Ignorance and the Norway Massacre

16 August 2011. Filed under category Nomad.
Summer Camp at Utøya

Summer Camp at Utøya

On 22 July, a car bomb exploded in the executive government quarter of Norway. Eight people lost their lives and many more were injured. Two hours later, the bomber arrived at the small island of Utøya, the site for the annual summer camp of the Norwegian Labour Party’s youth organization. He tricked everyone to gather around by wearing a police uniform before opening fire. During 90 minutes, he walked the island of Utøya, murdering 70 people, most of them teenagers, shooting them one by one as they desperately tried to escape the island or hide.

The mass murderer was Anders Behring Breivik. In a 1500 page manifesto, he reveals himself as a delusional xenophobe obsessed with the idea that the Muslims are taking over Europe.

Enough time has passed since the massacre at Utøya for the initial shock to abate, but I am still struggling to understand Anders Behring Breivik. In what kind of putrid soil does such wicked weed grow? Whatever the cause is, no one wakes up a monster. It took Breivik nine years before he was ready to look a child in the face and press the trigger. Over those nine years, Breivik must have gradually become more and more twisted, but is there a pervasive atmosphere required for that kind of change to take place. My guess is that it requires a good deal of ignorance.

Fighting Ignorance

Unaligned bridge building means the two sides don't meet.

The good thing about travel is that ignorant mistakes and misconceptions can be corrected and we can build better bridges between people than this one.

Let me take a step back from the atrocity of Breivik. He made me think of ignorance, but the rest of this post will deal with the kind of ignorance we face in our normal lives. Every-day ignorance can be fought, and perhaps if someone had done so nine years ago, the Norway massacre would never have happened.

Whenever I travel, especially if I visit a culture far removed from my own, I am always struck by how the similarities between people far outweigh the differences. This is seldom featured in our news or our passive collective ‘wisdom’. Misconceptions of what people are like seem to grow exponentially with how far away they live. Like a terrible game of Chinese whispers, the more individuals that pass along information about a culture before it reaches our ears, the more distorted it becomes.

I never experienced this more than when I went to Iran. I had packed my bag full of what I was certain was good healthy truths, and perhaps I was missing an adapter but none of them worked when I arrived. I had expected a tough social climate where I would need to keep both my wits and my guard about me. Instead, I was greeted by the most warm, kind and generous people I have ever met. The most problematic issue of mine was figuring out how to deal with the Iranian women who shamelessly flirted with me. Generally accepted ‘facts’ about Iranian women had not prepared me for that little surprise.

My travel in Iran is not an isolated example of how, through travel, my ignorance was replaced by experience. Similar things happened when I travelled through Russia, Israel, Bolivia, Cuba, the United States of America and the United Kingdoms of a rainy island. (Which, as it turns out, isn’t that rainy after all.)

I found that I could help others shake their preconceptions too, just by getting to know me. A surprisingly common comment from my straight friends goes like this: “You know, I used to be a bit homophobic, but after meeting you, I guess you are not that different from us after all. Want a beer?” (To which I obviously respond, “No, but I’d love a cosmopolitan.”)

A Nomadic Ambassador?

Ambassador Petri of Troyius

Ambassador Petri of Troyius

My reason for becoming a nomad was to learn what it is like to live in different places around the world, not just skim the surface like a skipping stone. If tourist travel with its limited schedule can dispel ignorance and replace it with experience, imagine then what nomadic travel can do.

What would normally be an acquaintance can become a friend, and it is through friends that we may truly get to know another culture. Just as I learn from those I meet, I hope they may learn something about my own culture as well as the ones I have visited on my journeys. And although nothing beats first-hand experience, perhaps reading this blog may give you, dear reader, new insights as well.

I do not delude myself into thinking that I can persuade a monster such as Breivik to love his perceived enemies. Nevertheless, I can help foster understanding and tolerance in the ones I meet, and maybe – just maybe – that can help someone avoid walking down that dark lonely corridor towards xenophobia and hatred.

“There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.” — Socrates


Has travel ever corrected a misconception you held of another culture?

Skip to bottom
  1. Māris Sants says:

    Darling, dear Gustav, lots of love from me to you. London is still here… Your favourite coffee is about to be served…

    That criminal… I do not want to mention his name, I know so many good and loving Andrews or Andys, (my last bf was Andis – Latvian version of Anders) I do not to mention the criminal’s hair colour, since I know so many nice blond guys and girls. I do not want to mention his nationality or religion, since I love so many Christians and so many Norwegians.

    But I can say that we – you, my dearest Swedish man, and me, we are so together against any violence. I am praying God for every family whose child died on that island… I am thankful to God for that Lesbian couple that saved so many people.

  2. Craig Brown says:

    By far the only personality trait in other people that perturbs me is WILLFUL ignorance. By expanding our consciousness we add others’ experience to our own. We then fear less and love more. And what higher goal can one aspire to? Not only have I had misconceptions laid to rest in my travels, but I believe others have had to rethink what is an American when I have acted in kindness, and not arrogance, in other countries.
    And I have had the same experience about coming out. It’s by far the single greatest thing a gay person to do to get others to rethink a prejudicial stance on homosexuality.

  3. Allan Briddock says:

    Gustav, SO I agree with your comments about Breivik and I read your question, ‘has travel ever corrected a misconception you held of another culture,’ with interest. My immediate thought was ‘YES’! But, as I thought about it I am not so sure. I have travelled a fair bit. I love Arabia, and I have been to Oman, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. And you know, as much as I loved them, my conceptions (negative and positive) about their cultures was not too far off. Equally, the whole world sees the USA on TV and film, which I assumed before I went were all stereotypes (from the rough New York hood to the rich West Coast suburb), but having been there lots of times, it is kind of is ‘as seen on TV’. I am also surprised by how people in Europe are so like their stereotypes, even 5 miles over the border from a completely different culture (think France & Italy). There are of course, surprises. I was surprised that Malaysia and Turkey were (seemingly) so liberal. I was surprised that Oslo on Saturday night was like Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day (I think I was expecting them to all be talking about world peace, but how glad I am that they have lived up to their stereotype by seeking peace and unity after their tragedy). I love experiencing new cultures and I hope to see many many more, but correcting misconceptions…? I think that ardent travellers will not have too many outrageous misconceptions; and people with such misconceptions are unlikely to be ardent travellers! Allan

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      I love that last sentence of yours. I couldn’t agree more.

  4. go anders says:

    Your feel-good philosophy and nomadic lifestyle ignores the fact that there are millions of both uneducated and violent muslims, blacks, asians and east-Europeans coming to Norway, Sweden, the UK and turning those once nice countries into ghettos. Liberals and socialists love that, because they want to gain more power by getting votes from poor, coloured and “oppressed”. Breivik was just a guy who was fed up with paying taxes just to support an another unemployed muslim family with their 6 kids living in Oslo.

    Have ever been in a city area predominated by poor muslim & african immigrants? No, because you just avoid that in your so-called nomadic lifestyle – probably rather choosing to stay in safe youth hostels and partying with other nomads and liberal douchebags 🙂

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      My very first racist commentator! How very exciting! How am I going to respond to the likes of you? This is a big deciding moment for my blogging career.

      I could be:
      Grateful: Thank you for validating my blog! No blog is complete without its very own troll!
      Pitiful: I’m sorry. It must be hard to live with such bitter negativity in your life.
      Dismissive: Whatever.
      Angry: You fucking idiot!
      Crazy: You fucking idiot! When I find you, I’ll gut you and make you watch while I feed your intestines to the dogs!
      Seductive: Is that a big ignorance in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
      Sarcastic: So Breivik, tired of ‘paying taxes that support the Muslims’, decided to become the biggest burden on any tax system: a prisoner. Riiiiight.
      Factual: The dominating topic of Breivik’s manifest was the threat of multiculturalism diluting the northern-European culture. The ‘leech angle’ was not prominent.
      Controversial: Sorry, I don’t even want to try to beat you in this category. It would be like joining a lying down pissing contest: the better you are, the stickier you get.
      Flippant: Chillax!
      Idiotic: I see your point.

      Jokes aside, I do have to decide how to deal with flaming trolls such as you. It is a delicate balance to strike. I don’t want the comment section of the blog to become a tightly controlled area where the only views allowed are the ones I already share. On the other hand, I have no intention of working hard to create interesting and attractive content and (hopefully) build a large readership only to have it hijacked by ignorant sons of bitches as your own racist moronic self to use as a billboard to broadcast your malignant demagoguery.

      The balance I will strike is this. If I believe a comment to be purposefully inflammatory (I.e. the main purpose being to piss people off as opposed to making a point, however controversial.), then I will delete it. If I believe that the comment will seriously upset any of my coloured, Muslim, Norwegian, gay or even (shock horror!) poor friends, then I will delete it. If you, dear reader, feel upset about a comment, then please e-mail me and tell me why, and I will consider deleting it. I have no public duty to provide a platform for every detestable view out there.

      If this upsets you, think of it this way. If, at a party hosted by me, one of my guests confesses to belong to a differing party or religion, then I – like any other sensible person – would agree to disagree and move on. However, if the guest shits all over my living room carpet, then I – like any other sensible person – would throw out the incontinent guest and bar him from ever coming back.

      I want to be clear about how much of the comment section I moderate, so I will leave markers indicating which comments I’ve deleted and why.

      I welcome e-mail with any reactions to the above comment moderation policy. If I find it necessary then I will write them up and post them on a permanent page.

    2. From Finland says:

      Who creates the ghettos; the immigrants or the local people, who do their best at shutting these new citizens out of their society? I’m currently working side by side with persons who have originally been ‘poor africans’ and I must say; they work harder than most of finnish people. I know few guys who dream about becoming famous rock-stars and spent their days drinking with the money from the goverment. Their too good to do the low paid jobs some of us had to do when growing up. Those jobs are done by people from poorer countries. I mean, I understand why an immigrant could be pissed of, but I can’t see what is the problem with the natives. Maybe they drink too much alcohol, maybe they are frustrated with their own lives and, even though they might be highly educated, they lack the ability to connect with themselves and with other people.

      We support the violent, alcoholic natives too, so why not the immigrants also? In Finland the worst ones are the natives (the school shootings done by angry teenagers, the family mans slaughtering their childs and wifes, the stabbings, the beatings at home, the drug-dealers, guys killing their ex-girlfriends, fathers sexually abusing their daughters…). And now, as I’m working in Norway, I’ve met lot of somalians, ethiopians etc, who work to support their family, depise that it is usually hard; I know one man, who had to study his profession all over again, because here we have certain standards that need to be filled. Plus, they have to learn the language and proof that they can interact with it; I didn’t have to do that, because I’m nordic. I think that is also unfair; Why don’t the same rules apply to everybody?

      I have to say, I’m not agreeing with this blog writing, about the ignorence.
      As I’ve understood, Breivik had travelled, seen things. But it’s not enough. You got to have the capability to feel empathy. To really imagine yourself being the other person, how it must feel like to be minority, how it is to leave your home and culture. Some people simply lack that ability. I really can’t say, that is it something we can learn, or do you have to be born with it. But I truelly hope that everybody tries to think outside their normal patterns, to learn from the people they meet, to analyze their own behaviour and thoughts; why am I thinking this, why do I feel this way?

      You need to question yourself everyday; if you think you know it all, you will never learn anything. If you think your opinions are the right ones, you see the world through those glasses and eventually find the words and events to prove you’re right. Good example is the Bible; whatever you think is right, you’ll find words from that holy book to support you.

      If you cheer for Breivik, ask yourself; what is a right excuse to slaughter innocent? Is that a proof of higher intelligence or an act of an animal kind of desire to kill?If he was against immigrants, why did he kill norwegians? You say that Breivik was sick of paying taxes, well..what I’ve read, he hasn’t been much of a tax payer. If he was so fed up, why didn’t he kill himself? If the rest of us are content with our lives, why disturb that peace? Maybe he is jealous, angry man, frustrated and book smart, mixed with the lack of empathy, but most of all; a coward.

      As I read now about his past, it had taken his whole life to build into this monster. I’m more and more convinced about the fact that we are born monsters (after all, we are animals) and trained to be human. And that some never learn how to be a human, they just know how to act like one. A good book to be read, Monster by Micael Dahlen, for the ones who are intrigued by the thought why someone is capable of taking a life of a human being.

      There are all kinds of monsters out there, and as that book reveals, they are lot scarier than fiction.

  5. Allan says:

    Go Anders: You have just proved the point. Ignorant and uneducated? Go into any UK hospital and see how many of these ‘uneducated’ people are doctors and nurses. Your concern about benefits and violence is a see-through veil of racism stemming from your own sense of inferiority. The uneducated my friend, is you.

  6. Craig Brown says:

    Ah, Gustav, yes, you should be excited for another reason. The fact that the likes of this man has appeared on your blog is a sign that it’s branches are reaching farther into cyberspace. Quandries such as what to do with this man were bound to come with the success of your creation, as you knew.

    Your answer is sensible. As the right winged (whatever that means to anyone) Ronald Reagan said: “I paid for this microphone”. You have every right to make this blog into something that reflects your intention. Informative, fun, challenging, and interesting. When the conversation drifts into an ugly or simply different direction than you intend, delete away! You aren’t the Keeper of freedom of speech. People like this have there own blogs. I trust your judgment of what is “interesting”. The only things that are interesting to me here is how many degrees of separation really lie between the likes of me and that sociopath. And also, while many people think racism is dead, because it is politically incorrect to share it out loud, the anonymity of the internet exposes the truth that it still lives. Maybe one day people will feel a similar political incorrectness in sharing aloud their distaste for gay people….and then one day maybe it will even be eliminated from the privacy of their brain. I have a dream today.
    Keeping this ONE comment, and your answer, is enlightening about your attitude toward your blog. But you can stick to your own path. I don’t think the kind of reader you seek cares to hear from the occasional screaming idiot on the sidelines.

  7. Allan says:

    Gustav, you should not delete it. Firstly, despite it’s abhorrent nature, the confused and rambling arguments are actually quite funny. Secondly, and more importantly, although Craig is right that you are not the keeper of free speech, I presume you do BELIEVE in free speech. You invited comments and this is what you got, whether you like it or not. If you censor it, even if it does upset someone, then you didn’t really invite comment at all, you just invited comment that you like or can tolerate. This man or woman is an idiot, as his / her arguments expose, but to censure him / her will only give credence to his / her arguments. Think of when Nick Griffin appeared on Question Time – there was a huge call for the BBC to censor him, but his appearance on the programme showed him up to be a bigoted idiot with very very ill thought views. I am sure your poor, gay, black, Muslim, Asian (and even non-minority!) friends will be strong enough to take it – after all these views are nothing new. ‘Censorship reflects society’s lack of confidence in itself’ – Potter Stewart

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      I believe in free speech as far as it should be forbidden for the state to control who says what. However, I do not believe that requirement extends to individuals.

      I won’t delete this particular comment because, as you said, it was a bit funny and the rest of this interesting conversation depends on it. What I am saying is that I reserve the right to monitor and moderate the comments. The reason for this (in addition to my comment above.) is that I have seen what happens to other forums that remained unmoderated. They became nothing but a dumping ground for the lowest of the low, and it made me feel like this: “Why should I bother writing my comment when it will just sink into this cesspit?”

      I hope that the comment section of this blog will be different.

      And yes, it does mean that I become the one person who controls what is approved or not. It’s not perfect, but I’m trying to strike a balance here that will make most people happy.

      Perhaps I should investigate weather I can mark a comment as ‘censored’, which will put them in a contracted state where a person who wants to read it has to click ‘show censored comments’ or something. That way, those who want to swim in the cesspit can do so and those who do not can remain fresh as newly fallen snow.

  8. Craig Brown says:

    That last idea is interesting if it is technically feasible. But it is generous. More generous than you need to be in the case of comments that are sociopathic in nature…this particular man was obviously happy when he heard the news about the mass murder. Why is it necessary to carry a cesspool along at all?

    The more difficult decision would be what to do with comments that are polite and/or well thought out but highly divergent from your views and many of your readers. This is your creation (I can’t even figure out how to italicize and I know that’s technically feasible!) and it should reflect the authentic Gustav Andersson, including his level of tolerance. The success or failure of this blog will depend on the honesty of THAT. And if it is successful the success will be true.

    I respectfully disagree with Allan on the need for free speech in a personal context for the exact reason Gustav stated in the first line above. Allan, if you were an artist (maybe you are?) and were outside painting a nice seascape and someone came along and grabbed a paint brush and wrote “f**k” across it and shrugged his shoulders at you and said “Free speech bro!”, is that OK? It was your property.

  9. Allan says:

    Well, as you say Gustav, at least he has sparked an interesting conversation. As your’s is the only blog I follow, then if you say uncensored idiots ruin it, then fair enough. But to respond to your analogy Craig, if I were that artist I would not have invited anyone to write on my painting, whereas Gustav did invite comments on his blog. And surely there is a huge difference between saying something and destroying someone’s property or work, no? By the way Craig I am not an artist, but as a lawyer some may same I practise in make believe!

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      Allan, what do you think of newspapers who publish letters from the public in dedicated pages. (Wish I knew what they were called. ‘Insändare’ in Swedish.) There, the traditional paper media have invited the public to send in their comments and views, but only a handful of them come through, and – and this is important – the legal publisher of those letters are the newspaper itself, not the person who wrote them. Is that not analogous to what a blog might do if they open up a commenting section?

      Don’t get me wrong; I (think I) see your point. Before censoring, you have a true representation of all comments. After censoring, you have a Gustav approved subset of comments. Which one you might like best is an individual choice, I guess. You like the former for the purity; Craig likes the latter because he shares my ideas of what are worth while comments and which are damaging to the overall feel of the blog.

      Tricky tricky. I’d hate to disappoint any of my beloved readers.

      To weed or not to weed, that is the question.

  10. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

    This will be my last comment on this topic for a couple of weeks as I am minutes away from leaving my last remaining island of wifi goodness. But before I do, one last angle:

    I am already today filtering out loads of spam comments. I don’t think anyone objects to me doing that as the spammers just want to capitalize on my open forum to promote viagra etc.

    But what if similar commercial comments where made by a person instead of a spam bot? Would I then be required to leave it up there in the name of free speech? If not, then there starts the slippery slope towards censoring as I have made a choice of what to include and what not to include that perhaps started when I first installed the spam bot.

    Food for thought.

  11. Craig Brown says:

    Touche Mr. Allan! OK, my analogy was not perfect for the reason that Gustav invited comments and the artist did not (yikes! I’m arguing with a lawyer 😉 But I disagree that this blog is not Gustav’s “property” just because I can’t hold it in my hands. Copyrights? Patents?
    If Gustav implied at the beginning that ALL comments, no matter how hideous, irrelevant or incomprehensible were invited, I think he made a mistake. But that’s OK. It won’t be his last. This only thing that I care about personally is that he continues to be happy with this blog, that others find it enlightening, and that it is a source of inspiration to him and the type of reader he’s trying to reach.
    I prefer Gustav is editor or this “editorial” page (is that the word you were looking for G?). I don’t see a slippery slope myself. I see a more or less straight path toward a specific purpose.

  12. Allan says:

    There certainly is a difference between editorial and censorship. I guess, Gustav, you will need to navigate that fine line. Enjoy Burning Man bro.

  13. Doug Burns says:

    Fundamentally, I’m with Allan on this one.

    Having run a blog for, erm, well quite a few years now, I’ve deleted one comment. Strangely, I didn’t ponder deleting that one too much because it was just a bunch of abuse and bad language and didn’t really seem to be aimed at me or anyone in particular or contain any recognisable ideas.

    However, there have been lots of comments which I’ve found offensive or have disagreed with me strongly and I’ve always endeavoured to keep them. Why? Because I *invited* the comment and if I think it’s ridiculous or dangerous then I am just as free to respond and point that out as the person was to comment.

    I think you believe in free speech or you don’t. Believing in free speech which you find acceptable is a very slippery slope and supressing people’s views doesn’t make them go away. Maybe supressing them rather than ridiculing them encourages sociopathic tendencies?

    I thought the original comment and your response were very powerful. We change views by getting them out in front of people and destroying them with reasonable and entertaining responses, not by pretending they don’t exist.

  14. Jon says:

    Diary of a Liberal Douchebag

    Right. Apologies G for relative non-response on these posts. It is not strictly my fault as the filter on the work network designates this blog as “pornography” and blocks me from reading it. Since I do most of my thinking and e-mailing at work it has restricted me from making posts. Derp.

    This piece on intolerance was a particularly good one. And the reaction it sparked was very interesting. Allow me to make a few comments on that…

    I think “Go Anders” touches a nerve in my own happy-go-lucky “liberal douchebag” worldview. It is undoubtedly true that I personally have no interest in travelling to what are effectively dangerous places just for the sake of the experience, however, that does not change the fact that I believe there are sufficient resources in the world today to provide everyone on the planet with a good standard of living and so there is no good reason for these dangerous places to exist anymore. As education and living standards rise, on average the world becomes a safer place and, incidentally, birth-rates fall as well. Hopefully, technology can take care of the aging population which then results.

    One thing that everyone has to keep in the back of their mind (liberal douchebags and conservatives alike) is that we each occupy a small corner of this planet by complete blind luck. In other words I was born in a small town in New Zealand to white middle class parents and had average education opportunities through blind (relatively good) luck. Someone who was born as heir to an oil fortune is subject to similarly good luck. Neither of us has any divine right to it. Someone who is born into a poor fundamentalist regime likewise has no control over the lot they draw.

    For this reason I have no right to openly oppose liberal immigration policies even if it becomes inconvenient for my house value (which incidentally I cannot afford in London because the finance sector has unbalanced the whole economy), especially in a place like Britain where the Empire is simply coming home to roost. If a country is managed properly then tax should redistribute wealth to those less fortunate and, hopefully, educate them better so their children will have more opportunities. It is a utopian ideal, I know, but that should be the goal.

    Anders Breivik was not “just a guy fed up of paying taxes”. There are a lot of people who are fed up of paying taxes if they do not believe they are well spent, who don’t kill anyone, let alone children. Gustav’s point was that it took a long time to come to believe in justifying the eventual murderous event. If Breivik had been exposed to some different ideas in that time then it may have averted said event.

    What were we talking about? Oh. Tolerance.

    Recently I have noticed (often in the US media because I watch The Daily Show) that the very word “liberal” is being used as a derogatory term to promote conservative agendas. Consider the dictionary definition:



    1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.

    2.( often initial capital letter ) noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform.

    3. of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism.

    4. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, especially as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.

    5. favoring or permitting freedom of action, especially with respect to matters of personal belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers.

    In short, I kind of assumed “liberal” meant having progressive ideas that improved attitudes between groups of people. Throughout history whenever the oppressive clutches of a political or religious movement are weakened and the society becomes more tolerant with greater individual freedom this always results in happier people.

    As an aside, just so my perspective is clear, your purpose on Earth is to be happy. If people around you are happier too then you don’t have to watch your back so much (from the fringes of the bell curve that are just born bad).

    There seems to be a large group of people in the world, controlled by various interests, which do not want society to progress toward a happier existence at all. They cling to outdated rules and regulations that lost relevance a long time ago and are closed to any kind of sensible change. There is a delusion that “in the old days” people were happier. I do not believe that to be true but it could be the subject of a week long debate.

    Sorry jumping around a bit here…now I remember my point. Or at least why I originally wanted to post something:

    Gustav said a common comment he had from straight friends goes like this: “You know, I used to be a bit homophobic, but after meeting you, I guess you are not that different from us after all. Want a beer?”

    Yes, I was one of those people. Although, our friendship was initially possible because Gustav is, thankfully, a great entry level homosexual. He gets you used to the idea by having a great deal of other qualities that are (to me at least) far more important. Sexuality should only be a facet of a personality and no one should let it overtake them. Mind you, I already said that everyone must strive to be happy and two consenting adults overtaken by their sexuality can do whatever the hell they want without impacting on the lives of anyone else.

    Have a nice day.

  15. Allan says:

    Well, Jon, after your textbook liberal views, I was not expecting your last paragraph. What is an entry level homosexual? And why is your friendship with Gustav only possible because you have deemed him to be ‘entry level’? Would you have been too outraged / scared / bigoted to get to know him if he were a high-spec homosexual? I suspect your views might be, ‘I don’t mind these homosexuals, as long as they don’t look or act like what I think homosexuals look and act like’. Well, if you only like ‘straight looking’ gay men / women, then you are, indeed, homophobic. So Gustav, what to do now, because that comment has definitely offended me, so should you delete it just because it has offended someone? Of course not, right?

    PS: There is no way Gustav is an entry level homosexual. For starters, he is too tall.

  16. Craig Brown says:

    Wow, this conversation keeps getting more interesting.
    Allan, your response to Jon fascinated me because I had the exact opposite reaction to the concept “entry level homosexual”. I thought it was brilliant. (I’m a homosexual).
    Here is my reasoning, excuse the ennumeration:
    1. Everyone holds some kind of stereotype against some group of people, even you and I. Its pretty much part of the human condition until we self correct ourself. Who has full enlightenment? I’ll give a good example. I was riding a train once and a young man early in our conversation said he was an evangelical Christian. My hackles were raised slightly and I kind of shut up. Later, as we approached his station, he looked at me and asked “Mind if I ask you something personal?” (I was expecting “Are you saved?”). But I said “No” and he then asked me if I was a homosexual (!). I replied “Yes…what made you ask that?” He said “Well, first the human rights logo on the side of your shirt, and second, you stopped talking to me after I said I was an evangelical Christian.” Geeeeez. But he just smiled back. As he gathered his things to get off, he looked at me and said ‘I don’t know why you are gay. And I don’t know why I am straight. But I know its not for me to judge. It’s for me to love.” Mr. Craig Brown learned his lesson for that day. And was that guy an “entry level evangelical Christian”? Well, something changed in me that day. One step toward giving all people a chance.
    2. The media has tended in the past, less as time passes, to portray gay people as extremely effeminate. People like having their stereotypes confirmed. Raging queens often scare some people, maybe even a nice liberal chap like Jon. They may not even know they already know scores of gay people, because more masculine gays have tended to stay in the closet in the past. An “entry level gay” person would be one who evokes the reaction: “What?! You’re gay?! I’m going to have to rethink my entire prejudice.” This is why coming out of the closet is so important.
    3. Once this paradigm shift occurs, “high – spec homosexuals” (or evangelical Christians) also start to become less fear inducing, until one day they find that raging queens can be their most fun, dependable and loving friends. And your newly minted evangelical Christian friend doesn’t sound so patronizing when he says “I think of you in my prayers”. He’s grateful he knows you.
    4. So I guess what I’m saying is that it’s OK if enlightenment comes in steps. It’s about our progress that counts.

    Next, there is NO WAY Allan that I think Gustav would censor Jon, you or me. You were offended by a phrase Jon used, and perhaps by my reaction to it, but everyone is civil here and you definitely have a right to your opinion and your offended feelings. How far is all that from a man WHO WAS HAPPY WHEN YOUNG PEOPLE WERE MURDERED BY A MANIAC? Wasn’t what that man said FAR more offensive than Jon?

    One thing that your point of view here Allan is proving correct, however, is that even MANIACS can start an important and intelligent conversation. And honestly, I don’t think this is ever going to be a huge problem on this blog. Gustav’s topic that day was a magnet for attracting insane people. That will rarely be the case.
    (Didn’t get your P.S. though…maybe English humor. I’m American)

    ONE MORE THING: Gustav, not surprisingly, you have some interesting friends. I wouldn’t care if they had my email, perhaps even let the conversation stray off blog, and who knows?, become friends? It might even help, for example, two people in Quito find each other and find an apartment to share for a while. Of course the email sharing would have to be voluntary.

    When the man is burned, I’ll be interested to hear what you have to say about being considered a good “entry level homosexual”.

  17. Jon says:

    Te he he. One thing is for certain, Gustav will be over the Moon when he returns from the Burned Man, because this is exactly the kind of debate he wanted to encourage and facilitate through the blog.

    Firstly, “entry level homosexual” is a reference (as kindred Craig Brown worked out) to my own attitude. I am well aware that Gustav possesses great homosexual skill and experience. He has a doctorate in gayness and never even attended the University of Quim.

    In answer to Allan’s question, which deserves an answer, “would you have been too outraged / scared / bigoted to get to know him if he were a high-spec homosexual? I suspect your views might be, ‘I don’t mind these homosexuals, as long as they don’t look or act like what I think homosexuals look and act like’. Well, if you only like ‘straight looking’ gay men / women, then you are, indeed, homophobic.”

    Bang on the money. That was who I was. I was raised in an ultra homophobic culture. However, even as impressionable teens, we talked the talk but never walked the walk. No one I ever knew beat on a gay. We just made fun of the idea of it among ourselves because that’s what we did. Sorry if that makes you uncomfortable but that is where we were then.

    Since I can’t perform interpretive dance in a blog entry, let me use a story:

    Someone called Jon met a guy called Gustav through a newly formed role-playing group (think “Dungeons & Dragons” but without the dungeons. Or dragons.). Most of the players were complete strangers to one another so they decided the first game would be a “real world” scenario where they actually played themselves as characters in order to get to know a bit about each other. The context was that these characters came from diverse walks of life but knew each other through a social football team.

    There was a scene where Gustav’s character (Christoff) gets up in the morning after a party or similar scenario. He leaves a naked man behind. Jon observes, “Hold on.” The cogs of his brain slowly turning, clicking into place, “Christoff just had sex with a man. Gustav is Christoff.”

    “Yes,” confirmed Gustav, “I am gay.”

    There was a pause. “But what about all the showers we had together!” Jon was remembering that the characters knew each other perhaps too well from the football locker room.

    It took a total of 27 seconds to go from obliviousness, through the horror of discovery, to acceptance. To where Jon is now.

    Am I homophobic today? If homophobic is not having a desire to have a sexual encounter with a man, then yes. But that is where the phobia ends; only thanks to Gustav and his friends who seem to span the spectrum of gay levels from a bit of ball tickling to gerbils and Perspex tubes. I would have been mostly ignorant to how cool regular gay people are if it was not for them. It has been a great experience for me.

    Bearing in mind I already had to accept that irregular gay people were cool whether I liked it or not because Freddie Mercury and Rob Halford are the greatest singers that ever lived. My opinion.

    I hope I am not digging a deeper hole trying to explain this. But if I am, who gives a fuck. I am the Incredible Unoffendable Man. Do your worst.

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      I remember that game and meeting Jono. I did in fact suspect that Jono wasn’t entirely comfortable with my homosexuality, but after I got to know him, I just put it down to the fact that Jono is the most mysterious and unreadable dark horse I’ve ever met. (Jono has perfected the art of saying only the minimum required for maximum effect, which may be hard to guess looking at the length of his comments… :-P)

      So now I found out that I had cause for my initial suspicion. Strange how that never came out in conversation until now. (The blog is already totally worth the work!) Anyway, I am glad to claim Jono as another example of how powerful the meeting of people can be in building understanding and acceptance.

      Btw, if anyone wants to know what happened to Jon and Christoff (our alter ego characters), they ended up becoming MI6 agents and hunters of the monsters that overthrew the UK government and took over London. No pygmies were hurt in the telling of that story.

  18. Brother Henrik says:

    I started to read the comment on this side but it was to many and i read slowly in english so i stopted half way through.

  19. Allan says:

    I don’t need to meet a Pygmy to know know I am not Pygmyphobic. Allan

  20. Craig Brown says:

    Ah Allan, I think you fell prey to the same mistake I made earlier: an irrelevant example. You did not grow up in a culture full of preconceived notions of Pygmies. Pygmies are not depicted in our culture in any particular way. Why would you or anyone else possibly be pygmyphobic? Gustav’s question was: Has travel ever corrected a misconception you held of another culture? We’ve strayed from the travel part. But have you never been disabused of a notion you had about a particular group by meeting a particular individual that was different from this notion? Say, some rowdy football jock you’d be a bit afraid to tell was gay, only to find out later they were active in gay rights because their brother was gay? Examples are difficult. But if you never have had any preconceived notions about ANY group EVER, wow, good for you! Seriously, not sarcastically.

  21. Allan says:

    Actually Craig the word Pygmy did have negative connotations and was used as an insult in the culture that I grew up in (Ireland but I think it was the same in the UK). That’s why I used that example. But you are absolutely right, of course I have preconceived notions about other people, groups and individuals, and I have not tried to make out I do not. I also appreciate the sentiment that you and Jon are expressing, which basically is ‘getting to know other types of people breaks down barriers’. I agree with that of course. But it is still very common for people to express views that straight looking gay people are OK but gay ones are not and its just that that I find offensive. In my clubbing days, far more than once I was told by a straight woman in a gay club that she loved gay men but she didn’t like lesbians! Jon has been open about the fact that he was unsure about gay people until he met Gustav and I am so glad he did meet Gustav and that he is open about what he used to think. I am not very thin skinned about homophobia, you hear it all the time, but I am, without apology, going to challenge, unsuccessfully it seems, a statement within a post pertaining to be liberal which seems to me to be expressing deeply held homophobic views. It just makes me sad that someone like Jon, who does seem to be a liberal,and a good man, would have such mistrust of gays that he thinks it would not have been possible to get to know Gustav if he were more outwardly gay.

  22. Matt says:

    Hey Folks,
    Ideas and perceptions are formed by experiences. If you haven’t experienced something; be that Homosexuals or Pygmys then you perception is formed by what other people tell you about such things.
    Essentially what I’m saying is that our views are a product of the environment we are raised in initially, the views we are exposed to by our parents, peers and the media. It is our own experience of a lifestyle, situation or culture which (hopefully) leads us to question these ideas and perceptions.
    If you are raised in a homophobic/pygmyphobic environment, and have no contact with people who are gay/pygmy, then most people would take a more negative view of homosexuality/pygmys because they don’t know any better. The reverse is also true; Allen may not be Pygmyphobic because having never met one he is relying on what he has learnt about pygmy’s in books and on the TV and what other people have told him about pygmys to form that opinion – that maybe subject to change when he actually meets one.

    It is our own experiences, most of the time, which call us to question (or affirm) these perceptions.

    How does this relate to the Norway Massacre? Brevick is the product of the perception of his environment and his perception of the things he has experienced or been told by others – however twisted that may be.

  23. Craig Brown says:

    Well! Gustav will be pleased because three, at least, of his friends are having a thoughtful discussion and coming to some mutual understandings. Far from deteriorating, the topic that evil blogger initiated has been elevated. How interesting Allan, that you grew up in a Pygmy prejudiced society! Who da thunk? In the US we have such a melting pot there hasn’t been room for such a thing. I bet you also grew up with Catholic/Protestant prejudices? Warning, I’m a bit of a Pollyanna, but I think one day one’s place on the scale of masculine/feminine will become unimportant at some time in the future. It is happening faster than I expected in the US.

    Welcome Matt! It is obvious Gustav has some smart friends No. Big surprise.

  24. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

    Well, what can I say guys. I’m glad that you’ve kept busy while I was covered in dust in the desert. I would love to jump into the discussion, but my mind is currently blown off its hinges after Burning Man, so I will quietly enjoy the fact that the post generated such a good discussion, send a grudging ‘thank you’ to Go Anders for starting it all and then go have another shower.

  25. Allan says:

    Gustav, I can obviously only speak for myself, but I suspect I am not the only one who is a little disappointed that you did not dispense some wisdom on this heavily fought debate (Craig, Jon, are you with me?). Someone wondered what your thoughts would be on being described as an entry-level homosexual, and I am still dying to know! (Although I do think it is the best phrase I have heard in a long time, and I am looking for more opportunities to use it). Allan

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      Which debate? There are a few ones here.

      Comment moderation or not? I’m still leaning towards comment moderation. I reject that I would somehow interfere with Free Speech because I moderate the comments on my blog. That argument is fuelled by our gut feel that Free Speech is a good thing, but that distracts from realizing that the context of Free Speech is on a national level, not an individual blog.

      Am I backtracking on a promise to allow anyone to say anything on my blog? I don’t remember making such a promise. If it needs clarification, then I am retaining the right to remove comments that I consider harmful to the success of the blog, e.g. spam or hateful murder-endorsing neo-nazi bullshit. I want the majority of my readership to enjoy the comment sections and make them feel invited to participate, and I don’t think that will happen if a tiny minority fucks it up by calling for the extermination of the Jews or the nationwide pogrom of all homosexuals, entry-level or not.

      Or was the debate whether Jon is or is not homophobic for allegedly not liking camp gays? I don’t know if he does or not, but if that is the requirement for being homophobic then I think that term has become so wide that several of my gay friends are now homophobic.

      Or was the debate whether I am an entry-level homosexual or not? By Jon’s definition of it being straight-acting, I guess I am. But I am a competitive person and I sure as hell don’t want to be an entry-level homosexual when it comes to raw skill! I think I’ve been levelling up quite a bit lately, but explaining that would result in a comment I would immediately have to moderate!

  26. crys says:

    ok guys, while this seems to be a male dominated conversation, may I add my two cents worth? Being a straight,
    liberal/progressive, woman of the senior citizen category, living in the hinter lands of North Dakota, yah sure, you betcha,and having lived a somewhat insular life far from the reaches of all those evil cities where ” Those other people” live,other than a trip or two to big bad Ca., love Venice Beach, and Sin City and a FEW other jaunts, I have managed still to grow from a pink cheeked girl to a grown woman knowing all the time right is right and wrong is wrong, period. Hate is hate. Perhaps having two of my four children be biracial and facing some of that hate head on has fortified my belief but I think even if they were all pale as, well, as my a–, I would still know in my inner being, everyone is entitled to live their life any damn way they see fit. Given that my son of whom I have written before often disregarded whether his clothes matched, his hair was picked out, when he wasn’t doing the shaved head thing, and could in general not care a flying fig about what other people thought of how he looked, he did get those looks, you know, ” Lets avoid eye contact, cross to the other side of the street, follow him in the store, clutch our purse closer” etc. Strangely, when he was groomed to perfection, wearing his diamond earrings, his flashy watch, people still sometimes gave him the “look”. So, although I have no first or even second hand knowledge on the subject of living under the hostile gaze of homophobic idiots, I do understand the back and forth of the comments. Ya know, that’s ND talk, there are jerks out there in every gender, color, race, income level, intelligence level, and on and on. Should we have to listen to their crap? Hmmmmmm, it got you all talking. It got me to dare to speak. So, yeah, let the morons have their say, but, I carry a really heavy purse and if they have that say in range of my ear, I’m gonna take em out.

Has travel ever corrected a misconception you held of another culture?

Click to see allowed HTML.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> <ol> <ul> <li>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.