Sunday, November 27, 2005

Oh, what a lovely war

I am a cold war liberal, I strongly supported the first Gulf War against Saddam, I strongly supported the use of force in Bosnia and Kosovo. No pacifist or a friend of bloody dictatorships I, but never could I have believed that the US would choose to have a war of aggression against a country that was not an imminent threat and who was being contained effectively by other means. A state of affairs that was very well known to the Bush administration.

To have a war of choice in these conditions was guaranteed to split the West and in effect leave the US to go solo. No strings attached. And that was not seen as an unavoidable cost by the neoconservatives but, incredibly, as a welcome bonus. Talk about hubris. So, intelligence was cynically manipulated, a purely Goebbelsian propaganda campaign was started, Iraq was attacked and then occupied in a criminally negligent fashion. It seems that if you break it, you don't nowadays own it, not if it would mean a draft and a costly, real commitment for decades. Instead what you hoped for was a friendly strongman that would keep the oil flowing and take care of the housekeeping efficiently, should I say, in a quite Saddamian fashion.

And then, and then, after having ended up in the predictable bloody mess, you say to your critics that let bygones be bygones: what is done is done and we are all in this together. No, we are not in this together. This is what you get when you go it alone: you get to be alone. I am not totally convinced that a speedy US withdrawal would make things worse. It might actually help the situation. What I am totally sure about is that we can't make a success of this morally corrupt, disgusting imperial adventure. Now that state of affairs would be an imminent threat to the West.

There are certain moral positions we have to defend to the last - one of them is that we are not torture loving pirates. We have been lucky in that evil means have led to disastrously bad concequences. Yes, lucky, and yes, evil. With a capable, adult administration the situation would be even more horrible: the naked aggression would have succeeded and the ends would have ended up justifying the criminal means - and would been corrupted by them. We can only hope that one of the characteristics of capable and adult administrations would be not to engage in morally corrupt and criminal wars of choice.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Finland my Finland

I consider myself to be a Finnish patriot. Not a nationalist: genes, cultures, skin colours are totally irrelevant here – I feel loyalty and pride towards the Republic of Finland and its historic democratic and liberal structures. Their precarious birth in the early part of the last century and their unlikely survival between Hitler and Stalin is one of the miracles of the recent Western history. Our peculiar Sonderweg last century ended only with the EU referendum in 1995, and some last vestiges still remain: one of those is that we still remain outside of Nato. For a nation of 5 million people we are have had a very quixotic self-image, not a Belgium us. This hubris was based on the war experiences and the successful continuation of the struggle for independence by Paasikivi and Kekkonen – and quite an illusion in reality, there never was this imagined self-sufficiency. But what great nation has not based its belief in its greatness on illusion? Of course, I still am a lukewarm EU supporter but increasingly worried about the anti-democratic and supranational European structures. A genuinely democratic and rooted United States of Europe would be fine for me, but I don’t think that is in the offer. So, I hope that we still will retain an independent judgment and that our elites will continue to represent the Finnish nation in Brussels and not the other way around

Somewhat dark thoughts on history

We have reached a comfortable plateau in the West: there is unprecendented wealth, unprecedented material progress, internal peace, societies where people can concentrate in their private matters, relationships, amusements – we can forget history even if still subject to biology and accident. Yes, there are the occasional follies of imperial adventures, worries on terrorist attacks and weapons of mass destruction, and on the horizon rise majestically the warning signs of environmental collapses to come, of climate change, pandemics, natural disasters. But at the moment things are fine: we have recovered from the nightmares of the world wars and the looming, oppressive threat of the Cold War one day turning hot and ending the whole world with it (suprisingly little is nowadays said or remembered of that atavistic fear that endured for so long time). No matter, we are now comfortable.

And it is so obvious to see that even in this fragile stability the engine of history has been blind passion, not reason. Capitalism has proven to be the mechanism that can use our base, grasping human nature for a kind of general advancement, for a kind of stability and progress – fundamentally, of course, based on unstability, on purely materialistic values, on this blind competition for growth and profit. So far it has worked: we have advanced, not because of our ethics and moral dispositions but despite of them. That advancement no doubt won’t last for ever. But aside from that immediate point, history looms very dark: at heart we are still animals, still mortally afraid of the night, acting reflexively to gain short term security and comfort, motivated by passion, not reason, being subject to biology and accident. With this world, these tools, this cleverness and these blind, destructive instincts: for how long can our luck hold?

Monday, November 21, 2005

On sexual politics

The title could just as well be "On cultural politics": I would argue that the modern Western sexual identities ("straight", "gay", "bi" etc. etc.) are an integral part of the perpetual modern quest for fixed identity and personality (which of course is doomed to failure). Before this era of anxiety and fluidity of meaning, personal identity was formed differently, the constellation was different. I may sound like a latter day T.S.Eliot, but I would say that for example there was no such thing as a medieval self-identity: the self was more organically a part of the surrounding culture, not so aware and insecure as it later became, it was both more fluid and more secure than the modern (illusion) of the fixed self. So, briefly back to actual sexuality. We all are sexual beings, scattered on a broad scale: this tremendous, atavistic force will out, but its concrete expression is heavily influenced by the prevailing culture. I am tempted to say that the majority are variously "bi-sexual" in these modern, crude terms, but that would already be misleading. So, what maybe could be realistically said is that practically all people are sexual and that they will end up engaging in various sexual actions in a undetermined, unpredictable mixture of biology and culture. Always beware the modern categories of identity: they will more confuse and restrict than clarify and liberate.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

He was not anxious to go

It is good to have time - to revisit old friends for example: Undertones of War came for some reason to my mind today (probably due to lots of work trivia being currently cleared out of it). A treasure of a book. And that reminded me of the one that got me reading Blunden and Sassoon, Owen, Graves and that personal idol of mine, Charles Sorley: Fussel's Great War and Modern Memory. I believe it is quite out of fashion in the shouting match that goes for academia nowadays. But it was sheer magic to read in the first year that I spent in Helsinki having started my studies, a modern classic. He gets Blunden right, Undertones is a long poem of a book, beautiful, intense, intensely controlled, haunting. Blunden never really got to the same heights ever again, and one wonders whether the innocence was completely real in the first place. But it certainly was the most innocent generation our civilization has so far produced. A very tiny minority experience of course, but one that encapsulates much of the modern Western liberal history, the Western liberal hopes and their bitter, horrendous collapse. Otherwise known as the early and middle 20th Century. We might not have saved the best from the ruins.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A man for all seasons – or none?

Once I got through my long muddled youth I have aimed to be a man for all seasons, perfectly balanced: choosing the extreme middle way, poised between hope and despair. Life has been somewhat opposed to Art and intellectual curiosity has reigned. The experience of being in the world has seemed so infinitely varied, so infinitely strange that there has always seemed to be room for more questions, more speculation, more knowlegde. And life has been somewhat opposed to art: friendship and love have been celebrated, the iron structures of our limited civilization visited, lived in. All this needs energy and hope: the air is ice cold but the landscape has been breathtakingly beautiful even if full of random danger. Such exhilaration. But the iron structures can drain away the energy and hope and some moments are very dark indeed and all meaning, all shape is dissolved. This is a way to put it into language: as incomplete, as misleading as ever. As true. Other and less high words could also have been used – between these two worlds, two perspectives I have been poised in my adult life, seeing, not choosing. I hope that this balance will not be lost or that it would not turn out to be a blind alley.

Religion matters

It is due no doubt to my Pietist heritage that I take seriously and respect the religious world view. It is no doubt also due to Pietism (in Finnish "herännäisyys") that I don't mean organized religion, its petty or viscious powerstructures, its obscure, irrelevant theologies and muddy and intolerant thinking. But I do think that regardless of any possible supernatural reality (whose existence I tend to doubt) there is a deep inexplicable mysticism in our being in the world, and often it is the religious experience that captures some of the essence of this. In the way that the relatively materialist and rationalist Enlightenment (not to speak of the postmodern inanities) does not. Of course the organized religion is not concerned about this mystical being in the world: it is concerned about earthly power and control. Even our mild Finnish Lutheran Church of the latter-day social democrats cynically compromices between radical, open vistas of the true essence of Christianity and the influential conservative perversions of it that reluctantly and tortuously have retreated from actually murdering non-orthodox minorities to just actively discriminating against them. Of course it is debatable whether this mystical essence is worth the other worldly, ignorant and intolerant 99%, but I don't think that this utter corruption of all honest seeking is peculiarly characteristical of religious organizations but of all human organizations.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A burning shame

A brief note on the times. In crisis situations nations and states are capable of amazing feats: long established political taboos are discarded, good housekeeping is thrown to winds, risks are taken, sacrifices made in order to defend what is most valuable to us. Our living standards are now highest in our history, our economy has never been stronger. Yet we can't afford taking decent care of the elderly and provide public healthcare with necessary resources and adequate salaries. We are defined by what we accept and what we accept is the betrayal of the old, people who have often worked their lives to build the country to get it so wealthy that it can no longer take care of its citizens when they have outlived their usefullness. Do you think Jorma Ollila will touch on this when he quizzes the top presidential candidates on MTV3? We have no crisis, and no shame: a timid, docile nation.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Politics of no alternative

In Finland the loosely leftwing or anti-market intellectuals (in practice the overwhelming majority of them) have now spent over 10 years bitterly criticizing the prevailing economic policy of accommodating to the market needs and trimming down the welfare state. It does not seem to matter which parties or combinations are in power: economic policy - the very foundation of the political process - has been reduced to mechanical technocratic procedures outside any serious ideological or ethical debate. Or rather, there is a fierce debate in the society and the consensus view (rhetorically among the majority of the politicians as well) is that this should not be the case: economic politics should be a matter of ideology and ethics, a matter of rational choice. But this widespread consensus has no visible impact on the actual decisions. There never are alternatives.

Well, over 10 years is a long time - one would think that you would start wondering why nothing ever happens, why it is the factual case that economics are outside of ideology and ethics and uninfluenced by public debate and national consensus. To me it appears fairly straightforward: the Nordic welfare model never was anti-capitalist, rather it relied on capitalism to produce continuous growth which made it easy to redistribute wealth and provide humane safety nets and easy access to essential and highquality public services. Now the dilemma is clear: the essential motor and foundation of the welfare state must be modified in order for it to continue providing growth. But this time in this era of globalization and decontrol of the capital the modifications that are needed are mostly hostile to the principles and aims of the welfare state. Of the two I suspect the welfare state needs much more the market economy than vice versa: the servant has become the master (probably it always was the case). In this situation the old mechanics don't work - but how can we ever fix the situation if we don't first acknowlege this crucial bond between the free market economy and the Nordic model? Though, chillingly, this endless moaning might be the only - and totally useless - tool we are left with.

To me it begins to look as if the Social Democratic compromize was just a brief phase: we tied ourselves to a far too dynamic and destructive force - and we proved unable to control it, unable to control the forces of history. So, economic growth is no more automatically beneficial to the welfare structures, rather the opposite, but the welfare state will still desperately need growth to stay viable. That's why we are paralysed and unable to do what we would want to do: there is no mechanism to do that - to turn back would need a global, rational consensus to control capital and investment. I can't see that happening. The crux of the matter might be that we simply are fundamentally not able to direct our path in the way necessary - destructive capitalism is the only mechanism that delivers but it functions because we are not capable of rational and ethical control. If we were capable of that, we would abolish much of the present economic structures, much of the present autocontrol and blind, destructive change. But we can't. This is no doubt quite a bleak view but then times are bleak.