Monday, July 21, 2008

To Katri Manninen

Katri Manninen decided to answer my recent post where I criticized her column in Metro.

Thanks for the answer, Katri, I appreciate it. I'll answer here, the comments are too short.

"I wonder when was the last time you lived full time in the U.S. and if you've actually hanged out for extended periods with the U.S. citizens (and especially illegal immigrants) who struggle to survive with their minimum wages?"

The last time I lived full time in the USA was in 2001. I have hanged out, and worked, for extended periods with the U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who lived on minimum wages, and also with the ones who lived on SSI (the money provided to the poor elderly and handicapped by the federal government). As to illegal immigrants, they are not supposed to be there in the first place. You can't seriously blame any country for being an inconvenient place for illegal immigrants to live.

"I'm sorry if my point didn't come across from my column, which was that also many Finnish people are on their way towards the same kind of voluntary slavery -- therefore we can't really judge "Americans" for what is happening here."

Yes, this point did come across at the end, I just didn't find it all that important. For me the issue was not so much whether you were talking about the voluntary slavery in the US or in Finland, but with the whole concept of "voluntary slavery". Basically, you came across as saying that the lower-class people (forget the nationality) are not intelligent enough to figure out what they really want or don't want to buy.

I am not trying to say that advertisement - on TV or otherwise - doesn't affect consumers' choices. I just think that it's both stupid and extremely condescending to consider this phenomenon slavery, that the whole expression "voluntary slavery" smacks of 1984 (I believe the exact quote is "freedom is slavery"), and that while advertisement can well affect whether one wants to lie on the beach in Aruba or in Gran Canaria, most people, including the ones of the wrong side of the IQ bell curve, are in fact capable to decide for themselves whether they want to buy a sofa, a vacation or neither.

Just for curiosity, Katri: how enslaved by your consumer choices do you feel? When you decide to take a vacation, do you feel like you've made the decision yourself, or is it some TV-induced brainwashing voluntary slavery? This is not a rhetorical question: I tend to see all the discourse on this topic as extremely condescending in the "of course I have free will and think before I buy, it's only those other people who are enslaved and brainwashed" way, but sometimes I wonder whether at least some of the people who write articles like yours genuinely feel that they themselves are not quite in control of their own consumer choices. Do you, personally, feel in need of the personal freedom war that you urge your readers to start today?

"I'm sorry if I sound like a leftist feminist, but I do believe that the better a country/society treats its children and mothers, the better it will do economically, environmentally, spiritually and morally (?)."

As opposed to the childless adults and fathers?

"As of now I've never seen an industrialized country that would mistreat it's women and children as horribly as the U.S. does."

So, how does it mistreat us? I have been both a woman and a child in the US, and I am curious. Didn't feel particularly mistreated at any point.

(Yes, I am more or less sure you mean that the social security net for them is not as strong as you want it to be. First of all, I don't consider this mistreatment. Second, the social security net for single mothers with dependent children is already stronger than for any other groups of population, except the elderly and the disabled.)

OTOH, maybe we shouldn't start an argument about taxes and services. It will be endless.

"Of course I can't speak for other people, but I have no problem to criticize ANY nation in the world -- including my native country of Finland."

But of course. Almost nobody ever has any problem criticizing their own country. But have you in fact ever criticized the big eastern neighbor in print?

Not that I would think worse of you if you hadn't - I am sure there are many countries I myself would love to criticize but have never gotten around to criticizing.

"In addition to that I think "Americans" who believe that the U.S. is somehow better or more powerful than any other nation, are living in the denial. I totally agree that in the 50's and 60's this was one of the best places -- if not THE best place -- in the world to live. Even 70's and 80's were pretty good, but the life in the U.S. at the end of the first decade of 2000 is unfortunately no picnic."

Life is unfortunately no picnic anywhere, and the US is certainy not perfect.

As to the US being more powerful than any other nation militarily, this is a simple fact. No need to be in denial of anything, just compare the size of the armies, the budgets, etc. Not that this fact would be a good source of jealousy, except for people who feel they personally might have use for an army.

As to whether the US is a better place to live than Finland or some other European country: depends on your lifestyle, of course, but there are some general trends. I have obviously chosen Finland, and I can at least say that IMO in general for an urban single person Helsinki is a more pleasant place to live than Boston. Objectively, however, there were 13045 Finnish-born foreigners living in the US in 2000, and 2354 US citizen foreigners living in Finland in 2007. The statistics are not nearly a perfect match, since the ones in the US were taken in 2000 and show residents who were born in Finland and are not US citizens, and the ones in Finland were taken in 2007 and show residents who are US citizens and not Finnish citizens, but I think the discrepancy is large enough to notice that more people prefer to move from Finland to the US than otherwise.

In any case my main point was not to argue about the US and how it should or should not be improved, but to point out what I see as gross misuse of the concepts of freedom and slavery.

Anyway, good luck there in Hollywood!

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