From Planes And Trains To World Order Change – OpEd


In 2020, I wrote an impressionistic article, “Could Everyday Micro Malfunctions Be Signs of a Coming Macro Breakdown?

It was inspired by the brilliant sociologist C. Wright Mill’s concept of the sociological imagination.

Out of many more, I selected 14 examples of everyday things that I had experienced simply did not work, from lost luggage and flight delays to bank cards that prevent payment, postal services that do not bring out parcels and letters on time, and French pay road toll that prevents you from paying, etc.

To quote one example from the article:

“A little story about the decay in my town: I arrive in Lund, Sweden, where I live, after six weeks travelling around entirely on my own in China. Everything has worked perfectly there – trains, flights, ticket reservations, no queues anywhere, my WeChat app, ATMs, etc. – although English is still a problem for an ignorant person such as I who does not speak Chinese. 

“It’s Sunday morning at 7 am and I get out of the Lund Central station only to see lots of litter all over – and no taxis. I call my company and they arrive slowly (in contrast to the Chinese system, I cannot follow the taxi’s position and do not know how long it will take to arrive – but OK).

“The driver doesn’t have a clue where the street I am going to in this relatively small town is. His GPS doesn’t work and neither, btw, does his taximeter. He suggests a price I know is way too high, and I suggest a lower price which he grumpily accepts. Having arrived at my home address, I want to pay him but I need a receipt – but he has no paper or pen, shouts that he doesn’t want my money and slams the door. I had probably taken a taxi about 50-60 times in China and not once been treated unprofessionally or rudely. And they all took me to where I wanted to go without my help.”

I firmly believe that the small can be related to bigger issues and trends. And vice versa. That is, if you have a bit of the sociological imagination…

Déjà Vu!

2 Dec 2023 – Two days ago, I returned from 30 days of traveling around China with my dear wife and TFF co-founder, Christina Spannar – Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an, Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Nanjing. Sweden has 10 million people; China, 1,4 billion. From a visitor’s point of view, China is a service society where things work and people are remarkably kind and helpful (of course with the exception of a few who, like everywhere else, are rude, incompetent, or both).

We landed at Pudong Airport in Shanghai but of course did not yet have a Chinese SIM card, so we couldn’t pay for the metro ticket downtown by either showing or scanning a QR code in the WeChat or Alipay apps that everyone uses in the now basically cash-free China. We thought cash would do at least at this particular place, but a rude woman in the ticket office tells us to go to a ticketing machine which, unfortunately, we do not manage to get a ticket out of.

A lady in her 30s with a child comes up to us and says in English: “Can I help you”? We thankfully accept, and she then tries to get a ticket out of the machine: No luck either. She is also turned down at the ticket counter, but then says: ’Don’t worry, let me pay your ticket for you!

Thanking her warmly for her help, we sent a thought back home: Would anybody in our town, Lund in Sweden, have volunteered to pay the tickets for an elderly Chinese couple who were unable upon arrival to pay at a Swedish ticketing machine?

It is a society that works extremely well. Surveillance – oh yes, but is has a positive side too, in contrast to similar surveillance in the West: It increases efficiency and makes systems work smoothly. It has to when you organize social services, shopping, transport, etc. for 1400 million people and their daily needs.

High-speed trains depart on time – sometimes before time because everybody is checked beforeboarding. All a foreigner needs to show is the passport; trains and planes work ticket-free by means of that. No checking and irritation later when you have boarded the train. Station floors are spotlessly clean, so are the trains – and they run at 350 km/hour, in the future with Maglev technology, at 600 km/hour.

Per kilometer, trains are much cheaper than in Sweden. Taxis costs 25-30% of taxis in Sweden. Why? Because China wants to reduce private car-driving – which also means that if you live in a big city and have more than one car, the second car must not be used on certain weekdays. For the common good.

And Now to the World Order Change Story

We depart on time from Shanghai and fly 12 hours over Russia on Air China. By the way, that’s what airline companies from war-provoking NATO/EU countries can no longer do. We have a stopover in Milan, Italy, to continue on Scandinavian Airlines System, SAS, to Copenhagen, a two-hour flight. Air China arrives in Milan 15 minutes before schedule, but SAS takes off 50 min after schedule, and no explanation is given. Oh yes, there is a plane in front of us and we are in a departure queue. Why we are in that queue 50 min late is never mentioned, nor apologized for.

At Copenhagen Airport, everything is chaotic. The reason given is “weather condition” and signal failures – the winter has come as a surprise! At this regional-international hub, we are told – in Danish – to wait 50 min for buses. Long story short, we do get on a train to Gothenburg but arriving at Malmö, Sweden, we are told that all must disembark and catch another train on a far-away platform – very nice for two elderly people with 40+ kilos of luggage.

Arriving at Lund, the station platform is full of ice but covered with some salt and gravel. At bus stops, no snow has been cleared, a failsafe method to make people fall when entering the bus. And finally, the bus driver forgets to stop where we had pressed the stop button to get off. High snow there too.


World politics and trends can be observed at the micro, local, everyday level. And those “small” events I have described here are indicators of much larger macro-problems. To put it crudely: The West is, in comparison with China and others, becoming a mal- or dysfunctional society. You’ll begin to notice it if you apply the sociological imagination and stop seeing these everyday occurrences as personal problems you must find individual solutions to.

Europe and the US are – again to put it crudely – falling apart. Warfare, militarism, sanctions on Russia, price-hikes, you name it – all of it undermines the capacity of the civil service and welfare society we once were, not the least in Scandinavia. Priorities have become perverse – guns before butter.

Add to that the – general and stupid – idea that individualism, maximizing the individual’s profit in a broad sense, will lead to common good for all. Add to that the decrease in education, professionalism and service – destroyed by the marketization of everything. Add to that huge coordination and management deficiencies and lack of commitment among employees, often for very understandable reasons. And add to that the complete lack of a social ethos: that we all pull together to create a better society for all.

To quote a figure from an Oscar Wilde play: “We now know the price of everything and the value of nothing!”

China has created value.


Instead of being curious – forget being positive or negative about China, just be curious – the US-dominated West is bent on fighting China to the bitter end. No one else must challenge Western dominating habits and ways of thinking. It’s completely delusional and self-destructive.

China – human history’s most impressive socioeconomic welfare development over just 40 years – doesn’t merit anything but scorn and negative media stories.

The society that prices everything and values nothing will pay a high price for its outdated social cosmology, decline denial, and lack of will to learn from others. But it will tell itself – and you and me – that others have nothing of value…

So, think of world order changes next time some everyday malfunction hits you! And thank the US militarist foreign policy, George W. Bush and the Global War on Terror next time you pass, more or less stripped, through an airport security check…

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) 

Jan Oberg

Prof. Jan Oberg, Ph.D. is director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, TFF and a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. CV:

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