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Where is the Icelandic Aristotle?

Where is the Icelandic Aristotle?

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. 



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Pagan Christmas

Pagan Christmas

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The idea of throwing a big celebration in honour of the birth of Christ is a relatively recent idea. Nobody knows exactly when he was born; guesses range from 7 to 2 BC and the date is a mystery. His date of birth was once estimated to be January 6, in an attempt to beat a competing holiday (the celebration of the virgin birth of Aion, the Hellenistic deity of eternity). In the process they borrowed the symbolism of the stables. Christianity is in the business of mergers and acquisitions. The date was later changed to December 25, partly because

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The Encyclopaedia of Icelandic Holidays

The Encyclopaedia of Icelandic Holidays

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Aðfangadagur (Ath-founga-dager) December 24, Aðfangadagur, is the day Icelanders celebrate Christmas (as opposed to December 25 in most countries). The first half of the day usually goes towards finishing off all of the last-minute preparations, making food, wrapping presents, bathing and putting on nice clothes. Children are often occupied by the television set, as most stations broadcast a non-stop programme of cartoons throughout the day. Six o’ clock marks the official start of Christmas in Iceland, marked by state radio broadcasting the traditional “ringing of the church bells.” This is when most households sit down to enjoy a pleasant holiday

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WAR ON CHRISTMAS: Finally, An Icelandic Front

WAR ON CHRISTMAS: Finally, An Icelandic Front

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Anyone who’s followed American politics, or switched to Fox News over the holidays, knows that a full blown war is raging at this very moment: The War On Christmas. On the battlefield, the godless forces of Politically Correct liberals—who want to take Christ out of Christmas and thus destroy the very fabric of American culture—fight the patriotic and pious people over at Fox. Of course nobody residing the reality-based community has ever encountered this “War on Christmas.” It exists only in the fevered imagination of loudmouths like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, who use it to fill airtime, drum up

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Wanted: The Icelandic Christmas Mood

Wanted: The Icelandic Christmas Mood

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When they stop stacking the Rjómi (heavy cream) neatly on the supermarket shelves, you know Christmas is just around the corner. The Rjómi hasn’t disappeared though. Entering the walk-in cooler (don’t forget your jacket!) you’ll see a huge container spilling over with cartons and cartons of Rjómi. Frankly, stacking it is a waste of time; soon you’ll notice the mountain getting smaller as every single person takes at least one, maybe two or maybe five. Our consumer needs are this predictable before, during and after Christmas, because almost every single Icelandic household has the exact same family traditions. This uniformity

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The Sinister Christmas Clan Of Iceland

The Sinister Christmas Clan Of Iceland

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In Iceland, there is no Santa Claus. Instead, there are thirteen “jólasveinar,” which can be translated to “Yule Lads.” They live in mountains and hike to town, one by one, for the thirteen days leading up to Christmas Eve. Their mother is Grýla, a troll known for eating babies and beating up her husband. In previous centuries, the Yule Lads were a bunch of scraggly, merry—sometimes thieving—pranksters that would get up to all sorts of shenanigans on their visits to civilization. In recent decades, the lads have mostly abandoned their mischievous ways—today’s youth mostly knows them as a group of

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Preparing for Global Leadership

Preparing for Global Leadership

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In 2012, Þóra Arnórsdóttir, a respected journalist for Icelandic State TV, RÚV, launched a formidable campaign for the presidency of Iceland, challenging the four-term incumbent Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. Although many recession-weary Icelanders were eager to see a change of executive power at the time, Þóra’s entrance into presidential politics drew surprisingly intense public scrutiny for an unusual reason: she was eight months pregnant with her third child when she formally entered the race. Her bold decision to campaign while pregnant generated a slew of laudatory and skeptical headlines in Iceland and across the globe, for many media outlets questioned the

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