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HS reveals: Things really are what they seem
By Kari Huhta
Do you ever get the feeling that the EU is taking on new member states for political reasons, even though they might not actually meet membership criteria? Or that the Russian government engineered the dismantling of the oil company Yukos for its own aims? Would it also seem that seem that Finland is already militarily allied, and that the war in Iraq is a terrible disaster and failure?
No need to feel ashamed if you feel this way. You may be right.
Things usually are as they seem, even though it is often claimed that they are something different. Fairly often people will question what they see in front of their own eyes.
The phenomenon is an old one and there are many stories related to it. In one tale everyone becomes crazy except for the one person, who naturally ends up being seen as crazy by everyone else. In the best-known story an emperor gets a new set of clothes.
In the tale by Hans Christian Andersen, con men convince everyone that the emperor is wearing a non-existent new suit by saying that only incompetent buffoons cannot see it.
In the famous climax of the story, a small child shouts that the emperor has no clothes. The word spreads, but the emperor can only keep up the pretence that the clothes exist.
That is where Andersen’s story ends. If it were to continue, increasing numbers of people would say, somewhat awkwardly, that they knew all along that the emperor was galavanting in his underwear, but did not want to say anything.
One might imagine that such an educational tale would have taught people something - but no.
Just a few decades ago some of the best-educated youth in Finland, and a dynamic cultural elite, promoted the interests of the Soviet Union of their own free will - to Finland’s detriment.
The target of admiration was a violent, failed dictatorship which violated human rights. Its leader at the time, Leonid Brezhnev, had few moving parts.
The swindle worked, just like it did in the story: a situation was set up in which it was inappropriate, naive, and moronic to say out loud what everyone could see with their own eyes. No other coercion was needed.
Likewise, Russia’s current leader, Vladimir Putin, did not need to go very far to learn how to simultaneously do one thing and say something different, while getting the public to believe what he is saying. It might take expertise to get a deeper understanding of modern Russia, but the best way to manage with basic information is to believe one’s own eyes.
It is not always easy. Rationalisation comes at all levels, from the smallest family arguments, to control of the world, and the explainers often believe their own explanations. Besides, police say that the stories of two eyewitnesses of the same event are rarely identical.
Just to be clear, it may be a good idea to divide the rationalisations into little ones and big ones. One of the biggest rounds of rationalisation concerns the war in Iraq. The explanation is a massive one because there is so much at stake, including the rationaliser’s own place in history.
At a press conference held on Monday, US President George W. Bush said that he was "optimistically positive" about progress that was taking place.
How in the world could he say something like that about a war whose foundations have proven to be false, and which is planting the seeds of terror and death around it?
Perhaps Bush thought in his own mind that he did not have any options. In fact, he did.
Bush has more than four years in which to say "Sorry, this was a terrible mistake, but now we need everyone’s help". Otherwise he might suffer the fate of previous big rationalisers.
It is best to keep in mind the eleventh commandment: "Thou shalt not explain."
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 24.12.2004
KARI HUHTA / Helsingin Sanomat