lundi 21 mars 2011

Too little imperialism?

I am not a fan of the US, I have no sympathy for the American way of life, for the fundamentalists, for the fast food chains, for Hollywood and the hypocritical talk about value-based politics. And for many other things. I wouldn't be happy to live in America. But looking at the mess the world is now I think that the Americans have missed a historic chance to put this world in order, to make it a better place. In my childhood the Soviet press was full of attacks against the "American imperialism". But perhaps the mistake America made was not to become really imperialist. It would have meant to issue in 1946 an ultimatum to the only real competitor, the USSR, and to make the whole world the US zone of influence. It would have meant that all other nations would have been in a situation similar to what Western European nations were in the times of the Cold War. But there would have been no cold war, no arms race, no big wars in Asia and Africa, probably also no mad dictators as Idi Amin or Pol Poth. Tamerlan is quoted to have said that the world is too small to tolerate many rulers. This is nowadays more true than ever. The tragedy is that it is no more possible to unite the world under one ruler, under one centre of power. The only chance to make the world a better and safer place would be something similar to the Vienna Congress in 1815 that established a consensus between European powers guaranteeing peace for nearly a century in the continent. Nowadays it would mean finding such a consensus between the main big players -- the US, China, Russia, Europe (although Europe still has not succeeded in finding a common denominator in its relations with the outside world), India and some emerging nations of Asia and America.

mercredi 9 mars 2011

Der Wille zur Macht

I think Nietzsche's famous phrase "Der Wille zur Macht" has many possible interpretations. The most banal -- and the most fatal -- of these is the political-military one. Here, the hero is the fair savage ready to kill, destroy. Power here means power to do to other people what one doesn't want to be done to himself, blatant, sadistic negation of the "golden rule". This notion of the will to power was turned into an ideology, and we, children of the XXth century, know what this meant in practice. It is one of the paradoxes connected with interpretation of Nietzsche. There are others. Let's think of his well-known hatred for the German nationalism, "Vaterländerei", his attempts to find Slavic or Jewish ancestors. The facts that were ignored when Nietzsche was more or less proclaimed the philosopher of the German military (in the beginning of the Ist World war every officer got a free copy of the "Also sprach Zarathustra") or the Nazi gang leaders. But I would propose a different interpretation: I would like to compare Nietzsche to the shamans, to these (often as eccentric and ailing) men and women who were also striving to get more power. This meant power to enter other worlds, to bring back souls stolen by spirits, to heal, to see the unseen. This power was called śart in Ostyak (Khanty), it was called vägi in Estonian. There are many parallels in European languages, although I hesitate to say that the Latin numen or Greek pneuma (or Hebrew ruach) meant the same thing. Egon Fridell has written that Nietzsche was the last great Father of the Church. Perhaps. But we can also say that he was the first proto-neoshamanist, one of the precursors of the New Age. He too did not think intellect is our most precious, our highest gift. This highest gift is precisely the power, the pneuma, the vägi. This was one of his messages to us, a message a Siberian shaman would agree with. The difference with most New Age would-to-be shamans and prophets and Nietzsche is that he had the power, and he was able to use it to deconstruct most of the classical philosophy, to use intellect to blow up the edifice intellect had built during the last millennia. He understood that in real power there is intellect too, although intellect is not power. But abandoning intellect, abandoning science doesn't give us power. Intellect by itself is not power, but neither is absence of intellect power.

lundi 7 mars 2011

Граждане и подданные

Результаты выборов в Эстонии показали, что что-то изменяется. Но медленно, с трудом. Пока еще большинство народа не граждане республики, а подданные правительства. Как, по-видимому и в России.

Toward chimpanzee politics

Following the recent election campaign in Estonia, especially the show-like debate between the prime minister candidates (that strongly reminded me of Eurovision and similar contests) I cannot but feel that the theatrical element in politics is already stronger than the rational one. What we often see is ritual performance by rival males (or females playing the role of males) striving to become alpha-males, leaders of the herd. What the onlookers evaluate, is not the practical abilities of the candidates but their histrionic talent. The challenges candidates face in this theatrical combat, are very different from the challenges they will face in real politics, in managing state affairs. The book "Chimpanzee politics" by Frans de Waal tells a lot about our political show-business that is becoming more similar to the struggle for power in primate groups. But after all, we all are primates.

mercredi 2 mars 2011

Technology as thought-booster

About thirty years ago I wrote in an essay that our technology is a kind of an amplifying system, a booster that transforms the biocurrents in our brain measured in milliwatts into much more powerful currents and processes: here we can speak about megawatts, gigawatts and terawatts. Technological progress means more amplification, but does not change the basic fact: everything we create, every process we unleash, begins in our brain. This means that our mistakes, our erroneous thoughts are boosted, made more powerful and more dangerous too. This is something that should be taken into account in our discussions and disputes on the use of nuclear energy, e.g. when we must decide whether to build a nuclear power plant in Estonia or not. Such a plant doesn't exist by itself, it too is a part in a complex man-technology system. It cannot but amplify processes, thoughts, images, emotions in our brains. Thus, to calculate the risks of any such project, any plant or mechanism, we must take into account these mental processes. It is not enough to know the tehnological components of the system. We must know ourselves, otherwise we don't know how risky a technological project can be. A simple way of assessing these risks is to look back at our recent history. If a nuclear plant is designed and built to be operational for several decades and its waste remains dangerous for millennia or even for tens of thousands of years, then such looking back may well serve as a warning. Can we be sure that during the next decades, not to speak of millennia, there will not be people determined to use our technology to fulfill their destructive impulses, and capable of finding ways to do it? We should not be afraid of the nuclear, we should be afraid of ourselves, of our destructive, aggressive instincts, our lust for power and simply our stupidity, our avidya. As there is probably no way for us to radically change our brains, our mind that the evolution has given us, we should at least be very careful in getting in our hands (and in the hands of our descendants for many generations) the powerful instruments we have invented and constructed. We cannot be sure how they will be exploited in future. And, of course, we should make a huge attempt to understand ourselves, to study our psychology, our brains, our emotions, to see more clearly what we want and what we need. If we want to survive we must find a way not to think dangerous. I don't know whether this is possible.