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May 5, 2009

Rembrandt and the bouncy swing set: I’ll have what they’re having
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 06:10 PM * 104 comments

There was a fantastic article in the New York Times this past weekend; now it’s all over the blogosphere and the email forwards. Going Dutch1 was written by an American, Russell Shorto, who moved to Amsterdam some 18 months ago. I’m about six months further on in my own adventure, and I can’t say that I disagree with any of what he says2. I’d commend it to anyone with a North American background trying to get an view of this place.

One of the things3 that Shorto explains well is the peculiar balance between the free market and collaboration (the “polder model”) in Dutch culture:

The Low Countries never developed a fully feudal system of aristocratic landowners and serfs. Rather, sailors, merchants and farmers bought shares in trading ships and in cooperatives to protect the land from the sea, a development that led to the creation of one of the world’s first stock markets and helped fuel the Dutch golden age. Today the country remains among the most free-market-oriented in Europe.
At the same time, water also played a part in the development of the welfare system. To get an authoritative primer on the Dutch social-welfare state, I sat down with Geert Mak, perhaps the country’s pre-eminent author, to whose books the Dutch themselves turn to understand their history. The Dutch call their collectivist mentality and way of politics-by-consensus the “polder model,” after the areas of low land systematically reclaimed from the sea. “People think of the polder model as a romantic idea” and assume its origins are more myth than fact, Mak told me. “But if you look at records of the Middle Ages, you see it was a real thing. Everyone had to deal with water. With a polder, the big problem is pumping the water. But in most cases your land lies in the middle of the country, so where are you going to pump it? To someone else’s land. And then they have to do the same thing, and their neighbor does, too. So what you see in the records are these extraordinarily complicated deals. All of this had to be done together.”

I, too, have often been struck by how those two forces, mercantilism and cooperation, go hand in hand throughout the history of the Low Countries, right up to the present day.

Note, for instance, how in the seventeenth century (the Golden Age of Dutch history), most of the painters in Europe were doing individual portraits of nobles and religious images. Dutch artists, meanwhile, were painting group portraits of guild officials and civic guard companies.

That emphasis on the group over the individual continues to this day. I noticed that when the management of my company presented our code of conduct, they emphasized that these rules expressed what we owed to our colleagues, even more than to the company or to our clients.

And children learn this collective approach early. One random instance: there’s a peculiar swing set at the adventure playground near our house. It’s interdependent fun: bounce on your own swing and your neighbors bounce about even more. When they move, you share the action, and the movements combine in interesting and unexpected ways. And this isn’t unique. When I went to NEMO, the local science museum, I noticed how many of the exhibits required more than one child to cooperate for them to be much fun, or even to work at all.

We Americans tend to think that collectivism leads to communism and the death of markets4. And yet, as Shorto observes, Dutch collectivism doesn’t do that. The Dutch are noted hagglers, and rarely miss a commercial opportunity. And Queen’s Day, the celebration of all things Dutch, is not complete without the street markets where old goods are bought and sold.

I know that we Americans couldn’t “go Dutch”. It simply would not work with our customs and establishments. But we have collaborative traditions as well, from barn raising to quilting bees. And we’re running a little short on trackless frontier in which to carve out isolated homesteads; maybe it’s time learn from people with a long history of getting along with people they’re stuck with.

One thing we certainly might learn: the polder model requires both unsparing bluntness in stating one’s own views, and nearly endless patience in listening to the opinions of others. To make these things possible, the Dutch place a high value on calm, reasoned discourse rather than namecalling, strawman arguments, or the kind of fingers-in-the-ears not-listening that pervades American political discourse5, 6


  1. Title originality fail.
  2. Apart from the 52% tax rate. That’s the highest rate; as a part time software tester I pay substantially less even before deductions and discounts. I don’t know what New York Times contributors are paid, but if it gets him to that tax bracket, sign me up!
  3. One of many things, by the way; I expect that I’ll post more musings on it over the next wee while.
  4. Not everyone in the world thinks the death of markets would be a bad thing. But that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.
  5. These are ideals; the Dutch are still human, and don’t always live up to them. But politicians who try to incite conflict are seen as violating the polder model (Geert Wilders, ik kijk naar jou)
  6. My Dutch colleagues feel that Obama has come closer to the polder model than any American politician they have seen. Not, given recent history, that that is saying much.
Comments on Rembrandt and the bouncy swing set: I'll have what they're having:
#1 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 06:52 PM:

I've often observed that the US seems to have a thing about the individual at the expense of the collective...

#2 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 07:11 PM:

That's part of a very long-standing and consistent cultural narrative in the U.S., which has been heavily reinforced by a recurring set of contributing themes in both popular literature and public discourse, over a period of centuries. Although that American cultural narrative clearly grew out of its pre-existing English relative, along with its Canadian and Australian and NZ cousins, the U.S. version seems to have maintained the greatest emphasis on the importance of the invividual vis-a-vis the collective.

#3 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 07:24 PM:

Leroy F. Berven @ 2 ...
I'd be curious to hear you expand on the preexisting narrative in question. I'm failing to think of the one(s) you've got in mind.

#4 ::: Keith K ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 07:40 PM:

Xeger@1:
This article from Killing the Buddha goes a long way to explaining the origin of that very American attitude. The short version: Protestant loners looking to escape Catholic collectivism in the late 16th C. came here, then beget us. We've basically been fighting the Protestant revolution for 400+ years.

Which has basically devolved down to grumpy old white Conservatives yelling, "get off my lawn you socialist kids!"

#5 ::: Lars ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 07:54 PM:

While the entry was interesting and worth thinking about, its title led me to expect something a bit more, um, scantily-clad.

No, wait, sorry, that was Rubens that I was thinking of.

#6 ::: Dave Trowbridge ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 07:57 PM:

...the polder model requires both unsparing bluntness in stating one’s own views, and nearly endless patience in listening to the opinions of others.

Sounds much like the ideal for a Quaker Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business. Especially the "endless patience" part.

#7 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 08:17 PM:

xeger @ 3:

I was thinking about the myth of the self-made man. Sure, you have famous success stories, but there are a lot more failures that we don't hear about. There's also the rugged individualist headed to the frontier. These are newer stories than what Leroy F. Berven mentions, but they can probably trace their ancestries back to something older.

The article that Keith K links to is a good starting point. I would also add my under-informed historical speculation that since the US was the one to rebel against Britain, it kept its heroic individuality stories more than, say, Canada or Australia, and invented some new ones as well. Remember that story about how the Redcoats all marched together in straight lines, while us smart rebels hid behind rocks and trees and things? Not so much.

After the US became its own country, Britain softened its stance toward the other colonies, as I recall. Fighting that war wasn't an economic winner for them, and they didn't want to do it again.

#8 ::: Hilary Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 09:13 PM:

There's a playground in the harbor park near my home (in Mamaroneck, NY) that has several collaborative activities/structures/ride type things, where the actions of one child affect the other, or where the kids need to work together, so it's not unknown here, but it seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

#9 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 09:20 PM:

I think the myth of the rugged individualist was a response to the incredibly strong need for cooperation on the frontier. Especially in the arid west, where even small villages required massive irrigation projects. Yes there were individualists, but there couldn't be a lot of them unless they were cooperators. They had to be loners, typically men, who could scratch out a living hunting or prospecting. Try to plant a field of corn and you don't have an individualist any more, you have a city father.

In the stereotypical western, the loner comes into town. There's always a town. He can't stay out in the hills. He needs to come in. The townspeople are suspicious because they are cooperators and they aren't sure if he is with them. But they need him, because without him, they don't have a plot.

#10 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 11:39 PM:

I am used to it being, Meeting for Worship on the Occaision/for the Purpose of Business.

Usuall, of course, referred to as, Meeting for Business.

#11 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 11:49 PM:

TomB, #9: More to the point, in the movies they always need him because they, working collectively, cannot solve the problem (whatever it is); for that, the intervention of the lone-wolf individualist is required. People who live and work together are repeatedly depicted as feckless and incompetent when faced with a serious problem.

And now that I think about it, a fair number of my favorite stories or story-scenes involve "little people" working together to solve a big problem. This includes the Hokas Ewoks defeating the Imperial Stormtroopers in Return of the Jedi.

#12 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 11:55 PM:

We Americans tend to think that collectivism leads to communism and the death of markets

This American, at least, tends to think of collectivism as romanticizing the subordination of individuals to the group. On the other hand, the polder model sounds attractive (and not at all like collectivism) and possibly the best model for cooperation, but doesn't seem to be an obvious mental category.

#13 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 11:56 PM:

Collectivism leads to communism and the death of markets which leads to environmentalism and One World Government, which leads to the Antichrist. We don't want to start down that slippery slope by cooperating in any way, shape, or form, nosirree.

Just as the rugged individualist myth hides the need for cooperation on the frontier, the stereotype of the wild libertarian West hides the fact that the settlement of the West was totally a Federally subsidized thing. Those railroad companies didn't go out there without taxpayer help and land grants. The rightful owners of the land weren't driven off by families in covered wagons -- the Army had to do the killing first. And so on.

I guess what I'm saying is, any kind of national myth is okay, but it should be true.

(And when the loner comes into town, he stands in the doorway illuminated from behind by a light . . . the wilderness is bright behind him, civilization is inside. He won't stay long.)

#14 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 12:24 AM:

That emphasis on the group over the individual continues to this day. I noticed that when the management of my company presented our code of conduct, they emphasized that these rules expressed what we owed to our colleagues, even more than to the company or to our clients.
This matches, essentially identically to things I heard when I started to work for Japanese companies. You do your job correctly, because otherwise your co-workers are out of a job. You don't misbehave in front of clients, because if you do, your co-workers are out of business.

One thing we certainly might learn: the polder model requires both unsparing bluntness in stating one’s own views, and nearly endless patience in listening to the opinions of others.
Interestingly, this is kind of the opposite of how Japan seems to have come about. The community aspects led to a "fuzzy" language where speaking one's opinions, needs, and desires clearly is a (usually) tolerated personality flaw. They seemed to figure out ways to agree with their neighbors while actually disagreeing. Ways of saying "Of course you're right, let's do that," that don't actually settle the discussion. (I've heard, from Japanese businessmen, that meetings are frequently long...)

It's just another page in the book of "Wow, they do the same things in totally different ways." In this case, that large lumbering masses of collected humans found totally different ways to culturally enforce habits that don't lead to frustrated murder.

#15 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 12:41 AM:

KeithS @ 7 ...
The article that Keith K links to is a good starting point.

I have to admit to finding that article more than a bit odd. My recollection is that the Protestants felt that the Catholic church was vile and corrupt, and there needed to be a return to simpler faith, where people took an active part in understanding their faith and the tenets of their faith -- not that the idea of the church as a community was bad, or that people shouldn't take part in the community of faith.

I would also add my under-informed historical speculation that since the US was the one to rebel against Britain, it kept its heroic individuality stories more than, say, Canada or Australia, and invented some new ones as well. Remember that story about how the Redcoats all marched together in straight lines, while us smart rebels hid behind rocks and trees and things? Not so much.

I'm going to have to call that one under-informed :) There's plenty of heroic individuality stories in Canada and Australia (one of the ones coming to mind just now is Sam Steele, but there's a fine sampling of other Canadian examples at Historica Minutes).

Laura Secord also comes to mind (warning about an impending American attack) -- Charlie Grant's efforts in WWII...

Of course all of the examples I've just given have been of heroic individuals acting to benefit the society that they're part of... take that for what you will.

#16 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 12:47 AM:

Scott: There was a second driving force in Japan: Frustrated murder. There was an entire class who could kill anyone they felt like (one of the more tragic ironies was the master swordsmith who was killed on his way home, apparently so someone could engage in "tamashagiri" (practice cuts/sword testing).

Add the collective punishments for wrongdoing, and the need to be assentive, even when in stark disagreement, might become a survival trait.

#17 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 12:55 AM:

Scott @ 14 ...
This matches, essentially identically to things I heard when I started to work for Japanese companies. You do your job correctly, because otherwise your co-workers are out of a job. You don't misbehave in front of clients, because if you do, your co-workers are out of business.

I'd think of that as a translation for the US market, myself. I've always seen it as "You do your job correctly because that is what honour demands, and it will shame (at the very least) your family (this implying more than spouse/kids) and your company, the person(s) who may have recommended you or supported you... "

OTOH, that goes over in the US market like a lead balloon. "Do your job right so you don't screw your coworkers" is a better idiom.

Interestingly, this is kind of the opposite of how Japan seems to have come about. The community aspects led to a "fuzzy" language where speaking one's opinions, needs, and desires clearly is a (usually) tolerated personality flaw. They seemed to figure out ways to agree with their neighbors while actually disagreeing. Ways of saying "Of course you're right, let's do that," that don't actually settle the discussion. (I've heard, from Japanese businessmen, that meetings are frequently long...)

This reminds me of a conversation with a jewish friend -- he was complaining about those never-say-what-they-really-mean, impossible to understand Japanese, and why couldn't they be straightforward, like the Israeli. My retort was to wonder why the Israeli always had to be so loud, rude and abrasive, instead of behaving with proper subtlety and manners.

It's just another page in the book of "Wow, they do the same things in totally different ways." In this case, that large lumbering masses of collected humans found totally different ways to culturally enforce habits that don't lead to frustrated murder.

Nah... for totally different ways, take a look at About Cows, and Ozark English Discourse. Now -that- is totally different ways...

#18 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 12:56 AM:

Lee @ 11:

You just reminded me of one of the many reasons why I like The Seven Samurai. The villagers are need to buy help from some Samurai, but it's because they're outclassed and not because they're useless. They still band together and fight for themselves.

rm @ 13:

Myths often feel true, but aren't; that's one reason they're myths. I do object to mythology being taught in history classes.

xeger @ 15:

Always glad to be corrected.

I still think that article is a good starting point, but, no, I don't think it paints the whole picture by far. Still, once you decide that everyone's going to be their own authority on something, that means that there are a lot more conflicts and more streaks of individualism. There are lots of different denominations of Protestant Christianity that differ in only a few doctrinal issues, after all.

#19 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 01:17 AM:

Russell Shorto is also the author of one of my favorite history books, The Island At the Center of the World, about Dutch Manhattan. It's a good read, especially the intro as to the unlikely set of circumstances that led to the material for the book. ("I just got my degree in seventeenth-century Dutch. What will I do now?" "Hey, we really need an expert in seventeenth-century Dutch. Know anyone?")

#20 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 01:24 AM:

And yet: Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh.

#21 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 01:25 AM:

Oooh. One of my hobbyhorses. So much to say on my favourite subjects that I seldom actually get to putting it down in writing.
Perhaps when I've done some actual work, wot I'm falling behind on …

#22 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 01:41 AM:

Scott @ 14: "They seemed to figure out ways to agree with their neighbors while actually disagreeing. Ways of saying "Of course you're right, let's do that," that don't actually settle the discussion. (I've heard, from Japanese businessmen, that meetings are frequently long...)"

"えええ。。。ちがいます。。。"*

I've heard that the way Japanese meetings usually happen is anyone with an idea has to sound everyone else out privately before-hand, and make sure everyone is on board before they propose it to the group.

I'm not sure how well this works out, really. There's a fairly strong argument that the Japanese adventurism in China leading up to WWII happened because the Emperor just couldn't censure any of the army brass without them having to kill themselves, and so he had to grant retroactive permission for whatever they did. Then they, secure in the knowledge they had the Emperor's implicit backing, did it again. And so on...

xeger @ 17: "I'd think of that as a translation for the US market, myself. I've always seen it as "You do your job correctly because that is what honour demands, and it will shame (at the very least) your family (this implying more than spouse/kids) and your company, the person(s) who may have recommended you or supported you... ""

So if I read this correctly, you are choosing not to believe what the Japanese are reporting as their motives, and instead projecting onto them motives of your own devising? You wouldn't happen to have any evidence to support your proposition, would you?

*"Hmm...it's different..."="No."

#23 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 01:58 AM:

Scott @ 14
You do your job correctly, because otherwise your co-workers are out of a job. You don't misbehave in front of clients, because if you do, your co-workers are out of business.

Oddly, even though I'm a second-generation native-born US citizen, this is the attitude I've always had about the places where I've worked*. Now it might be because I've worked at several companies that were owned and run by Japanese managers, but I suspect it's more because
  a) I was raised in a socialist / radical union family, with the belief that the workers should support each other, and
  b) I've worked in research organizations a good part of that time, where the atmosphere, even in the presence of academic politics, was fairly collegial.

* with the exception of a couple where the entire management chain was clinically insane. In those it was more a feeling of "keep your head down, lest incoming artillery take it off."

#24 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:25 AM:

heresiarch @ 22 ...
So if I read this correctly, you are choosing not to believe what the Japanese are reporting as their motives, and instead projecting onto them motives of your own devising? You wouldn't happen to have any evidence to support your proposition, would you?

Actually, if you'll read back to what Scott wrote, he said "...things I heard when I started to work for Japanese companies...".

Personally I believe what I have learned, first hand, from the Japanese, about their motivations. You can take that or leave that as you will.

Functionally, I'm suggesting that there's a translation from an idiom that is immediately understood by one culture to an idiom that is immediately understood by another.

ぎり for example translates poorly into english. Similarly, I expect that 'Dude' translates rather poorly into japanese.

#25 ::: frumiousb ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 03:16 AM:

well, yes, sort of-- I kind of have the same response to this as I did to the Shorto piece. Interesting, but missing something. (Aside from your needed correction about his 52% taxes-- thanks for that.)

I'm partnered with a Dutch man, have been living in the Netherlands for 12 years, work for a Swedish company (how's that for an overdose of socialism?)

I still live here, but I guess that I don't have the same rosy view of the polder model as I did when I first arrived. I think that aspects of it (doe maar normaal) are potentially outdated, and can really do damage. Cooperation leads to social coercion really rapidly, if people aren't careful. Look at the rate of women in the working world/management in the Netherlands (one of the absolute lowest in Europe), the difficulty that people have in returning to school or changing career at a later age-- zesjes culture in general.

In that sense, people like Verdonk and Wilders are not so much anomalies as they are an extreme expression of the desire to keep the illusion of normalcy intact.

Don't get me wrong, I still choose to live here-- not return to the US. I guess that it's just that the polder system, the pillars-- they definitely have v. important weaknesses as well as strengths.

#26 ::: Pedantka ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 03:18 AM:

xeger@15- Of course, Laura Secord was American. (Not that that changes your underlying point about myths of rugged individualism, of course. Just a fun fact, and a good song.)

#27 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 03:40 AM:

Nice article, but very much from the point of view of somebody rich enough not to have to deal with a lot of the minor and major annoyances of living in the Netherlands/Amsterdam for even western immigrants[1]. The writer seems to live in what you might call the expat bubble. The Netherlands can be a lot colder if you're not a highly paid professional [2] with some company helping you adjust to Dutch life.

There's a lot of not very helpful bureaucracy and a lot of people with not very much sympathy for those who don't speak dutch working in them, as my partner has experienced more than once. Despite our reputation as a cosmopolitan nation and welcoming to foreigners, much of that is only skindeep; there's a strong tendency to be clannish and turned inward, especially outside the larger cities. This has only increased in the past few years what with Fortuyn and Wilders and all.

[1] let alone non-western immigrants or asylum seekers.
[2] I certainly don't have to pay 52 percent income tax and I certainly can't really complain about my salary

#28 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 05:32 AM:

I think at least one thing which really needs to be pointed out here is the way geography influences national personality. In the case of the Dutch, the Canadians and the Aussies, we have groups of people who are making a living in a landscape which is actively trying to kill them at all times (the Dutch are fighting off drowning, the Canucks are trying not to freeze, and the Aussies are working to avoid starvation). A certain amount of co-operation is required at the most basic level, because otherwise you will die. In the case of the US and the UK (to a large degree) the land isn't being so actively aggressive - there's lots of places where you can make a living without needing to depend on anyone else to any great degree. Where you need to co-operate to survive, you need to learn to get along with people even if you don't agree with them, so it generates a more mannered society, one in which there's the movement toward ways of agreeing to disagree.

In the case of the Dutch and the folks in the UK, one of the things which they also needed to deal with was the lack of metaphorical and literal elbow room. There's a limit to how much rugged individualism can be handled within the context of constant close social contact (it's a bit easier to be a rugged individual if you don't have to hang around all the other annoying idjits while you do so). So this leads to the development of a more mannered society as well (and the same is the case for the Japanese). NB: In all cases, I'm simplifying something chronic. The UK and Japan are also good examples of how the various different types of feudalism go to shape a culture.

However, in the US, the terrain is less overtly aggressive, so there's less need to cooperate; there's also a lot more space to stretch out in, so it's possible to be successfully antisocial. This leads in to one of my more constant "I don't believe it" things about the US (speaking as an Australian) namely the level of what I construe to be just plain impolite behaviour which is apparently accepted as socially normal over there. Over here, doing some of it even occasionally would get you regarded as a right yob, and it certainly wouldn't be socially acceptable in wider practice.

(Oh, and if anyone's looking for heroic individual stories in Australian mythology, just look at the bushranger mythos. Then take a look at the areas where bushrangers were most regarded and note they're all fairly good farming country, for Australia. Bushrangers didn't really crop up where the living was more marginal; Western Australia had only one notorious bushranger and he was pretty much restricted to the best agricultural terrain in the state, too. The rugged individual only survives where they don't need the goodwill of the collective to sustain them).

#29 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 07:02 AM:

Dave and Terry:
The Quakers were influenced by the Dutch from way back. The Amsterdam Meeting has records going back to William Penn's visit.

In general, the Dutch are said to "prefer a meeting where everything is discussed and nothing decided to one where everything is decided and nothing discussed." My company is rather fanatically anti-meeting, so I can't attest to this from personal experience.


Nancy Lebovitz @12:
This American, at least, tends to think of collectivism as romanticizing the subordination of individuals to the group.

But if it's really collectivism, not tyranny dressed up as collectivism, then the individuals create the group and decide together on its values and priorities. And those can be anything; the only really required aspect is that the preservation of the group is one them*.


frumiousb @25:
I guess that it's just that the polder system, the pillars-- they definitely have v. important weaknesses as well as strengths.

Oh, I agree entirely. As incomers—into a small village to boot—we're often on the wrong end of the pressure to conform. I am frequently gauche and awkward, and I'm coming to doubt that I will ever have good local‡ friends in the village, even after my Dutch improves.


Martin Wisse @27:
Excellent observations, all of them.

I struggle a lot with the "expat bubble" issue, and I suspect that becoming fluent in the language won't entirely solve it. As I discovered when I moved to Britian back in 1993, it takes years to really settle into a new culture.

On the other hand, my in-laws moved here in the 70's, and ended up integrating very well. They came back to Scotland for family reasons, but many of their closest friends are still in Limburg**.

The bureaucracy issue is real as well. I noticed that Shorto seemed to have untangled kinderbijslag awfully quickly, and that his comprehension of it lagged behind receiving it. It took us months to get through the SVB's labyrinthine processes, even though my husband is fluent in Dutch. We were well clear on what it was long before we were done. I suspect Shorto used a relocation agent who specializes in such things; another sign of wealth.

-----
* One of my Dutch colleagues, reading the article, said, "Yeah, taxes are high here. But we all benefit from (most of) them. I'm happy to pay that much taxes if it improves the community as a whole."†
† As, indeed, am I, by the way.
‡ Our closest friends there are an American family.
** Even stranger: they have a house in the south of France, and have thus found themselves in another expat bubble. But their closest friends there are Dutch residents rather than Anglophones.

#30 ::: Micah ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 08:27 AM:

maybe it’s time learn from people with a long history of getting along with people they’re stuck with.

My first thought upon reading this line was about what I've heard from many sources recently about Americans tending to group together with others of like-mindsets, both online and in meatspace.

Sometimes it seems like America is large enough and diverse enough and easy enough to relocate within that, these days, you don't have to be stuck with people you don't get along with, which probably isn't a good thing for society as a whole.

* * * *

Xeger @17, regarding the Ozarks English link:

That page mentioned "scripts" for dialogue, which has been a constant thorn in my side, as I moved around a lot as a child. Most things I'm fine with, but I cannot for the life of me get used to the various ways greetings go on. People say their usual "What's up?" or "How's things?" or "So, how was your weekend?" or whatever-they-say and I always come off as rude. I can see from their faces that they think I'm being an ass, but the responses depending on place are just permanently jumbled in my head and I always seem to give the wrong reply for whatever the local script is.

* * * *

On the related topic of the Japanese society, a friend of mine recently worked several months at a factory job, where the management is American and the owners are Japanese. The factory is run with a Japanese system.

Not long back, the Japanese company sent someone over to try to improve performance. Interestingly enough, the largest problem going on was that the workers were not replacing cards in boxes that would indicate when materials had been used up. The Japanese man trying to improved performance explained to the people working there about how if they would simply take the time to replace the cards and note things down properly, the company as a whole would benefit.

Unsurprisingly, nothing changed even slightly despite all of the man's efforts. The Americans there just didn't give a damn if the company benefited, and he just didn't understand that mindset. The task may have been minor, but it was also annoying, and they weren't going to do it unless they had a personal incentive.

#31 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 09:26 AM:

I was struck by the fact that Americans seem to see taxes as an imposition without considering the other side of taxation at all. Yet Americans expect the goods (in every sense of the word) of society to exist (perhaps by divine intervention, which is, maybe, why there is so much hostility to atheists in places where blind religiosity is the norm).

The idea that you can "do for yourself" without any help is a myth. Certainly we need enterprise and ability, and certainly people have to take responsibility for who they are within the context of their society, but we do not exist alone and we do not come from nowhere. Nor is capitalism, as it exists today, an American invention. It is, in fact, Dutch. The stock exchange was invented by the Dutch as a means of spreading and sharing risk. The financial bubble was also invented by the Dutch, as were super-profits, including the massive dividend the Westindische Compagnie declared in 1628 (they stole the Spanish silver fleet, if I recall correctly from Boxer, the dividend that year was 75 percent).

The objective of Dutch politics is building consensus, and their political system has been since the crisis of 1917 (which was over denominational and secular control of schools) been dominated by a system of religious/secular pillars (zuilen) which assumed* that the only divisions in the society were class and religion (the latter being Protestant/Catholic and secular). That's breaking down today because of immigration, though, as far as I can gather there's no Muslim pillar.

*The party system on which verzuiling (pillarization) was based broke down in the 1960s, and has been partially replaced by a somewhat more secularised system since the 1970s. In essence, conservative Calvinism is not the significant political force that it once was. The classic study of Dutch politics up to the 1960s, Arend Lijphart's The Politics of Accommodation, went so far as to call the Dutch "docile", a term which, I think, Arend would now repudiate.

#32 ::: don delny ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 10:43 AM:

heresiarch, 22

I've heard that the way Japanese meetings usually happen is anyone with an idea has to sound everyone else out privately before-hand, and make sure everyone is on board before they propose it to the group.

In my experience,this is a pretty good way to get things done in American nonprofits/hobby clubs/church commitees, too.

#33 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 10:44 AM:

don delny @ 32 ...
... and a classic way to get things done in American business, as well...

#34 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 11:32 AM:

abi @ 29:

One of the things that I'm grateful for is that when our family moved to England in '92 they made the decision not to insulate themselves in the "expat bubble". This was helped, of course, by the language being (mostly) the same. When I was old enough to have a better understanding of things, I was disappointed at how insular the American community there could be.

Fragano Ledgister @ 31:

That's one of the most pernicious myths of the US, unfortunately. In fact, I'd say the foundation for believing it is laid down very early in American education.

#35 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 12:18 PM:

re 4: There's a limit to which I want to get involved in this discussion, because eventually someone is going to get annoyed. But I have to disagree, somewhat, with Schaeffer's theory. If we go back to the colonies, we do not, with one exception, see Christian churches which went along with an ironclad belief in individual conscience. The exception was Rhode Island (well, and Pennsylvania to an extent); in the other colonies one had a state church. The big ecclesiastical success story in the colonies was the Methodists, but they got that way because of the flexibility of their organization, not because they lacked it; nowadays, of course, they are just another big ponderous mainline body in decline. The rise of independent churches is a worldwide phenomenon, not just American; but again, looking at redness on the map, the core red zone is still Methodist, not Baptist.

To move to a different angle: I think one of the differences is that Americans, because of history, are always somewhat reluctant to associate governance with cooperation, and always somewhat inclined to identify it, potentially, with tyranny. In this, distance isn't unimportant: far-off DC could just as well be far-off London. Which leads to...

31: Well, historically Americans originate out of the experience of being taxed and getting nothing out of it.

#36 ::: Per Chr. J. ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 12:22 PM:

Some of the observations about Dutch people in the article are not unlike the observations made about Norwegians and Swedes in similar reports.

I remember an American coworker at a previous job commenting that Norwegians seemed so shy of conflict in the workplace that they overemphasised consensus building and soothing language of the "we prefer it our way, but that way may also turn out to be all right in the end" type. According to her, she was more used to "that is the right way, this is the wrong way to do it" kind of feedback. I've also heard foreigners complain that we often just pretend to be very modest, while we of course want promotions and pay raises, just like everybody else.

On the other hand, I've seen other Europeans, especially from countries down on the continent, state that Norwegians are tiresomely individualistic, or at least brash, and one kind of folk hero is, after all, the kind of guy that is affronted by a decision by local government, and then spends a large part of the rest of his life fighting the municipality with formal complaints, petitions, letters to the editor, maybe even lawsuits, (and recently) blogs, etc. etc. If I may be permitted a small joke and exaggeration, this kind of person even has his own party in Norway, the Progress Party (there have even been some observations that Norway is rare and contrary to expectations in that the kind of discontent party that thrives in other countries during an economical or political crisis, gets less support in our country in such times, but the more so when most things go well...).

#37 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 12:44 PM:

Fragano, #31: Not all of us see taxes as an imposition. Those of us who self-identify as "progressives" are more likely to view them as an investment in infrastructure (physical and social). One of the arguments I use in support of government funding for things like health care is that the government isn't required to make a profit on it, and therefore can provide it more economically than any private corporation.

#38 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 12:45 PM:

ISTM that finding a workable balance between individualism and collective goals is one of the basic problems of being human. It comes up everywhere--it's a basic problem in making a family function (how does everyone get what they need, with a minimum of people getting the short end of the stick and a minimum of coercion (making the kids do stuff they hate) and browbeating (making the grownups do stuff we hate)? It'comes up in your church, in your neighborhood, in your workplace, in how you vote.

In some sense, it's surprising that such a fundamental problem gets answered so differently in different cultures. OTOH, determining that balance is a lot of what a culture *does*.

I suspect the instinctive dislike of taxes in the US is a symptom of feeling like we have relatively little say in how they're used, and little confidence they'll be used well. A look at the current federal budget doesn't do a whole lot to call that feeling into question.

#39 ::: Noelle ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 12:59 PM:

Canada has a time-honoured way of dealing with large conflicts in our society. We call a royal commission. It consults with nearly everyone, writes up a lengthy report and sometimes even creates major change. Other times (particularly with more contentious issues) it takes so long to report that we've forgotten we called it in the first place.

But it sure does cut down on direct conflict.

#40 ::: Dave Weingart ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 12:59 PM:

albatross@38: I think a large part of that is the "I got mine, now screw you" attitude that one comes across a fair bit.

I have the "taxes" argument with people I know on a semi-regular basis. Me, I don't mind paying 'em if they make the world, and especially the part I'm living in, a better place. They tend to object to the government spending their money on (typically) housing and health care for people who have less.

Oddly, they rarely complain about tax monies being used for military purposes...

#41 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:00 PM:

Lee @ 37:

That's one of the reasons why I think that the government should be funding healthcare, but the profit monster seems to have (selectively) taken over people's minds.

albatross @ 38:

Finding the right balance between individiality and collectivism is hard. I like seeing how other places manage.

I think that one of the reasons that people dislike taxes so much is that (don't laugh) the day-to-day services they provide are done reasonably well. The concept of taxes becomes utterly divorced from reasonably well-maintained roads, a fairly solid court system, and so on.

But, yes, there's also a frustration of not knowing or liking how the money is spent. A huge slice of the budget goes to the military, but people get exercised over NASA's comparatively small budget because they don't know how the funding is broken down.

#42 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:53 PM:

I suoppose that the big advantage of a Royal Commission, even though its members are appointed by politicians, is that it isn't tied so tightly to party politics.

(Rants deleted)

I don't like what has happened to the checks and balances in the UK system. Oddly, I think the Queen may have more practical authority in Canada than in the UK.

#43 ::: Martin Sutherland ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 03:02 PM:

Just for reference, Peter-Paul Koch has a set of interesting articles explaining Dutch politics for foreigners. It's an excellent overview of the system.

#44 ::: Kristi Wachter ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 03:54 PM:

I was sure there was going to be something about swing dancing in here.

#45 ::: Dave Weingart ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 03:58 PM:

If you dance on swings, you're liable to fall off and get hurt!

#46 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 04:44 PM:

Kristi, #44: Here you go. Enjoy!

#47 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 05:42 PM:

Abi, I haven't had cause to (attempt to) read Dutch in about 15 years but I did have a good laugh at Mhr. Wilders' expense just now.

And on the thread of "how to get on with people you disagree with" - that's one skill I've had to acquire, with limited success, since moving to New England. There are fewer people resident in Augusta, Maine, than there were at Louisiana State University when I attended there, and I find myself having to regularly interact with great numbers of people who are, bluntly, WRONG on a regular basis. (See the other thread.)

There is something about a small community that forces a certain level of cooperation, like rocks in a tumbler wearing off all the rough edges through unrelenting minor impacts of day to day life. One of the things I occasionally miss about living in a large city (Portland, OR) is the combination of spending some of my time in a small pocket of people who were very much in agreement with me, only more so, and the rest of my time as a highly anonymous free-range individual drop in the ocean.

I can't do either of those here - the people I see at work are the people I see at church are the people I see at the grocery store, so there is no anonymity, and yet it's a small enough town that there's no real avoiding social interaction with people who are WRONG about one thing or another.

I'm chafing at the bit to be much louder and more political, like I used to, but I still have to live here during the rest of the week.

I was going to add something to the linguistics/dialect thread, too, and I'll be back when I remember what it was.

#48 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 07:38 PM:

The original post, as well as albatross @38, ISTM that finding a workable balance between individualism and collective goals is one of the basic problems of being human. It comes up everywhere-

I disagree. Frankly, debates and observations about The Individual and The Collective, their various adventures in various times and places, and who of them should be more important, usually sound like they miss the point to me, since I'm not quite sure that either of these terms actually means something.

For instance, who or what exactly is The Individual? Judging from the many things I've heard from many sources about this character, he or she seems to be a fascinating personality- could someone get me an introduction? Or, to paraphrase Terry Pratchett, I've met a lot of individuals, but I've never met The Individual.

I'd say political and social matters are are usually not about individuals and collectives, or individuals and communities, but about different individuals, or different vaguely defined groups of individuals.

For instance, when many self-described supporters of individualism say that they support individuals over collectives, what this means is usually that they support various things that benefit or would benefit some individuals and oppose various other things that benefit or would benefit some other individuals.

And personally, I support a lot of things that many people would call collectivist, but I don't support them because I care about some entity called The Collective- again, who or what exactly is that?- but because I care about a lot of individuals who IMO stand to benefit from these things.

Self-described individualists might say that what they want is that decisions are left to individuals- but when it comes down to it, all decisions are made by specific individuals, even decisions of the North Korean government. The interesting question is which individuals get to make decisions, which individuals get to be involved in decision-making, and in which ways.

#49 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 08:04 PM:

Lee #37: That's the problem with broad, sweeping generalisations. They get the details wrong. Still, when people all over the US are holding up placards suggesting that "taxation with representation" is not a good thing or even "yes to defense, no to taxes" (which was on one placard), one does get the idea that there's a certain hostility to taxes as taxes in American culture. Not to say that the teabaggers were representative Americans, perish the thought. Just that they represent a real strain in US culture.

#50 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 09:03 PM:

Fragano @ 49: "yes to defense, no to taxes"

I haven't followed the tea party movement too closely, so thank you (?) for reporting that lunatic slogan.

#51 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 09:14 PM:

Albatross @ 38 describes my views. After finishing my US tax returns a few weeks ago, I looked at my total tax liability -- much higher than ever due to a one-time spike in my income last year.

Now, many people whose political views partly overlap with mine, i.e. various kinds of libertarians, object loudly to taxes taking such a high percentage.

But I just couldn't call up any outrage over the amount of my taxes considered in isolation. What does annoy me is some of the things the government spends my money on. Now if the federal government stopped doing those things, the world would be (IMHO) a better place without all that overseas aggression and corporate welfare. It would be just a secondary benefit that they wouldn't have to tax me to pay for those things.

#52 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 09:26 PM:

Raphael #48:

Of course, in the end, all the actors in these discssions are people, individuals. But there's a long history of questions involving what each individual owes, in terms of loyalty and willingness to go along, to the groups or communities to which he belongs. For example, if 95% of the people in your community are Roman Catholic, is it really okay for you to be an atheist and say so openly? To refuse to contribute to good works like the Catholic schools, missionaries, and such? To read and openly keep books in your house that the Church and the community find deeply offensive? How do you decide?

Now, of course, in one sense, there's not really a community or a Catholic Church--it's just people and stuff and real-estate and arrangements and information and assumptions. But in another, there really is a community around you, and you are constantly, implicitly, making up your mind about how much deference to give to it. Just as with corporations, governments, legal systems, academic disciplines, and markets, they're just people and stuff and arrangements and real-estate, but in practice, they're as real and important in day-to-day life as a brick wall or an airplane.

If there are five people in an office, they will often have some shared goal--like getting lunch. Is it okay to decide not to go along, even though your company would be enjoyed by all and might make the group stronger, because they're all getting vegetarian Indian food and you're in the mood for a steak?

How about when we move to governments and laws? If most of your neighbors think homosexuality is an abomination, are you obliged to go along with that? Are there limits that should be imposed on what can be demanded of you by the majority-elected government? Are there limits on what majority-supported laws you should feel obliged to obey? Are there limits on what you, as a member of the majority, should feel comfortable demanding of the minority who disagree with you on some issue? (Way, way too many people answer this question with some variant of "but it's okay not to have limits, because I'm right.")

It sure seems to me that this sort of question comes up a lot, and that it underlies a great deal of politics and law and custom. It also seems to me like there's no final right answer about how to balance between your own goals and ideas and values, and those you share with others in larger groups.

Fragano #49:

Well, you have to admit, it makes a certain amount of sense. I mean, if you're going to borrow a lot of money from foreign nations with no intention of ever paying it back, you are going to want an impressive military.

#53 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 09:34 PM:

Fragano @49, Allan Beatty @50: "yes to defense, no to taxes"

I think we should take that as willingness to be taken up by a press gang.

#54 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 12:53 AM:

Kristi @44, Lee @46, or there's Mike Jittlov's Swing Shift.

Fragano @49, yes, tho' tea bags don't need straining unless they're broken.

Considered "No representation without taxation" as a slogan, but it tends back to property suffrage, disenfranchising sick, women, students, poor, &c.

#55 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 02:17 AM:

So it turns out that Russell Shorto is not entirely charmed by our country, as an article in one of the local free rags (De Pers) shows this morning. He hates the food, thinks the weather is awful, feels the welfare state is "a burden" and is also disenchanted by how crowded the country is and the bad service he's getting.

The food, weather and service are all true, but if you don't like crowds the Netherlands and especially Amsterdam are just as unsuited a place for you as Manhattan would be, while complaining about the welfare state when it does so much for you is just ungracious.

What I didn't know until now is that he's the director of the John Adams Institute which promotes the cultural exchange between the US and Holland --wonder if it would subsidise my comics habit?


#56 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 02:44 AM:

Just read those articles Martin S. refered too and those are indeed quite good if you want a general overview of Dutch politics and what makes it tick.

#57 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 02:58 AM:

Epacris, #54: However, despite the name, none of the dancing in that short is swing. Most of it is rather like contradance, or barn dancing -- the music is based on a traditional contra tune called "Devil's Dream" -- and the guard's solo is just that, a showy solo. (That's my favorite Jittlov short piece.)

#58 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 03:16 AM:

xeger @ 3:

IMO, the earlier English version of that cultural narrative (re: relative importance of individual vs. group) goes back at least to the Roman conquest of Britain. (I suspect we could take it back to the proto-Celts and the Beaker People, but the earlier evidence is iffy at best.) Then, during the next several hundred years, Britain (or large portions therof) was repeatedly conquered by assorted mostly Northern Germanic peoples (Saxons, Danes, Jutes, Normans, etc.)

Although the identity of the then-current ruling class changed repeatedly, as did the list of exactly which conquered people(s) were most vigorously oppressed at any particular time and place, some fairly consistent traditions were established -- and handed down to subsequent generations -- as parts of what eventually became a major English cultural narrative:
1. Heroic resistance to unjust oppression, often by leaders / representatives of the earlier arrivals resisting the newest set of invaders / conquerors. (See Britons v. Romans, Robin Hood, Saxons v. Normans, assorted reivers throughout the Scottish Borderlands, etc.)
2. A legal system in which even the peasants and lower classes had certain generally recognized rights under the common law, or at least that a noble had certain obligations toward those members of the lower classes who were subject to that noble's authority. (A consequence of both Roman legal principles which outlasted the Legions' presence, and the "bottom up" common law traditions of various of the Germanic tribes. Also see: Magna Carta, various kings v. Parliament.)
3. As a consequence of these first two points, a widespread acceptance of the concept that an individual rebel against the national government of the day could also be (and often was) acting as a defender of the local community's historic legal rights against encroachment, as distinct from being merely a scofflaw in general. (See: assorted Scots and Welsh nationalists, assorted 17-century Dissenters and Parliamentarians, 18th-century smugglers, etc.)

In common versions of this narrative, the individual and his heroic actions against tyranny are distinct from the type of collective actions that (if taken by local villagers) would expose the locals to unacceptable forms / levels of retribution from the current Evil Tyrant. The hero can get away with it due to his Secret Identity / Hidden Lair / Special Skills; they can't.

But, although the hero and his actions may be quite distinct from whatever the locals might be able to accomplish collectively, both are easily seen as being (at least in theory, at some level) also for the general benefit of the community.

This concept of the individual and his heroic actions as being both especially effective, and consistent with the collective benefit of the community -- not opposed to the community's interests -- was then planted in fertile social soil in assorted English colonies. In the American colonies in particular, local circumstances enhanced this with the cultural equivalent of steroids mixed with protein powder, and the U.S. version grew rapidly from there . . .

#59 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 08:15 AM:

Martin Wisse @ #55

disenchanted by how crowded the [Netherlands] is

On occasion, whole families to move from the Netherlands to the less-populated parts of Norway, so they can escape the crowding and urban sprawl in their homeland. Some local councils actively seek them out, perhaps ironically because they've got a dwindling population - all the young people are moving to the towns to be students and have jobs and things like that.

Not many of them manage to stay on for long in the wilderness, though.

#60 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 08:27 AM:

Leroy F. Berven @ 58 ...
1. Heroic resistance to unjust oppression, often by leaders / representatives of the earlier arrivals resisting the newest set of invaders / conquerors. (See Britons v. Romans, Robin Hood, Saxons v. Normans, assorted reivers throughout the Scottish Borderlands, etc.)

Like Robin Hood, Maid Marian, Little John, Will Scarlett... The Saxon shieldwall... assorted reivers -and their hearthmen- throughout the Scottish Borderlands... ?

What I find interesting here is that my recollection isn't of a standalone heroic figure, but of a -band- of figures, about whom tales are told. Even Beowulf is accompanied by his band of men...

#61 ::: Gareth Rees ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 05:16 PM:

With a polder, the big problem is pumping the water. But in most cases your land lies in the middle of the country, so where are you going to pump it? To someone else’s land.

This explanation seems wrong to me. Surely you don't pump the water onto someone else's land—that would be a scandalous waste of potential energy. Instead, you pump it up to an elevated, canalized river running along the top of a dike that drains your land and all the lands of your neighbours.

That's how it works in the Fens of Cambridgeshire—water runs from fields to drainage ditches, which take it to pumping stations (originally windmill-powered, later steam-powered, now run off the electricity grid), which pump it up to elevated rivers like the New Bedford River, which carry it out to the River Great Ouse and thence the sea.

The Fens were originally drained by Cornelius Vermuyden and other Dutch engineers, and I am pretty sure the drainage system is much the same here as in the Netherlands.

Obviously there is a very important communal interest in maintaining the elevated rivers and their dikes—hence the interdependency of the polder model—but no-one is actually pumping water onto anyone else's land.

#62 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 05:24 PM:

Surely you don't pump the water onto someone else's land

Whose land is this raised river you speak of on? If not yours, then someone else's.

#63 ::: Per Chr. J. ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 05:35 PM:

Martin @ 55 and Roy @ 59:

I can't remember where, but I once saw someone comment that one of the reasons Norwegian and Swedish mysteries (both books and TV series) were popular, even surprisingly so, in Germany is that they took place in countries similar to Germany, but with space to spare. Apparently, continental readers and viewers were intrigued by low income people having spacious flats and middle income people living in sprawling villa areas, like very rich Germans, and humongous amounts of nature just outside the towns and cities.

Since we're discussing Amsterdam and the Netherlands, I've got a question, by the way, about something that puzzled me, and that was that shops etc. seemed to have rather little coins and small bills the one time I went there (a few years ago, but after the euro came), and a disinclination to part with any change they might have. For instance, the bus driver at the airport hadn't brought any change, and still wanted an amount that was not payable in euro bills only, and at a small convenience shop I was asked for the exact amount when handing over 2.50 for a 2,45 euro purchase. Etc. Was this just a blip, or was it this way when the Dutch had their own currency as well?

Admittedly, I do not travel as much as a lot of science fiction fans in Europe travel, but I visited another eurozone country a couple of years ago (Åland, the Swedish-speaking and largely self-governing archipelago off Finland), and I didn't have any trouble getting change when purchasing something there.

#64 ::: Per Chr. J. ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 05:39 PM:

Me @ 63:

Just to remove some ambiguity:

I did of course mean 2.50 for a 2.45 euro purchase.

#65 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 05:43 PM:

Per Chr J @63:
It's rare that there is no change available. Shops generally do ask for exact money, just in case you have it, but I've never run into a problem breaking a big (50 Euro) note.

They do round amounts to the nearest 5 Euro cents here, which is interesting. An item that's 3,52 will be charged at 3,50; one that's 3,53 will go to 3,60. I never see a Euro penny.

#66 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 05:55 PM:

Per Chr. J. #63, abi #65:

This also used to be an Italian (well, Venetian anyway) problem, particularly in medium-sized food stores, where things got exacerbated by the checkers' entirely unconcealed impatience, not to say downright hostility, as you fumbled for change. (What they would do with the little old lady in the supermarket express line last week who took over five minutes to write a check, do something improbable with her receipt and then totter off, forgetting what she'd come in to buy, I shudder to think.)

#67 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 05:58 PM:

As for crowdedness: I don't find Amsterdam more crowded than, say, London, but I don't know it well.

There are certainly places within half an hour's bike ride of Centraal Station where one can be alone. I cycle through one of them ('t Twiske, a nature reserve to the north of the city) on my way home from work. Apart from the hottest of summer weekends, when everyone comes for picnics, barbecues and playing in the lake, it's possible to find secluded nooks and peaceful spots.

The real challenge to solitude in the Netherlands is not physical but cultural. There's a lot of pressure to do everything with people. Loners are less common, and the impulse to solitude is slightly strange to the Dutch I've met. It would be rude, for instance, for me to go out on a lunchtime walk on my own if my colleagues are also going.

This is not to say it isn't a crowded country. There is very little uninhabited land: nothing like the Scottish Highlands, which stretch for miles and miles with barely a living soul. But very few people need acres of space for solitude; one can be alone in a closet. The problem is usually smaller, bounded in the distance between two ears.

#68 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 05:59 PM:

Finland and the Netherlands don't mint or circulate 1 or 2 cent coins. OK, they mint them for collector sets, but not for Joe Public.

I remember being in Sweden in the 80s when there were ridiculously worthless coins in circulation (10 Ore?), and the shopkeepers sometimes gave you a sweet instead of change. The sweet might not be of the same value as the change you were due, but mmmmmm, sugar!

I should now make some clever sugar=>mint connection, but...

BLIMP!

#69 ::: Gareth Rees ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 06:03 PM:

Whose land is this raised river you speak of on? If not yours, then someone else's.

It's on or adjacent to my land (hence I own the riparian rights), or how else could I pump into it?

But this quibble misses my point, which is that the Shorto piece seems to be saying that the same water got pumped multiple times through a sequence of properties, and this is what I am questioning.

But I could well be wrong: if you can point me to a good reference, I'd be very interested to learn more about the medieval Dutch drainage system.

#70 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 06:24 PM:

The bit of river you pump into is on or adjacent to your land.

Then it has to go onto someone else's land, and it's not a natuaral river, it's a drainage ditch. Why do your neighbours have to transport your drainage water through (or past) their land?

Polder model.

#71 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 06:27 PM:

Gareth @69:

Don't assume that the conditions (or the laws, such riparian rights) were at all the same between the Netherlands and England. The Dutch land drainage process made the drainage of the English fens look quick and easy.

In the Middle Ages, much of the Dutch landscape that needed draining was not so much next to a river as actually in the mouths of several of the great rivers of Europe. The first Dutch settlements, described by the Romans, were built on piled-up mounds of earth (it was a damp and miserable existence). The mounds were only slowly connected to make land, then the water trapped among them removed (first by wheelbarrow and bucket, then by windmill once they were invented).

Most of the watercourses in the Netherlands are therefore the result of human planning. Which of the many braided streams of the river delta do you make the final mouth, and which do you stop up to make the marsh into arable land? If your land is not near the watercourse, you still have seepage (most of the land here is at or below sea level; if you dig a hole it fills with water), and when your carefully constructed land dries out it shrinks and sinks again. So you need to keep pumping, but the river path isn't near your field. Thus do you and your neighbors agree whose land carries the canal to the river.

The best source for this that I know of is, unfortunately, not online. Designed for Dry Feet: Flood Protection and land Reclamation in the Netherlands, by Robert J Hoeksma, is my usual reference for these matters. It's written by an American water engineer (of Dutch descent) who got really fascinated by the subject.

#72 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 06:47 PM:

albatross @52, wow, that's probably a much longer and more in-depth response than my comment deserved. Thanks. And your points are good, of course.

I still think that some individual issues that are often described- even by people on both sides- as matters betwen "the individual" and "the collective" or "the group" or "the community" are better described as issues about which individuals should decide something and in whose individuals' interest the decision should be made- for instance, questions about wether what should be done with a building should be decided by someone in a distant company office or someone in a distant government building, or someone else entirely. I know that self-described individualists in such cases have philosophical arguments to explain why it is supposedly more individualist to have the matter decided by the person or persons in the company office, and more collectivist to have it decided by someone else, but I disagree with these philosophical arguments.

And I think that when people talk about the interests of a group or community, they should keep in mind that these interests are, or at least should be, first and foremost the interests of the group's or community's members.

#73 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 07:37 PM:

Gareth Rees: It's not anyone's land now, I'll bet it was some time ago. Go back to the origin of the polder (or that raised dike you have in Cambridgshire), someone had to build it. England, with it's feudal traditions (and Germanic underlayers) could have one person do it, by fiat; or various semi-co-operative ways may have been used. Holland had the problem to solve that there wasn't that strongman who could just make it happen.

So they had to negotiate. That, and the land is a lot more wet; and the ocean a lot more aggressive in reclaiming it, than pretty much any part of England, so pretty much everyone was involved, to greater and lesser degrees.

#74 ::: Hanneke Hoogstrate ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 06:06 AM:

That emphasis on the group over the individual continues to this day. I noticed that when the management of my company presented our code of conduct, they emphasized that these rules expressed what we owed to our colleagues, even more than to the company or to our clients.

That is an awkward distortion - making our corporate culture of endless discussions & compromise sound like the group comes first - rather, it's another way of putting the *competences* of the individual first - every individual - not the *power* of the individual or group. That focus on different views working together is very powerful, makes *good, balanced solutions* - well, sometimes - which is the idea behind the "polder model"…
It also means that as boss power is less important, she gets ribbed a lot more :-)

#75 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 09:29 AM:

Acto Wikipedia (but not for long) we have this useful info about the fens: "[T]he peat was anaerobic, and a rich source of bifurcated hydrotic bioforms, including spongiform ethylene dichloride[.]"

#76 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 09:43 AM:

Xeger @17
I really don't think the "pride" situation in Japan is what you think it is. Shame is the primary social corrective force here, but the struggle to succeed doesn't seem to me to be based on fear of shame. Fear of disappointing your superiors, and your co-workers. Which, at least to me, seems very different.
There is collective responsibility (companies officially apologize when their employees do illegal things unrelated to their work (particularly in the case of celebrities)), but I don't have any evidence that it really applies to most people. If you're the child of a famous family (as a concrete, real-life example, you're Taro Aso, and your sister is married to a cousin of the Emperor, and you're the Prime Minister of Japan, people complain to YOU about how your family ran mines during WW2) you are capable of actually damaging your family with your actions. If you're just a normal person, and you flunk out of college (which is relatively difficult in Japan) your father probably doesn't brag about you, but it's not going to change his place in life give or take jokes (which may or may not hurt his feelings).

Heresiarch @22
Amusingly, until I reached the footnote, I wasn't sure if you were disagreeing with me, or giving an example!
At any rate, it certainly seems that getting everybody on the same ship before the meeting is a good idea. But it also doesn't seem like it's always possible (emergency "What happened" meetings, meetings with clients or suppliers, probably others)

And, here I must disclaim, my knowledge of Japanese history is spotty, I just live there, I didn't grow up with 6 years of it in history class or anything, BUT it was my understanding that the Imperial Army of Japan did whatever it wanted because it had all the political capital at the time. The diet was, for whatever reason, out of favor with the citizenry and the Emperor had been a figure-head for centuries. (arbitrarily drawing the line when the Emperor handed enough power to the Kamakura Bakufu that the first Shogun (as we know the term) took control of the country and claiming that while the Meiji Restoration supposedly restored the Emperor to power, it actually gave the power to a bureaucracy staffed primarily by the people who overthrew the Edo Bakufu).
With nationalism and military pride at a relative high-point, people were answering to the military leadership rather than the other way around.
Then again, I may have just said exactly what you did. The Emperor, in his official capacity could have ended them... but there weren't other practical/political options.

Bruce Cohen @23
It's definitely not the way things were ever presented to me in America. There, at least inspiring it was, "You do this much or you're fired." (working on campus during college) And at most inspiring "Do as much as you and we can all get filthy rich!" (at a few different internet start-up companies, none of which made ME rich, but did manage to make other people varying levels of rich). The idea of maintaining a company's existence, standards, and brand for the sake of my co-workers was new to me when I got to Japan. Of course, that's just my personal story, ymmv, etc.

#77 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 10:36 AM:

Rob Rusick #53: I'd happily see some of the idiots involved in the teabagging impressed for service in George III's* navy.

*That's the Guelph chappie whose surname would have been Wettin (or, perhaps, Wipper) if he'd ever used one.

#78 ::: Gareth Rees ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 11:54 AM:

abi @71: Designed for Dry Feet by R. J. Hoeksema.

Thanks for pointing me to this excellent reference. Google books has a limited preview, including the section describing the medieval drainage system (pages 8 to 17).

Hoeksema: "Digging ditches in the peat bog provided enough drainage to allow productive use of the land. The drainage ditches were dug along the edges of the parcels [of land]. The ditches generally ran perpendicular ito the ground surface contours and drained into natural streams or larger drainage canals. As a result, a number of parcelization patterns developed. Feather and fan parcelization patterns can be found along natural streams draining peat domes. Parallel patterns were common along drainage canals." [page 10; diagram on page 11]

Terry Karney @73: Go back to the origin of the polder (or that raised dike you have in Cambridgeshire), someone had to build it.

That's true but perhaps a bit misleading about the sequence of events. The earliest drained areas of farmland in the Netherlands were on peat domes (naturally raised above the local water level), and the drainage channels were dug to carry water down to an adjacent natural river.

The reason why these drainage rivers are elevated now is not that the rivers have been raised, it's that the land around them has sunk. Hoeksema: “Drainage of the peat allowed the inhabitants to create usable agricultural land, but the drawback was subsequent land subsidence [...] in some areas 3 to 4 meters of peat disappeared completely. By the seventeenth century the peat domes had dropped to below NAP [Normaal Amsterdams Peil, that is, mean sea level in Amsterdam]. As the reclaimed land subsided, high groundwater levels made the land unusable. Thus the reclamation process was pushed further up the peat bog.” [page 10; diagram on page 11]

This fall in the level of the drained land necessitated building and maintaining systems of dikes along the now elevated rivers, with all the complexities of local organization and interdependency that constitute the polder model.

I really only wanted to question Shorto's choice of phrasing, "where are you going to pump it? To someone else’s land. And then they have to do the same thing, and their neighbor does, too", which implies (to me, at least) that the same water is getting pumped multiple times. If Shorto had meant to say that each group of landholders pumped water into a communally-maintained drainage system, I feel that he could have chosen a slightly clearer way to say it. That's all.

#79 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 12:05 PM:

Fragano @ 77... I take it you don't mean Ontario's Guelph.

#80 ::: Gareth Rees ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 12:18 PM:

Further to #78, I ought to be clear that the phrasing in question is Shorto quoting Geert Mak, so perhaps the infelicity was Mak's (unless an accident of transcription or translation).

#81 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 12:43 PM:

Serge #79: That's named after the said family, I believe.

#82 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 12:44 PM:

Scott: The Emperor was in a strange place. The Imperial Family had recovered power in the Meiji Restoration, but (this is me inferring) the lack of practice at excercising it left it vulnerable to the extant beauracracy recovering power, because they knew how things were done.

That beauracracy was the old samurai class. They now had a couple of things to prove: 1: Japan was as good as anyone else, and 2: They weren't irrelevant. This led to adventurism (Russo-Japanese War, The Invasion of Manchuria, etc.). The nation had the habit of revering the emperor, but not of obeying him. They did have the habit of obeying the gov't.

#83 ::: Gareth Rees ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 01:24 PM:

Reading more charitably, maybe Geert Mak was describing the early modern system of drainage, which did involve substantial re-pumping of water. Each windmill can only raise the water a small distance, so chains of windmills were needed to raise water up to the highest drainage rivers.

#84 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 01:25 PM:

Serge #79, Fragano #81:

Just thinking about it leaves me Ghibbeline.

#85 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 02:21 PM:

re 76/82: My wife could give a better summary, but in short: Meiji was a strong figure; his son Taisho was sickly from birth and was never really able to reign, with Hirohito (Showa) taking over as regent in 1921. From this point on power shifted into the diet, but various disruptions and fear of communist agitation led to a particularly broad "Peace Preservation Law" which, though aimed at the communists, didn't specify any particular grounds for suppression of an organization. In the meantime the economy took a nosedive and there were a series of assassinations which put the military firmly in power. The record clearly shows that Showa didn't object to the plans the military came up with, but in general (except for putting down the February 26 revolt) he didn't play an active role. It seems to me that he wasn't that interested in the exercise of power, but he was willing to intervene in extremis. I am moved to theorize that part of the reason that he didn't act against the military in the 1930s was that he largely shared their view of the world: that Japan was now a great power, that its destiny was to exert imperial sovereignty over East Asia as a whole, and that the intent of the Western powers and the Soviets was malign.

#86 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 05:22 PM:

Gareth @83:
I think Geert Mak was doing an Inigo Montoya:

"Let me 'splain. No, it's complicated. Let me summarize."

I would really recommend Designed for Dry Feet. It should be boring, considering the subject matter, but it really isn't. The prose style is a little...engineering...but the content is really absorbing.

#87 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 07:16 PM:

abi @86: You would describe the prose style as 'dry'?

Years ago I was describing a interesting book about California water projects to a co-worker, who rolls her eyes at this.

A couple of weeks later, she is telling me about a fascinating PBS documentary.

"Yes. Cadillac Desert. It's based on the book I was telling you about."

To be fair, PBS can tell a story in a much more engaging fashion than I can usually manage.

#88 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 11:46 PM:

Raphael @ 48: "I'd say political and social matters are are usually not about individuals and collectives, or individuals and communities, but about different individuals, or different vaguely defined groups of individuals."

I think you're right that an awful lot of what gets described as Collective v. Individual conflicts is really just jockeying between different individuals. There are however a significant number of cases where the situation really can be described as collective versus individuals. The archetypical example of this is the Tragedy of the Commons.* In this case, the most benefit for the most people--the Collective--is thrown into direct conflict with the most benefit for any given Individual. If we all cooperate, we all get something out of it, or one person can get slightly more for a little while, and leave the rest with nothing. Prisoner's Dilemma is another situation where the same dynamic plays out. Certainly not every situation follows the same dynamic (Cake-dividing, f'rex), but it is a real and important category of conflict.

*Although given the level of disagreement about the historical validity of that example, perhaps Tragedy of the Fishery might be a better name.

Scott @ 76: "BUT it was my understanding that the Imperial Army of Japan did whatever it wanted because it had all the political capital at the time."

The military's claims to power were pretty explicitly that they had a direct line to the Emperor, and they had his blessing in everything they did. The Diet couldn't exercise any control over them because legally, they didn't have any: both the Diet and the military answered directly to the Emperor, and not to each other. So yeah, the Emperor could have repudiated that assumption of blessing and caused the downfall of the entire military high command and general chaos, but he didn't have any disciplinary measures short of that.

C. Wingate @ 85: "Meiji was a strong figure; his son Taisho was sickly from birth and was never really able to reign, with Hirohito (Showa) taking over as regent in 1921."

Basically right, with one nitpick: there's a fair bit of evidence that Taisho wasn't just sickly but also insane--needless to say, this eroded confidence in the Imperial. Hirohito never exercised the same level of power his grandfather had, but it's simply impossible to say whether he could have had he chosen to. Certainly his surrender speech had an effect.

#89 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2009, 07:51 AM:

heresiarch@88

It is very likely that having the "Emperor's blessing" was the result of the military being in power, not the cause. A common (even usual) pattern in Japanese history is that the Emperor has no real say in who gets his blessing.

#90 ::: Marian ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 09:20 AM:

the Dutch...are these the same people who spawned the Boers of South Africa?

#91 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 06:56 PM:

Terry Karney #73 "England, with it's feudal traditions (and Germanic underlayers) could have one person do it, by fiat; or various semi-co-operative ways may have been used. Holland had the problem to solve that there wasn't that strongman who could just make it happen. So they had to negotiate. That, and the land is a lot more wet; and the ocean a lot more aggressive in reclaiming it, than pretty much any part of England, so pretty much everyone was involved, to greater and lesser degrees."

Not really. The North Sea is just as wet on its western side as its southern. And as Gareth said the big engineering works in Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire were done by Dutchmen brought over for the purpose.

Also the "Germanic underlayers" of the mediaeval and early modern English traditions were exactly the same as in the Netherlands. north Germany, and Denmark.

You can divide Britain into two or three landscape types based on agricultural system - so-called "planned landscape" and "ancient landscape". "Planned lanscape" comes in two main varieties - the early mediaeval one built around large shared open fields & three or four crop rotations that we all learned about in school (or we did if we went to school in England) under the false noton that it was "The Feudal System"; and the lanbdscape of medium-sized enclosed fields with straight edges and right-angled corners you see in the drained lands of Eastern England.

"Ancient landscape": is characterised by small irregular fields, bounded by ancient hedges, oftenb with very large standard trees in them, and separated by sunken lanes. It is typical of the south-east corner of England - Kent, Surrey and Sussex, the London area, parts of Essex and Suffolk. There is a lightly different kind of ancient landscape in the south-west, and in the north-west (the north east has a different structure again) Some of it is very ancient - it takes a lot of walking to sink a lane ten metres and some of them are that deep - lots of them are three or four metres - our filed boundaries are the oldest human artefacts in Britain.

Anyway, large parts of Britain bever had the kind of communal-village feudal system we learned abou in school at all. Small farmers living on their own land were quite common. There weren't even serfs in many areas (one of the reasons for the Peasant's Revolt was the attempt t o impose servitude on people who believed themselves to be free)

#92 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 06:56 PM:

Terry Karney #73 "England, with it's feudal traditions (and Germanic underlayers) could have one person do it, by fiat; or various semi-co-operative ways may have been used. Holland had the problem to solve that there wasn't that strongman who could just make it happen. So they had to negotiate. That, and the land is a lot more wet; and the ocean a lot more aggressive in reclaiming it, than pretty much any part of England, so pretty much everyone was involved, to greater and lesser degrees."

Not really. The North Sea is just as wet on its western side as its southern. And as Gareth said the big engineering works in Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire were done by Dutchmen brought over for the purpose.

Also the "Germanic underlayers" of the mediaeval and early modern English traditions were exactly the same as in the Netherlands. north Germany, and Denmark.

You can divide Britain into two or three landscape types based on agricultural system - so-called "planned landscape" and "ancient landscape". "Planned lanscape" comes in two main varieties - the early mediaeval one built around large shared open fields & three or four crop rotations that we all learned about in school (or we did if we went to school in England) under the false noton that it was "The Feudal System"; and the lanbdscape of medium-sized enclosed fields with straight edges and right-angled corners you see in the drained lands of Eastern England.

"Ancient landscape": is characterised by small irregular fields, bounded by ancient hedges, oftenb with very large standard trees in them, and separated by sunken lanes. It is typical of the south-east corner of England - Kent, Surrey and Sussex, the London area, parts of Essex and Suffolk. There is a lightly different kind of ancient landscape in the south-west, and in the north-west (the north east has a different structure again) Some of it is very ancient - it takes a lot of walking to sink a lane ten metres and some of them are that deep - lots of them are three or four metres - our filed boundaries are the oldest human artefacts in Britain.

Anyway, large parts of Britain bever had the kind of communal-village feudal system we learned abou in school at all. Small farmers living on their own land were quite common. There weren't even serfs in many areas (one of the reasons for the Peasant's Revolt was the attempt t o impose servitude on people who believed themselves to be free)

#93 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 07:15 PM:

Ken Brown: Having not looked at the ground, I can't say for certain, but I'm pretty sure the areas of Bedfordshire aren't both below sea-level, and contiguous to the ocean.

The quality of the soil is the next concern. I would guess the dutch were brought in for their expertise, in general, and not because the geography was identical.

#94 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 07:33 PM:

My post was badly edited because my laptop battery ran out! Now its plugged in...

Well, some of the East of England is now below high tide, for the same reason that much of Holland is, the fens shrank as they dried out. (Quite a lot of London is below high tide level of course)

The point I would have gone on to make is that Cornelius Vermuyden and his colleagues were employed by a company, established by Act of Parliament. The shares were owned by "Adventurers" who expected to get drained land or money back in return for their investment. Nothing feudal about it, this was early capitalism

#95 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 08:49 PM:

Ken Brown: I believe a lot of Holland is below Low-tide.

#96 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 10:15 PM:

Ken: Quite a lot of London is below high tide level of course.

When we visited the Thames barrier, we were told that it was only needed when the combination of tide and gale raised the river level substantially. What parts of London had to be fenced against normal high tides?

#97 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2009, 08:57 AM:

Great bit of clueless libertarian point missing:

“If you tell a Dutch person you’re going to raise his taxes by 500 euros and that it will go to help the poor, he’ll say O.K.,” he said. “But if you say he’s going to get a 500-euro tax cut, with the idea that he will give it to the poor, he won’t do it. The Dutch don’t do such things on their own. They believe they should be handled by the system. To an American, that’s a lack of individual initiative.”
Because, you know, the US has a comprehensive welfare state funded entirely by people who give away tax breaks!

The Dutch guy in the example is entirely rational; however many €500 he gives away, it still doesn't add up to anything more than crusts for the lucky unlucky. If you want a social security system, you need to set one up. There is no pony.

#98 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2009, 10:57 AM:

Alex: Also... if the "idea" is he gives the money to the poor, what's the functional difference?

Oh, wait.. he doesn't have to; so he can shirk. What's a measley €500 decucted from everyone's contribution. It will never be missed.

Of course most people will think that way, and you'll get a tragedy of the commons; or the present US, or something.

#99 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2009, 11:44 AM:

tragedy of the commons; or the present US

They're different?

#100 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2009, 03:17 PM:

Bruce (StM): Yes, I think so.

We don't have a social model where donations to the needy are seen as obligatory. They are the good things the rich are expected to do, sort of.

We've never had tithes to the parish fund, so we can't say they were taken away by greedy people.

We've been more a, "Root hog, or die" sort of culture, "If you can't make it here, there's lotsa empty land thataway; just kill of the nasty injuns and take what you want."

It's a different sort of tragedy.

#101 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2009, 03:44 PM:

Approaching this from a completely different angle on playground equipment: it's possible that one reason why you don't see cooperative play stuff like this much in the USA is because of legal concerns about kids abusing the equipment to hurt other kids.

#102 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2009, 04:52 PM:

I was amused to run across this somewhat different view of water and collective action. A Playpump is a children's playground merry-go-round that uses the child-generated energy to pump water in locations in Africa badly in need of clean water, and coincidentally not having much in the way of playgrounds either. I like it.

#103 ::: albatross sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2011, 05:21 PM:

spammity spam....

#104 ::: Carrie S. sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 02:29 PM:

#104 has a link for sex toys in the name.

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