Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we feature Dr. Ed Dutton!
Dr. Ed Dutton is a Religious Studies and evolutionary psychology researcher based in Oulu in northern Finland. His current research examines both religion and culture in terms of evolutionary psychology, especially personality and intelligence.
Personally, I’d read Dr. Dutton’s research even before coming to Finland, and I have always found his propositions intriguing and thought-provoking. I appreciate Dr. Dutton very much for his candidness and intellectual honesty in this interview.
TH: Hi Doctor Dutton! Can you tell us more about yourself and what you are doing in Finland?
Doctor Dutton: Hello Wan Wei.
I came to Finland in 2005. I was finishing my PhD at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, and I met my girlfriend, who’s Finnish. She got a job in Oulu as a Lutheran priest, and so I followed her over. I began by working as a journalist at this English language newspaper known as the 65 Degrees North.
I’m currently working as a Religious Studies and evolutionary psychology researcher based in Oulu, and also write for various magazines and newspapers.
TH: What are the three things you appreciate most about Finland?
Doctor Dutton: If I compare Finland to UK, I’d find that in general, Finns are more honest.
How should I put it? It is like there is this bell-curve of honesty—the average Finn is more honest than the average English person, or most other people I’d met in the European countries. So I don’t have to worry about a lot of things, for instance, locking my bike, or locking my door. I do think the average Finn is more honest and law-abiding.
The second thing I appreciate about Finland is the safety in this country.
I don’t have to worry that something will happen on the streets at night. There are parts of England where you know for sure you are seriously unsafe, and you don’t get that feeling here.
Thirdly, I like the fact that Finland is sparsely populated.
I like the fact that we don’t have many people, and I like the fact that we have a lot of land and space.
When you have many people cramped into a small space, there are high property prices and the standard of living drops. Conversely, when a place is sparsely populated, the standard of living is higher in many ways.
And this leads to a more harmonious society, as in the case of Finland, where the income gap is also smaller than that of the UK.
TH: What do you think is the one common misconception of Finland and Finns that people have that couldn’t be further away from the truth?
Doctor Dutton: I think one common misconception is that a lot of people think that Finns are Scandinavians, like the Danes or Norwegians or Swedes, but they are not.
Finns are more like Northeast-Asians in some ways.
This is because Finns have the highest percentage of East Asian genes as compared to other European people—about 10%. East Asians have a small gene pool, and Finns have an even smaller gene pool.
Therefore, Finns don’t think like the average European. It seems to me more that they think like the average East-Asian.
For example, in Japan there is this phenomenon known as “Japanese shame culture”, and in Finland there is also a kind of “Finnish shame culture”. They are quite similar. Both cultures are very concerned about what other people think about them, they are very socially-oriented and do not want to stand out in a group. Like the Japanese, Finns also tend to have high conscientiousness and agreeableness. They are very altruistic and rule-following.
My own research shows that the Finnish IQ is the highest in Europe, and this is supported by data. Interestingly, being intelligent is correlated with being honest and not committing crimes. And this is really relevant to all the things I like about Finland: Honesty and low crime rates.
The Japanese and the Chinese have an even higher average IQ at 105, which is even more intelligent that the average European. If you look at the average intelligence of Finns, Japanese and Chinese, you will find out that the average is high, and the range is low. This is as opposed to the average IQ of Europeans, where the average is lower, and the range is higher.
This means that in Europe, there are more stupid people and also more extremely clever people who are creative people with truly brilliant ideas. Genius is a function of outlier high IQ and relatively low Agreeableness, meaning altruism, and Conscientiousness, meaning impulse-control and rule-following.
This is why geniuses can think outside the box and don’t care if their new ideas offend people. This, I think, is why there is a low per capita number of Finnish geniuses, if you measure it in terms of science Nobel prizes. There are too few people per capita with the genius intelligence-personality profile. This is partly due to the small gene pool. Extreme, outlier IQ gets thrown up due to random gene combinations. If you have a smaller gene-pool, this is less likely, hence the Finnish and East Asian IQ range is so narrow.
Here, I can refer to this research done with Doctor Kenya Kura titled “Why do Northeast Asians win so few nobel prizes”. And we found that even though Northeast Asians are very clever—cleverer than Europeans—they don’t have this curiosity and individuality to appear outstanding as researchers as compared to their European counterparts. Finns are really more like Northeast Asians in that way.
So yes, I think one common misconception about Finland is that they are just like other European or Scandinavian countries. Well, Finland is not—Finland is more like the countries in Northeast Asia.
TH: What do you think are some things that are unique to Finland?
The first thing I would regard as unique to Finland is the sauna culture.
The idea that “Come over for dinner, and after that let’s take all our clothes off and sit together naked in a very hot room…and drink.”
Frankly, that sounds a bit crazy.
I’d been to saunas elsewhere, in Latvia for example, and they are not naked—they have towels! So Finns come up with this excuse, like “Oh, you might have chlorine on your swimming trunks, from the pool. Someone might be allergic to it.”
And I’m just like—“Rubbish. Why don’t you just admit that we Finns are a bit kinky and like seeing each other naked. Please respect our culture, tradition, way of thinking and doing things.”
You know—just to say it out, rather than come up with some excuse of “chlorine”.
Doctor Dutton: It took me a long time to get used to it. Also, it is always awkward when you see someone whom you know, naked. Especially when you see them again in school outside of sauna.
I’d been to this hotel once, and they had a mixed sauna! And people came into the mixed sauna after that—husbands and wives– and you do see them at breakfast the next day, you know.
The second thing I would say is that the Finns have a really sophisticated way of dealing with the cold weather. I guess this is because the cold weather is the norm in Finland.
In UK, we have school uniforms and students can be in shorts even when it is so cold outside. In Finland students wear warm clothing, gloves and hats.
In particular, my wife and I went to England in 2006, and she was horrified to learn that there is no central heating indoors in the house we stayed at. She couldn’t believe it because Finns are used to having warm indoor spaces.
The third thing I would say that is unique to Finland would be the way Finns communicate. I have never seen it anywhere else in the world—the silence. You sort of forget about about it after living in Finland for a long time.
Yes, the “quietness” is probably something unique to Finland. In Finland, it is perfectly okay to be quiet, and you can expect one to be quiet too.
Also there are noises, such as “joo”, “o-ho”—which can mean a lot of things in different tones. These sounds are not exactly words and they are used frequently in communication in Finland.
So I would say the use of these “sounds” as a way of communication is rather unique to the Finns.
TH: Haha, are there any more?
Doctor Dutton: Yes, and a fourth might be…of shoes!!
Nowhere else in Europe have I been systematically and without exception told to take off my shoes before entering a house. Not in UK, not in Scotland, not in Ireland, not in Spain …and always in Finland.
So that is very Finnish!
And this gives rise to related problems such as having holes in socks.
There is probably this conspiracy in Finland to destroy socks that because there is grit on the grounds due to the snow, and this grit destroy socks. Then you have to take your shoes off and expose your socks with holes, and that will compel you to buy new socks…so seriously, if you sell socks in Finland, you will make big money.
I bet the Socks King of Tampere is currently a millionaire.
Doctor Dutton: Yes! Socks.
TH: In this article, you argued that “And Finland is more nationalistic, more tribal, than the UK.” How do you think “multiculturalism” can fit into the nationalistic narrative?
Let’s first define the term “ethnocentrism”.There are two aspects to “ethnocentrism”: Positive and negative. ‘Positive’ means you are altruistic towards members of your own group. ‘Negative’ means you don’t like members of other groups.
In my opinion, Finns seem to score higher in positive ethnocentrism rather than negative ethnocentrism. This means that Finns are more trusting and protective of their own groups. Well, this is probably the case because the Finnish gene pool is small, and Finnish parents invest heavily in their children.
So you see, with the case of Finland, it might be the case that they are like the East-Asians and are more nationalistic due to a smaller gene pool. Because they are more genetically similar to each other, you would expect Finns to be more nationalistic than for instance, Swedes or Danes.
This is because each Finn is more related to another Finn, so you are indirectly passing on more of your genes by being altruistic to a Finnish stranger than you would if you were a Dane and acted in the same way.
Also, there are also some other factors you might like to take note of, such as for example, war or stress. Stress can result in elevated nationalism.
On the other hand, because Finns have such high intelligence, it might correlate to low self-esteem. This might correlate to other variables such as high suicide rates, and so on. So if you have low self- esteem, then you are more concerned about what other people think of you.
Therefore, this low self-esteem might explain the tendency to simply follow and adopt what other countries are doing as well. And this might, ironically, make Finns at least want to think that they are more ‘multiculturalist’ because this is what the ‘big boy’ countries are doing.
Let’s go back to the topic of “multiculturalism”. If you are too multiculturalist, then nobody can really say anything or speak their mind about national identity without the fear of “being offensive”.
If you are too religious, then everything that runs contrary to what you consider as the truth will be offensive. If you are too irreligious, then there is no sense of eternity or purpose, and there is nothing to die for, and the nation collapses. In much the same way, if you are too multiculturalist there’s nothing that holds society together. If you’re closed off to foreigners, then you become insular and stagnate.
And therefore the question is really maintaining a sort of “summer” or “autumn” of civilization, where you are in between the two seasons. The idea is to have a good balance of what “Finnishness” is.
TH: So, who is a “Finn”? How would you define it?
Doctor Dutton: Who is a Finn? Well my wife is a Finn.
TH: Will you ever be a Finn?
Doctor Dutton: No, I will never be a Finn. And, perhaps, nor would my daughter be, as she’s ‘half-English.’
Well, you could define any term in any way as you deem fit.
“Intelligence” for example, if one of these words—what would anyone mean by “intelligence”? We have different kinds of intelligence.
So the key idea is to think about what other people understand by what this word means. Normally we are talking about categories that allow you to make successful predictions. We design our own categories so that we can navigate the world to make predictions.
So if having the concept of having the category of a “Chinese-Singaporean” is useful and only useful to the extent that I can make accurate predictions, then the categorisation is useful. For instance, it might guide me to certain rules of behaviour in Singapore: I should not do this, I should not say this, I should do this, I should do that.
So to the extent that useful rules can be formed so as not to offend people of a certain category, such as “you should take your shoes off before entering the house of a Korean person” and “that is not true in the case of entering the house of a Dutch person”.
Therefore, the categorization of a Finn is useful to the extent that you can make correct predictions about Finns. Therefore, the stereotype of a Finn would be the stereotype of an “ethnic” or “native” Finn. That is what stereotypes are all about, and to that extent this is why stereotypes can be useful.
And I do think that from the Finnish perspective, this is how “Finns” are defined—the “ethnic” Finn. The discourse on what constitutes “Finnish-ness”, although it is changing, is still fundamentally a ethno-nationalistic discourse.
So will I ever be a Finn? No, I don’t think so. I wasn’t born here and I am not ethnically Finnish.
Of course, there may be foreigners who have lived in Finland all their lives. And even though they might speak Finnish and really understand the Finnish way of life, they are not ethnically Finnish.
And ethnic Finns can of course say, “We accept them as one of us”– in the same way that a family might say “we adopt a child not related by blood as one of us”. It does not mean that he might be as typical as one of the ethnic Finns.
All in all, this boils down to the observation that here in Finland, the whole construct of what constitutes a “Finn” is a very ethnic one. In this sense, the construct here in Finland of “who is a Finn” is different from the construct in America, of “who is an American”.
So I don’t think I’d ever be a Finn, and I don’t think my daughter will ever be considered a Finn, at least by most Finns.
TH: Finland will be celebrating its 100 years of independence next year. What are your dreams and visions for Finland’s future?
Doctor Dutton: Well, I certainly hope that intelligent Finns can procreate more!
The IQ of the average Finn is going down, and going down rapidly and intelligence is what predicts the ability to sustain civilisation.
You know, I just watched a video of the founding father of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, on youtube. Didn’t he have a QnA session at a university in Singapore, where a young lady aged 29—a PhD candidate–asked him a question?
And Mr. Lee counter-questioned her:
“Do you have children?” “No.”
“Are you married?” “No.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?” “No.”
So you see, this is the problem, isn’t it? Intelligent women dedicate most of their 20s and some of their early 30s to having careers, and they end up going past their fertile age. Simply put, the IQ of future generations are going down. And Mr. Lee’s advice to her is to do her PhD, and have her boyfriend.
I admire Mr. Lee’s sense of humour but he also has a point So yes, this is one challenge I feel—that the intelligent Finns need to have more babies, particularly the intelligent ladies.
My second wish for Finns and Finland is for them to be more creative! There is this atmosphere in Finland where they have to follow the rules all the time, and there is little room for mistakes.
It is known as “Shut up, don’t be different. Perform and shut up.”
And I do think that that is a sad thing. There are three Finnish Science Nobels. Two of those lived abroad and one of them spent a significant amount of time abroad.
I don’t think that is a coincidence.
TH: Then I have a question, how do you survive in Finland? You don’t seem like a conformist! * laughs *
Doctor Dutton: I don’t–I get into trouble!
But I’d rather get into trouble you know, than to just bury my head in the ground.
I do appreciate Finland—it really is a nice and safe place to live, but the price you have to pay is simply the need to conform. It really is a question of getting the balance right.
Well, I do hope Finns can be less obsessed with laws, rules and order. Be less obsessed with your job as a part of who you are. My observation is that career plays a huge part of how a Finn defines himself. It is okay to not follow the rules sometimes—there is no need to be scared of controversy, especially if the things you are saying are right!
Be more creative! And the way to do this really, is to increase the gene pool. Have more foreign spouses, for example?
Well, actually from my observation, I’d noticed that Finnish ladies might have a tendency to select spouses that are from countries that are perceived as richer or more important than Finland, like Britain, Germany, America or Australia. Finnish men however, usually end up with foreign spouses from Eastern Europe, or Britian. The exception was East-Asia, where East Asian women might end up with Finnish men, which is the exception to the rule. This might be because people look up to Western cultures in East-Asia.
So yes, my wish for intelligent Finns: do date, get married, and have children.
TH: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?
Doctor Dutton: Well, I suppose—based on the research on the IQ, I would like to urge intelligent Finns to procreate more in Finland.
Have children and rescue your country–Fertility rates decline dramatically after you are 35! The thing is that as people get more intelligent, happy and secure, the desire to procreate seems to decrease.
And really—let’s think more outside the box. 🙂
The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Feature photo of Dr. Dutton and his daughter courtesy of Dr. Ed Dutton. Other photos from Unsplash. We hope you have enjoyed reading this interview as much as we did!