‘The Nanny State’ is a British turn of phrase, used to describe the general tendency of people in power to continue to legislate ad infinitum, or until every conceivable and inconceivable form of risk is eliminated. There is an Icelandic equivalent in ‘forræðishyggja’, or governmental paternalism, which refers to a government policy of deciding what is best for you as an individual at virtually every turn. Sometimes, intrusively so.
There are a lot of intrusive, anti-libertarian and frankly unnecessary Nanny State laws in Iceland. One such law actually makes it illegal to mention tobacco or tobacco products in any way that is not unequivocally negative and condemning. Presumably, then, writing: “I encourage everyone to violently overthrow the government and then have a delicious cigarette afterwards” is not allowed, but “I encourage everyone to violently overthrow the government and then think seriously about the dangers of smoking-related diseases” narrowly evades the wrath of the authorities. Then again, there are no doubt also laws against speaking in favour of rebellion, as well. Our masters think of everything, you see. They know best.
It is, to some people, completely unthinkable that a person could ever independently come to the conclusion that smoking was bad or that leading an armed contingent into Alþingi mightn’t be smart. To make correct decisions they think other people need the wisdom of government to decide exactly how to behave and even how to speak and think. In the minds of many of our legislators, the mere mention of revolt or a nice relaxing cigarette is so dangerous that the very words describing the concepts must be regulated and monitored by them.
We have hate speech legislation here, too, which is to me not just a blatant affront to our right to freedom of speech, but an insult to our intelligence. Outlawing people’s right to publicly humiliate themselves with racist or homophobic rhetoric is not going to do anything to help them change their pathetic little minds about the issue, it just shuts them up for the sake of our comfort. It also does a disservice to those of us who might like to know exactly how crazy and evil these bigots are when free to speak their minds. If the guy whose anti-war rhetoric you like so much also happens to think the world is run by seven Jewish bankers from a vault in Switzerland, you’re probably going to want to be informed so you can steer well clear of him in the future. The best defence against patently ridiculous lies is to expose them and tear them apart publicly, not to throw people in jail for telling them.
To be fair, very few people have actually been convicted for talking nonsense in Iceland, the unspoken understanding being that most of the nation would be behind bars if our anti-idiocy laws were widely enforced. Alcohol importers are even starting to get away with letting people know about their beer, albeit under the guise of promoting visually identical cans of non-alcoholic beer. These kinds of laws are there for a reason, though—the government is seeking to raise the helpless masses.
Putting all our Nanny Laws to shame are the laws, still on the books, regarding blasphemy. While the punishment isn’t forty lashes or public stoning, the idea that the police can knock on your door and arrest you for blaspheming against a religion you might not even belong to is seriously disturbing to me. It’s a symptom of the fact that our supposedly secular society still has a state church into which every citizen is born by default. The notion that the government has a responsibility, or even a right, to protect God himself against defamation by harassing its citizens is an anachronism and an absurdity.
So the next time the government passes a thought-crime law or does something silly, irresponsible, criminal or immoral, just remember this: There’s nothing quite as sweet and refreshing as that first post-revolutionary cigarette.
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