Thursday, February 23, 2006

On the relevance of Christianity

I suppose I have been trying to formulate a somewhat complicated position about religion in my postings - basically I think that the organized formal religion, with its various dogmas and theologies, is very much beside the point. We should not judge religion based on these flimsy, laughable justifications for power structures, control and aggression. The modern and much thriving fundamentalism is nothing but a base variation of the 19th century positivist science, in itself a very primitive and destructive world view. The essence of religion is somewhere else, in something that can never be satisfactorily formulated, in the silences and gaps of our experience. I have earlier quoted Larkin's "Church Going" in relation to this point - it is a serious house, on serious earth, and not irrelevant at all to our civilization. I believe that our experience of the world is at heart mystical, something beyond words and formal thought. Religion, in its purest form, when stripped of all pretensions to power, captures this mystical nature of experience much better than wholly rational and materialistic enlightenment thought. This is not to posit any supernatural beings or "true" theologies, but to express the opinion that certain dimensions are inherent in our being in the world, and that we will be less serious, less belonging if we ignore them. This is why Christianity still matters, or should crucially matter to us. What was thought and said 2000 years ago, was a universal message - whatever its origins.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Good states of mind

I must confess that I am mostly baffled by the philosophy of G.E. Moore – its structure, its argumentation make very little sense to me. So, when I have hijacked some of his conclusions, I think I make some violence to them: they are specific conclusions, getting their full meaning from a specific context. So, when I posit, not as objective good but as a central goal in life to have “good states of mind” through art, friendship, love and pursuit of understanding (the last one my addition), I mean something different and more superficial than Moore. I suspect that my ethics are more traditional, more closely related to Christianity and liberalism than his quite ethereal, unworldly concerns. This is of course not to say that it was not a stern ethical system, it was, but to repeat the same kind of semi-critical observations that Keynes made in his memorable reminiscenses in the late 1930's of how Moore and Principia Ethica affected early Bloomsbury. This said, I do share some of Moore's main conclusions and do measure my life against them among others. And that brings us interesting vistas.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Wind from Airisto

There is only one Finnish poet that has had a significant, sustained emotional impact on me. It is curious how little interest I have had in the well known Finnish modernists, with their intricate, impressive language, their finely chiselled sentiments. It has felt somewhat unreal and remote. The same goes even more strongly for the classics with their fixed, often highly skillful forms, flexing the muscles of the dark, slow, deeply felt language. Naturally there are many poems, several poets that do strike a chord, that I do appreciate, admire and respect, but there is not that burning, personal feeling of relevance that I get with poets I have written about on this blog: Eliot, Yeats, Larkin, Stevens and Betjeman.

The exception is in many ways a bridge between the "classical", national romantic period and the post-war modern and postmodern schools: Martti Haavio, who used the pen-name P. Mustapää. His post-war collections work in so many levels - as a haunting, elegiac description of the nationalist disillusion after the lost war, as reaffirmation of the centrality of art and the classical heritage in the harsh modern conditions, and as great, individual, technically groundbreaking poetry. Haavio was a distinguished Finno-Ugric scholar, the professor of folk poetry at the Helsinki University (in our German type system a nationally very important and visible academic position). His politics have now disappeared as a living political tradition, but he belonged to the small but influential and spectacularly talented liberal-nationalist group of the intelligentsia, having common positions with both the moderate right and left (after the war this meant clear conservatism). Times changed but he kept faith to his early ideals as the Soviet Union was busily being appeased by the new political elites and the Finno-Ugric nationalities imprisoned and assimilated behind the iron curtain with his poetry rising to new, memorable levels of skill and depth of vision.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Liars in public places

I am a Cold War liberal: among my heroes are Truman, Marshall, Kennan and Kennedy. They established the winning Western formula of mixing unmistakeable firmness with rational flexibility. The most irrational forces were always contained. That was the most enlightened policy possible in the circumstances where much of the right wing and the military were demanding very destructive, insane actions - and where the West was confronted with the mad terror system that Stalin had established. Finally the Soviet Union first softened and then collapsed largely as its expansion was so effectively contained with this pincer movement of unshakeable firmness and rational commercial and diplomatic engagement. Without American leadership, it would not have worked: three times during that awful century the USA was the arsenal of liberal democracy, without American power and leadership Western Europe would have collapsed many times over. Though it is also true that only firmness would not have worked: partially the Soviet system was embraced to death by the various European commercial, diplomatic and ideological engagements. Flexible, co-operative and co-opting American leadership enabled this deadly effective, many pronged approach.

Anyway, the point is that I am not a reflexive anti-American. The USA has been established in unique conditions: what works in Europe does not necessarily work in this continent sized, optimistic immigrant country. (Well, it used to be optimistic.) The anti-American forces are so automatic, so mechnical in their condemnations that they have lacked all credibility - even on those occasions that they have been right. So, when I see this current moral decadence, these terrifyingly primitive forces in the political control and in such an effective alliance with the corporate world, I am shocked. This is not the USA I have known: the open, self-confident country, naturally forming and naturally leading broad alliances. Money has pervaded and perverted the political process: both parties are strongly affected, but the modern Republicans have made influence peddling into an art form: K Street lobbyists have multiplied and often actually write the legislation. The mainstream media has become an established, profitable part of the corporate world: breaches of public conduct that used to be unimaginable go now mostly unnoticed by the big media. The 9/11, that great and much enjoyed gift to George Bush, has ushered into power the scariest, the most selfdestructive forces in the USA: the mentality has grown ugly, inward looking and fearful. The economy is scarily unbalanced, deficit financed: the current imperial adventures are practically based on Asian loans. Communist Beijing smiles on.

When the inevitable economic and political backlash comes it might not be the best remaining hope that will prevail, the growing progressive movement, but something even worse, even more insular and paranoid. For the rest of the world, especially for the liberal-democratic West it is a matter of awesome importance: if sanity and co-operation return in Washington the West can again rely on American strenght and leadership, if not, it is Europe that will have to carry the main responsibility for finding solutions to integrate the rapidly growing Asian giants into the global system, to contain the various militant movements around the world and to manage the environmental changes, possibly even catastrophes. But would Europe be up to the job - disorganized, overly cautious, unsuited to any determined leadership with an inward looking, unpredictable, paranoid US behind its back? The stakes are scarily high.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

History as prison

I see history as inherently tragic: our potential is vast but our reality is invariably shockingly primitive. We can see the open vistas but are never able to break free of the walls of ignorance, prejudice and aggression. The structures we have are fundamentalist in essence, shallow and viscious: any enlightenment there is seems to be quite an accidental byproduct of the market economy which has already changed its direction finding now the entertainment industry even better than protestant Christianity or liberalism in securing returns to capital.

History goes where power goes and power is based on our panicky, animal reflexes for security and comfort. In that sense I do hope for an end to history by securing a non-scarce enlightened society with permanent values of openness and reason. We have the potential for that, the potential for limitless visions - but will we ever realize these dreams? The human condition as it appears to us, being situated in the midst of history, is fundamentally tragic, has always been fundamentally tragic. Would we lose something profound, something essential if we would lose this tragedy? In many ways probably yes: pain and suffering are related to creation, to the infinite depths of experience, to form and beauty. But the prize is too high, the method too primitive and cruel.

The Wild Swans at Coole

Instead of any commercial negotiations I thought about later Yeats yesterday. Had in fact planned to take a book of his selected poems to the bus with me in the morning but forgot. If you think of it, it is a very strange poetic transformation when compared with his striking romantic early output but reading Foster you still get such a strong image of his personality always remaining as it was: egoistic, wildly erratic seeming (not really being: his vast, unreal presence simply created the forms of approach that suited it, absurd or not), transforming all experience into amazingly powerful and economic poetry. And how "unrealistic" it is, how absurdly tangential to the real world. Or seems to be. Actually, we have the artist in control, or in some control: behind masks there are other masks and maybe a void in the heart of it all - who can say? How wonderful is this complexity that is Yeats, his poetry. And how the memory of him in a section of Pound's Pisan Cantos (amidst that deep misery) quoted by Foster echoes to us through the decades, giving such a vivid, haunting image of this greatness, simultaneously absurd and grand:

"so that I recalled the noise in the chimney
as it were the wind in the chimney
but was in reality Uncle William
downstairs composing.
that had made a great Peeeeacock
in the proide ov his oiye
had made a great peeeeeeecock in the...
made a great peacock
in the proide of his oyyee

proide ov his oy-ee
as indeed he had"...

Note: could not for some reason get Pound's typography in place for the text.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Mea culpa

Never mind the philosophy of the blog. Crises are opportunities: currently I just stagger on from workday to workday, all reserves exhausted. I have made a good impression no doubt, crisp, decisive, knowledgeable, often on matters I know very little about. Not much new in there: on many levels I have always been an act in this field. What I used to do - after the fact - was really to attack the subject, maybe not even very exhaustively (how would that be possible in any case as regards any IT matter – there is no depth, no meaning there), but effectively nevertheless: I would do my minimum reading and writing and be fine with lots of energy left for the actually meaningful things. I could perform well or at the very least been seen to perform well and still concentrate really on other perspectives, the long views: art, love, history. At the moment...

At the moment I just stagger on from workday to workday only too often with a panicky feeling behind my confident, crisp facade. An old acquitance actually, that feeling, interesting to encounter it again: I had thought it had left my life for good for many years ago. Now it seems only a matter of time when the collapse will come. Being fresh to this place a long sick leave is not an option if I mean to continue. And what do I mean? Of course, in any case I was planning to change my course fundamentally but not in a disorganized retreat with finances extremely doubtful without an IT salary and with little if any reserves of energy left for a profound change of lifestyle. So here I am, bounded by these iron structures. Of course many things have led to this point, not the least of them the fact that I have had an obscure, non-serious but quite a tiring illness for the last two years. It seems cured now, but in this particular constellation it was probably too much, the force that tipped the balance.

“Crisis are opportunities.” “What do I mean?” Crisis are opportunities: these are the thoughts that have been echoing in my mind during these quite awful weeks. At times in a surprisingly fruitful, creative manner it seems to me. What do I mean, what is giving up and what is gaining, have I yet really returned to the straight and swift lines between the stars that once were so clear and so visible to me? I do know that I have returned a long strech, found my person and my place defined, bounded by love, by art. And we are only measured by time, not by money, not by possesions. Time is all we have: it should not be wasted. I have been unavoidably wasting my time, from workday to workday – or it has seemed unavoidable in order to gain other things, more meaningful, but what have I really gained by it? Not love, not art, not happiness. Interesting that even amidst this awful time I have been able to lift my eyes towards those swift lines between the stars, there is hope left: crises are opportunities.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The genealogy of the modern West

I would argue that what we now have is the distorted, mutated inheritance of the Victorian age. That was the classical time of creation of new structures as we broke through from the agricultural age to the industrial with the materialistic liberalism as the dominant political-ethical context. To this newly established global society happened then the catastrophes of WW1, World Depression and finally WW2 – which in politics led to the traumatic Cold War and in economics to the controlled Bretton Woods system that enabled the birth of Social Democracy. Now the Cold War is only a distant memory and Bretton Woods has collapsed long since, capital flows free once again: Victorians would know and understand much of today’s world. Unless we see this continuum and its radical crisis, we cannot really understand ourselves and our confusing, chaotic, scary situation after the fixed certainties, fixed threats of the Cold War era. This is the world that emerged in the early 19th Century: we are its children, perhaps on the very brink of the next transformation.

The strange prelude to the Finnish presidential election of 2006

Is there an opposite saying to the old Latin phrase: parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus? We had the election on Sunday, in essence a very meaningless affair where only nuances separated the two consensus candidates competing for a largely symbolic office. But this was of course hidden under all the loudness and shrillness of the campaign, millions of litres of ink and thousands of hours of tv-time. Very much ado about not very much. You might say this was the natural concequence of that sorry, stillborn hybrid of the new constitution that our very mediocre class of career politicians created in the context of Martti Ahtisaari’s political incompetence and Mauno Koivisto’s significant (and well functioned) reforms, taking almost all significant power away from the presidency and investing it in the parliament and cabinet. Well, I don’t agree: the new constitution is more in the nature of logical concequence of something deeper structural change than any primary cause for this mostly non-existent new office of president. What set this sorry stage was something quite else, deeply significant actions today largely forgotten.

Considering the momentous concequences for all levels and aspects of society these phased decisions starting in mid-80’s were absurdly low key, distant low murmurs on the background of the loud, self-confident political discourse. Nor do I argue that there were good alternatives, or alternatives that looked good, nor were the decisions made in an overtly ideological manner or that the decision makers even had any idea of their actual concequences. They didn't. In short, Finland liberalized the flow of capital movements following logically and naturally the rest of the Western market economies. In the Finnish conditions these quick moves created a particularly extreme amount of excess liquidity which led to the griveous depression in early 90’s (with the government looking at one stage in danger of default and with the unemployment getting catastrophically up to 20% in a couple of years – from a 5% level). This awful crisis necessitated, forced the further steps of seamless integration into the European and global economy, and as a concequence taking all meaningful economic policy making away from the political process and in to the markets’ responsibility. So, we do have a largely meaningless presidency, but we have also a significantly diminished cabinet and parliament. Decisionmaking has been outsourced to the global market with its unpredictability and instability. What economic political debate there is, is either meaningless or marginal. The more they talk, the less they decide.