Saturday, April 22, 2006

Pray for Floret, by the boarhound slain

These dark times bring out the Burkean conservative in me: people are seen and "valued" through abstract theory, merely as agents of production, effective and profitable, or not effective and not profitable. Thus is our human worth measured today. Yes, there is plenty of progressive-liberal criticism against this inhumanity that I share and do identify with, but still, it is undeniable that there is an unmistakeable whiff of enlightenment thought at its most mechanistic behind this current market fundamentalism. A similar chilling disregard of human nature and the necessary constraints we need for civilization that we have witnessed in the worst historical perversions of the enlightenment. Constraints we need: non-material values, values not depending on the efficiency of production, values that you can't measure in terms of money or return to investment. Capitalism is nothing but an empty mechanism - if we don't bring non-material values into it, it will not have any: and what we would then see staring out of the mirror is our own animal self: panicky aggression, fear, hysteria, naked greed.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Paikallaanjuoksu

Apologies for all the English speakers - I felt I could not get my point across in this polite and light language... A short synopsis: some reflections on the fact that the Finnish nation does not any more see the decent care for the elderly as any sort of a political priority. O tempora o mores etc. etc.

Suomella on dynaaminen ja kasvava talous. Mutta ei varaa hoitaa kunnolla niitä vanhuksia, jotka ovat armottomalla työllään rakentaneet perustan tälle dynaamiselle ja kasvavalle taloudelle. Suomella on dynaaminen ja kasvava talous. Mutta ei varaa järjestää kunnollisia palkkoja ja työsuhteita sairaanhoitajille, lähihoitajille, poliiseille, palomiehille, kanta-upseereille ja muille ryhmille, joiden työ ei tuota suurta lisäarvoa osakesijoittajille. Miksi meillä siis on tämä dynaaminen ja kasvava talous, mitä tarkoitusta varten tarkalleen ottaen? Jotenkin tuntuu siltä että koron kasvattaminen amerikkalaisille eläkerahastoille ei aivan riittäisi tämän kaiken kuumeisen puuhan motivaatioksi. Sailaksen konsensus-viisaus on että meidän on juostava yhä kovemmin pysyäksemme paikoillamme. Nyt jo tosin juoksemme suhteellisen epätoivoista vauhtia, jopa siinä määrin että tuhannet palavat loppuun ja kymmeniä tuhansia ei tehottomina tarvita, mutta silti hiljalleen valumme taaksepäin. Tätä taaksepäin valumista todistavat hiljaisesti ne laiminlyödyt, kiireisesti - jos edes siten - "käsitellyt" vanhukset jotka makaavat kroonikko-sairaaloissa. Olisi juostava paljon kovempaa että pysyisimme edes paikallamme. Edistymisestähän ei enää puhuta.

Alkaa näyttää siltä että hyvinvointivaltion ja markkinatalouden välinen sopimus on sanottu irti. Hyvinvointivaltio oli äärimmäisen riippuvainen toimivasta markkinataloudesta, mutta markkinatalous ei ollut pohjimmiltaan riippuvainen tästä sosiaalidemokraattisesta kompromissista, joka oli solmittu hengen hädässä fasismin ja stalinismin rynnistyksen aiheuttamassa shokissa. Nyt rajat ovat auki pääomien kulkea kohti korkeinta, tehokkainta tuottoa. Ja mitä tuottoa voisi olla sairaitten vanhusten hoitamisessa? Mitä osinkoa voisi siitä maksaa? Talvisodassa Sailaksen ajattelu olisi ollut äärimmäistä maanpetosta: oli radikaalisti tärkeämpiä asioita kuin taloudellinen tehokkuus. Oli halu pysyä vapaana hintaan katsomatta. Nyt on vain pelkoa ja apatiaa: media on hiljaa, moraalista närkästymistä ei ole - antaa vanhusten mennä, mädäntyä vuoteidensa pohjalle, he ovat työnsä tehneet, tuottonsa antaneet. Ei ole varaa hoitaa heitä. Niin köyhiksi olemme päätyneet tässä dynaamisessa ja kasvavassa taloudessa.

Jos on niin että markkinatalous tosiaan muodostuu esteeksi eettisesti kestävälle yhteiskunnalle (eikä edistä sitä kuten aiemmin), on ryhdyttävä vakavasti etsimään reaalisia vaihtoehtoja. Vanha klisee globaalista ajattelusta ja paikallisesta toiminnasta pitää erittäin hyvin paikkansa: kansallisvaltio on luonnollinen konteksti suomalaiselle poliittiselle toiminnalle. Seuraavaksi suureksi projektiksi on siis ehkä otettava Suomen kansantalouden vähittäinen eriyttäminen globaalisti kestämättömästä ja eettisesti vastuuttomasta anglosaksisesta pörssitaloudesta. Tätä ei pidä sekoittaa perinteiseen vasemmistolaiseen projektiin puhumattakaan siitä moraalisesta konkurssipesästä jonka kommunismi rikoksineen muodostaa. Lähinnä konteksti on jatkuva liberalismin ja emansipaation projekti kansallisessa kontekstissa (siinä mielessä jatkumo siis myös perinteiselle suomalaiselle vanhasuomalaiselle nationalismille). Reaktiohan epäilemättä on ennen pitkää tulossa joka tapauksessa ja pahimmassa tapauksessa se tulee olemaan räikeän oikeisto-populistinen. Tätä pyrkimystä uudelle pohjalle voi toki pitää perustellusti utopistisena, mutta nykyisten kehityskulkujen ja tulevien globaalien haasteiden valossa nämä ajatukset tullaan ehkä joskus näkemään suorastaan epätoivoisenkin vastuullisina ja realistisina. Ja jos vaihtoehtona on yhteiskunta joka jääkylmästi jättää vanhemmat sukupolvensa heitteille kustannustehokkuuden nimissä niin kummassa joukossa sitä mieluummin seisoo?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

A note on conservatism

Meaning actual conservatism, not the modern free market liberalism with some conservative-authoritarian-theocratic social values added (for show). It is strange how basically all the main parties in the modern liberal democracies represent the various wings of traditional liberalism: the modern “conservative” parties are classically liberal at their core and the “socialist” parties are purely social liberal. The modern Republican Party will earn the distinction of being the first major exception if the present theocratic forces within it will continue to strengthen but otherwise we are all left or right liberals these days with the assorted (and powerless) radicals in the fringes.

This historical perspective is very useful to keep in mind when analyzing the present political constellations. This classical trinity of political ideologies was fully formed in the 19th century. Conservatism defended the old, referential, aristocratic and Christian Europe, the liberals advocated (in varying degrees) democracy, market economy and personal freedoms while socialism was formed as the new counterbalance to the rapidly industrializing and liberalizing society advocating the public ownership of all property and limiting personal freedom as regards the economic and sometimes even the political fields.

In its historical context conservatism was in practice quite an ugly ideology defending the undefensible: the irrational, deeply unjust and ineffective aristocratic society. But the theory was – and is – much better than its usual practice. Burke’s majestic melody does say something essential about the human society: it is a non-rational, interrelated web of meanings where it is always very risky to change structures that have been proven to work based on abstract non-empirical theories. Oakeshott’s intellectually deeper argument about the inherently non-rational logical structure and meaning of human experience is very hard to counter with classical liberal positions. It is therefore only rational to take into account the deeply irrational nature of much of human interaction.

Where I disagree with this otherwise highly perceptive theory is in its practical political application: existing power structures are invariably ugly and not to reform them involves very high risks of exactly that collapse of order that traditional conservatism specifically aims to prevent. It is just that in making the desperately necessary reforms we have to be vary about abstract, inhuman theories and be empirical and flexible – and highly conscious about the fragility of civilization and the easy corruptibility of human nature. In an obviously much more modest way I would then follow Keynes in combining a deep respect of Burke (and by inference Oakeshott) with impeccably liberal political aims.

(Postscript: It should be quite clear from this text that much of my strong criticism of the free market fundamentalism comes from an actually conservative point of view…)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

On the Finnish local government “reform”

Talk about mundane subjects… But not really, not mundane: this is how structures change even in a nominally rational democracy, how little actual reason is involved in the process despite the claims of the participants. We have approximately the same chorus that few years back was so unanimously shouting about the “inevitability” and great importance of UMTS and how there was “no choice” but to heavily invest into it. In fact it is almost always the same bunch, the current consensus drivers EVA, Helsingin Sanomat, the Social Democrats and Kokoomus (with the Centre Party dragging its feet on this particular issue): interesting how the elite institutions often have such a group mind. Anyway, the grand “solution” to the various local government problems is now fairly universally seen to be to drastically cut the number of the self-governing municipalities. And that’s it. In effect this continues the disastrous “cheese knife” approach during the deep recession in the early 90’s when all meaningful structural reform was prevented by the vested interests. So we’ll have the same heavy and unimaginitive structures, only in practice even more inefficient on the grass root level with the new larger units - though no doubt also leading to some nominal savings but with the underlying difficult problems left completely untouched. This proposed local government restructuring then in practice functions as a reform to prevent reform.

This particular case is of course a Social Democratic wet dream to a comical degree: they have such an extremely utilitarian approach to the local self-government that totally ignores the long traditions and mentalities that these lines and names on the map actually connotate for people. Probably the SDP would actually prefer numbers instead of names to the municipalities: Helsinki region would be “The Local Government Service Provider Area No 1”, in short LGSP1, Turku could be LGSP2 etc. Thirty such units would do for them nicely (also handily undermining the entrenched Centre positions in the existing structure, the real reason they are dragging their feet). Strange how all this ineffective nonsense is then dressed as “deep” analytical political discussion about meaningful structural reform. Afterwards when it will be realized that nothing effective has been done along with much actual harm, everyone will be so innocently amazed – and if things get sufficiently bad there can even be a collective amnesia about this “grand discussion” such as there was with UMTS. Politics as tragicomedy.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Western constellation

I wonder if it is evident that at heart my concern appears to be moral? It seems to me natural that defining a shape to experience is fundamentally a moral concern, a question of choice over different priorities whether then expressed in philosophy or art or both. But here I am baffled with two seemingly conflicting perspectives – namely whether we have to deliberately fashion such a shape to achieve the necessary profound ethical transformation (gradual or otherwise) or if there is a pre-existing fundamental form to our being in the world that upon realization will bring about such a transformation. I think the distinction is meaningful (if of venerable age) and I find us intellectually utterly unable to come to any rational conclusion about it – showing how far we are from such a state of transformation. But what follows from this formulation is in itself very clear: we must firmly reject the primitive fundamentalist formulation of religion (with its child-adult subject manipulating into "existence" an "all powerful" imaginary object, God). With less materialist and more mystical interpretations of religion there is much less conflict, maybe none at all.

Naturally we must also firmly reject any irrational conservative philosophies about the inherent impossibility of ethical human progress (or any positions on past “Golden Ages” - history has been nothing but a slow holocaust) along with all radical optimism concerning the “easiness” and straight forwardness of such progress (if only we would be more committed, aware etc. etc.). At heart this is a somewhat bleak assessment which would explain its lack of acceptance and currency. It is much less scary to throw oneself on the back of the ancient beliefs and consolations, or on their radical new versions. Of course any formulation is at heart localized, inherently not universal – this appears to me to be our current Western position since God died, and there certainly will be others, whether they will be grappling with the selfsame issue will always remain open to debate (goes my enlightened argument).

Sunday, April 09, 2006

John Maynard Keynes

Keynes is such an admirable historical figure. Of course he is no doubt best known for his groundbreaking economics but for me the sum is even greater than the very great parts. His route from the high Nonconformist Cambridge intelligentsia via G.E.Moore and Bloomsbury to being a fearsomely effective defender of liberal democracy in the years when it was most threatened is a troughly logical celebration and embodiment of rational, self-confident Liberalism. Our culture has not produced many higher achievements than the mind and life of Keynes. I suppose in these cold times he is mostly known as the developer of the inflation ridden and deficit financed (early Bushist?) 1970’s economies. The reality is of course very different, he would not have approved the bastardized and mechanical later “Keynesiasm” being always highly pragmatic and conscious of the ever changing conditions. What he developed in the nightmarish 1930’s was a crucially revitalizing message to the ailing liberal and capitalist democracy desperately threatened by the very vibrant seeming challenges from the extreme and violent Left and Right. He always very haughtily dismissed the elementary economic fallacies of orthodox Marxism – in a way that visibly bolstered the confidence of the West in the face of the Communist “Utopia” in Moscow that was so attractive to the intellectuals of the day. His arguments against the state controls of the British war economy would surprise the modern libertarians (whose persistent ignorance of history is truly amazing).

But as crucially important as he was as an economist and statesman in the defence of Western liberty, that is only a part of the story. Art and culture were never secondary to the pragmatic arts of social policy: he was at home in Bloomsbury, at home with literature, performing and visual arts seeing them central to the fragile human civilization. This fragility he understood very well. Apart from the unreal Cambridge high summer of the prewar Bloomsbury his life was spent during the worst nightmares humanity has known. This no doubt strengthened his Burkean sympathies and his very English empirical pragmatism. He appears to make indirect criticism of their early optimism in his elegant and succint essay “My Early Beliefs” that he delivered to the Bloomsbury Memoir Club in the late 30’s, but in all essential he kept faithful that high civilization of G.E. Moore and Principia Ethica. So many worlds away from the mundane fields of business and economics. I always enjoy his ironic disparagement of the leading businessmen of his times, these unintellectual, unimaginitive “practical” men so enthralled by the latest ludicrous fads. I think the modern “super” CEO:s are exactly where Keynes left them: shallow apparatchiks of the system utterly incapable of saving it should a deep crisis arise. For such tasks we need people with the calibre of Keynes.

So, this is what our civilization is capable of on its good days – an important reason for our continuing survival against many odds. Intelligence, pragmatic empirical reason, flexibility and imagination in the face of horrible crises, a deep respect of and hunger for culture and high art. I don’t think that I am wrong when I see exactly these factors weakening rapidly in the modern era. Dogma is everywhere replacing reason, rigid ideology trumping empirical pragmatism, liberty is not valued as a thing in itself, mindless entertainment is driving serious art to the fringes of society, people are becoming a commodity to be valued only in terms of material production, to be bought and sold in the interests of investment funds. Should a new crisis, a new instability arise where would our answer be? In the wisdom of G.W. Bush, in the vision and human understanding of Ann Coulter?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Strange pilgrimage

I remember using this phrase to a dear friend in the midst of self-doubts about her life. It certainly applies to her, but maybe also universally: life here really seems to me like a strange pilgrimage. Strange in the sense that we can have no idea of the destination, in all likelihood there actually is no worthwhile destination. The story of humanity has so far been a story of irrational aggression, injustice and cruelty. We witness and are subject to random death, and any happiness here is transitory, brief, as are our lives. Our moment is so soon over. The world is a shocking, fearful experience, our dreams far exceed our capabilities. Irrational, hostile and narrow structures block our way in every direction. Moreover, these structures in themselves are not the deepest tragedy – that is the fact that it is ourselves that naturally create them: history is not only a crime, it is a punishment for a crime. Our capability for cruelty and injustice seems boundless, our panicky, fearful reflexes uncontrollable. And yet: there are the dreams, there are the hopes, the witnesses to crimes – a certain permanent innocence, abused surely, but still real. The limitless visions co-exist with the narrow and cruel reality where we have only luck and circumstance to protect whatever temporary warmth we have been able to create. Yet, the warmth, the possibility for the warmth is there in every moment. The landscape itself is ice cold and deadly dangerous but it has moments of great beauty and harmony. No doubt we shall never arrive to any true home, but surely the journey is fundamentally worthful.

I realize the image seems overly romantic: try to repeat this hopeful message to a person being endlessly tortured, to people with lives destroyed or permanently distorted. Only luck and circumstance protect us here. Even in the stable and rich West sickness, crime and relative poverty will eternally hunt for their victims - any family, any person is vulnerable. A romantic image yes, but it still does ring true, unsentimental: the tapestry is immense, the polyphony hardly comprehensible. Along with all the suffering and aggression, we do have much wisdom and mercy: they co-exist with torture, with lives destroyed and disfigured, and they do reach for justice, eternally, most often without power, of course, but hope and truth will even so exist even in the deepest torture chambers, even in the darkest moments. Every crime here is committed by every person, every act of kindness is universal to all. Maybe one day the balance will finally tip, and protection, warmth and justice will be established for all. This hope will always remain no matter what catastrophes we may yet encounter.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The sense and sensibility of Charles Sorley

I have lately been reading an anthology of English letters, great and interesting collection of marvelously different contexts and languages. Not many glaring omissions but I was very disappointed not to find there Charles Sorley's letters both before the First Word War and during it. They show such deep human understanding that is very rare in any person of his age or any age (he was 20 when killed in the battle of Loos 1915). His early poems give a promise of great talent and long, fruitful career. But in those circumstances who can tell, surviving the war might have left too deep scars for any universal poetry.

No-one can know, but I would still suspect that with his sense, his sensibility the core might have been intact and he would not have remained a prisoner of that war like so many of his poet contemporaries. I encountered him when quite young myself – and was amazed and envious: such stability and wisdom in such conditions with my own mind being so far from any stability specializing in sheer emotional foolishness and blind alleys. The contrast was painful, but Sorley’s words, his personality were a great joy to meet, in some immature way he became an early role model to me – amidst my self-inflicted suffering and isolation I aimed for that same human understanding and tolerance...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Shakespeare

I remember when I finished reading Hamlet: I was intimidated, breathless. It seemed to me to be a wholly realistic portrayal of the world in not being realistic, in having an implausible, disconnected story with strange muffled echoes as if in a nighmarish, bloody fog, nightmarish bloody things happening in a blinding fog. The language, well, the language was, hmm, joyous, explosive. I don’t know if he is for all ages but he is for our age: all written when it was only beginning. Currently in pop-academia it seems fashionable to stress his Catholic ties. Yet, all you get in his texts is this world in its human polyphony with the complete absence of God that we have here. Issues of faith are not directly handled at all. (No doubt there was some sympathy for the underdog in the blood stained hands of history but probably no illusions of what would happen if the underdog got the upper hand.) The human polyphony…

It is remarkable how he remains poised, how his person and preferences remain distant. Academics seem to find all sorts of traits of character from his writing (curiously often enough echoing their own inclinations and prejudices). I don’t get any sense of the personality, only a scary detachment, I cannot imagine such mind. He is the only writer that intimidates me.