I have been watching Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next. I watched it after the third debate. I watched it in-between reading news stories of demonstrations on the streets and the police abuses at the North Dakota pipeline. I watched it for relief from post-election news. I realize that the countries Moore talks about as examples of good policies also have awful policies and aren’t utopias. However, there are scenes that stick in my mind and make me ache for what could be:
In the movie, the father of a boy killed by a terrorist in Norway insists that it would be a violation of human dignity for his country to kill the crazed man who murdered his son. I can hear the outrage from many of my fellow Americans, but I just marvel at him.
Moore shows us wall-less prisons in Norway where murderers and rapists are housed, and are actually reformed, by being treated well, with dignity, and by eliminating personal conflict in their lives. And the result is a greatly reduced recidivism rate, one ridiculously lower than ours. (One fact check shows this policy and reduction in recidivism began in 1995 with a new policy focusing on rehabilitation and in 2007 with the opening of one of the prisons depicted in the film.)
Women’s rights are recognized not only in terms of equal treatment in the law, as it is here, but in terms of personal control over one’s own body and health, including abortion—a right most Americans recognize but too many politicians, including our possibly new President, rail against.
Police in Portugal advise the US that if we want a more peaceful society, we have to do away with the death penalty, as a start. Drug use (but not sales) was decriminalized leading not to chaos but a decrease in serious drug use and drug-related crime. And in Iceland, the bankers responsible for the severe recession were actually tried and sent to prison.
So many of us struggle to earn enough to support our families with comfort and dignity, and work in dreary jobs or dreary factories with no windows, or go to schools that look like factories, while in Germany and much of Europe, it is considered just good economic sense that workers and students should be treated well. This means workers are given health care, made part of the management and design teams, are given enough paid time off each week and each year so they can live good lives and have good relationships outside the workplace. (According to Moore, the average workweek for full time workers in most of Europe is less than in the US. Germany is 26 hours, Sweden 30. See this ABC news report to fact check his figures.) And students go to school for fewer hours, are better educated, are fed better food and not given unreasonable numbers of tests. And in Slovenia, a college education is free.
In the US, too many of us get caught up in retribution and revenge, and it’s too easy to lose a sense of mutual respect. We too easily lose awareness of how others are as valuable, as human, as we are. Why is that? Is it because of a Calvinist type of ideology, that if you’re rich, you must be favored by the Divine? So the rich are to be admired, and their privileges protected, even more than the loss of power, freedom, and income of most of us is deplored? Is it from our history of class divide and slavery warring with a dream of equity and democracy?
Is it from our country being so rich and powerful that we are too covetous, too afraid of what we might lose so we don’t see what we have already given up? Are we too shackled by the idea of capitalism and competition that we don’t see how such competition can turn everyone not on “our team” into an enemy, and everyone on our team into some thing to be valued only in proportion to what we earn or what we contribute to a “winning” record?
How can we understand the film now, after the election? As a wake-up call? As a reminder of what we once thought could be possible so we don’t normalize fear and oppression? Or as propaganda? I am not sure. What I am sure of is that it’s time for a revolution of mutual caring and a deep examination of how what we think we want affects our ability to get what we need.