It was never my intention for this chapter to seem like a political lecture
that paints a "Socialism good, Capitalism bad" image, yet I quickly learned
that some readers read it that way.
Some got pretty angry.
After I revised the book, more and more readers have contacted me
to read the original chapter, which is why I've put it up here on my website.
The sole purpose was to explore the reasons behind why
and how Matt's way of thinking evolves to look more closely
at what he comes from and what's expected of what he comes to
in regards to Sköll Hati and Geri Freki, and it was to lay the foundation for
the later evolution of the themes and growth of the sibling races in
the World of Vidundr.
It's not about politics. It's about nuances and thinking outside the box.
Taking an American kid and putting him in a country with a very different
political system (not strictly socialist, by the way), gave rise for the opportunity
to explore that by painting this dualistic and quite frankly very crude picture
of what we (humans) already know and can thus somewhat relate to.
I'm even slightly baffled that no one seem to notice the many instances
where the Danish system and its socialist side is the one being criticized.
My personal political views are NOT shared in this series
because the books in the World of Vidunder work with limited themes
that are relevant only for a fictitious world with a set purpose
in order to explore a particular set of nuances.
It's not meant to be realism or a politically critical work.
It's an Urban Fantasy adventure, and that genre uses the real world as part of worldbuilding - in this case crudely portrayed political ideologies.
Original Chapter 3
From Slumbering Ember
The Vargr #1
By Meraki P. Lyhne
Three weeks in, and Matt couldn’t believe how quickly a language stuck. He was a diligent student who already knew a fair share from his mom, and using the language constantly helped with his tongue trying to put the r back in the throat. And that wasn’t even the hardest one. Being the new hot thing…well, exotic new thing in class, everybody wanted to talk, and the teachers had stressed how important it was to not merely speak English to him, even though most students spoke English pretty well.
He walked to and from school, which was about a mile away, with a girl living down the same block. He’d figured out that the condiment was called Remoulade and went perfectly with fries and fish sticks. He’d learned that girls and boys hung out and hugged without having to be considered a couple, yet that was apparently a regional thing. You either went steady or you didn’t. There were no bases to be conquered. It was easy, you asked if a person wanted to go steady, and it was then a yes or a no. Until then, you were friends with possible benefits.
And no one had lockers. It was a rarity in high school. Schools might have a soccer team, but there were no cheerleaders, and matches between schools were small or rare. No school mascots, either. Or a cafeteria or school food. Or school buses unless you lived in the sticks.
Matt and Lillian took turns making their lunch every day, giving Matt Tuesdays and Thursdays and Lillian the others. Although he thought he’d learned a lot from the trial-and-error experience at the welcome camp, Lillian sometimes commented, but she was a kind woman who took the blunders as fun experiences, while Michael joked about being happy his job had a lunch plan.
He’d taken Matt fishing by the pier, and he’d shown him the woods south of the city. They were far from being as big as those back home, but they were beautiful.
Michael was an easy-going guy who read a lot. So did Lillian, and one wall of their living room was one big bookcase, filled to the brim. Matt was making his way through them to improve his vocabulary. Their TV was tiny and almost never on during the day.
They went shopping for clothes, since Matt’s mom had said not to bring a lot, considering he’d want to carry more back. And she was right. Matt even felt good about hanging the first poster he’d bought at the mall with Lillian. It had a Viking on it. Holger the Dane—a big statue sitting with his shield leaned against his chair and his sword lying across his lap, his head bowed as if slumbering. Matt had finished the book about the legendary heroes in Danish history, and this guy had been one of the most interesting to read about.
Much like the legend of King Arthur, rising when England would need him, Holger the Dane waited in the underground tunnels of a castle to rise and go into battle for Denmark.
Matt had always felt a great deal of loyalty but to very few people or causes. His country was one. He was a patriot. He would defend freedom and the rights they had. But looking at Holger the Dane, Matt felt it too, and he wondered if it was his father’s side or his mother’s love for this tiny country that made him feel so strongly about the slumbering giant and what he stood for.
It didn’t matter. What did matter was that Matt felt a growing sense of belonging with Lillian and Michael as their kindness and openness let him relax more and more and seek out their company. They cared for him, and he clearly felt that.
He hadn’t grown close to anyone at school, though. It didn’t surprise him, considering he’d never done that at home, either. The girl he walked to and from school with was cool and all, but once at school, she had her own friends and didn’t try to pull him into her circle.
Also, she was in a different class, so they were never in the same classroom. A class was a group of students who followed each other from grade zero to nine, and all subjects were taught in that classroom. Except biology, gym, and chemistry since those subjects needed equipment.
A few hours a week a student had their subject of choice, and that was the only time the class wasn’t taught together. In Matt’s case, that class was extra Danish lessons along with a few immigrant or refugee kids who seemed like they didn’t care and spoke among themselves in their native tongue—even during class.
The fourth week in, Matt perked up as the subject of capitalism versus socialism came up. He knew capitalism, and he’d seen socialism at work when their neighbor had had an accident with a kitchen knife. He’d gone to the emergency room, gotten stitched up, and sent home with painkillers, and it had cost him nothing out of pocket or insurance.
It had prompted the dinner conversation that at least five people in the area would have been bankrupted and ended up on the street or died if not for universal healthcare—ruptured appendixes and the likes being the reasons.
Still, Matt didn’t get it since he’d also seen the bad side. Someone down the block clearly didn’t want to work, and Matt had overheard her bitch and moan about having to attend a course on how to write good job applications in order to receive benefits.
Giving everything to the ones who didn’t strive for anything wasn’t exactly an incentive to do something.
“Matt. Would you mind helping me out today if time permits it?” the teacher, Anders, asked in Danish, leaning over his table.
“It’s okay to say no. I’m impressed with your Danish, but I’ll help translate if you come up short. I think it could be interesting to have a debate between capitalism and socialism.”
“I guess, yeah.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll help you.” The middle-aged guy with a full beard and thin arms patted his shoulder, then went back to perch on the desk. “Settle down. Hide the notes. Forget it’s soon weekend because you’re mine for another day.”
Humor and comments with no authoritarian respect flew, while the teacher merely grinned. Everybody was on a first-name basis with the teachers, and no one used Sir or Ma’am to anyone—not even the principal. Well, they called him by his last name, but that seemed the norm with many, including a few from the class because they had the same first name, so it wasn’t something out of respect.
“So, who here thinks socialism is the best form of governing?” the teacher asked.
Matt half-turned to look around the class. Two hands shot up, a few more did reluctantly, and most looked around like…the fuck do I know?
“Who here thinks capitalism is the best form of governing?” the teacher continued.
More hands than Matt had expected shot up.
He kept his down, though, because all he knew of socialism was that it looked like communism, and communism was about giving everybody the same no matter what. Yet, that’s not what he’d seen the month he’d been in Denmark. The Scandinavian kind of socialism seemed more like a midway between communism and capitalism, but that would be a broad and unnuanced generalization.
“Okay. Let’s have a look at what the textbook says about the two.” Anders stood and moved to the blackboard. “What are the most noticeable differences?”
“Hand up, Linda, but yeah.” The teacher wrote taxes on the blackboard. “Matt, can you help me out here. What are taxes in America?”
“That kinda depends, but the US has seven different income tax brackets going from, I think it’s ten to thirty-seven. The average one is twenty-four percent.”
Anders wrote that down to the side. “Denmark has some of the most complicated tax laws in the world, but boiled down to the average taxpayer, it’s roughly thirty-three percent.” Anders put the two rates, going with the US average, down in his schematics under C for capitalism and S for socialism.
“How can it only be thirty-three? My mom’s tax thingy says forty, and then there’s nine percent of something else. That’s almost fifty percent.”
“Yes, but the nine and forty aren’t calculated from the same amount, and if she drives to work, she gets a deductible per kilometer. Being employed means she gets a deductible. Outside that, you can deduct work clothes, union fees, loan fees in banks or on your mortgage, and even your subscription to state-approved organizations like the Danish Organization of Nature Protection.”
“Then why not just lower it?” the student asked.
Matt sucked at remembering the names of people.
“Because…” The teacher turned to write. “Small government…big government.” He turned, grinning. “Socialism has a lot of people working in the public sector compared to people working in the private sector like under capitalism. We don’t have healthcare insurance under private companies the way they do in America, so the paper-pushers, so to speak, are paid via your taxes, while Americans pay their own paper-pushers out of their own pockets. If they can afford them, that is. If not…” The teacher shrugged.
The conversation about the ruptured appendix came back.
“But yeah,” Anders continued. “Our tax laws are shite.”
The students laughed, while Anders turned back to the blackboard. To the left, he wrote market.
“Who can tell me the difference?” Anders asked, facing the class. Hands shot up. “Linda! Hand up!” Anders exclaimed, pointing at her. “Congratulations, but I’m not picking you. Fie?”
Linda rolled her eyes.
“We have laws that help regulate prices on the consumer market, while capitalism just puts it at whatever they can drive the market to pay,” Fie said.
“Yes.” The teacher wrote more. “What else does that touch?”
“No hand up, Linda. But you’re right. There’s no minimum wage or wage security like we have here.”
Matt raised his hand, and the teacher pointed to him. “What is the minimum wage?”
“Roughly one hundred twenty Kroner an hour for union jobs, and most are. The unions work together to create a fair and stable market for the skilled and unskilled workers, and unions are specialized within either office or industry or restaurant or whatever. Here, the union minimum wage for unskilled workers can vary a lot, but they never go below the standard.” Anders put the minimum wage number on the blackboard. “This is unskilled labor by an hourly rate. And then there are jobs where you get a fixed monthly salary, even if you had three days off or get sick or something. It’s all balanced differently then.”
Having grown up with a single mom, whose education had been cut short to have him, Matt knew firsthand how salary could be a problem. Had his grandparents not been supportive of her coming home pregnant at age seventeen, they’d have been a lot more screwed. They even lived with them for the first five years, and they took care of Matt while his mom finished school to work for a dentist. They did alright, but he knew of others who hadn’t been that lucky.
When his grandparents died eight and nine years ago, it left an enormous void in Matt and Rebecca’s life. His mom said they died so close together because they couldn’t live without the other. It made Matt wonder if she only survived the news of Laurits dying because she had Matt. The thought hurt.
“Matt, I’m interested in your perspective, since you come from the States. What do you think of the political ideology you’ve read about for today?”
“Well…I kinda…” Matt’s palms began to sweat. “I don’t really understand your social benefits and how that’s to encourage people to take a job.”
Students began arguing.
“Hey, hey!” Anders exclaimed, and people simmered down. “This is why we debate. First, we listen, then we ask questions to understand. Then we speak.” Matt liked him from that moment on. “To answer your question, I don’t think anyone holds the answer and that it can ever be found. People are simply too different for there ever to be a model that works across the board. I even think that it’s why so many ideologies are out there and neither works across the board.”
Anders then continued, pointing out things in the model, but when the bell rang, Matt still had questions, so he went to the teacher while the students left for recess.
“Sorry, can I ask…which ideology do you prefer?”
The teacher sat, smiling. “Personally, I think ideologies are both good and bad. They can even be dangerous if treated as a religion.”
“This is a big answer, so I’ll give it to you in English.” Anders thought for a moment. “Denmark is one of the most secular countries in the world, meaning nothing is based on religion. Faith is a personal matter that doesn’t touch our government or our laws. We don’t adhere to a set of standards as if they’re cut in stone. Like commandments. So, my opinion is that if political ideologies are treated for what they are, ideas, then maybe we can take the best from many and create something better when we find holes in something.
“But many, the States included, I’m sorry if I sound blunt, treat capitalism as the only good and socialism and communism as if they’re the teaching of the Anti-Christ and as if the two ideologies are the same thing. Capitalism has some good points, and you pointed one out. Incitement to grow. But socialism brings the personal security that will save the weakest who really can’t take care of themselves.
“It then leaves the lazy not to aspire for anything. Or not to see the point in trying because…well, why try when you can’t get rich? This is where more capitalistic ideas could benefit us. And there’s the group thinking of why work when you’re taken care of. It’s that middle group, and they’re few but very well represented in the news, which in turn ruins it for the ones who really do need it.
“Bridging the two ideologies, taking the best of capitalism and the best of socialism could bring that about. But everybody’s too busy debating the extremes.”
Matt thought for a moment. “Do you know anyone where you look at them and think, I’m glad I’m paying taxes for them?”
Anders grinned and stood, collecting his books. He then booped Matt’s nose. “You. And every student in every school at every level in every learning establishment getting State Education Benefits. I’m proud to pay for all of you to get a very high-quality education, and I’m proud to be a teacher in a country that thinks public education is a top priority.”
Well, that was difficult to argue against.