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By Johan Fretz
It used to be one of my favourite Dutch sing-alongs.“Hier in prachtig Maaiveld, groeten uit prachtig Maaiveld. Waar men de dagen aftelt, voor hen die naar boven zijn gegaan”. Roughly translated into English it says “Here in the beautiful lawn, greetings from the beautiful lawn. Where people count the days of those who have gone higher.” The “maaiveld” (mowing field/lawn) in the song refers to the Dutch phenomena called the Tall Poppy Syndrome.
In this song, the singer Thomas Acda describes the “typical” Dutch culture, in which people who “stick their heads out of the mowing field” are not (easily) accepted. For a long time, I thought this culture was something of the past. Surely, in the 21st century we could have the same big dreams as the Americans? In recent years, I have started to understand the song.
We live in an egalitarian culture. Especially since the “Fortuyn-period”, the dominant idea has been that everybody is equal. The opinion of a reality star is considered as just as valuable as that of a scientist, even on a topic on which this scientist has worked for many years. You can visualize it: reality stars like Barbie or Brit Dekker who argue with a professor on public television: “You say that our solar system works this way, but according to me it works completely differently!” Admiration is difficult for us, our heroes have to remain “just ordinary guys like you and me”. Beware of the person who does not act “normal”, or who wants to be special. The arrogance! Authority, hierarchy, ambition and “big dreams” are often equated with vanity and arrogance in the Netherlands. Outright nonsense, of course. We, individuals, are not the same, and we will never be. We are equal only in the sense that every life has the same value. But in all the other ways we as individuals are all different. We have different talents, different characters. These differences lead to different life trajectories and different expertise. Barbie should shut up when the professor explains how our solar system works.
Our egalitarian fixation is also visible when we talk about what is right and wrong with our economy. Recently, we have particularly criticised growing income inequality. However, the question should not be: is there too much income inequality? But instead: is income inequality just? I think that the current inequality is unjust. Our respective incomes are in large part determined by our background and family history and social mobility is problematic. That said, I am not a fan of levelling incomes. A more equal and just society is not achieved by doing so but instead by creating equal opportunities through health care, education and living conditions. Every individual should have the proper basis on which to build his or her own life. This is why, in my view, cutbacks in student grants are so detrimental. Less affluent students will try to finish their studies as quickly as possible, spending less time and energy on things outside of the official curriculum. However, these activities are very important for personal development and success later on.
It is not unthinkable that social liberals will lead, for the first time in their history, a Dutch cabinet sometime in the years to come. It will be their task to prevent a crusade against income inequality. Earning money is no sin, not even earning an awful lot of money. The essential point is that people should have equal opportunities to chase their goals. That is the Dutch dream, which is much more enjoyable than the American one: in the Netherlands, a paperboy can really become the prime minister. We should give him the springboard from which he can jump above the mowing field. And he should simply ignore the people who say: “act normal, little man, you live in the Netherlands”.
is a writer and comedian www.johanfretz.nl
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Dit artikel verscheen in idee nr. 6 2014: A Divided World
, en is te vinden bij het onderwerp nationalisme.