keskiviikkona, syyskuuta 27, 2006

Authorities, church, and the Islamic world

Here in Europe, we have a tradition of having two 'authorities' to complain about. Parties that have kicked our individual asses and caused a lot of problems. Not everybody, not even most people, agrees with my assesment, namely government and church*. But still it is there, within our culture to complain about those two parties, if they ever do reach out and do bad enough things. It was the time of enlightenment that brought these ideas into light and very much delegitimized church and government as institutions of authority (which does not say that it succesfully delegitimized them as institutions, but only as authorities).

People are apt to complain about government and about church, if they do anything that goes past their bounds. We have also developed a culture where free criticism of these institutions is important, accepted, and any attepmt to silence such criticism is met with harsh condemnation (again not by everybody, but by many enough to say that it is part of our culture).

In contrast, the people in most Islamic countries have grown up with three different classes of authority. The church, the government (which are sometimes almost one and the same), and the western world. Through past centuries, western countries have ruled many of the islamic areas with force of arms.

Therefore, the situation becomes more complex, unfortunately. The westerners react to Islam, as they would to any religion trying to impose its belief system upon non-believers. Mohammed cartoon episode is a great example of this reaction. Ridiculing the religion who asserts authority has been the important western way of delegitimizing the authority of a religion that is pushing itself too far - in our opinion. So far so good.

But from muslim perspective, it is not a battle between people trying to rid themselves from the authority of church, but a western world that is trying to impose its authority upon the islamic world (the church). The image of the case becomes, not a fight of people trying to rid themselves of the authority, but a fight between one authority trying to impose over another authority.

So our perspective of the situation greatly differs from the perspective of the muslim world. The problem then becomes, how can we get to a world, where we can ridicule a religion that is trying to impose its authority and nose where it does not belong and where the muslim world does not look upon that as western imperialism.

It's a hard problem to solve, but if we don't manage to solve it, we will either have to get used to a lot of muslim world having hostile reactions to criticism of Islam, or to get used to not criticising it. Neither of the solutions is preferable, thus it is important to figure out ways of proceeding towards better future. As an optimist, I think it is possible - world is, in many ways, what we make of it. And even more importantly, what problems we choose to see and solve.

* I should probably add the 'invisible hand' or the 'free market' as another 'authority' in the discussion, but I will omit it here, firstly because it is not relevant to our discussion here and because the free market is an idea, not a group of people and the invisible hand does not have a spokesman who would speak on his behalf - after all it is an aggregate of all the individual decisions we do on the statewide (global) marketplace. (Though in some ways the hatred over the 'authority' of free market and the hand resembles the hatred of the 'authority' of the western world.)

maanantaina, syyskuuta 18, 2006

War on Terror(ism)

As everybody probably knows, USA started a War on Terror(ism) a few years ago. The mission has certain lack of clear goal, or perhaps, if taken literally, it has a clear albeit an oxymoronic goal.

Terrorism is a form of warfare - it is a method that a group may use to further their political goal. Fighting a war on terrorism is akin to fighting fighting a war to end civil wars, or to end conventional wars between states. We are not going to see end to war in foreseeable future and we are not going to see end to terrorism as a method of warfare. There is no method with which one can eradicate a strategy from the 'manuals' of war.

Fighting a war against particular terrorist organizations, such as al Qaeda, is another matter altogether. A terrorist organization good at what it does is an elusive foe and difficult to fight, but at least fighting against it is at least possible. It is also possible to win such a war, though results are probably never conclusive in the same sense as the victory over Germany was. After all, there is no entity that can surrender and no entity that can announce end to war on the other side. Instead, if victorious the terrorist network in question will wither away losing significance and capabilities to strike.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a misconception between these two things at the highest levels of USA administration which does not bode well for the future.

The greatest inventions in the history of mankind

Today's metro had a quick fact about which inventions people considered to be the greatest in the history of mankind. I don't intend to answer that, but still give my list of the greatest inventions, though not in any particular order.

Fire was listed as the number one invention in the questionnaire quoted. It is the start of an energy age, so it is important indeed. To my understanding, fire is the start of an age, when humans had other means of energy, but flesh, at their disposal. Wind and water mills, use of wind energy in sails, power plants using wood, coal, oil, and nuclear power are all just evolutionary steps after the great invention that energy can be used as a tool.

Which reminds us of the other great invention, lest we downplay the importance of something easily forgotten. The stick and the rock. Probably the first tools mankind ever used. They taught us that we can use things within the world to help us do our bidding. This is even more primary invention than fire and so often forgotten. Sticks and stones allowed us to use our own flesh, our own energy, in ways our bodies were never designed to be used in. Sticks and stones are the start of the age of technology.

Age of technology and energy brought many wonders to humankind. At some point humans found out that fire was not the only source of energy they could harness to their benefit. Animals and plants were domesticated for the benefit of society.

With the combination of technology and (relatively) abundant energy humans could produce more food than those doing the production and many people staked their claims for the surplus. Perhaps it is not surprising that warriors and priests (and of course, prostitutes) were the first ones to succeed. With their wake, or perhaps even before, came artisans and then merchants. Specialization started and it created trade and trade created money. The idea of having a common highly valuable material/thing that everybody would use as the medium for exchange revolutionarized trade and specialization. Salt and metal money could be divided into as small units as necessary and thus trade could happen whenever the buyer wanted the item bought more than the seller (and could afford it). Without money, trade would be rudimentary and could only happen when need is great, because most of the time the buyer would not have anything that the seller would particularly want. With money, human societies were transformed again, for better or worse, into an interconnected and interdependent web.

Then came the first true internet. Discovery of writing enabled people far apart both in distance and time to communicate (though not necessarily full-duplex). Modern inventions such as the phone, the computer, and the Internet are just evolutionary steps of making the age old web better, faster, and raising its storage and copy capabilities, and making the web more efficient.

After the creation of writing, it might be tempting to say nothing 'really new', nothing Big has been invented. Many of the modern inventions are clearly continuances of ages old processes and that is good. But are there others that would be important enough, big enough, and most importantly new enough to warrant in this list?

sunnuntaina, syyskuuta 10, 2006

Social Democrats have started election campaigning

Check this out. I guess the social democrats have decided that they need to do something to maintain their voters and have decided to start early. The movie targets audience starting from 3 years up - and features characters such as Tarja Halonen and Erkki Tuomioja as important good characters saving the village from an evil Caesar.

I find it gross and the movie maker definitely will not get any more money out of my pocket (he probably did get some, because practically all Finnish movies are tax funded).

lauantaina, syyskuuta 09, 2006

Asem demonstrations

Does anybody know what the demonstrators were demanding? I've been trying to follow the news a little bit, but have thus far been unable to deduce anything particular that they would have demanded or opposed. I heard a radio interview of a Leftist Alliance (vasemmistoliitto) youth organization member who seemed to be one of the organizers and he didn't even mention Asem when he was asked about the reasons for the demonstrations. Instead, he said that they've had big demonstrations in other capital cities during EU presidency and that it is important to allow people to demonstrate.

I'm perplexed. Why are these people demonstrating and why will nobody explain the reasons? Isn't it traditional that you try to forward some political position with a demonstration? Does anybody know why?

perjantaina, syyskuuta 01, 2006

Lies media told us, part II

It seems that International Red Cross is also an active participant in the ambulance fraud. This is truly worrysome. I've known for a long time not to trust the media, but if Red Cross starts deliberately lying about these things... it seems I may need to reconsider my attitude toward International Red Cross. Via Melanie

"Now the Red Cross has rebuked Australian Foreign Minister Downer for relying on an ‘unverified’ blog for his claim. As Little Green Footballs observes, this was the same Red Cross which — as LGF previously reported — once the ‘unverified’ blog started using those vanishing journalistic attributes such as eyesight and brain activity to state the overwhelmingly obvious, quietly removed from its website the high-resolution image of the ambulance that had allegedly been struck. For if these pictures were indeed a lie, then the Red Cross itself is squarely in the frame for disseminating it."

This attitude is outrageous, and I suggest you all let Red Cross know what you think of this kind of attitude. I will. At least with Red Cross, every one of you can help by telling them that we will not be donating money through them anymore, if they do not return the images for public inquiry and respond to the accusations.