Thursday, June 22, 2006

Redemption songs

The title of this brief liberal summary could just as well be "On human bondage" - history is truly a prison, its iron structures fashioned by our human imperfectness, our hysterical fear, our aggression and panic. In the West we see stupidity without bounds, greed and short sightedness in power, all true reason and enlightenment sidelined and utterly powerless to change our disastrous random paths. Outside the West history still has its naked face, iron fists requiring no silk gloves: abject poverty, collapsed states, tyranny and horrendous violence - or, in good cases, a most brutal version of the blind Western way to wealth adopted shorn of most or all its enlightened aspects. An animal process in other words, a brief history of a hungry, fearful species on its frenzied way to extinction.

So, why then say a "liberal" summary, why talk about any redemption? It just seems to me that our human awareness is not constrained at all, our eyes reach so easily beyond these prison walls - if powerlessness is an inherent part of our condition, so is hope. We are balanced, maybe imperfectly, but still balanced: and that is the human condition - no bondage, no prison without songs of redemption, songs of freedom echoing over the walls. Maybe one day the balance will tip and the walls will crumble - or the songs will falter and stop - but until that transformation, hope will be our eternal companion.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What will survive of us is love (if we are lucky)

I again take issue with Larkin's sentiments - if not his poetry - the memorable lines went:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

He could have put it otherwise but being Larkin, he did not. My own instinct here is surely also controversial, surely concrete achievements, works of art, technical innovations, political reforms are more valuable than mere love? Bolstered I guess by my anti-materialist pietist upbringing I argue differently: actions and material achievements are nothing if they cannot be interpreted as love, the most concrete thing we can leave behind are feelings, persons touched, uplifted. All lifes are ephemeral, passing, all actions, achievements will be forgotten, all legacies spent and dispersed: but to pass unloved, unmourned is the only meaningful failure, the only undeniable evidence of a life spent in miserly frigidity.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Nordic Dream

There have lately been two fresh studies about social mobility once again rehearsing the well known fact that it is highest in the Nordic countries and that the American dream is least evident in - well - the USA. If you have been born poor you are much, much more likely to stay poor in America than in the Nordic countries. This state of affairs has been well established for long and should not surprise anyone. The only place where it's not known is the popular imagination and the American political discourse. The key to our Nordic success in integration and social openness and fairness of competition is the public education system which is of uniformly high quality largely regardless of areas and classes. The private sector is very weak in education and even the wealthy people put their children in to the public sector schools. Of course this is slowly changing for the worse: there already are "bad" areas and schools in some regions of Helsinki (and the bad state of Swedish immigrant areas is also well known).

Naturally, "bad" is quite a relative term in this context: we are not talking about the US slum schools here where mere physical survival is basically the most that can be achieved - never mind any reading and mathematical skills. Nevertheless we are gradually evolving towards this general direction of dismantling the level playing field and making the social competition more unfair and closed. This is due to the absurd situation where catastrophic failure and inefficiency are seen as success as dictated by the primitive classical economic thought (that's "libertarianism" for you). It should be very elementary for any even moderately intelligent person to understand that without a level educational playing field the different economic classes will ossify and your parents' inherited wealth and not your own intellectual talent will determine your success in the society. Competition will lessen and the society will get more closed and less efficient with increasing social conflicts. So, if your parents are very rich, the dream society definitely is the USA - but should you be born in a poor family and want to get ahead based on your personal abilities, pray very hard that your parents are living in Scandinavia.