Saturday, December 31, 2005
I must confess that I watched the film today in a half-horrified, half-amused disbelief - such a crude story, so militant and militaristic, so coldly calculated to the last second. This is not what my imagination got out of it 25 years ago. Not at all. It is a boundless tragedy if the modern generations of children won't read the actual texts and end up substituting Hollywood's simplistic special effects for their minds' eyes. Dear me - such a remarkable experience: fundamentally, I think, of cultural decadence. Of course it was very competent entertainment, professionally done and will undoubtedly get a very healthy return for the investment - but oh how crude we are getting nowadays. And, bloody hell, the controversy about the Christian prozelytizing: please, let the children read the Bible, let them run to the priests if they want to know anything about the Christian religion. If they would get any idea of Christianity from this movie (which they anyway won't), it would be religion as a cheap magic trick or as an obviously non-credible fairy-story like any other. Atheists should insist on their children watching this horrible mangling of religion. To be honest, much of that was already in the original text - no wonder Tolkien was so furious about it. The movie only finished the touch with this crass, throughly calculated commercialism, and a sound investment it no doubt will turn out to be.
It is quite interesting how these Hollywood mega-productions just cleanly kill the real effect of these amazing stories. Peter Jackson's highly competent and outwardly even somewhat faithful storytelling did not leave a single trace of Tolkien's beautiful, deeply tragic, conservative vision of the long defeat that worldly human life was for him - and very little indeed of his obsessively crafted huge, slow vistas of histories and cultures, of landscapes painstakingly walked through. No doubt it would not have sold very well. But I think it also would not have been understood. We are beginning to forget even Christianity these days. These films, these investments, represent the triumph of crude, calculated materialism over any spiritual world view, whether religious or secular.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
The way we live now: so much energy is spent in so meaningless things. So, to here I escape and address the long views, the permanent questions, the serious issues.
Monday, December 26, 2005
In these circumstances the rational way to act is to base everything on uncertainty, probability and doubt. The historical problem with this is that most people will react in feverish, irrational, aggressive and immediate action and conviction, and will end up creating all sorts of power structures and organizations resulting in continuous blind, chaotic and uncontrollable change. While the rational few are in paralysis of doubt and uncertainty. Our whole existance is thus based on unstability and chaos - I actually doubt that there would be a way for us to act rationally as a collective. We would be something else if we would be able to do that. And I do wonder what this thought, if true, says about us, about our future in the world.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
History is linear, it has meaningful themes and patterns - a very controversial statement actually in today's postmodern academia. But apart from the various cul-de-sacs of French theory there are two basic competing ways to see this huge, inexplicable arc from scattered animal like groups without human culture to reality-tv and global capitalism. Or maybe they fundamentally complete each other. The optimistic school sees stubborn movement towards greater sophistication and complexity leading to increased self-awareness and control. History as a painfully slow and chaotic process of enlightenment. The more pessimistic version sees continuous gravitation to greater and greater forms of power fueled by our permanent, animal reflexes outside any rational control. Here we are: panicky apes with weapons of mass destruction.
As usual, I have tried to construct a messy, unsatisfactory middle way - I simply think there is no way to know yet which trend will turn out to be more significant. This experience with complex societies has been so recent, so short that we might only be witnessing the painful birth pangs of something unimaginably better. Certainly much also points towards the pessimistic, even apocalyptic views: so much aggressive, instinctual passion, so little wisdom and control. So many weapons, so many structural problems. We live in unprecedented times - and I do have a certain fearful sense that we are engaged in a race with time. Trends collapse, histories end, species die out. Who could say: we live in unprecedented times.
Postscript: There is of course a third, and currently quite prevalent, view with which I have some sympathy - to deny all coherence from history, and to see all constructions of logic and shape exactly as such, as purely "artificial" constructions out of fundamental formlessness. I too think that history is fundamentally random in the sense that nothing is pretermined and everything is determined by chaotic, unique constellations. At the moment. Of course, to say even this is to say that history has coherence beyond any individual view point, that it has unmistakeable linearity and direction. We only are not in the position to say how temporary those apparent trends turn out to be: what we have now is only this one brilliantly shooting arc with no ability as yet to determine its fundamental nature and direction or lack of them.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Friday, December 16, 2005
The thing that keeps the bubblenomics that is the American economy going at the moment, is the irrational trust in it. By now this trust has been going on for so long (about 3-4 years) that already the first voices are being heard to say that this will go on for ever, that this is now the "new economics" and the old rules are no longer in force. Which is the surest of signs that the bubble is about to burst. And burst it will: American private and public deficit financing can't continue for ever. The trust will turn out to be brittle and the longer the grim reality is referred the more painful the adjustment will be. For all the world. This time things might actually get very nasty indeed. If only we would be able to operate a rational economy... (Which we obviously aren't for a very long time to come.)
Thursday, December 15, 2005
It has been a longstanding visceral, deepseated reflex of mine to abhor Nietzsche – no doubt largely thanks also to my protestant pietist background (and the rational-liberal present) to which this constant strutting, this ridiculous posturing is a total anathema. I hardly can read the bloody stuff: the feverish hysteria, the girlish exclamations... That is supposed to be good style? God is dead, most likely, but why should we have a collective tantrum about such a thing? And is it not ridiculous to aim to be “masters” of our own fate, when firstly we definitely are not, and secondly, are not even capable of defining what that mastery could really mean.
But, and there is so often a but with him, in later years there has grown some reluctant respect for his thinking. Or, more accurately, for his attitude towards the experience of being in the world. In this vehement insistance to think, to be for yourself, to make your own definitions, there is actually much to admire. Of course we must live like that – life would not be meaningfully lived otherwise. But (hmm, another one) apart from that I still have very little actual interest for him. He either says self-evident things or obviously silly and meaningless things. And not at all innocently: I can well see how the Nazi misreading grew out of his thought - if profound, theoretical strutting is aped, you will get nasty, brutal and primitive real life strutting. And worse. Himmler’s misreading for example was very chilling indeed. Nietzsche is not innocent in this as little “Nazi” as he actually so obviously was.
But the most striking image of all are of his later years: his lost sanity, his incoherent, mad, pitiful ravings - and the awful misuse of his philosophy by his poisonous sister. Not a master of his fate then, not a master at all. As none of us ever is and never will be.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
I am quite a structuralist when it comes to power: in my view elites don’t use power, power uses elites. The common theme of human history has been a struggle for power based on our atavistic, primal fear, almost panic and the concequent craving for instant, short-term security. These actions create organizations and structures that in turn shape the individual actions and interact chaotically and unpredictably with each other. That’s how at the core of any human institution are the impulses of a permanently scared animal. Reason and enlightenment have had some limited effect towards rational, measured behaviour, but so far any real progress has been minimal.
So, power is structural and behaves structurally but depends on primal human impulses. On the individual level we concequently see how it continually keeps ending up in the wrong hands. The best do lack much conviction, as they are rational and base their actions on doubt and probability. The worst instead are full of passionate intensity and act accordingly: decisively and aggressively. And end up with the short term perceived security, short term power. Some institutions do curb this pattern and let reason prevail to an extent at least (rarely, if ever, fully). Most don’t. And so we stagger on.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Friday, December 09, 2005
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Despite of most of the ”new theory” having proven to be such a blind alley for humanities it must be acknowleged that it has raised awareness of the polyfony of human experience: it has listened to silenced voices, to minorities, to the marginalized. There is much true value in that. The whole postmodern family of theories and schools of thought have also very analytically focused on the complex way that language interacts with the structures culture and society, and vitally important questions have been thus raised. Even if never satisfactorily answered. Yes, enormous amounts of energy have been wasted, incredibly much time has been lost to scholastic trivialities, but even amidst this gathering backlash we should remember the genuinely valuable contributions which have profoundly changed our perspectives for the better.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Dark thoughts? I wonder. It would seem meaningless to complain. This is the human condition, this has been our strange fate. And of course, this impermanence gives us a high value to our lives, to our brief and fundamentally tragic moment. It is all we have and it can be taken away or wrecked so easily. Much of our feverish modern activity is aimed to conceal this truth. But yes, there is also wild exhilaration in this beautiful landscape with its ice cold air of chaos and danger. And boundless sadness.
A brief postscript. I would not address here the hope of the Christian theology (such that is not so clearly stated in what is reported of Christ's actual teachings) that is so widely shared in my family - it would seem to be a separate matter, out of our hands, something that cold Enlightenment reason is better in handling. For me religion is not very much about its literal truth but of its description of the human experience in the world, in a sense also of its potential worthiness of being made true. And that seems a very far away thing in relation with the current reality of death and human impermanence. This is a very abstract, and in many ways a very mystical way of seeing religion, far beyond the literalness and crudeness of its mainstream practice, and in many ways not very far from some aspects of Finnish Pietism that so much dominates my family's spiritual heritage.