As I have mentioned before, I’ve been teaching myself the Swedish language for some time now. The great thing about studying a language these days is the availability of websites in said language and, if one is lucky, access to television and radio shows. Though SVT (Swedish Television) keeps many of their more popular shows, the crime dramas they have a chance of exporting, under embargo, accessible only in country, many of their shows are available throughout the world. During summer, new programming is rather at a minimum, the entire country being on vacation and having better things to do; that, combined with the fact that really anything at all will help me learn, means that my normally discriminating tastes go down a few notches when I’m watching Swedish television.
Last week, I finished the twelve-part series Molanders, a soap opera about Olof and Fanny Molander, a couple who, because of the stress of their respective jobs (he’s a concert pianist, she’s a cardiologist), leave Stockholm for his hometown of Alingsås, where he takes a job as rector at an exclusive school. Their main hope is to have time to have sit-down dinners with their children, daughter Alva and son Linus, but for various reasons, they each get caught up in their new lives, and that fades to the background. Soon enough, Fanny is spending more time with a trainee, Farshad, while Olof finds himself doting upon the local priest, Marit. Olof, in particular, seems to imagine a whole life with a new person as the means of bringing some sense of wholeness to his existence.
Recently also, I visited my parents. Last year, they sold the house in which I had mostly grown up and bought a three-acre plot and house at the edge of their town, complete with catfish pond and plans to raise a garden for the goal of near-complete self-sufficiency. Inspired by some book whose title I forgot, they speak openly of the day when the “grid will collapse” and watch a whole lot of Glenn Beck’s network, The Blaze, with shows and advertisements catered for those wholly expecting that kind of grim future to befall them during their lifetime.
So I have been in the odd state of contemplating both marital adultery and survivalism as subjects for academic consideration, and I think that there are some similarities between them. Namely, it has to do with the idealization of a person without consideration of their social sphere. Take poor Olof. He’s in love with a priest of the Swedish church, but he’s not thinking at all how his intrusion into her own marriage might affect things for her, and he’s not thinking about how it might be to be married to a priest with so many social obligations. No, he’s thinking of her in isolation, and isolation is something a priest, a public figure, rarely experiences. Most folks pursuing mistresses are rarely thinking, “And I bet her parents are much cooler than my wife’s.” They are just thinking of that person. It’s the fantasy that someone might exist outside society.
And there you have survivalism, except that the fantasy is directed toward the self. We Americans, especially, are loathe to acknowledge our interdependence. Yes, on three acres, you can plan yourself a pretty nice garden, but without a viable public water system, how are you going to keep your crops irrigated, much less your own self? Even a goodly number of rain barrels likely won’t let you make it through August in Arkansas. Many survivalists hoard canned goods without respect of the irony that canned goods, more than anything else, symbolize the interdependence of people—someone to grow the crops, someone to mine and process the metal, someone to make the can, someone to can the food, someone to distribute the food, etc. Or take a gun. If you have no means of making your own gun powder and fashioning your own bullets during those apocalyptic days, a gun becomes an expensive stick once you run out of ammunition. Oddly enough, perhaps, a gun is the product of civilization.
With rare exception, we are heavily embedded within social networks that, much of the time, we don’t even see, and that epistemology of ignorance, to borrow a phrase of philosopher Charles Mills, allows us to fantasize about independence. Just as Olof Molander can slobber over Marit the sexy priest without any conception of what life as her man must be like.
“We are all individuals!” roars back the crowd in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Bullshit. Bullshit bullshit bullshit.