Published July 20, 2009
Iceland only seems to be large enough to accommodate one, or at best two, points of view at a time. While our Scandinavian cousins were busy inventing model societies that stood somewhere between the two extremes of American Capitalism and Soviet Communism, and achieved a wide consensus among their populations in doing so, Iceland was deeply divided between left and right. Mid-century newspapers seem almost comical to us now in their fervent Cold War rhetoric, but how much has really changed?
A wound that will never heal
In the Post-war era, you were either opposed to or in agreement with the US military presence, and the debate took the form of sloganeering when at its best and teargas at its worst. This rift has never quite healed. In the past decade, no neutral ground seems to have been found between conservationists who are often portrayed as being in principle against modernity, and industrialists who seem to want to dam every river, waterfall or hot spring they can find. In political discourse, you seem to have to be either for or against nature, which is quite a remarkable feat of oppositional thinking.
When faced with the issue of joining the European Union, this problem becomes apparent yet again. On the one hand you have people who are portrayed, Cold War style, as traitors who want to sell Iceland’s independence to foreigners. On the other hand, you have people who are portrayed as wanting to sever all connections with the outside world. About the actual pros and cons of joining the EU, we hear very little.
Tap water journalism
As usual, the media is at least partially to blame. Icelandic news programmes and papers are run on a shoestring budget by all international standards. Investigative journalism is both expensive and time consuming. The cheapest option is what has quite appropriately been called “tap water journalism.” You get two people with opposing views, and then you turn them on and off like hot and cold water. With no one in a position to present the actual facts, political debate is quickly reduced to the level of a football game with no referee where everyone simply cheers their side reduction ad absurdum.
Aristotle said that for every virtue there are two vices, both located at opposite ends of the spectrum. He would no doubt say that those who see the EU as the devil incarnate as well as those who see it as the answer to all our prayers are equally wrong. The answer, no doubt, lies somewhere in the middle. Only by examining things from there can we truly see what is the right path. Tap water actually works best when hot and cold are mixed together. How much of each should be the subject of political debate, not either or. Even when, as with the EU, one must eventually decide one way or another.