Racist Detectorists

In countries with a big metal detector hobby, the stereotypical participant is an anorak-wearing, rural, poorly educated, underemployed male. I don’t know how true this cliché image is. But apart from the anorak, it’s certainly an accurate description of the core voter demographic behind the rise of racist right-wing populist parties. These people have trouble finding jobs, and they have trouble seeing through the racist propaganda that tells them they would have jobs and girlfriends if it weren’t for the bloody furriners.

I’m known as a detectorist-friendly archaeologist. I’ve made many friends in the little Swedish hobby over the past twelve years. These people are overwhelmingly urban professionals, often with university degrees and pretty solid incomes. I’m talking a banker, a school teacher, a newspaper editor, a businessman, a scientist, a software company CEO. I’ve never known them to make racist remarks, live or online. Sweden’s laws regarding amateur metal detector use are hopelessly restrictive, so when not collaborating with researchers like myself, most of our few detectorists spend their free time collecting last year’s coins and finger rings on beaches.

But now I’ve gotten involved in Danish and Norwegian detectorist groups on Facebook. Those countries have more liberal laws and bigger hobbies. Many of their detectorists have added me as Fb buddies. And suddenly I’ve got several rural Danes and Norwegians in my Fb feed who will post nine pictures of interesting new archaeological finds, then a piece of racist propaganda, followed by nine more finds, etc. I’m just appalled. It’s so far from my Swedish experience.

Let me be clear and fair here. Most of my Danish & Norwegian detectorist contacts on Fb never post racist stuff. But the only people who do post that shit in my feed are Danish & Norwegian detectorists. I wonder if the main detectorist associations of Denmark and Norway have taken a public stand against racism, for instance by welcoming immigrants as members.

Don’t Blame The Tea-Bagger 13% On Me

The Sweden Democrats (SD) is a racist populist party that got 13% of the vote in the recent Swedish parliamentary election. They got into Parliament four years ago at the expense of the Labour Party. This time around they more than doubled their support at the expense of the Conservative Party, who lost a precarious hold on government to Labour and the Greens.

The 87% of the country who didn’t vote for the racists are asking how the fuck this could happen. A common and, to my mind, convincing explanation starts from the demography of the SD voters. Sweden has low unemployment, high general education and a largely urban or suburban settlement pattern. (A large-scale movement of people from the countryside to the cities has been going on for two centuries.) Yet SD voters display high unemployment, low education and a rural settlement pattern. In US terms, they’re Tea-baggers. They’re voting for SD not because they’re necessarily all that hostile to foreigners, but because they are marginalised and don’t feel that the mainstream parties are paying enough attention to their needs. The SD offers to solve their problems by keeping the foreigners out, and SD voters aren’t well-educated enough to understand that immigration reform wouldn’t actually make any practical difference to their particular problems. They’d still be unemployed, uneducated and rural, but the village kebab place would close.

The established political parties clearly haven’t successfully manipulated the SD voter demographic. Ahem, I mean, “catered to”. But the thing is, 87% of Swedish voters, the people who have all the social and economic clout outside the polling station, voted for explicitly multiculturalist parties. All across Parliament, from the Former Commies all the way over to the Christian Democrats. Courting the racist vote would lose you the country’s majority demographic along with the support of the moneyed and educated power structure. The electoral districts in Stockholm where SD got the least votes are also the ones where Leftie parties got the least votes: solidly Conservative neighbourhoods with old money.

In the Swedish media, there’s this idea that employed educated urban Swedes are somehow to blame for the marginalisation that led to the SD’s success, simply by being privileged. I don’t agree. It’s true that we don’t pay any mind to the characteristic SD voter demographic. But why should we? It’s a mutual subcultural lack of interest and proximity.

My own tribe, the Nerds, probably has an even higher voter turnout than the already respectable national average of 86%. And we don’t vote SD. Just look at this past Saturday’s game night at my place. There was the maths professor, the philosophy lecturer and the PhD candidate in informatics. We’ve been brainy since Kindergarten and see no reason to apologise for ourselves. Elitist? No, this is just the way we turned out. One of the guys has an immigrant dad, another has just moved to Sweden with his wife and started a family here. We had tea that came here in my brother-in-law’s suitcase from China, while my Chinese wife pottered about with her second degree or maybe it was the novel she’s translating into Swedish.

I’d be happy to invite a friendly SD voter to game night, and I’m sure he’d refrain politely from racist pronouncements. But I honestly don’t know where to find one. And I’m afraid he’d find my tribe frighteningly alien.