Saturday, December 30, 2006

For Dockery a son

These past six months have been remarkable time: a new life on its way with all the attendant scarily high stakes and worries. And optimism - that cannot be denied. For a long time I shared Larkin's mock mock-distant attitude with the innermost feeling being pure relief at not having that harsh patronage. Of course it is always hard to tell with Larkin what would be that innermost feeling, probably as contradictory, as poised, as the poems (at heart) were. Of myself I can be sure - we do change, I have changed. Matured, yes, but there are many ways to maturity, procreation surely not the most significant of them. In this particular case, within this particular context, a new life does make sense, is fitting, despite all the attendant high stakes and worries. This no doubt is how we all arrive in the world: into other contexts, other constellations - hopefully welcome, hopefully loved. In these respects at least our new family member should not worry.

The past is dead

I suppose it is due to my most thorough historical education that I automatically view our modern society as something very strange, very odd. This week I was surveying the dark plains of my native Ostrobothnia from a sauna balcony, the freezing night lit by pale stars, the old way of living that preceded our last half-century as consumers seemed very real, very close. Slow centuries formed those fields, those roads. Not to mention that those slow centuries, or in many places, millenniums, were themselves a radical innovation after hundreds of thousands of uncounted years of hunting and gathering. Yet it is this mere decades old, frantic, ephemeral flux that is taken for granted, for permanent.

My current home town of Espoo is only a sizable suburb of Helsinki, grown from 12 000 to 220 000 inhabitants in 60 years, now the proud home of Nokia and other high-tech companies - but the past is still here to see: fields, placenames, patterns of roads and streets. But it is not seen, not imagined at all. The past is utterly dead for our society: we are completely unable to imagine other ways of thinking, of living, we can't picture what once was so real. This is will happen to us too, so immersed in this passing moment, so self-important. The high ship sails on.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The great melody

I have always thought that the great admiration and respect Keynes had for Burke is very revealing - of both of them. Keynes was the archetypal pragmatic liberal, distrustful of hypothetical theoretical benefits as opposed to concrete existing and working structures. To see him as a doctrinaire left wing ideologue is simply plain silly (so, it is not a great surprise that this is how libertarians see him today). And Burke really was a whig, as traditional and conservative as imaginable (with many silly ideas), but a whig still, and it is only with some violence that he is now fitted to be a part of the English conservative tradition.

Well, I suppose this only shows that modern Tories are actually nothing but a branch of liberalism. I wonder if there is anyone alive today that you could say would still be the genuine article? A few decades ago the most anti-Burkean intellectual tradition around was Marxism-Leninism, and after its unmourned death, the position has been held by free market doctrinaires. An abstract theoretical mechanism is seen as the universal answer to all human problems without regard to any particular place or time. This is pure folly.

For Burke - as Keynes - we have unique constellations, particular contexts, things and structures that work in practice (something we have always had great difficulties in creating). Pure reason becomes only too easily the prisoner of our animal and fearful natures, violent means turn into nightmarish ends. The French Revolution certainly proved that, but we got an even more awful example with the Russian Revolution. But where Keynes is more logical than Burke is that he sees more clearly that pragmatism should then be the most logical answer for political ideology. Sometimes, often, the existing structures are a danger to a free society without being reformed but reform itself should not be doctrinaire and unempirical, irrational, but particular, particularly suited to the existing, unique conditions.

I adopted this view while becoming acquainted to both Keynes and the marvellously optimistic and exuberant young Walter Lippman, whose "Preface to Politics" is one of the great specimens of 20th century liberal thought. His faith got obviously badly shaken by the nightmares then still only looming, but I don't think that it would be reasonable to abandon his outlook. So we should see a society as a living thing, organic in many ways with meanings and coherence beyond any abstract logic. This makes gradual reform a very difficult and unpredictable task but, I would also argue, an absolute necessity: humankind is best at destroyal, without intelligent reform structures will collapse with all the attendant irrational destruction that it entails.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Liberal beliefs

I have often wondered what really would be the core foundation of liberalism: yes, anyone can recite its historical structures (for some reason liberalism is always criticized based on its concrete - and meagre - achievements and not for its ideals like all the other political ideologies...) For what it's worth, and maybe not much, I have come to hold that there are two core beliefs that sustain the liberal project: a conviction that people are able to create coherent meanings (combined with a suspicion that all coherent meanings are thus created in our finite minds) and a faith, a trust in the human will to ethical behaviour. If these premises are accepted, it is easy to see how they would sustain and support each other; if we are able to create coherent meanings, no crude (and fictional) divine being is needed to give absolutes readymade, if there is a will to ethical behaviour it will find its goal defined by our ability to coherent creation which in turn will then be directed by that will.

So, then there follows of course a third, mostly unspoken argument, or instinct: that the world is inherently in harmony with this premise, that we have to only discover, only be aware, only use our intelligence and wisdom - and there we might even have use for absolutes and divine beings, whether or not they pre-exist materially. The alternative to this is conservative fiction, an eternal, mostly bloody and unjust existence in history - perhaps some made up stories can dicipline us enough to live in those conditions and even moderately prosper but the intellectual and moral cost would be awful. Even if our liberal instincts are correct, this might be the situation we will find ourselves in - there is prescious little enlightenment and awareness, prescious little wisdom in humankind: we might not even perceive the truth should we be confronted by it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Not washed into rinds by rotting winter rains

The weather has continued to be unseasonably mild in Finland (one wonders what connotations this type of innocent phrase will have in the coming decades). For the most part I have quite enjoyed these subdued November colours and mists - as dismal as I have usually considered this time of the year be even with better weather: so little light, people busy and tired, withdrawn inwards to withstand the subarctic winter. There is now actual clear daylight for about 3-4 hours but most days even the midday feels dark with heavy grey clouds overhead and no snow in sight. A strange, still atmosphere: quiet earth waiting for winter to come. Snow would instantly bring more light and a certain wintry sharpness into the landscape, blue colours lit by the city lamps. This Friday on my afternoon train back from work I was thinking of just these bleak joys of Finnish November (in the native tongue it is called 'marraskuu', "dead month") and was struck by how little I remembered of last November: I staggered to work and back home in darkness, literal and mental, often seeing none of the daylight hours, with no resources anyway left for esthetic observation. What a difference a year can make.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Some say the Devil is dead and buried in Killarney

Having a long, though comfortable, early morning work trip I have succumbed to a MP3 player instead of the customary book. This week has been quite Irish: The Pogues, Cruiskeen, The Dubliners and the excellent Tartu band Paddy have been providing Celtic mornings and afternoons. Listening to those familiar and confident, defiant cadences I have been reflecting on this wonder of Irish anti-imperialism - the colonization of the English language itself. It is undeniable that Ireland, real and imagined, has stayed triumphantly un-English even with the loss of the native language. This is an interesting fact for a Finnish person coming from a tradition of very strictly language centred nationalism (albeit in many senses a bilingual tradition). Nationalism is not necessarily bounded with language, it can have many, even polyphonic and pluralist incarnations.

Of course it is an ideology that has very negative connotations - often expressed by writers and thinkers from great powers. Somehow, they do not often seem to notice that their imperial and metropolitan nation is also nationalist and narrow, so English, French, Russian, American nationalisms go often unnoticed, excused. Non-threatening, non-expansionist small nation nationalism is something not even perceived. I welcome a world with vibrant and thriving small nations and national cultures, such as Finland, Ireland, Estonia and many others - the tradition of Finnish nationalism has been one of the central factors preventing this country from being subsumed into the Russian imperial sphere and gradually losing her language, her uniqueness. A process that is now heart breakingly happening for several small Finno-Ugric peoples and languages within the neo-aggressive and uncaring Russia. Of course we have to always beware exclusivist, aggressive and narrow ideas and movements everywhere, perhaps especially when they are disguised under false "universalist" labels of selfish great power politics.

I say he rose again and joined the British Army...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Being Descartes

I just finished an excellent biography of Descartes by Desmond M. Clarke. I had been curiously ignorant of his life and personality despite being well familiar with his gigantic impact for philosophy and Western thought. So, it was most interesting reading - I had for example no idea how effectively he isolated himself both from ordinary human society and from his intellectual peers. On the whole Clarke's portrait is not very flattering: he was reclusive, secretive, quarrelsome man more gifted in making enemies than friends, always paranoidicallyfearful of seeming to be openly defying the Church. But then again, it was an age when you could get burned on the stake for denying the orthodox geocentric and thoroughly Aristotelian world view. Descartes emerged through such deep mists of scholastic thought and irrational religious and social ideas that it can be easily seen that the society around him was so violent, so paranoid, so mad that his own isolation, his own paranoia and caution can be understood.

He might have been a fearful, difficult man but his thinking was revolutionary and proudly free of nonsensical conformist schackles. We have now largely forgotten the arcane pre-Cartesian philosophy that once reigned over Christendom but his times were still dominated by it. In that sense there is a straight line from Descartes to Enlightenment and to our present Western mind. The post-modern attacks against many Cartesian crudities are understandable but one wonders where the aim really is. Probably not in any clumsy and unreal dichotomies of body and mind.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Fundamentalist mind

I am now pleasurably rereading Siltala’s wide reaching analysis of 19th century Finland and was much struck by his description of the ”totalitarian personality”. Nothing really new there as such but it is strange how specifically modern and widespread that mentality still is. The typical individual has deep inner contradictions (often violently repressed) seen in millennial and apocalyptic terms – and millennial and apocalyptic visions of their total redemption through outside ideology. The personality and its extension, the world, is seen in absolute, black and white terms. Fanatical ideology is the externalized, barely hidden rage towards self and other. Naturally this does awful violence to both of them. I was recently visiting a fairly moderate conservative Christian forum and was struck by the aridity and rigidity of thought there. A great fear seemed to be lurking behind the compulsive urge to view the “Doctrine” as something absolute, unchangeable – and thus, unreal. I was eerily reminded of my long forgotten youth and my own deep contradictions and conflicts, and the unreal, unrealistic way I connected them with ideology and philosophy. Luckily I was able to gradually resolve them, to come to more inclusive and balanced terms with myself and the world. A long and painful road it was, and it seems that for scarily many people in the modern world, one that is not taken, out of fear, out of rage.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Praising Billmon

This is already a second post on the subject, but I just can't stop marvelling that there is to be found in these sad, all accepting, all ignoring times a political commentator that really is reaching the levels of Mencken and Orwell. Billmon is easily as savage as Mencken (though without Mencken's Nietzschean amusement) and as politically radical as Orwell (without Orwell's grim optimism or his English sentimentalism - this latter really a weakness rather than strength, it was this eccentric warmth that elevated Orwell into greatness). Even if you would not agree with his politics (I by and large do) the mercilessly hardhitting language itself is joy to read although it doesn't yet quite reach up to Orwell's personal majesty or Mencken's steely intricacy. Strange that the Internet these days really does beat the mainstream media hands down as regards political criticism and satire. The centralization of the media into giant corporations and news merging into a branch of the entertainment industry plays a role here no doubt. Luckily we still have these fiercely independent voices, hopefully amplified in the future - talking of which: a book of political essays by Billmon would be treasured, an instant classic surely if it would have the same quality as his blog.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The history of Finnish anxiety

When historians are good, they are scarily good. Of course it very rarely happens - I wonder whether there is any other academic field where so much meaningless drivel is being published, where incredibly muddled "common sense" passes for sophisticated analytic thought, where so much energy is devoted into getting a superficial but selling media profile. Typically this last happens as a ritual patricide of the previous generation: a non-specified "myth" is being non-specifically "disproved" while usually simultaneously a confused faith into relativistically interpreted post-modern theory is endorsed - never mind that it would take into question the whole idea of "objectively disproving" anything. But when there are exceptions, they truly are scarily good. One such brilliant exception in Finland is Juha Siltala whose two first books of an ongoing trilogy of study on the formation of the Finnish mind are by far the best and most significant historical studies published in Finland in the last 20 years. It is strange how undervalued "Suomalainen ahdistus" and "Valkoisen äidin pojat" are considering their brilliant and groundbreaking approach. Of course there are some faults: at times Siltala's psychological approach does seem overly deterministic and underestimating our human capabilities to self-awareness and self-control - but these observations, as significant as they are, are much beside the point. Siltala approaches historical experience with such analytical seriousness that has never been matched in the Finnish study of history. Processes and structures are revealed and analysed in the most comprehensive of ways, the iron controls of history are brought to light and discussed. A joy to behold such penetration and reach of thought in humanities.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

That would be waving and that would be crying

In earnest, liberal, quite Victorian tones I have seen art as fusion of ethics and esthetics. This is to be most oldfashioned, passé, in these, hmm, more dynamic times with all things being in our coldly certain flux, perpetually indetermined and under doubt. Not that they weren't for earnest liberal Victorians. Maybe unjustly, George Eliot comes to mind here: to me she is the epitome of the high liberal worry as regards the cold ways of the godless world. Yes, things certainly were in flux also for them - but in a different way, the structure of doubt itself had not been undermined by any grand and fashionable French theory. Doubt meant the ultimate integrity - as it still does for me.

So, I do see literature, poetry especially, as the most serious form of human thought even when including the theory of natural science or ancient and modern philosophy, and even religion. Or, rather, I see art, literature, as the place where these majestic traditions and languages come together, fuse in the most meaningful way possible to humankind. Esthetics for us is the most direct route of expressing our otherhood, of being on this strange pilgrimage that we are being on. And so we continue wondering whether the fault is with the soul and its sovereigns or perhaps then with the lions. And if so, let us by all means send them back to Monsieur Dufy's Hamburg.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Godgame

Talk about pleasures recalled in tranquility. Last week I encountered and bought for 50 cents "The Magus" by John Fowles in Kauniainen Library. It is the revised edition - I am not totally certain but I think I read exactly this version of the text (in Finnish) for the first time in the tender age of 13. I was burningly unhappy, just beginning a desert of long, painful years, and it was such a sublime experience to forget my surroundings in that dark winter month. I happened to be in a hospital and asked my parents to bring it in order to finish it. Such ecstasy. It is a novel to be read when young. It actually was one of the many literary, artistic gates that opened my way and expanded the sometimes cruelly narrow circumstances that I unluckily (and through personal inadequacies) found myself in, in that now very distant youth. I have of course reread it since and largely share the author's own views (as expressed in the Preface to the revised edition): it is not disciplined, mature enough, disguising undoubtedly deep personal uncertainties. That is why it so strongly appeals to young people. Of course, those faults in a strange way are its strengths. A hugely meaningful book indeed.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Eesti ajaloost

I think that ever since I read Jaan Kross's subtle, but defiantly Western tones in "Czar's Madman" (I must have been twelve or thirteen) I have felt particular sympathy towards Estonia. Of course the whole cultural climate of Southern Ostrobothnia and its Pietist circles was very positive towards the Estonians even in the middle of the blackest Finlandization. (Realpolitics aside, the way the majority of our late Kekkonen era intellectual elite chose not to see, not to hear and not to understand the Soviet crimes against humanity is unforgivable.) Jaan Kross has remained a great favourite and my understanding of the incredibly tragic history of modern Estonia has slowly developed and deepened along the years. By 1945 Estonia had lost a quarter of her 1939 population and was in the grip of the triumphant, hysterical Stalinist state that immediately started to undermine her national traditions, her language and culture after having already destroyed Estonian elites, economy and state. From those ruins this astonishingly determined, astonishingly rooted nation has risen to be a full member of the EU, Nato and the UN.

Of course for us Finns there is this special bond of linguistic closeness - I'm listening at the moment to Justament's "Petseri tsura ja Hiitola ätt", you basically physically feel how the languages are situated so near to mutual intelligibility:

Mis on salmide sisu, mis on jutu moraal.
Igaühel on isu meist surra isade maal.
Las see eestlane aasib, las see soomlane neab,
et poliitilist fraasi “loll” laulu sisuks vaid seab.

Minge elage nädal või paar parem Laadoga rannal.
Minge Petserimaale ja tehke seal tilluke tiir.
Ja siis küsige endalt miks igatsus koju on kallal,
ja siis pärige poistelt kust kohalt küll jooksma peaks piir.

And yes, there also are some common, very bitter historical experiences... "Läevad tunnid ja päevad ja kuud aga rahu ei anna, et üks naaber võib olla nii kuradi sitt ja nii sant!"

But we are also divided by this closeness as it hides the differences: whereas Finland still enjoying the long period of post-war peace and stability looks towards Scandinavia, many of the structures of the deeply wounded Estonian culture are more Central European. There is also much too little understanding in Finland of the cruel trials and traumas of recent Estonian history, and too much easy Nordic arrogance that comes with this profound lack of imagination and knowledge. Still, the bonds easily are far more significant than these temporary discords. Our solutions might differ but the geopolitical challenge is quite the same - an archaic, still very militarized and territorial great power next door. This is not to say anything about the great Russian nation and its brilliant cultural tradition - but the state that rapes Chechnya in the way it has raped Chechnya, the state that lets Anna Politkovskaja be slaughtered at her own doorstep, the state that makes mockery of liberal democracy will remain deeply corrupt and immoral, deeply unpredictable, a perpetual problem for all its small, civilized and Western neighbours.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

In praise of the English language

As a native speaker I surely would not be so impressed. I love my dark, emotional Finnish and would not have an idea of this deep and slow dimension as a pure Anglophone. But this said, Shakespeare began our modern age, and basically ended it as well. All this when we had only painfully clumsy devotional literature in Sweden and Finland. Donne was surpassing that left and right without even attempting accompanied by Milton, Dryden and all the others. Such a literary tradition that we have never seen anywhere else on Earth. Perhaps it will end up as condemned and discarded should this liberal civilization not prevail (as seems to be increasingly likely) but in the meanwhile, in this moment: such exhilaration in the flexibility and nuance of meaning, in the breadth of imagination and clarity of feeling. I would really not accept this praise from any native speaker: how could one tell, not knowing anything else, being insular, selfsatisfied, narrow in scope. But for outsiders there is cause for admiration and celebration. We have sparse Latin and abstract, intellectual Greek at the heart of our civilization, but their modern heir is English, Shakespeare's language.

The attraction - and repulsion - of religion

Had I been born in any other context, I would surely have adopted a troublefree, unquestioning materialist-atheist position. (Unless my parents would have been militant materialist atheists on the make for new converts...) But I happened to be born in the middle of quiet, unproselytyzing, universal tones of Finnish Pietism. As a concequence I have never been able to totally dismiss religion - especially as our secular culture so stubbornly refuses to infuse our inexclicable experience in the world with any mystical dimension. This is really not to say anything about any literal interpretation of any religious tradition. Those truly are opium for people - and tools of power and aggression for the random elites and organizations. There is no way that we can talk meaningfully about our human experience within those traditions. For the fundamentalists we are not autonomous human beings but obedient "children" in a self-evidently "empirical" context. No matter that this "empirism" is totally based on scared, wishful thinking, on fiction. But to say this does not dispose of religion, not even close.

Strange that without my personal exposure to a mystical local Christian tradition, I would probably never had realized this. Religion begins where primitive fundamentalism ends. Not to posit anything about an empirical, pre-existing God (a concept I find very esoteric and non-essential). We lack a proper language to talk about these issues: religious dogma does more harm than good in its attempt to do so (being anyway coincidental to temporal power struggles). At some level I would no doubt like to fuse art, philosophy and religion into one universal world view. Surely our experience of being in the world does require such a universal vision - the only problem being that we lack the words, the wisdom to have one... So, I am constantly disgusted by almost all actual religious practice and thought but still can't dismiss religion as one of the most serious, if not the most serious, attempt to formulate a worthwhile response to this astonishing fact of our being in existence, to our being in the world. "Käy isänmaataan kohti ain..."

Saturday, September 30, 2006

And now for something completely different

I should change my profile description: half a year ago I quit my work in the IT industry and scheduled five months of complete rest for myself. Good housekeeping was thrown to winds but it proved to be well worth it. The end of the tether had been reached and to have continued would have invited a true disaster. Things did not go as planned, when do they - a sad, sad, griveous loss was unexpectedly experienced in my closest family and the ensuing period did not offer as much mental rest as expected at the onset. At least I was confronted with the essential and eternal instead of any tedious, debilitating work, bleeding from thousands of cuts.

A slow recovery followed and as it happened I luckily and quite out of the blue got an offer about a modest teaching position at a small practical college just outside Helsinki. I accepted and such a change it has been. True, the salary is small and in these sad days teaching is not much respected. One wonders why: teaching the young is such a meaningful and honourable human activity - unlike being an expert in maximizing the "efficiency" of IT support processes in some faceless giant of a corporation which certainly was not meaningful nor very honourable (non dulce et non decorum...). Life is strange - I seem to stay stubbornly true to my principle of drifting, of trying not to be ambitious in the non-essential things (an area I tend to have challenges with), of using my short time in the world for the worthwhile issues: concentrating on the long views, the central questions, being surrounded by friendship and love.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hey Mister Tambourine Man

I suppose it is obvious from these posts that I see people as infinite promises never to be kept, as empty vessels of great potential never fulfilled. We are ever referring to things and meanings beyond our narrow scope, but can never really, genuinely, enlarge that scope, break free of our bondage. This is of course just another way of saying that our human history is a tragedy. I simply can’t see the Grenfellian, the Nietzschean fulfilment as satisfactory. It seems to me a forced compromise, a timid turning back at the mere onset of the journey, getting what one can get as opposed to what one would want to get. No hunting for me by blond beasts willing themselves to power in the misty forests. After a while it would surely be a bore, sounding like such a dismal affair. Instead we have chosen to wait to see, to hear the chimes of freedom flashing, perhaps perpetually in vain, but not settling for any watered down pragmatism, any compromises, reaching beyond the narrow scope.

The Cold Six Thousand

By now we know all the sordid details: the deception, the countless women used and discarded, the petty manoeuvres, the naked ambition. But I still suspect that this is not what the American conservatives rage against: it is the high ideal itself of an enlightened and rational political process, of human excellence. The mere suggestion, the mere possibility is an anathema, a horror. For what is then the rejection of these dreams, should they be legitimite. Today this conservative rage continues unabated, deep hatred, prejudice and ignorance are catered for – and if liberals respond in kind they will drag down into this dismal mud their own high beliefs in human reason and enlightenment, and if they don’t, they will be defeated. A no-win situation if any. The conservatives are a self-fulfilling prophecy and the liberals are self-defeated by our human inadequacy, by the terrible ease with which our best endeavours can be brought down. This said, not really a hard choice between these two camps, is it

Thursday, September 07, 2006

On religion

This is a subject where I have been curiously reluctant to wade in. In the modern West religion in its Christian guise is a mere shell of its former glories: it is now popularly understood only in its decayed fundamentalist form which is simply, humiliatingly, the deformed and despised twin of the 19th century positivist science - having us to believe all matter of nonsensical things about biology, geology and human sexuality among other things. Anyone faintly taking religion seriously is immediately tainted with this present combination of cruelty and utter stupidity. Of course religion is not about dogma, theology and formal institutions. It has never been about them. They are just tools for short sighted power struggles as any other tools in our tragic and bloody history. The official doctrines are intellectually utter nonsense trying - at their best - to formulate in formal language meanings that cannot be formulated in formal language. This is true I think of any religion, not only Christianity. Buddhism in its purest forms comes close to being a coherent philosophy but as a hopeful Western activist its resignation and turning away from the world is not a path that I would be able to accept in its entirety.

So, the essential religious question in my view is not "Does God exist?" - that is a trivial, fairly non-relevant issue - but instead, "What is the appropriate response to the experience of being in the world?" And here the mad visions of early Christianity, Sufi dances and dreams, abstract Buddhist mediations, still, for me, easily beat any completely rationalist scientific world views. Art has two faces: it has a continuous dialogue with philosophy but its other side is eternally facing towards religion. If our civilization abandons this concern with faith, with the mystical side of our being, it will not remain vital - or rational.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

Having used the grand Spenglerian title in the previous post I went for the genuine article. It was as I recalled. I suppose it must be my Anglo-Saxon cum Nordic cultural background that I find most German philosophical writing overly stuffy and formless (even in translation). Spengler is mostly obscure, non-analytical but with many poetic flashes of genius - and many sinister undertones echoing some other strident German analysis of our liberal-materialist Western civilization. But I wonder whether he still doesn't have a point. I used to appreciate this certain spiritual vacuum in the centre of our society: it leaves people free to live their private lives, to have their loves and losses in material comfort, it lets them fill the vacuum individually. Now I wonder if any non-aware, non-enlightened human society can retain this sort of emptiness indefinitely. When you look around you see tired people filling their free time with mindless entertainment, you hear a political discourse totally devoid of honesty, you see a society utterly dominated by profit seeking structures. Naturally I would prefer even this over any imaginable ideological alternative other than a transformation towards a genuinely enlightened and rational culture, but that is hardly the question.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Der Untergang des Abendlandes?

I was finally able to read Ian MacDonald's exhilarating, very understandably famous essay on the 60's ("Fabled Foursome, Disappearing Decade"). I would largely agree with the essence of his argument of the final disintegration of the old West into consumerism. So, far from being triumphant leftist time, it was the era that logically led to Reagan and Thatcher, and onward to our empty, materialistic present. You can draw both optimistic and pessimistic conclusions on the process - the old Christian West was like any other classical civilization: narrow, paternalistic and aggressive.

Yes, there was social cohesion, high anti-materialist ideals, but at much too high cost, unimaginably high in fact. These morally corrupt structures deserved to be swept away. But of course the hope was and is that something more valuable will be built in their place. This I think remains firmly under doubt. The present climate does not incline one to much optimism. Christianity is a mere shell with largely the most shallow and unpleasant structures left (or then the bland, convictionless official fare) and Enlightenment is accepted (and never understood or adopted) only as far as it doesn't disturb our naked materialism. We go on because the profits go on and because we still half-remember the ethical and moral boundaries that once prevailed. One wonders how the vacuum will eventually be filled.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ask not

I have lately been revisiting some scenes of the Holocaust. Such images. I suppose it soon dawns to any student of history that there is no crime unimaginable, no ethical collapse not possible for us. This is no dramatic exaggaration: there are no limits to human cruelty. Nor can we ever wash our own hands clean. No person is an island - any crime, any cruelty committed is committed by all, no-one is completely innocent. At this very moment thousands are being killed, tortured, starved. Children, defenceless people marched to death. Mostly in front of carefully averted eyes, amidst lovingly nurtured ignorance. There is no such inevitability in the process that would absolve us of this never seizing tragedy - all the sorrow and suffering in this world is our direct creation, fashioned by our wills, by our being. In that sense even the Holocaust still goes on, those scenes still go on, the charge only increasing in seriousness with the unspeakable deeds themselves being gradually forgotten as real events.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

On passing moods

It is strange how little we seem to devote our thoughts to the structure of our experience in the world, the texture of it - to the essence of our being, the still point. There surely are people who get honourable mentions, Joyce comes to mind, Virginia Woolf, maybe Heidegger and some other philosophers, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche; but even these really are not in any essential sense realistic.

I would think that this is due to a very simple matter: the immediate experience (yes, a controversial term) and language are two separate things. A word fixed on paper is an analogy, not a failed attempt at copying. Joyce's stream of consciousness knowingly attempts to catch something for ever uncatchable. Maybe you could say that consciousness, experience, is another language that we only partially know. The situation is complicated with the fact that we continuously mediate and shape this strange, this other language with the everyday one: thinking and feeling seem to be at times seemless, at times quite disjointed mixtures of the two. This observation goes against the grain of many postmodern interpretations which deny any separation: for them language is all. To me this gets it backward - I would say consciousness, the immediate experience, is all, and everyday language a partial and in many senses failed attempt for controlling it.

This is what makes prose seem like a variety of poetry and all analytic thought an almost impossible task. The things we try to refer to are forever hidden behind a veil. This complexity is mind numbing, paralyzing. And it makes us ruled by our passing moods, a passionate being in the world we have: it is our wild, cruel, exhilarating inheritance.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The harsh poetry of life

This madcap journey is certainly remarkable, something that could not have been easily anticipated at the onset. "Animula" comes to mind, bleakishly, in this moment. At times I have enjoyed the icy breeze, the wild landscape - at other times it has not been easy, not at all: no joy but naked fear in the hard, desperate slog. At times I have regretted not having a voice capable of describing this infinite complexity, this danger and exhilaration of experience. And at times it has felt an appropriate restraint, living the harsh poetry without answers or any eloquent, eloquently shaped distances. It is hard to see, independent of passing moods, which reflex is more fitting. "Independent of passing moods" - I do sometimes wonder should the necessary quality be called vitality or coarseness. We do harden undeniably, but is that all there is to be said? I think not. We are much beyond our biological imperatives, in a way often hampering those imperatives. And I would argue that it is the most worthwhile part of us. If only it would not be such an easy victim to passing moods, to tiredness, anxiety and fear.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

On Lenin

I suppose a somewhat arcane subject these days. Luckily so. Lenin was inhuman, bloodthirsty psychopath who almost singlehandedly created one of the worst terror systems known to humankind (which is much said). If there was ever someone who was even less entitled than Nicholas II to rule over a great country it was surely him. This said, it beggars belief how efficiently, how fanatically, how brilliantly he seized power being all time the ever underestimated leader of a relatively insignificant minority group that was always outnumbered by its many enemies. He certainly wasn't a man for all seasons: most of his career he was a failure, utterly powerless to affect the society and political process in any meaningful way. But then his season arrived, a most bloody season, and suddenly he was uniquely suited to ride the awful wild wave of hatred and destruction. Where others hesitated and prevaricated, he acted. Any effective combination of moderate socialists and liberals would have finished him off easily, but in that fearful chaos there was no efficiency in their camp, no ruthlessness, no real will to act. That surely is a lesson to any democracy under threat.

Nowadays Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra are remembered with great nostalgia and pity. I have to confess that I feel very little either. They presided over an awful, wasteful system with unimaginitive, criminal rigidity. The hatred and destruction that brought them down was not born in a vacuum - any system that lets such power to such hands is indeed criminal. With the Romanovs on the other side and the irrational, fanatic fringe opposition on the other, the rational centre was marginalized and outplayed in a throughly familiar way. The incompetency and stupidity of Nicholas and his regime is almost uncomprehensible: his every act looks as if designed to invite the monstrous bloody storm that finally did rise in 1917. When he finally did give up the power, the moderates had no experience, no cohesion and no courage to ride the storm. Lenin did, and so tens of millions died. Among them a family in Yekaterinburg, its adult members much less innocent of the bloodshed than most its victims.

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.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Soul of Man under Technology

I suppose it sounds mundane and facile to place one’s chief hope in technology after all these grand ethical and metaphysical arguments. If we are so corrupted, so incapable of reason, how could mere gadgets save us? It is admittedly a bleak position: basically I then place my hope in random history that would eventually lead us to a transformation despite our all destructive actions. But yes, if any true progress comes, it surely will come despite the usual vested interests, the usual elites – and trough the usual blind, panicky, shortsighted struggle for power and safety that our human history has consisted of.

In short I don’t believe in any ethical, any rational shortcut consciously embraced because of reason and compassion. Technology can eventually destroy the cruel restraints of human life: cure diseases, prolong life, abolish all physical want. In such profoundly changed conditions we are also bound to change profoundly. And only through profound change, a fundamental ethical and spiritual transformation, can we begin to realize our true potential, our true humanity. So, my little faith in human self-governance is placed on random history, on science and reason somehow prevailing over fear, aggression and stupidity. It does not sound very likely, does it? I would still say that at least this position gives a rational foundation for hope which will always exist. We live in bleak times, we have always lived in bleak times, but there will always exist hope for better, even in the grimmest of circumstances.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

On Finnish folk hymns

I have little use for Bach's majesty or Mozart's unearthly Requiem as regards religious music with my particular inheritance of the Finnish Pietist folk melodies. It is strange to think how a collective, non-intellectual effort reaches to the same universal heights as with these individual, artistic geniuses. Negro spirituals (among many others) have the same effect. I wonder what this says of art? T.S. Eliot had a personal answer with "Tradition and the Individual Talent" but that I find hard to accept in its entirety. Surely he had a point of sorts, but I feel that he missed the essential and went overboard with his strange dogmas though he did touch on certain very crucial aspects of art.

In any case, I don't think that the religious aspect of these beautiful, sad hymns is beside the point as a pure aesthete would have it, somehow I think it is the essence of the message, but not literally, theologically interpreted. The longing for a true home connects both religion and art (and philosophy for that matter) in a sense that contradicts Plato's view of art as something distracting the true human pursuit of the essential. A very crucial issue to settle I would think. Well, in any case I feel tremendously priviledged as having these unearthly melodies as my childhood context: no wonder I have seeked universal art so singlemindedly - it was my very inheritance.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Civilizational rites

I have lately been participating in arranging a Finnish Pietist funeral. It has been very strange to witness the added meaning and form associated with the process: a death gets its proportionate place, its formalized, proper meaning - a certain warmth is thus added to the proceedings. I have very hard time imagining the same with a purely materialist point of view. What really could be said in that case, what would be the point of saying it? With the Pietist tradition there are universal echoes, satisfactory form and proportion. This is very far removed from any crude literal interpretation of Christianity, but the sad, beautiful Finnish folk melodies easily reach beyond any primitive fundamentalism. Such universal songs of hope and homesickness. In so far as we these days lack these regulated, proportionate ceremonies, these signifying meanings, we lack civilization itself. And that surely is not a sustainable state of affairs.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Death's dream kingdom: sad, unforeseen news

When we talk about death, we really always talk about life. It is moreover very clear that with death pure materialism will simply never do. This is not to posit anything about a pre-existing empirical reality but discussing what meaning if any we can create into our lifes. Of course, a pre-existing empirical reality may or may not exist - but that is not what our experience here is ever really concerned with. This point I suppose is related to what Nietzsche aimed in his clumsy, plodding way to express, drawing only, as always, the most inane imaginable conclusions. So, we are measured by death, by life and to choose love, to give up all our imaginary power is the only meaningful test we are faced with here. A cold coming we certainly have had of it, and all failures are pre-excused, but not all fail, not always.

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.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Mechanics of history

Yes, economics is a dreary, peripheral subject. Should talk about something more essential but it has been on my mind lately listening to the shrill, shortsighted political discussion in Finland and elsewhere in the West. An interesting dichotomy in fact echoing larger, deeper themes: the discussion is shrill I think largely because there is such a clear political and social consensus that increased marketization is not the direction we should go. Yet, it is the direction: mechanics of history at work.

Defenders are shrill because powerless, the cheerleaders of change shrill because in minority and intellectually shallow: both at heart bystanders, witnesses to history. Debate does not much matter, it is more a concequence than a cause. Blind structural change, change that is born from the logic of the chaotic situation, easily beats all reason and democracy. I don’t much blame the new elites or the loud irrational voices around them. People don’t use power, power uses people: you get a role, briefly, you get your lines and your moment, and then it’s over, power moves on. Institutions have a life of their own, a life span of their own, powered by an ever changing cast of individuals focused on the short views, the claustrophopic decisions.

Surely, echoing Frederic Manning, history is not only a crime, it is also a punishment for a crime. Yet, how harsh should we be in our self-condemnation? It is not easy to think of any individual as completely innoncent - but also not as completely guilty: we are animal creations of circumstances, not naturally suited for reason, moderation and mercy. The more you contemplate humanity, the more you think of us as a powerless, migratory species, destined for disaster – destructive, fearful and cruel no doubt, but eternally also hoping for improvement, for a transformation, working ineffectively towards it.

Who knows, it might not be beyond us in the end. In the meanwhile we struggle on, focusing on the short or the long views, varyingly guilty, varyingly innocent. Perfectly poised between hope and despair. With enlightenment, moral and ethical awareness and responsibility, many have embraced hope, progress and transformation but we should not be too judgemental of those who have the short views, roles dictated to them by harsh power, those more guided by fear than hope. In these iron structures no-one can afford moral superiority, all are tainted, all innocent.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Economics of reason

I believe it illustrates this certain general slowness on the part of the free market fundamentalists that they have not thought of asking the obvious counter question to my previous posting, namely what would then disprove my conception of economics? Maybe even luckily for them as it would not really be a showstopper. So, let us continue unasked and describe how one should rationally deal with economical questions. First of all I must say that I don’t regard the economical arrangements of a society as any fundamental question about its nature. To quote a famous pioneer of capitalism “all cats are dark in the night – it only matters if they catch the mice”. I would use economical structures pragmatically as tools to maximice liberty in the society (from all constricting structures such as extreme poverty, steep unequality of social status, having freedom to think and organize politically, freedom to develope according to one’s abilities and inclinations, freedom from irrational power and belief structures etc. etc.). All constellations in our chaotic history are pretty unique: you can’t beforehand have an exact blueprint on which particular arrangement in a given historical moment would be the best. You have to rely on empirical observation and reason.

Currently the debate centres on the roles of the state and the market forces. The market fundamentalists have a very primitive slogan: “government bad, market good”. This regardless of actual empirical observations, actual situations - the Grand Theory tells them what to see and what to do, and what not to see, no counter arguments are accepted as legitimite. As I already wrote in a previous comment: these two need each other to work, especially the free market desperately needs the strong state to keep the playing field level and the competition honest and free. But even more importantly, these questions should be resolved without existing bias. Sometimes government action is far better and more efficient than the market forces. Often of course this is not case, especially in the traditional "purely" economical fields. But not always even there. We should not let ideology and irrational blind faith predetermine our decisions. It is very unfortunate that this dangerous, disastrous and reckless attitude is spreading so rapidly in our societies.

So, we should balance the roles of government and the market forces rationally on case by case basis. There are areas where the market forces are inherently quite unsuited – namely the areas where values are not best measured in money and profits, where overproduction is sometimes crucial; in areas where human value and dignity are paramount, such as health care and education, the market forces should be strictly guarded and given only a very limited space to operate. But they still can be harnessed even there to do the work for which they often are very suitable: to maximize long term productive efficiency. Unguided and unregulated they tend to devalue and dehumanize these sensitive areas (the same goes of course for the security field) leading to gross distortions and endangerment of liberty. On the other hand on the level of individual private interactions the state is usually not a very useful direct player. To concentrate too much power into same hands does not only lead to inefficiency but also to abuses and misrule. We have to be accordingly very careful when deciding into which private areas we can allow government safely to intervene. So, to encapsulate: firstly, I don’t have an all encompassing economic theory that would predetermine my attitude before seeing the particular state of affairs, the particular constellation, and secondly, my specific positions can easily be proven wrong using empirical observation and logical reasoning. Economics as non-religion.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

On closed belief systems

I suppose it is a measure of my current lack of focus on very meaningful things that I have lately been having repeated arguments with free market enthusiasts. Not a very fruitful nor entertaining activity as they usually are not the most intellectually inspiring thinkers. In any case, I have now been reminded several times why I used to so much dislike Freudianism - there was no way to disprove the argument, the position was formulated in such a hermetically closed fashion that there simply was no way to prove it wrong. There was no falsifibiality. Now the free market fundamentalism goes about like this: the markets work absolutely perfectly. Fullstop. Then you go and say that no they don’t, what about this and this. Well, the answer always goes, no matter what's the specific point, that that’s a concequence of the fact that the markets are "artificially" prohibited from working perfectly. Beautiful. My question would be what kind of an empirical or logical observation would then disprove this free market theory? Out of sheer perverse curiosity: what would it take?

Of course the actual fact is that even when the markets would be allowed to operate at full efficiency (a logical impossibility in itself) they never would do it. It is too often in the rational interest of market operators not to go for full free competition, or in the irrational interest for that matter. There are all sorts of inherent psychological and cultural hindrances that will permanently prohibit market from functioning “purely”, as in a void – or a laboratory. The world is not a void. Or a laboratory. Concequently there is then no such thing as a perfect market, and there never will be. That should be the starting point of all debate. But that does not count as a legitimite counter argument at all for those that have embraced the faith. Excactly like no observations ever penetrated orthodox Freudianism or Marxism-Leninism. They were outside all rational debate – not a good thing to be for a philosophy or a political ideology but there you go.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The good old times when we sang Horst Wessel

Finland is a unique country in the West in the sense that our 1970’s generation of student radicals turned towards orthodox Marxist-Leninism and the Soviet Union and not towards more utopian socialist traditions. Even more curiously they largely embraced the “Stalinist” minority faction of the Finnish Communist Party and not the more independent minded majority. (It is debatable to what degree the quotation marks are in order: in spirit that faction had a direct genealogy from the Stalinist mentality hardened and traumatized by the embraced purges.) In any case it was a colossal failure of intelligence and morality. Especially the latter – but in many ways quite excusable in the burning youthful radicalism, in that natural search for a fixed identity, all explaining faith.

But what I find very hard to accept is this rueful, amused nostalgia that most of the educated class and the ex-radicals themselves seem to feel about those times. There is almost a universal absence of any serious, even half-serious moral reflection. You can see the hammer and sickle on t-shirts, I would not wonder if one day there would a KGB (or even NKVD) logo on the chests of young idealistic people. Swastikas on the other hand are quite a bit more rare. I freely grant that Nazi-Germany in its brief, awful history advanced even further into the darkness, but not radically further when you think of the sheer number of the victims of Marxism-Leninism. 

Stalin’s system was actually more dangerous in the sense that it survived much longer and was thus able to murder even more people – finally even becoming the object of half-amused nostalgia, having logos on t-shirts. The names of Vorkuta and Solovetsk should lead to similar chilling, horrified feeling as Dachau and Auschwitz – for me, for many people they actually do, but there is no real public awareness of those millions of nameless graves, no real collective sense of a living historical memory. The victims and the crimes are forgotten: it seems it’s all right to murder masses of innocent people if you can disguise your bloody hysteria into few stolen enlightenment dregs.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Why market control is crucial for liberty

Libertarians I think are the most short sighted people around since Communism went out of business. As with their Marxist-Leninist fellow anti-social liberals, libertarians totally ignore the base, irrational human nature - which is to act aggressively, fearfully and shortsightedly especially as collectives. What would happen in a society without any progressive taxation, income levelling and strong welfare structures? A very easy question to answer: property would accumalate, there would not be money for high quality public education and healthcare. As capitalism inevitably requires losers and steep income unequality, a large proportion of the population would not be able to pay for decent, competitive education, nor would they receive adequate and effective health care. In concequence both poverty and wealth would be increasingly inherited: the children would not have anything approaching a level playing field, talent would be wasted and the lack of talent would often be rewarded just because your parents (or more likely, foreparents) would have been succesful or plain lucky in the unpredictable, irrational market conditions.

A totally libertarian society would exist for about few seconds before dissolving into mob rule and violence. Victorian type raw capitalism would speedily create class hatred, blatant injustices and political extremism. It is a natural human tendency to create monopolies and closed elites, in short injustice and bondage. This of course is just as true about the total public control of the economy as well as the grave lack of it: total concentration of public power as in the Stalinist command economy leads to irrational terror (and needs it to be established at all). The same goes for the total anarchic absence of any concentrated power. Short term personal gain wins over long term overall good: that is why capitalism works at all. That is also why those who gain by capitalism would make decisions and act in the way that would counteract the work of the free market forces: companies would establish monopolies and limit competition, individuals would buy their non-intelligent offspring high quality education and influential places in society. This is why we need the strong state and social democratic structures to mitigate the negative concequences of the market forces and to ensure that the majority benefits from the growth. Liberty requires constant protection.

Thoughts on the morning bus

Once again strange morning glimpses of the hard working modern Finland: busy, tired people on their way to work, to school. I always aim to look at our Western post-industrial civilization, any civilization, like an anthropologist would: there have been a myriad ways to live and there will be a myriad more to come. This, our current way, is just one them, and so, very, very odd, very exceptional. I look at the cars, the buildings, the street advertisements, clothes, TV programmes, and can often reach a state of pure wonder – how strange, how inexplicable that we should have arrived to this particular constellation. And how ephemeral it will turn out to be: one day, historically not a very long time from now, we will be one with Niniveh and Tyre.

There have been so many before us, strong beliefs, deep structures, self-evident truths now completely forgotten. On many levels this has already happened to my grandparents’ and my parents’ generations: the deeply rural, agricultural Ostrobothnia vanishing during their lifetimes, so rapidly replaced by the post-industrial, high-tech commercial society. In our village in January 1918 at a pietist prayer meeting was the local White Civil Guard established, very eager to fight against the Finnish Reds and Russian revolutionaries. I can just about imagine that mental and spiritual world: the sounds and smells of it, the pitch dark winter nights, horses and sledges, the burning and self-confident faith, that strange rural civilization, so permanent seeming – now one with Niniveh and Tyre.

Friday, March 17, 2006

On cats

The crucial subject of cats has already been raised in the comments sections, so why not address it upfront - I freely confess to being a serious cat lover from ever since my early childhood. In my opinion the domestic cat (felis catus) is effortlessly the highest life form on the planet. No question about that. We "have" an elegant looking (though fairly lighthearted and non-serious) grey tabby (by the the name of - well, Cat) at home. When I do home office work, he usually takes the sofa opposite me as his sleeping place, selecting variously ecstatic, deeply unconscious positions - when not eating or playing or looking meditatingly into the eternity. His life quality is about zillion times higher than ours: a clearly superior being. Strange that liberal and progressive bloggers seem to be very often cat lovers while the conservatives (along with Hitler and Stalin) seem to prefer dogs. I don't mind dogs - they are very nice, warm hearted, unconditionally obedient people, but cats simply are in a class of their own combining an esthetic, independent existence with a deep philosophic Zen unity with the world. Maybe one day we will evolve to some equivalent level but till that, there are always open positions for can openers.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

How to counter Market Leninism?

Especially in the Anglo-Saxon world there is a fairly vibrant school of thought that seriously believes that we have found the Ultimate Solution for the human condition, namely, supply and demand. The absolutely free market economy is for them the highest form of civilization: once this pinnacle is somehow achieved, all problems have been solved and all politics can end. This idea is then defended in the circular fashion that is very familiar for any person that has encountered Marxism-Leninism – there is a certain chilling disregard for the messy, contradictory polyphony of humanity, all exceptions from perfection are explained as deviations from the Absolute Model that of course does not exist, that never can exist. Humanity as a Theory of Exchange.

To counter this is not an intellectual problem at all. Exactly like Marxist-Leninists that were fairly annoying in their blind faith that was formulated to withstand all empirical observations and simple logic, the extreme libertarian-conservatives are not a serious philosophical challenge as they strictly speaking don’t really have a philosophy or only a very primitive, rudimentary one. The problem with Communism was not the correctness of the absurd doctrine, as it so obviously wasn’t correct, but the existence of actual hostile Communist power structures. Primitive or not, they certainly were there and once threatened to take over the Western world. Their very simplicity and undeniable power guaranteed a certain level of support, no matter any intellectual defeats and ridicule. Power and faith are sadly always more influential than reason and logic.

The faith in the absolute freedom of market forces is of course politically very limited: in no Western country does a major political party advocate it. In all Western countries a clear majority of the intellectuals are actually actively hostile to it. Nevertheless the liberalization of capital and the rapidly increasing globalization are leading all Western societies towards this direction. Why is that, given the little faith we actually have in it? Well, the defenders of the welfare society have one very significant disadvantage: the welfare state was based on the social democratic compromise with the market economy. It was the growth and dynamism generated by the markets that made the distribution of wealth and the building of safety nets and the guaranteeing the level playing field (by high quality public education and health care) so painfree. The very efficiency of capitalism ensured that we were also able to tend to its negative effects and were able fairly painlessly to control it.

In some ways we are then victims of our success. The market economy is indeed highly efficient, we grew very wealthy, we also grew fully integrated with market structures. Capital became the highest form of power – it generated very persuasive, very powerful organizational and mental structures. The desperate historical struggles were forgotten, the memory of the dark side of capitalism gradually faded in our comfortable and secure welfare conditions, finally even the Soviet Union collapsed and there were not very coherent and powerful counter forces remaining. The case for further liberalization was actually very persuasive: in the past higher growth had meant lessened social conflicts and the strengthening of safety nets – a minority supported the reforms ideologically, the majority pragmatically, not seeing the freedom of market as an absolute value in itself. Moreover, it has been done in small, logical steps, each leading to new ones.

So, here are we are then: successfully defeating market leninism intellectually and philosophically – but actually, historically, our societies are rapidly progressing towards more and more destructive forms of pure capitalism that are fundamentally hostile to the social liberal structures of civil society, democracy and equality. The sheer power and influence of the market structures will guarantee strong and shrill voices in favour of the change, the majority of the population is admittedly hostile but feeling powerless as no political choices seem to matter. The ideological and philosophical opposition is paralyzed: those that regonize the dependency of the welfare structures on a dynamic market economy are confused in the face of this recent and seemingly irreversible change, the radical minority is mostly living in a painless dream world or hoping for destruction and collapse.

The question then fundamentally remains unanswered: we can easily defeat intellectually and philosophically this blind faith in market forces many times over, but how do we do it politically when the enemy is not any coherent ideology or movement but the structure of historical change itself? It is easily predictable that unchecked this change will ultimately lead to its own undoing, but to wait for that is not a coherent political strategy, not for people believing in democracy and rational political action. Surrendering in the face of this challenge, is in effect surrendering any belief in rational political control of social change. A plan of effective, practical action is urgently needed: the old strategies and tools are not working, the old rhetorics are irrelevant.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

We are the hollow men

These thoughts on reading that the UPM share price rose sharply on the news of 3600 people being laid off.

What values are inherent in capitalism? I would think thrift, efficiency, transparency, respect of property law, personal responsibility, competition. What else? I think that if a company announced that it will start using selective euthanasia as a part of its pension plan, the share prise would plummet. It would be against the law and current mores, the effect would be negative. But why is that? Largely the respect of human life in the West, regardless of its productivity and station in life, is the influence of Christianity and its secular social democtratic and social liberal successors. If we would see euthanasia as morally legitimite, it would mean a cut in costs and increased profits. The stock market would automatically respond positively. Capitalism is an economic arrangement, an effective means to maximise the return on investment: it automatically seeks increased efficiency, increased profits. This is pure arithmetic; profits can be calculated, are being calculated very objectively and accurately. Return on investment is not a gray area, it is not in itself a matter of morality and ethics. They are outside influences, imported into the market economy by the surrounding society and culture.

The servant is rapidly turning into the master. Gradually we are losing our moral bearings and more and more things will get their value purely from supply and demand. Including human beings - homo economicus has been born. In some sense this is what real communism attempted: to turn people into agents of production, and production to be the sum of all things. We are getting hollow: efficient hedonistic consumers. If we are not able to earn money for consumption, if we are not productive enough, we are worthless, bad news for the stock market. That is why it was excellent for UPM that those 3600 people will lose their jobs. Admittedly it has negative concequences for the public economy: if only it would have less obligations or if it would otherwise be able to get rid of these unproductive people and their families. Maybe we will find an efficient solution some day.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Iron in their souls

When historians are good they are really good: Kimmo Rentola, Veli-Pekka Leppänen and other young Finnish historians have done amazing work on the tragic history of Finnish Communism. I still say tragic as hateful as I find their creed: the seeds were sown by the White terror of 1918. Of course they had a heavy responsibility in the events that led to that terrible time, but nothing justifies the crimes then committed, and a tradition of hate was understandably created by that awful repression. Iron entered their souls. Thousands, tens of thousands escaped to the promised land, the Soviet Union which in its Leninist phase was still not completely psychotic, it still contained some genuine optimism and progress. For a few years: then the full darkness descended.

Stalin slaughtered the Finnish Communists, scattered and demoralized the remnants. The paradise turned out to be a bloody, hysterical nightmare. But iron was in their souls. They had embraced the awful doctrine voluntarily, out of hatred. Those that survived (mostly in prison in Finland or fighting in Spain, some random people in Comintern and around Kuusinen) by and large did not give up the faith. And that is were my sympathy leaves them: Elvi Sinervo composing lines for the two persons killed in the Kemi strike of 1949 – what did she write of the millions murdered, that were still being murdered? Tuure Lehén, Armas Äikiä, so shrill in the service of Stalin, the killer of countless of their comrades, actively working to stalinize the democratic and Nordic Finland which would have resulted in unimaginably more suffering than the White efforts in 1918 (which ended in the democratic and orderly elections of 1919).

Their much worshipped hero Stalin was their undoing: the whole Communist movement was paralyzed and traumatized by his insanity and paranoia. The Red Army did not, was not risked to do the work for them in Finland - at every point the Communists were outplayed in non-violent parliamentary politics. The deadly pincer movement of Paasikivi and Kekkonen at the state level and the militant, self-confident social democrats in the labour organizations, work places and factories was too much for the rigid, orthodox Stalinist leadership of SKP.

Leninist flexibility and daring had been bloodily purged out of the Party, those that remained always waited for instructions, always covered their backs, never deviated from the orthodoxy even if the local reality was demonstrably not conforming to it. They had iron in their souls: first planted by the White terror, but the most awful aspect was hidden, denied, a dirty family secret – that Stalin had proven to be a far worse, far bloodier enemy of the Marxist-Leninist left than Mannerheim ever was. You could not talk about that, not really even after 1956. When the rift between the "euro communists" and the orthodox minority became institutionalized in the early 70’s, the famous big wave of the youth radicals entered a paralyzed tradition with a dead void in its centre. So much energy wasted into so worthless, so hateful ideology