From Iceland — Human Nature

Human Nature

Published January 14, 2010

Human Nature

I am not a fan of politics. I hardly follow the folly that goes on behind semi-closed doors at Parliament and my knowledge is just about only made up from what I can read in the newspapers, that perhaps aren’t altogether trustworthy. What I am interested in, however, is human nature and how humans are essentially selfish creatures.
The infamous veto made by the honourable President of Iceland last week seems to be nursing the notion within some Icelanders that they will not pay the UK and Dutch government a penny for the Icesave fiasco. That is folly. Many seem to be of the opinion that Iceland is under no legal obligation to pay, which I admittedly have no idea whether is true or not. What I do know to be true is that Iceland has to play nice in order to gain some trust back. Iceland has found itself in the peculiar situation of being bullied by a bully who has a point.
The InDefence group (rumour has that it was instigated by Liberal Right-wing Progressive Party) claims it wants a national referendum, and it looks like that might happen. Normally, it is a good thing to give power to the people of a democracy. However, entertaining the thought that the people will be able to vote fairly with all the necessary information, having formed an enlightened opinion is folly at best.
Iceland is like Antonio led to Shylock’s knife, making sacrifices to bail out those who squandered unwisely and made questionable decisions. That goes for the legislators and bankers in Iceland and those councils in the UK and Holland that made unwise investments in a too-good-to-be-true Internet bank. However, there will be no one bailing the average, hard-working Icelanders out. Britain will have their pound of flesh and then some.
What Icelanders and Britons have in common is anger, rage and suffering due to the actions of few very irresponsible individuals, dancing around the golden calf, worshipping empty growth which was as fickle as a fox in a hen-house. However, Britons do not seem to suffer Icelanders feeling a little sorry for themselves. Britons seem to think Icelanders are getting their comeuppance after having driven fancy cars and bought material things with non-existing credit. To be fair, for some in Iceland it most certainly was that way. However, for the majority of the hard working folk, it was not so. They found themselves living in an economy that paid the average Joe mediocre salary, charged them more than the normal amount for everyday items, food, petrol and the like, and had a housing market so extremely out of balance people were actually having to take out loans worth more than what they were expected to earn in a lifetime, just to secure a roof over their heads. As far as I can tell, the situation was not so different in Britain.
I therefore ask: where is the sympathy between the two nations? And furthermore, were there not fancy cars and high living in the UK as well?
Moreover, Icelanders are surely entitled to feeling sorry for themselves while the worst shock is underway – the average Icelander had absolutely no idea about what was going on behind Alþingi’s closed doors, where old school buddies shared power and steered the country into the abyss. However, it would be unwise to expect the international community to reflect those feelings by doling out sympathy while suffering Iceland plays the victim– this isn’t going to happen. Funnily enough, when people are angry with their neighbours, they seem to have a very hard time showing any sort of empathy.
Part of human nature entails looking after oneself first and arguably that is one of the factors that has ensured the race’s survival. That is essentially what both the governments of Iceland and Britain are doing – looking after their own, which is perfectly understandable. Not understandable, though, is why it seems like both nations are preparing to engage financial war with one another, clinging on to any little remark or statement made by the other party in order to use as a weapon in the blame game. Britons think that Icelanders are not going to pay, and Icelanders think that Britons are trying to take them for everything Iceland has got.
Come on, now. Calm yourselves. Iceland will pay, this has been established, even though some people seem to disagree as to how legally obligated Iceland is to do so. Icelanders certainly feel morally obligated, as far as I can tell that is the popular opinion in Iceland. What is being objected is mainly the interest rate and manner of repayment, which some Icelanders view as outrageous. I think the interest rate of the Icesave loans totals at around 5,5% – and to be honest, I would be extremely happy if I got a loan at that interest rate! I think I’m paying over twice that for the overdraft I have until I get the student loans I need. Which perhaps just shows how far out of balance the Icelandic system of lending actually was, and how little I know.
The point I am trying to make is that both parties understandably feel screwed over, pardon my French. Nevertheless, being stubborn as an ass is very counter-effective, going out on a limb to protect some obscure moral right people think they are entitled to. The bottom line is: people screwed up on both sides and now have to resolve the matter like adults. Do we not teach our children to be tolerant, listen to others, and do right by them? What kind of role models are we if we find it impossible to heed by our own teachings?
Calm down. There are people who have lost everything on both sides. Icelanders truly feel ashamed of what happened behind their backs, but there is nothing they can do about it now, other than try to compensate those who lost, leaving themselves with nothing. Leaving their children and grandchildren with a country that has quite literally sunk. Of course they cannot possibly be expected to do so without feeling some kind of sadness, or even rage, now do they? A completely incompetent government failed to look out for their country and fellow countrymen (and the scary thing is, a portion of the nation actually wants them back at the steering wheel, in which case I truly fear for Iceland).
Human nature is the one thing we all have in common. So I say we try to ignore the selfishness that is always the first to creep up, show some kind of empathy and understanding, and truly believe that this will all be resolved in the end. One way or the other.
Edda Kentish is a student in Copenhagen, Denmark. She sent us this nice article. If you want to read more of her stuff, go visit her blog.

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Enough. Stop. Now.

Enough. Stop. Now.


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