I first became interested in Iceland when I started to read the Icelandic sagas. I initially expected them to be long epic poems similar to Beowulf. I was pleasantly surprised to find them to be like intergenerational novels with more politics and fighting and less romance than the usual American ones. I ultimately ended taking a class on Icelandic feuds so that I can recall a fair amount about medieval Icelandic legal and political structure. The only thing I initially knew about present-day Iceland is that Bjork likes to wear fake swans.
The sagas still continue to influence present-day Iceland, which has (or had) a flourishing publishing industry. Weiner comments that Iceland is a very literate and creative society. Everyone in Iceland is writing a book or a poem, forming a rock band, or wearing some kind of fashion innovation (more innovative, I suspect, than the striped briefs that blew Weiner's mind) while drinking coffee in hip cafes and eating rotting shark. He attributes much of this creative energy to Iceland’s willingness to allow people to fail at one endeavor and try again at another. People can start out as web programmers and then become bankers or carpenters as they mature and find their interests changing. Artists actually get government checks and never starve because it is believed that they can create more and better material if they don't have to worry about having a roof over their heads and food on their plate. Life-long learning is embraced.
"Having multiple identities (though not multiple personalities) is, he believes, conductive to happiness. This runs counter to the prevailing belief in the United States and other western nations, where specialization is considered the highest good. Academics, doctors, and other professionals spend lifetimes learning more and more about less and less. In Iceland, people learn more and more about more and more." (p.161)
I found this interesting because American society did not, until recently, accept failure or people who failed. Failures were dropped from the news and fired from their jobs. They were told to pull themselves together, get some career counseling, and go on with their lives after deciding on a definite, possibly very different, preferably specialized, employment path. The higher a specialized degree you earned, the more money you could command in salary. Unless you changed careers, wrote a bestseller about doing so, and had your book chosen by Oprah, you were not applauded for career-hopping and especially not for admitting to failure. Will this change in post-bailout America? Will laid-off financial workers decide to become potters or sous-chefs?