It’s complex: Becoming a stranger in your own land


Although the planet remains a large object, it is rapidly becoming smaller in terms of psychological perception. This shrinking happens by virtue of the experiences we encounter during our lifetimes, particularly compared with those before us. The experiences and challenges faced by an individual during their life changes the way they see and relate to the world around them.

By relating my own personal experience of this phenomenon, it is possible to try and bring it to bear on events in the wider world. Currently the world is at some kind of de facto war, the so-called Global War On Terror, which has an encompassing effect. It has been billed and sold by politicians and reported in the mass media as a clash of civilisations, a battle between good and evil. It is a battle between modernity and despotism. A defence of one’s way of life from barbarity. And a host of other definitions intended to highlight massive gaps between what have come to be identified as terrorists and the civilised world.

Let me begin with my story, a journey from a New Zealand farm to be a part of Sweden’s oldest university, with all of the consequences that this entails. Le Bons Bay is not what one would describe as a metropolis. There were some 150 people living in the valley at that time. There was a local church and school. A small paddock and shed opposite the school served as an animal pound where those students who rode a horse to school could keep the horse for the day. There were a number of alternative lifestylers from Europe and the United States there, all escaping the ‘rat race’. It was a good place for that. One of the few ‘international’ influences occurred in some parts of the valley when a specific wind (‘north-wester’) and Australian channels appeared on TV!? It was a place where one could count the profession of possum hunting among their first jobs.

Time spent serving in the army and my frequent trips to Russia have taught me some valuable lessons (in addition to the development of black humour and a good dose of cynicism) I’ve learned a sense of patience (some may call it stubbornness) and the realisation that life can in fact get worse. It is just that one needs to learn to become somewhat more resourceful than would be otherwise necessary.

My first trip out of New Zealand was not until January, 1996, leaving a warm New Zealand summer for a cold Russian winter. This trip certainly opened my eyes to a number of things I had never heard of, let alone seen. Now, having lived in Sweden for seven years and travelling regularly, I can say that I am and I am not the same person as I was back in NZ. One takes things from life’s experiences and incorporates them. Sometimes for the better and sometimes for worse. After one of my trips to the Russian city Ekaterinburg, in the Ural region, I returned via Moscow, where I decided to catch up with a friend. The remark I got when we met took me by surprise: “After 10 days in Ekaterinburg you look like a Russian!”

An interesting remark in any case and open to interpretation as to whether this was a bad or a good development.

And just recently, after returning to New Zealand with my family after four years of absence, I encountered a strange sensation. I actually felt like I was a tourist in my own country! This was reinforced by some of my old friends and family. Some of them accused me of speaking ‘posh’ Kiwi when my wife asked if I speak like other New Zealanders. To define one’s self under such circumstances can be a little problematic. Perhaps this makes me a semi-Russified Kiwi living in Sweden, and all of the quirks and complexities that this brings with it. image

So now, to get back to how this relates to the bigger picture. How is this at all relevant? One of the biggest temptations of mankind is to neatly package objects and subjects in order to simplify and make everything more readily understandable. It makes us feel more comfortable and perhaps even a little safer when we ‘know’ what is happening in our world. However, I would argue that this is a fallacy. In the theoretical world of academia, there are those like Samuel Huntington, who seeks to neatly divide the world into tidy sectors. His Clash of Civilisations theory epitomises this goal and desire.

These ideas simplify real life in order to make it understandable. But there is a basic flaw to this whole concept. Life is in fact far from a simple affair. By simplifying it, the best that can be achieved is the creation of a distortion. One of the opponents of Huntington’s theory is Amartya Sen, and one of his ideas in combating such issues as conservatism and radicalisation is the exposure of the individual to new ideas and ways of thinking. Certainly, though, this should not be thrust upon them. One of his tenets is that the more identities an individual has, the less likely they are to be drawn to fundamentalism.

By reporting the ‘news speak’ of politicians and myriad of officials, without any form of analysis or regard to possible consequences, journalists fall into a political trap. The state, as defined by politicians and the bureaucracy, relies on the perception of legitimacy and public consensus (or at least apathy and no opposition) to launch projects that may normally be considered as being distasteful under ‘normal’ circumstances. One only needs to look back at the political rhetoric before Iraq (1991 and 2003) and Kosovo conflicts, comparing the Serbian and Iraqi leadership with the Nazi German regime and their deeds.

Now we can claim another clash, in which the Global Village meets the Global War On Terror.

Flickr images from users ElBroka bicicletea por Auckland and Tonny Be Good