Eagle and serpent

explorations and philosophy: in the world, of the world

Tag: culture

The innocence of organised professionals

The newly-leaked video showing the unprovoked killing of twelve people in Baghdad reminded me of an old theme. Namely, that of individuals, organisations and the responsibility of action.

I remember Henry Rollins (in one of his spoken word shows) justifying his visits to the ‘boys overseas’ with something like: “…there’s nothing wrong with the military itself–they’re just doing what they’re told…the leaders are the real criminals…”

Now, as this seems to be very easy to agree with, initially, I happened to travel to Viet Nam only few months later.

And lo! A photograph of grinning marines holding the heads of decapitated Vietnamese villagers reminded me of Henry’s words, “nothing wrong with the military…” Sure. I couln’t help but think of the role of the organisation and its culture while they were ‘helping’ the Vietnamese. This was especially evident after seeing the text behind the photo, scribbled by a soldier having witnessed the atrocity, lamenting “what this f*@#ing army does to the minds of normal boys”.

Similarly, in the recent video provided by Wikileaks, the soldiers comment their work with a charming phrase, only to chuckle about running over a body with a tank just a while later:

“Oh, yeah, look at those dead bastards.”…”Nice.”

A similar argument to Henry’s is heard quite often, only the context changes: concentration camp guards (they were following orders), informers (they were worried about the nation’s survival during the cold war), Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo torture cases perhaps serving as the relevant recent examples. Although my personal experience of military is very limited (I have not participated in any of the ‘humanitarian military interventions’), I still think I have some insight of the functioning of such ‘firms’. During my year in the compulsory national service, I most probably experienced the most sexist, racist, nationalistic and (surprise, surprise) militaristic organisation in this country. What else should one expect from an institution run by half-wits and built on the foundation of mythico-eternal enmity?

Now, as the so-called Western democracies take great pains in demonising the Taleban and whichever movement comes between them and their strategic interests, isn’t it interesting that sexist slavery still exist in our very own societies? And, as a corollary, is it a surprise that organisations like these, having gone ‘abroad’ on pretexts lingering criminal insanity, also carry on the gravest injustices, defined by their very own propaganda?

This post neither solves the problem of agency and structure in social theory (and I’m not even sure if it is the right question), nor the role of culture and individual will in organisational behaviour. What it hopefully does, is it shows that what we do we end up doing. In other words, killers look for something to kill. Their best intentions and articulated mission statements only serve as rationalisations for the atrocities that have to be retrospectively justified.

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Violent, us?

Once someone criticises this place, the righteous appear to come up with all kinds of explanations and feeble defenses. Quite recently, an Estonia-born author noted Ultima Thule to have a culture that embraces violence at all its levels. With the obvious reactions.

One doesn’t have to refer to the national statistics to note that here people are unfriendly, untactful and unappealing. Added to the visions of war and mythical relationship to the existence of the nation make the obvious contribution. Everything here seems to be just one more instance of the ‘miracle of the winter war’.

Luckily, we’ll once again see how the nation lies (as independence day looms just one away). It’s interesting to see in practice and festive speeches how ‘our’ security is nowadays extended to participate in the coalition of the willing, defending what the Americans call ‘human rights’.

It might also be intriguing to psycho-analyse our militaristic right, as it seems to be suffering of the fact that they cannot openly and with the fullest of their ability participate in the so-called ‘peacekeeping’ operations.

UPDATE: Breaking news–the defense minister visiting Afghanistan over i-day! How metaphorical!

Tortured gods, institutions

Noticing the amusing outrage about the status of crucifixes in Italian schools, one’s tempted to have a multitude of reactions. On one hand, keeping these kind of religious symbols in classrooms in these times of (at least outspoken) secularism, is rather weird. On the other, is it a surprise that the populace is outraged? Third, what’s the point of court orders which no-one can (or is willing to) enforce?

Culturally, the whole issue triggers an interesting set of questions. Moving beyond the obvious “this-is-our-culture” identity-fortifying outcry, what is the source of this reaction? Could it be that somehow unconsciously, Italians are proud of the cross and their god being tortured to death on it? Thus, Italians (in the loving memory of the Roman empire) want to embrace the heritage of introducing that particular torturing/execution method. Sweet.

When the ice cubes melt

Been gathering some steam for a while now… I think now it’s time to vent some of it!

It hardly comes as a surprise that Ultima Thule is perhaps not the most inspiring place to live. An interesting re-phrasing caught my eye this week, however. A British anthropologist (living in Oulu, uuh) depicted Finland being “a diluted Greenland”. What a neat, condensed way of putting it!

This is exactly how it is. Religiousness, alcoholism, traditional values, lack of critical thinking… Let’s just not start, the list is far too long and f*ed up to be completed here. I’d like to focus my attention to something else, namely the mass media.

I might be exaggerating, but I think it’s extremely hard to find information of the world in this place, in the local language. If I didn’t have UK and Middle East sources in my feeds, I would almost completely be at the mercy of mainstream media. And this is full of ‘news’ that are either foolish, irrelevant, or local to ridiculousness. Maybe we should start talking about ‘newslets’?

Then again, whose relevance? It may well be the case that laypeople just.don’t.care about South Waziristan military offensive, but when the extent reaches ignoring militaristic apartheid regimes defying UN reports, I think things are going a bit too far. To prove my point, I went to the 1st source of unbiased and objective journalism. As I’m writing this, the paper has the following topics under ‘news’ -> ‘foreign’ (not always the exact wording):

  1. Additional Finnish occupiers’ return from Afghanistan likely to be delayed
  2. Farmers burned tires in Paris
  3. French bees are distressed by the countryside

What? Is there really nothing more interesting happening in the world than bees and their ‘psychological’ symptoms?

I’m not a fan of imagined conspiracies, so it might just be due to ignorance, anti-intellectualism and lack of market. Which is, kind of, soothing, right?

Pseudo-scientific comparative analysis

I think it’s time for one. Some ten days here in the land of sunshine, culinary excellence and friendly people give the needed backrest for some reflections of my time on the island.

Food: London is simply wonderful, even traditional British treats are excellent; one just has to know where to go. No need to elaborate here further, the interested ones should just research TimeOut or book a flight. Compared to London Helsinki is generally miserable, sometimes positively surprising in its exoticism, the peak being narrow, boring and very pricey.

Prices: Nominal prices are what they are, currency rates fluctuating, added to cultural and geographical differences of availability. If ‘expensive’ is perceived as “the cost of what you get”, London wins 6-0. By the river the scope varies from good and cheap to exquisite in both ways, by the sea one can choose between expensive mediocrities and very expensive haute stuff.

Alcohol: Both are pathologically infested with alcoholics and a culture of excessive consumption. The North leans more towards binging and glorification of non-controlled drunken idiocy, whereas the Brits sip all the time. After work, the streets in front of pubs are crowded at least four evenings a week, full of shouting and smoking office labour. Splendid. On the other hand, Helsinki is drunkard-littered ‘only’ two times a week (summertime is another matter), and has more brawling and aggressive behaviour (in London one has to seek a bit).

Housing: In this sense, Helsinki is a clear winner (except for the geo-location). At the price of a nice studio in Helsinki city centre, in London the same money buys you a garage with dust, mould and free street entertainment. Crumbling infra is a big turn-off, added to the almost inescapable need to commute (in similarly crumbling) mass transit establishment.

People: One thing I’ll definitely miss is the politeness and considerateness of the people around. Everyone is simply used to taking other people’s space and person into account, physically and verbally, which is definitely not the case in Ultima Thule. Maybe it’s due to the long history of people living together, don’t know. Nevertheless the archetypical, rude Finnish redneck with two modes of talking—complete silence and verbal abuse—is not appealing.

Hubris levels (ungrounded self-satisfaction added to ignorance about the exterior world) are pretty much the same in both countries. In the UK, however, they have far better reasons for that; hence it’s slightly less ridiculous.

Couple in the cabin

Lars von Trier’s newest is a disturbing one. Careful with the reviews though, discussions of Antichrist’s disturbance often become spoilers.

The flick has absolutely stunning cinematography. Slow motions and art-like colours are combined throughout the film with an eerie soundtrack. Depending on the viewer, it might also be viewed either as a feminist or a misogynistic film. Beauty/ugliness, inside/outside, bliss/pain, life/death, you name it. Lars likes to disturb. In a way, this play with contrasts is an old one.

One likable feature in von Trier’s story-telling is his habit of dropping hints along the journey. On the other hand, these traces, picked up and followed, can lead to an underlined use of symbolism. What he discusses nicely is man’s relationship with nature, fear, the forest around him and how it gazes him from within himself.

The cabin becomes the self.

Back on the island

After a month of wandering in the belt of good life (south of the Alps, north of the Atlas), it was time to return to the fog. It took some time and pain to re-adjust to the rain and cold.

+13 degrees, wind and rain just don’t do it for me anymore. Yes, many things are better here than in the south (infra etc. you know it). Sadly, the benefits hardly outweigh good food, nice people and excellent weather… Cold fingers no good.

There must be something in the notion that bad outdoors makes people concentrate on the indoors (and vice versa). No surprise that doing a PhD right next to a beach takes a very curious mind…

Mangiare

Had to leave Italy, otherwise they would’ve made me fat! In the Ligurian mountains even the waiters took no no for an answer. Seems they are insistent on every front…

After declining a dessert from the dinner menu and just opting for a coffee, the waiter came back in few minutes suggesting another, ‘very good local dessert’, which I, of course, could not turn down. It ended up being a plateful of these

Uuh…

Also easiness of the wine specs was surprising, which is rather uncommon in Europe. When I asked about the difference between normal and ‘superiore’ Rossese (local red), I got an extremely helpful answer. “You see-a, superiore is very good!

For you my friend

This is how it should be! Renting a vespa in Italy can turn out to be pretty much anything. But what comes without saying, it’s not boring!

The best thing to have is someone who knows what he’s doing, and knows the owner of the rental as well. Then you can get a discount and be quite sure that they don’t fool you. This is common knowledge, not surprising, and so on.

But the most important thing is the thing what this leads to. Unlike in cultures with high level of Weberian bureaucracy and low level of charisma (read: everything north of the Alps), here assholes don’t have a fun time! (Or you have to be the biggest asshole in the country in a loong time).

Being friendly pays off—which is very cool indeed!

The cowboy’s burden

First reflections after seeing Clint Eastwood’s newest—Gran Torino—were quite confused. The immediate reaction was that the film is Eastwood’s will—summation of the things he’s famous of, spiced up with some criticisms.

Initially, his main character seems like a rather good depiction of a ghettoised, white, racist veteran. After a while, though, this picture starts to show some signs of overemphasis—sometimes he’s just too much himself.

Apologetic and obvious to start with, the movie proceeds to its non-surprising end. The critical viewer is also tempted to see white man’s heroism as a form of neo-colonialism. It’s after all him that saves the aborigines—from themselves.

And yes—the winner gets a car.