The law of Jante


Here’s the first blog ‘towards sustainomics’. In this series I’d like to share some thoughts that  build on ‘back to basics’ and tend to take a look into the future. Some of these thoughts may sound rather conventional, but often I find the simple logic more appealing when  getting to the core of certain matters. Any thoughts are welcome!

In one of his last books* Paulo Coelho explains to the reader the meaning of the “Law of Jante”, first introduced by the Scandinavian writer Aksel Sandemose in his 1933 novel A Fugitive Crossing His Tracks. In short the Law of Jante means something along the lines of “You are worthless; no one is interested in what you think, therefore you had better opt for mediocrity and anonymity. Do this and you will never face any major problems in life.” Coelho continues by saying “that it is thanks to the Law of Jante that the world has been manipulated in all kinds of ways by people who often end up achieving their own evil ends; we see the great gap between rich and poor, see social injustice, violence and people who are forced to give up their dreams.”*

What will happen a couple of generations from now when people will look back at the beginning of the new millennium? Will they realize that civil society, business and politics, although knowing all the facts that have been presented by e.g. the IPCC (let’s not talk about the current trust problem due to the lack of a consistent quality control system), many other think tanks  and clearly communicated by leaders like Al Gore, Jeremy Rifkin, Amartya Sen, Sir Nicolas Stern, Thomas L. Friedman, Paul Hawken, John Elkington, Jonathan Porritt and Jeffrey Sachs, haven’t really succeeded to prevent further environmental degradation, climate change, poverty and single-focused old style capitalism, so that everything got worse and made life impossible in many areas of the planet, causing migration waves and decimation of humankind by unknown diseases? Will they simply say “well, blame it on the Law of Jante?”

I prefer Paulo Coelho’s proposal to create an “Anti-Law of Jante” to prevent things from getting worse: “You are worth much more than you think. Your work and your presence on this earth are important. Of course, such ideas could land you in a lot of trouble breaking the Law of Jante, but don’t be intimidated. Continue to live without fear, and you will triumph in the end.”*

Paul Hawken’s book ‘The blessed unrest’ has created the sort of “Anti-Law of Jante” feeling with me. There is way more happening regarding activism of civil society than we ever imagined. Paul Hawken counted more than 140.000 networks actively involved in making this world a better place (and counting further). Much of that information he collected through the internet, so necessary information is available and transparent, so possibilities to connect with those networks is no problem. Everybody counts, so why not starting your own sustainability network or connect to others or simply become part of one? My takeaway is that there is no excuse anymore to NOT be active. So, let’s prove that we can all fight the Law of Jante now!

* Paulo Coelho: Like a flowing river, HarperCollins Publisher, 2006