I'm writing in English, which is strange in itself since I really love my own language, Finnish, and since I detest the power position that the English language has in global communucation... but I'd get way too many complaints from American friends if I didn't write in a language comprehensible to them.

May 30, 2011

Democracy, again

"If you ask people if they support affirmative action they say yes. If you ask them if they support positive discrimination they say no" said my husband, explaining to me how the Finnish term "positiivinen syrjintä" is translated into Finnish. I think we need a new name in Finnish too.

I was again sadly reminded of the problems of democracy this week. The True Finns (a Finnish populist political party) published a proclamation against racism. However, they let a certain J H-a write the proclamation. Mr H-a is widely considered to be racist himself, or xenophobe, or at least have sympathies with very racistic ideas. The proclamation came out condemning any kind of discrimination, including affirmative action to help minorities or groups in weaker position. Soon after this, the chair of the youth organization of the National Coalition Party (biggest of the Finnish parties since last election) wrote an article supporting this position, admitting only the need for affirmative action to help disabled people. He especially condemned affirmative action for women or racial/cultural minorities. The biggest national newspaper, in a typical simplified move, made a questionnaire on their pages: Do you approve of (positive discrimination) affirmative action? 80% of readers answered "no".

Someone pointed out that most people don't even know what affirmative action is about. I think even less would be able to follow the reasoning for why it might be good and why it was written in the Finnish constitution.

Democracy. Everyone should vote, but only a fraction of voters will actually study any subject. Finland doesn't have elections on actual issues, just representatives, so the idea is that in stead of me having to study everything under the sun my representative will, and he or she may then be able to give an informed vote on subjects. Yes, but we still want our representatives to vote as we would, however misinformed we are. Many people choose a representative before the elections through an "election machine" - computer questionnaire that shows which candidate's thoughts are closest to the voter's. The questions range from ethics to economy. To answer them most people will need to rely on a vague feeling on the subject - a feeling that is very easily manipulated by clever use of words. Like the difference between "affirmative action" and "positive discrimination" shows.

Winston Churchill seems to have said "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." That's how I feel. All the other systems suck - but democracy is no good either. It would work perfectly if people were well-informed, friendly towards their neighbors, honest and humble, with no hunger for power - but then again, so would almost any other system too.

May 4, 2011

USA number one

I was looking at phone numbers one day and was surprised to see that the country code for the USA was 1. I didn't know any country got to have that and said something to the effect to my dear husband (who is American). He said "That's probably what you get for inventing the telephone." Oh.

Yes, the US did invent the telephone and many other modern miracles too. Older miracles are invented in other countries, and just recently this phenomenon we call globalization is making it hard to say where anything is invented, since everything seems to be multi-national.

I might be a bit jealous of America. You see, Finland's country code on telephone is 358. We might have invented the cell phone, but that's a bit hard to prove.

America seems to want to be number one in everything else too. I guess that's just natural for a competetive nation. We participate in sports because we want to win - be number one - and for America everything is a sport in that way. During the cold war America was competing hard with the Soviet Union to be the number one superpower. After the cold war the Americans felt comfortable in their ultimate power. There was no other country that could even come close in financial or military power, or, as many Americans felt, innovation, freedom, courage or other values Americans admire.

Lately there has been a bit of a fall down to earth. China is seriously competing with America about the spot of the strongest economy. America might even be only number two in some respect. This could not be tolerated. As America's number one position was threatened, down went the president's approval ratings (first president Bush's, then president Obama's.) Obama also received critics for his foreign politics. In Libya Obama didn't take a leading role (thus showing the number one position) and the leader turned out to be (shudder) France in stead. Was Obama giving France the chance to be number one?

Just recently Americans were comforted by Obama's independent decision to go to another country's soil and execute America's number one enemy, Osama bin Laden. This reminded everyone that America is still number one, and can and will do whatever it wants. Obama's approval ratings immediately went up 11% (but don't worry, it won't last long.)

For any American this might seem nothing to complain about - as long as America only does good, not evil, in the world, then why should it not be number one? (I'm not going to discuss whether America only does good and no evil in the world - that question would need a whole book.) However, nations of the world are a bit like children in a playground. If one child always wants to be the first and decide what the children should play, the others get upset. It doesn't help if the child is the biggest and strongest of them, in fact, it may make things worse. The more that child emphasizes that it is number one, the more the other children resent it, even if all the child's commandments or suggestions were reasonable.

Every nation wants to be an equal voice - except for those that want to be a bigger voice than others. That is the strenth of the only truly international organisation, UN. (Ok, we could discuss how equal nations are in the UN, but to be honest, there is no other organization that even comes close.) Many Americans don't like the UN. Many others don't like it either, since it is so slow and full of conflict. I love it for the same reason - the conflict means that no country can actually pull its own agenda through. If there's conflict in the UN that is because there's conflict in the world. Nations don't think alike on issues. However, the UN is a place where they can try to work them through - and in matters of culture (UNESCO) and protection of children (UNICEF) it seems to be working at least a bit.

One more thing. The USA might be number one in many things, I'm sure, but a recent trip showed me it's not the only number one in telephone country codes. Canada shares 1 with the USA.