DN and SvD.

Draft Bill Threatens Future Quality Of Swedish Contract Archaeology


In Sweden, as increasingly in the entire industrialised world, the cost of archaeological rescue excavations rests upon the land developer. This is known as “contract archaeology” or, euphemistically, “mitigation”. Here it’s largely an affair within the public sector: most of the fieldwork takes place because of state road and railroad projects, and most of the contracts are picked up by state or county organisations. Though private foundations and limited companies do operate here, Swedish contract archaeology is mainly a question of routing money from taxpayers to public-sector archaeologists via a circuitous path.

When Swedish public money is spent, a market competition mechanism like that in private business has increasingly been used in recent decades to ensure maximum bang for the buck. All public jobs above a certain expected cost must be put out to tender. For each new stretch of highway, the National Road Administration’s people knows e.g. what quality asphalt they need in what quantities and by what date. They decide what they need and they haggle with contractors for it. But there’s one exception to this system: contract archaeology.

Land developers are required by Swedish law to buy archaeology. The County Archaeologist decides the quantity they have to buy, that is, how much evaluation and trial digs and, finally, how many square meters of final archaeological fieldwork. And the County Archaeologist also decides the quality, that is, how many archaeologist hours and specialist analyses the developer will have to buy per square meter.

The reason for the exception is that while asphalt quality is an easily gauged and mission-critical parameter in the success of a highway project, the quality of the rescue archaeology is not. If the road engineers hire a more expensive asphalt company, the road improves. If they hire a more expensive archaeological contractor, the road is unchanged, but the project gets finished later, which is really bad for them.

But individuals and private firms are also forced to buy a certain amount of archaeology in Sweden, mainly to prepare for the erection of houses. Share holders in private companies of course watch the bottom line, and if the company staff makes unnecessary outlays, the share holders get pissed off.

This explains why contract archaeology cannot be put out to tender in the manner of asphalt work: the people forced to buy contract archaeology have strong incentives to ignore the quality of the product. They have very good reasons to go exclusively for a low price and a speedy delivery, quality be damned. And yet, the whole of Swedish archaeology is now up in arms because a Government draft bill (departementspromemoria) suggests that archaeology’s exception to the tender rules should be removed in order to increase competition.

According to this suggestion, the County Archaeologist would only be allowed to decide which units are competent to take on jobs, and then the land developers would pick the bid they like for each job. Pretty much everyone on either side of the fence agrees that it would be entirely unprofessional for land developers in the public and private sector to go for anything but the cheapest option. The bill simply shows that its Conservative authors are blinded by an ideological commitment to market capitalism and don’t care about archaeology.

As I said, Swedish contract archaeology is mainly a question of routing money from taxpayers to public-sector archaeologists via a circuitous path. I believe that we could take some of the inefficiency and overhead out of this system by sending the money straight from the public coffer to the excavation units without shunting it through the National Road Administration. This would also remove the pretense that land developers care about archaeology and emphasise that the cultural heritage is a public resource. The County Archaeologists’ offices should still be allowed to decide on quantity and quality for each project, as they do today. But they should be made to conform to a national standard, as these things vary widely between counties under the current system.

More views of the increased-competition bill (please tell me if I’ve missed someone):

Global Population Speak-Out

This time of year I’ve repeatedly been taking part in the Global Population Speak-Out, reminding my Dear Readers that a lot of humanity’s main problems could (and will) be solved by shrinking the planet’s human population drastically. It’s up to us: either we quit having enough children to replace the people who die, thus easing population down over centuries, or our numbers will crash catastrophically though war, famine and pandemics. In other words: let’s turn down nativity or we will see mortality turned up on us, each producing similar effects.

It is in my opinion unethical for anyone to sire/bear more than two children. If you want a third and a fourth kid, adopt. And support girl schools: educated women have fewer babies.

Previously on Aard about overpopulation: 2008, 2009, 2010.

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Swedish Cabinet Opens Door to New Metal Detector Legislation

In October, I wrote about a ruling of the European Commission against Sweden’s restrictions on metal-detector use. The angle, kind of irrelevantly one may think, was that our rules counteract the free mobility of goods, which is of course a central concern of the EU.

On 30 November Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs replied to the European Commission. The gist of the reply is that “We think protection of the cultural heritage, which is also central concern of the EU, should trump the free mobility of goods in this case”.

Up until §27 there is little new here. But then we get this (and I translate):

“§28. […] However, Cabinet believes that there may be reason to question whether the current general ban on metal-detector use is entirely appropriate, and is therefore prepared to re-evaluate the extent and design of the ban.

§29. For this reason, Cabinet intends to task the National Heritage Board with swiftly investigating alternative rules. These should primarily be directed towards the prohibition of metal-detector use on and next to archaeological sites and to prohibit any search for archaeological objects. In particularly exposed regions, such as Öland and Gotland, a general ban should [still] be considered. Other solutions should also be taken under consideration, from the point of departure that the general ban shall be modified and the Swedish rules be harmonised with EU law. The National Heritage Board shall present its task in the spring of 2011, after which its suggestions will be referred to the interested parties.

§30. Then a lagrÃ¥dsremiss with suggestions for revised legislation shall be produced and delivered to the LagrÃ¥det, after which a Bill will be drafted and handed to Parliament for resolution. Cabinet’s intention is that it shall be made possible to enact the new legislation early in 2012.

This is good news and quite astonishing! But I see trouble in the words “prohibit any search for archaeological objects”, which is in all likelihood intended to mean “prohibit any search for metalwork older than AD 1900”. That’s ridiculous.

You never know what you’re going to find, and indeed, the main value to society at large of amateur metal detectorists is when they do find and salvage otherwise unknown archaeology. Also, it would remain legal (and commendable) to field-walk for ancient flint and pottery and report such finds to the authorities. Why should it then be illegal to want to find ancient metalwork? And how do you police the issue? Must the County Archaeologist waterboard all metal detectorists and ask them if they really don’t want to find any older objects?

Everybody wants to find something old and interesting! We need to enable responsible Swedish detectorists to do so for the common good of Swedish archaeology, and encourage a culture of skilled hobbyists that condemns looting. Our legislation already demands of anyone who finds ancient copper alloy or precious metals, regardless of how they make the finds, that they report to the authorities.

Thanks again to Tobias Bondesson, detectorist and contributor to Fornvännen and Aard, for the tip-off.

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European Commission Rules Against Swedish Metal-Detector Legislation


Good news for Swedish metal detectorists! And for us Iron Age scholars who want the finds, the sites and the free expert labour these amateurs are eager to provide us. And also for any small-finds nerd who would like to have a labour market (who? me?), communicating with the detectorists and classifying their finds.

The European Commission has ruled that the Swedish restrictions on metal-detector use contravenes EU rules for the free mobility of goods. If Sweden doesn’t take measures towards legislative reform within two months, the issue will be referred to the EU Court of Justice.

As I’ve argued in Fornvännen and Antiquity, I think metal-detector permits should be handled similarly to licences for hunting rifles. Apply for a licence, take a test to show that you know how to use the machine responsibly, then keep the licence as long as you don’t turn out to be a hazard to the interests of others. I’d be happy to volunteer one day for the group that drafts our new rules.

I want to be able to look my Danish colleagues in the eye when we talk about the 1st millennium AD! The finds are steadily turning into fine green dust out in the fields…

Update 14 October: Paul Barford does not agree. And he thinks I have a silly hat.

Via Fredrik Svanberg /

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Recently I wrote about some policies advocated by the Swedish anti-immigration party (SD) regarding public funding of the arts. I remarked that the party’s suggestions show that their members do not have much education regarding the arts or public debates in the field during the past decades. “They are after all a party for the blue-eyed, blue-collar, disappointed, rural, jobless man.”

One of the comments to this intrigued me. Said Robert Pearse,

As opposed to the consciously multi-ethnic, university-educated, self-satisfied, city-dwelling, rich?
My, I haven’t seen such a display of elitism in years.

To begin with the factual matter, it appears that the typical voter who helped give the SD 20 seats in Swedish Parliament is not in fact consciously multi-ethnic, university-educated, (self-)satisfied, city-dwelling or rich. With that out of the way, let me examine the charge of elitism.

This word is not common in Swedish political discourse. I know that it’s used a lot in the US, where it seems generally to go hand in hand with distrust of academics, and is a sort of opposite to “populism”. I was really surprised when I learned that the American Left likes to be called populist. In Europe, populist parties offer anti-immigration dissatisfaction tickets on the brown edge of the right wing. If I have to choose between elitism and populism in European terms, I’m an elitist, thank you very much.

According to Wikipedia,

Elitism is the belief or attitude that some individuals, who supposedly form an elite — a select group of people with intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views on a matter are to be taken the most seriously or carry the most weight or those who view their own views as so; whose views and/or actions are most likely to be constructive to society as a whole; or whose extraordinary skills, abilities or wisdom render them especially fit to govern.

To me, this begins to explain Mr. Pearse’s attitude. Note how he bundles “university-educated” with “rich”, and how Wikipedia enumerates “intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience”. In Sweden, where taxes are high, the public sector is large and a lot of things are free, you don’t have to be rich to get a good university education. You just have to be smart enough to study for your degree. Anybody can get a study loan here. And I certainly think that being smart and well-educated renders a person “especially fit to govern”. Who wants stupid people with no education (these two traits are separate) making important policy decisions? But as to wealth, I prefer my politicians comfortably but not extravagantly provided for.

I can really see why people would be angry with their political class, their “elite”, if the only way to join it was to pay huge term fees at Harvard or Princeton. But in Sweden, that is not the case. “Putting your kids through college” is not an issue here. Nobody has a trust fund. We pay a >30% income tax instead.

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