Ville

a personal blogger

My childhood friend committed a suicide not so long ago. I still remember the last day when I met him and my other childhood friend. I arranged a gathering and we drank beer and reminisced the good old times. I did not see anything suicidal in his behavior or in the way he talked. He had changed for sure, but everybody changes in ten to fifteen years. And so when I heard the news, I was without words.

He inspired me to understand more about suicide. The following essay is an assignment that I wrote for the course Humanism and Peace Work.

As is the norm for scientific articles, I define suicide and describe contributing risk and protective factors.

Then I explain the positive decline in suicides evidenced by data. Suicides have most likely decreased as a result of framing suicide as a mental health problem, treating depression, limiting access to lethal means of suicide like firearms, reducing alcohol consumption, and urbanisation.

Lastly, I discuss suicide from Western and Eastern humanist perspective.


Finns met one of the deepest economic recessions of all western Europeans in the mid-1990s. Unemployment climbed up to 20%, and as a consequence the government cut down funding from health services (Lehtinen & Taipale, 2001). Despite the hardship, suicides peaked in 1990 and declined significantly thereafter, and halved in 2015 (figure 1) (OSF, 2021).

This positive trend emerged after the implementation of the National Suicide Prevention Project from 1986 to 1996 (Vorma et al., 2020). Majority of people then who committed suicide (88%) suffered from illnesses, notably depression, serious physical illness, and substance abuse.

figure 1. suicides per 100 000 inhabitants, 1971 to 2019 (OSF, 2021)

Suicide

Suicidal behavior refers to suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, and committed suicide─the act of intentionally causing one's own death (THL, 2021a). Thus, suicidal behavior exists on a spectrum of severity where it progresses from less severe ideation to a more severe form, committed suicide (Turecki & Brent, 2016).

Suicidal ideation is not rare among Finnish people (THL, 2021a). At least one in six people in their lives have thought about committing a suicide. Luckily suicidal ideations are momentary for many people. Suicide ideation is much more common for women, whereas committed suicide is more common for men, worldwide (Ritchie, Roser & Ortiz-Ospina, 2015). Still, among the people who do not seek help, suicide attempts happen to 1/100 people per year (THL, 2021a).

Notwithstanding the importance of explicating between and within different suicidal behaviors like ideation, attempts, and completions, the following data and literature in this essay concerns committed suicides (hereafter suicides).

Globally, there are 800,000 people who commit suicide every year, which is twice the amount of homicides (Ritchie, Roser & Ortiz-Ospina, 2015). Suicide accounts for 1.4% of the global deaths in 2017, which coincides with Finland in 2019 when 1.4% commited suicide. Indeed, suicide is among the top ten causes of death in Finland (OSF, 2019).

In Finland, the three most common suicide methods were by hanging, firearm, or by an overdose of psychotropic medicine (e.g., antidepressant), all three of which are characterized by sex differences (OSF, 2021). Men die by hanging or by firearm much more than women, whereas both women and men die by psychotropic drug overdose to an equal extent.

Risk factors to suicide include mental illness, alcohol abuse, somatic disease, alienation from society, life crises surrounded by negative emotions, male gender, firearms availability, history of suicides and mental illnesses in family, and prior suicide attempts (Baxter et al., 2011; Darvishi et al., 2015; Ferrari et al., 2010; Grinshteyn & Hemenway, 2019; Haukka et al., 2008; Suokas et al., 2001; THL, 2021a). Regarding age as a risk factor, young Finns aged 10 to 14 tend to have very low suicide rates until age 15 to 19 when suicide rate sharply increase five-fold, and then doubles after the age of 20 and beyond (OSF, 2021).

Protective factors include support and access to therapy, familial and extrafamilial supportive relationships, physical health, positive mental health, problem-solving and coping skills, cognitive flexibility, good self-esteem, and feelings of togetherness and hope (THL, 2021a). Studies also show that online-only friendships may offer protective benefits for youth, especially those who experience suicidal ideation (Massing-Schaffer et al., 2020).

Given that suicide is often associated with a mental health illness, there is then a way to treat it with therapeutic and pharmacological means. Moreover, evidence suggests that limiting access to lethal means of suicide like firearms, reducing alcohol consumption, and urbanisation may reduce suicides.

Possible causes

There are five possible causes as to why suicides may have decreased in Finland: framing suicide as a mental health problem, treating depression, limiting access to lethal means of suicide like firearms, reduction in consumption of alcohol, and urbanisation.

Framing suicide as a mental health problem and raising awareness of suicide in general has spurred improvement in access to mental health services (Abrams et al., 2020). After the constant increase in suicides from 1921 onward (figure 2), Finns became aware of the growing problem and started the National Suicide Prevention Project in 1986 (Lönnqvist, 2003, 2007).

In addition, the mental health service system was revamped from the ground up in the 1990s (Lehtinen & Taipale, 2001), which was reflected by the explosive increase in mental and behavioral illness diagnoses from 1995 onwards (figure 5). In the end, these two changes together helped ensure that people at the risk of suicide received treatment (Vorma et al., 2020).

figure 2. absolute number of suicides per year, 1921–2019. (OSF, 2021)

Given that depression and suicide go hand in hand (figure 3), treating depression with therapy and/or pharmaceuticals may prevent suicides.

Laukkala et al. (2002) and Vilhelmsson (2013) report that there was a fourfold surge in the use of antidepressants after 1990. The available data suggests that reimbursements for depression medicines between 1994 to 2020 tripled (figure 4), which is associated with an exponential amount of behavioral and mental illness diagnoses between 1995 and 2019 (figure 5). People finally received the help they needed.

Korkeila et al. (2007) and Salokangas et al. (2012) say that increased antidepressant use is associated with decline in suicides when controlling for other variables and their interactions. Thus, treating mental and behavioral illnesses, and especially depression, has most likely prevented majority of potential suicides.

figure 3. suicide rates vs. prevalence of depression, 1990–2017 (Ritchie, Roser,& Ortiz-Ospina, 2015)

figure 4. reimbursements for depression medicines, recipients aged 18-64 per 1000 persons of the same age, 1994–2020 (THL, 2021b)

figure 5. rehabilitation clients in certain main disease categories, 1995–2019 (KELA, 2021)

Limiting lethal means of suicide like firearms may reduce suicides (Abrams et al., 2020). It is easier to commit suicide if there are means to do it. In Finland, firearms (i.e., handguns, rifles, and shotguns) have over the years been the third most commonly used method in suicide (figure 6).

Privately owned licit and illicit firearms (figure 7) have decreased between the years 2005 and 2019 (Alpers, Michael & Dylan, 2021; MOI, 2021). Thus, there may be a positive association in the decline of firearms and suicides. Overdose of psychotropic drugs or hanging is harder if not impossible to counteract given there are no sensible restrictions that can be implemented.

figure 6. suicides by method, 1998–2017 (OSF, 2021)

figure 7. number of privately owned licit and illicit firearms, 2005–2019 (Alpers, Michael, & Dylan, 2021; MOI, 2021)

In Finland, documented alcohol consumption increased from 1960, peaked in 2007, and decreased thereafter (figure 8).

In their meta-analysis, Darvishi et al. (2015) found a significant positive association between alcohol use and suicide. However, suicides declined after 1990, but alcohol consumption continued to increase around until 2007, so there is no clear-cut positive association during that time period. In any case, alcohol does not cause suicide per se, but it heightens the risk of suicide.

figure 8. recorded consumption of alcoholic beverages, 100% alcohol, 1933–2019 (THL, 2020)

figure 9. sale of alcoholic beverages by type of beverage and by region, per capita aged 15 and over, 100% alcohol, 2019 (THL, 2020)

Sha, Yip and Law (2017) found that suicides declined in China between 1990 to 2010, which was strongly associated with urbanisation. More urbanisation, less suicides. Generally urban areas provide greater cultural and economical benefits compared to rural areas.

In Finland, suicides per region between 2016 to 2020 (figure 9) show that suicides crudely lie in rural regions compared to urban regions (my understanding is that East- and North-Finland are more rural compared to West- and South-Finland.

Pesonen et al. (2001) studied urban-rural differences in male suicides between 1988 to 1997 and found that male suicide mortality may be regionally diverging in Finland. However, there are no studies that focus on the effect of urbanisation in Finland, countrywide, on suicides, as of yet.

figure 10. suicides per 100 000 inhabitants per region, 2016–2020. Darker blue means to more suicides compared to lighter blue (THL, 2021c)

Discussion

There is always hope for a better life in the future, a life that may be sufficiently rich and strange, creative and beautiful, peaceful and vibrant to have made the wait worthwhile. (Hecht, 2013)

Suicide’s meaning changed across historical and geographical contexts. Ancient philosophers were largely against suicide, although some suicides were considered as philosophically sound, heroic, respected, pragmatic, and justified (Hecht, 2013). Then major religions, namely Judaism, Christianity, and Islam heavily condemned suicide because God forbade it. Suicide was an offensive act toward God for life is sacred.

After the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century Europe, suicide’s meaning changed, and became medicalized, secularized, and decremininalized. Medical education flourished in the beginning of 20th century, and suicide was soon framed as a mental health problem.

But despite the positive development over the decades and centuries, Hecht states that we still have no coherent argument against suicide, apart from what God says. Somehow the Western culture tolerates suicide, namely that death is fiercely challenged in other domains but not when death is caused by oneself. An argument found from humanism may pave path against suicide.

In the Western perspective of humanism, Pinker (2018) states that its goal is maximizing human flourishing. This means that life, health, happiness, freedom, knowledge, love, and richness of experience are at the core of humanism.

In the the Eastern perspective of humanism, Patel and Prasad (2020) argue that humanism is defined as relational and virtue-based rather than absolute and authority-based; there was a flexible set of ethical standards; a notion of the ideal person (e.g., Junzi, Buddha); a concept of universal justice and a rejection of supreme authority or sovereignty; and a focus on education.

In the Western sense of humanism, there has been undeniable humanistic progress made toward understanding and preventing suicides in the world, especially in Finland (Vorma et al., 2020).

Less suicides is a win for life. But at what cost? What I will write next is controversial so heads up: I am not sure if eating depression medication to prevent suicides is “human flourishing” to the individual, especially in the long term. Maybe for the society as a whole, because then we avoid suicides that would create suffering to the people close to the person who killed him or herself.

I have never suffered from a mental illness and I am not sure what depression and its medication does to you. The people that I have had the pleasure to get to know in the past four years, I have experienced doubt regarding medication.

I do not think that people under medication live their lives to their fullest. I do not think they experience all emotions one can feel. It is as though they have numbed some emotional aspects of their lives. At the same time, they may have more control of their thoughts and in that way process their emotions without falling into emotional rollercoaster.

Then again, people who do not take their medication do not necessarily live their life to the fullest anyway given the pain the have to endure. So there is no right answer. Still, science currently states that medication alone or psychotherapy alone are not as effective compared to the combination of the two for long-term healing.

In the Eastern humanistic sense, a person who commits suicide is far from an ideal person. And while no authority can reject suicide, there is no virtue in taking one’s own life.

As Hecht (2013) argues, we not only owe it to society and especially our personal communities to stay alive, but also to our future self. Suicide rules out the future self that may not have wanted suicide.

Conclusion

Taken as a whole, there is a complex interplay of factors impacting suicide including psychological, sociodemographic, cultural, religious, economical, regional factors, risk and protective factors.

And while there has been a 21-year positive downward trend in suicides in Finland, it cannot be expected to continue without research and continuous preventive measures.

The strong associations of suicide may be possible causes, although correlation does not imply causation. Even if the aforementioned possible causes were not actual causes, but mere associations, they all individually contribute to human flourishing nevertheless.

Namely, framing suicide as a mental health problem, treating depression, limiting access to lethal means of suicide like firearms, reducing alcohol consumption, and urbanisation are all humanistic endeavours by themselves. If suicides decreased as a result of these strong associations, then all the better.

#essay #peace

Throughout history to present day, societies rely on killing or threats to kill to maintain or change their ways of living. Wars (e.g., World Wars), revolutions (e.g., October Revolution, French Revolution), and terrorism are great examples of how people took arms to maintain (e.g., defending independence) or change (e.g., ousting the elite, amass more land) their living conditions. However, killing does not solve anything; on the contrary, it worsens lives like an epidemic.

In his book, Nonkilling Global Political Science, Glenn Paige (2003) directs attention beyond ‘peace’ and even ‘nonviolence’, and focus sharply upon the taking of human life, nonkilling. Therein he invites everyone to imagine a nonkilling society. He defines a ‘nonkilling society’ as:

A human community, smallest to largest, local to global, characterised by (1) no killing of humans and no threats to kill; (2) no weapons designed to kill humans and no justifications for using them; (3) and no conditions of society dependent upon threat or use of killing force for maintenance or change.

Therefore, to ally with NATO is to depend upon a military alliance whose main purpose is to use threat of killing or actual killing force to maintain or change the society. Still, one may argue as I argued in my previous blog post that Finland has all the risks of NATO membership without, however, the supplied deterrence provided by Article 5, and therefore should ally.

Allying with NATO is to agree that war and killing is acceptable. Still, one may argue that killing is an inevitable human nature and social life; this is how it is and will be. Better side with the ones who share same values.

Allying with NATO is to agree to the logic of war, the only thing that Russia understands, and the very thing that Russia currently wants. Still, one may argue that Finland has no choice on the matter; these are the cards we have been dealt, and now we have to play them. Better not repeat the mistakes from history.

But let us not forget that our end goal is peace. Mahatma Gandhi, Hannah Arendt, Cesar Chavez, and Martin Luther King Jr. emphasise the importance of means and ends.

Mahatma Gandhi placed greater emphasis on means than on ends. He concluded that if ultimate truths are unknowable then ultimate ends are also uncertain. The ends of human action are unpredictable, but the means employed are concrete and certain.

Political philosopher Hannah Arendt came to a similar conclusion. Since the end of human action can never be reliably predicted, the means used to achieve political goals are more often than not of greater relevance to the future world than the intended goals.

Cesar Chavez had a similar view: There is no such thing as means and ends. Everything that we do is an end, in itself, that we can never erase.

Martin Luther King Jr. likewise argued that the end is inherent in the means, and that truth and justice can only be achieved through moral means.

Therefore, I argue that military alliance as the means to achieve peace is not the right path, because it tries to solve a problem with the same mindset that created it in the first place. Relying on the threat to kill to maintain or change society is not the path to peace.

#essay #peace

åbo akademi university (the factory mill) in vaasa

I am enjoying the Saturday morning with a cup of dark-roasted coffee and chocolate cereal. I usually do not and I should not, but the urge was too big to handle. Coffee makes me irritated, jittery and anxious because it has more caffeine than I take. Chocolate cereal provides little nutrients and makes me hungry after a while. That is why I prefer green tea and porridge. I felt making an exception today.

I moved from Vaasa to stay and live in Turku for the summer as well as the last academic year. I lived with my parents past three summers to work and get money, and save rent and food money.

This time I decided to make a change in my life and move to the city center and share an apartment with others.

I live with four people from South Africa, France, and two from Finland. They research cancer biology, study mathematics, and architecture, and work in automotive engineering. I am extremely lucky to get to live with such super fun, intelligent, and kind people.

Ordinarily they asked me what I study. And it is always such a “pleasure” to describe my studies to new people I meet:

I study humanism, nonviolence, gender studies, nordic welfare, nonkilling, civil resistance, AGGRESSION, PSYCHOPATHOLOGY, INTERNATIONAL CONFLICTS, WAR, EVIL, VIOLENCE, KILLING, and TORTURE. ... :)))

In International relations and conflicts course I jumped right into the unknown waters and learned about dozen theories that describe how nation-states interact in a world that has no rules or a ruler. How super effing interesting is that! And how peculiar that the programme did not make this course mandatory as it introduces some key ideas on how conflicts emerge in the state level. The peace programme focuses more on the individual.

Among many things, I learned that countries where men treat women unequally have more frequent and severe conflicts with other countries (McDermott, 2020). Therefore, educating children to treat all genders as equal reduces the likelihood of violence within and between nation-states, and terrorism, and many other problems.

In my final assigment, I analysed whether Finland should join NATO or not, and argued that Finland should join NATO when analysed through Realism School of Thought.

But after the Nonkilling course I realised that joining NATO does not help us realise peace. During the course, we did a group exercise where we imagined a nonkilling society by 2050.

A ‘nonkilling society’ is a human community characterised by (1) no killing of humans and no threats to kill; (2) no weapons designed to kill humans and no justifications for using them; (3) and no conditions of society dependent upon threat or use of killing force for maintenance or change (Paige, 2003).

Joining NATO is to depend upon a threat or use of killing force to maintain or change the society. After all, whatever one opines about NATO, it is in essence designed to kill people. Therefore, joining NATO does not help us to achieve a nonkilling future.

And while imagining possible futures seems like a stupid, useless thing to do, we need to do it to shift our attention and action to a world we want to live in. We often forget this, and develop reactionary, short-term thinking fueled by emotions such as fear.

In the Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen, 1991) our attitudes toward the behavior and perceived behavioral control affect our intentions which in turn affect our behavior. Therefore, imagining futures is fundamentally about changing our attitudes and perceived behavioral control, which would then affect our behavior. In that sense, imagining futures is an essential first step toward the desired future.

theory of planned behavior

If peace and a world without killing is too distant idea and hard future to imagine, given the war on Ukraine, and other killing and suicides that happen every day in all parts of the world, focus on your own future life and see how it works.

For example, athletes and actors often imagine their performance before they do it, and it greatly increases their chances of success. In the same manner, when we imagine a world without killing, we increase our chances of achieving it.

Unfortunately, killing is so widespread and common in the world right now that it is taken for granted. We are numbed to it. It is supposedly a natural and inescapable aspect of life and human condition. However, majority of the people have not killed and do not want to kill, those who are forced to kill avoid it at all costs, and the few who end up killing develop post-traumatic stress disorder among other psychological trauma. Therefore, killing is far from normal human behavior.

In the Violence, aggression and psychopathology course I learned that even mere exposure is enough to create more violence, so not just being the victim or aggressor. That is, previous exposure to violence is a risk factor that best predicts increased violent and antisocial behavior later in life (Dubow et al., 2019).

Violence is an epidemic in the exact same sense that coronavirus is. In that regard, the war in Ukraine is not solved by offensively attacking Russia, either by the Ukrainians themselves or Europeans. It only creates more violence.

What partially explains killing is our underlying biological predisposition for aggression. This means that humans, like other animals, can solve conflicts by being aggressive.

In Peace literature studies 1 course, I attended the seminar hosted by International Society for Research on Aggression, and learned that social experience dramatically shapes the level of aggression, namely how simple winning and losing can affect the brain structures in the chemical, synaptic, and neuronal level in mice. This can be generalised to humans to some extent.

This finding implies that the cultural and social conditions can exacerbate or curb aggression tendencies. So it is not that “we cannot do anything about it, because it is in our genes”. We can. For example, I have heard from so many people, from my family and friends to lecturers that aggression and violence is something inherently permanent in Russian population and culture.

This is incorrect. It is not the Russian people but the living conditions that give rise to such behavior—name it system-wide structures or organisations. Moreover, soldiers are conditioned to killing within the military organisation. So there are more caveats. This is to say that Finnish people can be aggressive and violent, and kill, under the right circumstances.

There were three more courses that I took part in. To put it short, Critical perspectives on migration, citizenship and inclusion course taught me that migration is a complex and highly political topic that I need to understand more. Torture and its treatment course taught me how to torture people in the most effective way. And Scientific writing taught me something useful too I think.

Bobby

I have to go feed and babysit friend's Bobby the Cat now. Until next time! Adiós!

#university #finland #peace

I argue that Finland should ally with NATO.

In this blog post, (1) I will tell you about the rules of the game that the (2) players play, and (3) what kind of moves they can make in the game. Then (4) I will describe the the necessary past moves (history) and (5) what is happening in the present. With this knowledge, (6) I will make two predictions. All things considered, (7) I argue that Finland should ally with NATO. I end the post with a short note on limitations.

N.B! I do not think that any aspect of life is a “game of chess”; the words (i.e., players, moves, game) used in this blog post is to make it easier for me and you to understand what is happening.

1. Rules of the Game

Let us start with the logic behind neorealism—one of the many theories of international relations (IR)—that is the following:

  • We live in a system that has no rules and no guarantees of safety. States realise this and thus their need for power.
  • This power is realised by material capability such as land, wealth, and manpower.
  • Because of this offensive capability, states fear, mistrust, and suspect other states’ intentions.
  • This leads states pursuing survival by maintaining territorial integrity and autonomy of their domestic political order through increased material capabilities.
  • States are rational actors making rational decisions in a self-interested and maximising manner, where the costs and benefits of possible choices, reactions, and outcomes are evaluated. However, sometimes rational actors make mistakes because of insufficient or bad information.
  • Therefore, it makes perfect strategic sense for states to gain as much power as possible and, if circumstances are right, to pursue hegemony.
  • The current paradigm of neorealism is one of constant security competition in which threatened states do their utmost to survive, which consequently threatens other states, and they in turn to the next, and so forth.
  • Hence conquest and domination are not good but having overwhelming power is the best way to survive.
  • Power is the means to an end and the end is survival.

N.B! Neorealism does not account for emotions (e.g., fear and hatred). Emotions are a huge factor in human behavior, and it is a huge mistake of neorealism to disregard them. But mind you, neorealism emerged during the same time when behaviorism was hot—a school of thought in psychology that also ignored emotions.


Neorealism has two variants: offensive and defensive. They are as follows.

Offensive realism says that states seek to maximise their power by conquering land and expanding their sphere of influence. Indeed, states that initiate aggression win three out of five times (n=63). This makes these states revisionist. Revisionist state aims to change or put an end to the current system.

In contrast, defensive realism sees that states seek to maximise security through maintaining the status quo. It is the safest path to ensure survival. Overexpansion is almost never profitable and its consequences are dire. For defensive realists, overexpansion is the product of domestic and unit-level variables such as cognitive biases, cartels, propaganda, and state personnel.

In many ways Russia follows the offensive realist approach and Finland defensive realist.


2. Players

According to neorealism, the only actors in IR are states. Non-state actors are said to possess little power in IR. I do not agree with this but let us assume this for the sake of the argument.

There are small states and great powers (“big states”). They are the “players” that follow the “rules of the game”. This paper regards Finland as a small state and Russia as a great power, which is clear in many respects to academics and non-academics alike.

The difference between a great power and a small state is the following material power: manpower, territory, and economy.

A great power is a state with a larger material power, and therefore it has more power (capacity to influence) to exercise outside its borders, better security from outside pressure and attack, and more space to exercise its national policy.

In turn, a small state is the opposite, and as such more vulnerable to pressure, more likely to give in under stress, and has limited political options that it can pursue.

Of course, just the sheer physical size of the state in terms of manpower, territory, and material are not the only factors discerning great power from a small state.

Societal well-being, geographical proximity to potential conflicts, the cohesion of the general population, and the amount of domestic support that a government enjoys are all factors that affect a state's ability to exist and be an active member of the international community.

However, neorealism often ignores these factors, not because they do not exist, but because they do not have as much impact as material power in IR.

Despite small states’ lack of material power, they have succeeded multiple ways in international organisations, norm-building, climate change debates, diplomacy, and alliance-forming. Where small states lack militarily, they can compensate economically, diplomatically, and institutionally. Other IR theories explain these much better than neorealism can.

N.B! How to define 'small states' and 'great powers' is an ongoing debate and I do not know the answers to that. However, I do argue that a definition such as 'small state' and 'great power' elicit ideas of static attributes and disregard the notion that power is a dynamic relationship. As such, how we understand states and their relationships has a direct impact on analysis and conclusions.

3. Moves

Traditionally neorealism is the theoretical framework through which IR explains alliances. Small states and great powers usually form alliances to survive and concentrate power or they can avoid conflict and maintain political independence by remaining neutral.

In other words, allying or remaining neutral are the possible “moves” that the “players” can make in the “game”.

Neutrality has many synonyms like non-allied, non-alignment, military non-alignment, non-belligerency, military neutrality, and neutralisation, all of which have their own subtle differences.

For the purposes of this blog post, it is worth defining neutrality, military non-alignment, neutralisation, and military alliance.

Neutrality means to not taking part in a war. Military non-alignment is one where the state is not a member of a military alliance. Neutralisation is a process by an outside power to make the target state neutral either voluntarily (e.g., Austria) or coercively (e.g., Finland). Military alliance is a a formulated mutual commitment to contribute military assistance in the event one of the alliance partners is attacked.

Pros and Cons of Military Alliance

Pros are extended deterrence and military assistance assuming a war happens. Cons are sacrificing autonomy in controlling national resources, losing freedom of political manoeuvre and choice, and becoming involved in wars that have no direct benefit to the nation

There is supportive empirical evidence that a state is more likely to go to war to aid another state if they are formally allied. In any case, military alliance is not a golden ticket to survival. Even with a military alliance, small states must always be on alert on matters of security. That is, in my opinion, even if Finland is to join NATO, we cannot assume that the U.S will come and save Finland nor to assume that the U.S stays in NATO.

Pros and Cons of Military Non-Alignment

Pros are not sacrificing autonomy, not losing freedom of political manoeuvre and choice, and not becoming involved in wars. Although, while Finland was neutral during the Cold War, it had little autonomy and freedom in how to exercise foreign policy.

Cons are that there are not many safety guarantees, effective neutrality depends on trusting that the neighbour does not invade, and on the neutral state’s own military deterrence capabilities. For example, Sweden and Switzerland understood from WWII that neutrality is only effective if it is coupled with high levels of domestic armament.

4. Past Moves

Finland successfully defended itself from the Red Army in 1944.

In 1948 Finland was coercively neutralised by Soviet Russia when it signed the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance (YYA Treaty), which denied Finland from joining any alliance that Soviet Russia would perceive to be a threat. Overall Finland had very limited foreign policy options, and Finland never considered the treaty to be a military pact and avoided any more cooperation than necessary.

Finland became a Western country and society once it entered the European Economic Community in 1972.

The Cold War ended the TFCMA which formally removed the last restrictions on an independent Finnish foreign policy. A new treaty on the Foundations of Relations was signed between Russia and Finland thereafter.

And upon finally joining the EU in 1995, Finland stopped being a non-aligned country as it agreed on the EU treaties of military assistance clauses. Finland integrated with European policies and now shares broader strategic concerns with the EU.

The notion of ‘military non-alignment’ morphed into ‘no membership in military alliances’ in 2007. However, I do not think there is a difference between the two in essence.

5. Present Situation

Both the EU and NATO have binding obligations of mutual defence, Article 42.7 and Article 5 respectively. Military assistance obligations notwithstanding, even if the EU were to be a military alliance in theory, it is not in practice simply because “the EU has no explicit collective defence or collective security guarantees or functions” compared to NATO. In the foreseeable future the military structures and preparedness that exist in NATO will not be built within the EU.

Bergquist et al. (2017) list defence and military implications and strategic and political effects of NATO membership for Finland.

Defence and military implications are the following.

  1. Given that Finland and NATO have congruent defence policy and requirements, NATO membership does not therefore necessarily lead to Finland devising plans for defence expansion in the Baltic area in a considerable manner. Finland’s military contribution is limited in defending the Baltic area anyway. In all likelihood, it would be the major powers who would help them.
  2. When it comes to nuclear weapon capabilities, Finland will not acquire them but may join the Nuclear Planning Group to be part of the planning.
  3. NATO membership brings more tools to Finland’s existing hybrid warfare defence framework.
  4. Finland would still maintain conscription and its defence forces.
  5. In terms of increasing defence budget allocations, NATO tries to maintain a 2% ratio to GDP. Finland should, despite NATO membership, increase its readiness and modernise the force structure. (At the moment Finland holds a 1.96% ratio.)

Strategic and political effects are as follows.

  1. Sweden and Finland joining NATO would be the single widest NATO expansion since 1952 when Turkey and Greece joined it. This would strengthen Finland’s and Northern Europe’s immediate security, and increase military deterrence.
  2. The membership would probably lead to a serious crisis with Russia, though any military conflict would not happen due to Article 5.
  3. Some European countries accept Finland and Sweden into NATO but at the same time they are hesitant and think that it would create more problems than solve them, and thus the status quo should be preserved.

Indeed, Sweden and Finland would and should have to make the same strategic choices given that they share the same security and defence concerns and uncertainties in the Nordic and Baltic space. (This was a surprise to me when I started to research the topic.)

If Finland joins but Sweden does not, it would create an awkward NATO discontinuity, whereas if Sweden joined but Finland did not, it would recreate the Cold War setting. Therefore, Finland and Sweden will most likely ally together or remain militarily non-aligned together.

6. Predictions: Possible Moves

Dan Reiter (1994) examines the reasons for states’ preferences for alliance and neutrality. With a quantitative approach, he tests and compares the predictions of Balance of Power Theory based on principles of neorealism and the predictions of Learning Theory based on principles of social psychology.

Balance of Threat Theory is concerned about short-term reactions to changes in the international environment. In turn, Learning Theory focuses more on long-term ideas about the plan of action.

These two theories are in no way opposites but they do test different premises within the same framework. Both theories are tested against ‘formative events’, which are defined as systemic wars where great powers fight. Accordingly, these events realign state relationships, alliance and neutrality policies.

Balance of Threat Theory

Small states are cumulatively more likely to prefer alliance than neutrality, despite experiences of the past, if the following conditions apply:

  1. If the small state is geographically exposed to a potential revisionist than if it is not
  2. If there is a perception of imminent high threat and,
  3. If there is a considerable military disadvantage

Prediction: Finland shares a 1340-kilometre border with Russia, there is a perception of threat (not imminent per se), and there is a military disadvantage. Therefore, Finland would seek alliance.

Learning Theory

States are more likely to prefer alliance than neutrality, despite heightened international tensions, if either the following conditions apply:

  1. If a state's past experiences during a formative event were not favourable when neutral or allied, then a state learns to change its alliance policy.
  2. If its past experiences were favourable as a neutral or an allied state, a state learns that it is worthwhile to keep it this way the way forward.

Prediction: Finland allied with the Axis powers during WWII, experienced failure, and then opted for neutrality. Therefore, Finland would continue military non-alignment as that has worked so far.


Reiter's quantitative analysis (n=127) had the following conclusions:

  • Small states learned lessons from formative national experiences that shaped their neutrality-alliance policy, and that variations in the levels of external threat barely affected this decision. That is, Learning Theory predicted the outcomes significantly better!

  • Small states act congruent to their own experiences rather than according to experiences of all states in order to draw wider lessons.

Accordingly, this would imply a higher likelihood that Finland maintains its military non-alignment policy despite the elevated international tensions and Russian invasion on Ukraine. Furthermore, Finland may not draw lessons from the war in Ukraine regarding whether Finland should join NATO. In other words, the military non-alignment policy has worked so far and therefore Finland would continue this policy.

7. Conclusion

Even if the predictions based on Reiter’s work say that Finland would statistically-speaking remain militarily non-aligned, I think it is a mistake to remain non-allied.

I reason as follows. The fact is that Finland and Sweden are part of the EU and cooperate with NATO as much as they virtually can. From a Russian perspective, both countries are already “westernised” countries that cooperate with NATO to the fullest extent without official military alignment and agreements.

Moreover, the war in Ukraine was an impetus for Finland and Sweden to ally with NATO. It would be a grave miscalculation on Russia's part to assume that such an impetus would not happen. NATO expansion in the Northern Europe would be counter to their motivation to thwart NATO expansion in the first place in Ukraine.

Therefore, Russia—assuming they are acting rationally as per neorealism—has already calculated this outcome and therefore does not see the two Nordic countries aligned with NATO as a more of a threat than they already are without the membership.

If this is the case, then Finland has all the risks of NATO membership without, however, the supplied deterrence provided by Article 5.

Therefore, I argue that Finland should ally with NATO.


From a peace student perspective this seems an interesting conclusion. But honestly I do not think that a neighbour who does not value treaties can be trusted to respect our territorial integrity. Russia is already testing the Baltic area with hybrid warfare and aerial violations. Indeed, former Finnish president and peace broker, Martti Ahtisaari, thinks that Finland should have joined NATO years ago, to be part of the Western idea of security and safety, norms and beliefs.

Should Finland join NATO or not, I think that Finland should not play by the same “game rules” (read, neorealism) as Russia does. This is where my knowledge falls; I do not know what that would entail. But I do think that Finland cannot just seek power through weapons and conscripts. [1]

As Kennan said in his telegram in 1948, “At bottom of Kremlin's neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity”. He continues, “[Russia is] impervious to logic of reason, and it is highly sensitive to logic of force“.

Therefore, NATO membership is nice and all, but in the end, I hope that Finland and NATO builds only the minimum necessary military structures in Finland. There is no need for walls and bases.

Finally about limitations. I do not necessarily subscribe to the idea of neorealism on all accounts as it does not account for many other phenomena in IR or human behavior at large. Indeed, that is why IR theorists have come up with many other theories from the English School to Green Theory. So described, I must say that I have yet to learn and understand other IR theories and their implications and predictions to Finland's future military non-alignment policy. This is a considerable drawback in my analysis.


[1] EDIT. Therefore, there is an inherent weakness in this analysis: as I follow the neorealism lens the analysis becomes biased, and ignores the other ways we can handle the situation with Russia.

Bibliography

Agius, C. & Devine, K. (2011). 'Neutrality: A really dead concept?' A reprise. Cooperation and conflict, 46(3), 265-284. https://doi.org/10.1177/0010836711416955

Bergquist, M., Heisbourg, F., Nyberg, R. & Tiilikainen, T. (2017). The effects of Finland's possible NATO membership: An assessment. Ulkoasiainministeriö.

Dunne, T., Kurki, M. & Smith, S. (2020). International relations theories: Discipline and diversity (5. edition.). Oxford University Press.

European Parliament. (2022). Mutual defence clause (Article 42.7 TEU) and Solidarity clause (Article 222 TFEU). https://www.europarl.europa.eu/meetdocs/2009_2014/documents/sede/dv/sede200612mutualdefsolidarityclauses_/sede200612mutualdefsolidarityclauses_en.pdf

Feinstein, S. G. & Pirro, E. B. (2021). Testing the world order: Strategic realism in Russian foreign affairs. International politics (Hague, Netherlands), 58(6), 817-834. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41311-021-00285-5

Finnish Institute of Foreign Affairs (FIIA). (2022). Archive and chronology of Finnish foreign policy: Year 1992 in Finnish foreign policy. https://www.eilen.fi/en/chronology/1992/

Fox, A. B. (1959). The power of small states: Diplomacy in World War II. University of Chicago Press.

Handel, M. I. (2016). Weak States in the International System. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315035468

Huth, P. & Russett, B. (1988). Deterrence Failure and Crisis Escalation. International studies quarterly, 32(1), 29-45. https://doi.org/10.2307/2600411

Ingebritsen, C. (2002). Norm Entrepreneurs: Scandinavia's Role in World Politics. Cooperation and conflict, 37(1), 11-23. https://doi.org/10.1177/0010836702037001689

Jakobson, M. (1987). Finland: Myth and reality. Otava.

Lobell, S. (2010). Structural Realism/Offensive and Defensive Realism. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies.

Long, T. (2017). It’s not the size, it’s the relationship: From ‘small states’ to asymmetry. International politics (Hague, Netherlands), 54(2), 144-160. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41311-017-0028-x

Lukacs, J. (1992). Finland Vindicated. Foreign Affairs.

Martikainen, T., Pynnöniemi, K. & Saari, S. (2016). Neighbouring an unpredictable Russia: Implications for Finland. The Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

Puolustusvoimat. (2022). PUOLUSTUSMINISTERIÖN HALLINNONALAN MENOJEN OSUUS BKT:STA (%). https://www.defmin.fi/files/5215/TAE_2022_BKT-osuus_27.9.2021.pdf

Reiter, D. (1994). Learning, Realism, and Alliances: The Weight of the Shadow of the Past. World politics, 46(4), 490-526. https://doi.org/10.2307/2950716

Salmon, T. (2006). The European Union: Just an alliance or a military alliance? Journal of strategic studies, 29(5), 813-842. https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390600900911

Singer, J. D. & Small, M. (1966). Formal Alliances, 1815-1939: A Quantitative Description. Journal of peace research, 3(1), 1-32. https://doi.org/10.1177/002234336600300101

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). (1949). The North Atlantic Treaty (1949). https://www.nato.int/nato_static/assets/pdf/stock_publications/20120822_nato_treaty_en_light_2009.pdf

Vital, D. (1967). The inequality of states: A study of the small power in international relations.

Walt, S. M. (1987). The origins of alliances. Cornell University Press.

Waltz, K. N. (2008). Realism and international politics. Routledge.

#essay #NATO #Finland

Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.

This comment by the 14th Dalai Lama inspired me in my search for a career after I read it for the first time at age 20. It was the time when I had to make the big career decisions and choose what to do after upper secondary school (lukio).

However, I think career development begins much sooner. Through socialization, our family and relatives ask us what we want to do when we grow up. Our upbringing plants the seeds of possibilities and impossibilities; the beliefs that we can or cannot be whatever we want to be.

I remember wanting to be a formula driver at age 6, astronaut and astrophysicist at age 13, visual effects artist and film editor at age 17, and psychologist and therapist at age 21. Now at age 25, I want to be a teacher and educator and work in politics. It appears that already at a young age we are reminded to think about our future career—questions about career concerns all ages. Thus, the ten lessons I tell you are applicable to anyone at any stage of their career.

While studying psychology, along the way I found new interests. Cognitive sciences, neuroscience, social sciences, and more. I had the opportunity to take a course in Perspective in Career Planning in Leiden University. Others thought the course a waste of time or weren't too excited about it altogether, but I liked it. Though I did not like it as if it was the best thing ever. I just think some articles had valuable lessons that I am now going to share with you and give stories from my own life.

Contents:

  1. understand how luck works🍀
  2. generate lucky events on which you can capitalize
  3. embrace uncertainty
  4. use rational and intuitive decision-making styles
  5. good enough is the key to happiness
  6. be aware of your (dis)advantages
  7. believe in yourself you can do it
  8. know that your personality matters
  9. be aware of your outcome expectations
  10. and be resilient

1. understand how luck works🍀

We weave a narrative to explain everything in terms of our own doing. But in fact favourable chance events, or in other words luck, for example economic situations, unexpected information, and unexpected personal events all account for your career development [4]. Sometimes chance can play a bigger role than you anticipated, so don't be guilty if your career benefited from chance. See also Veritasium’s video Is Success Luck or Hard Work?.

People think it has to be either skill or luck that explains success, but the truth is you need both. ― Veritasium

I was accepted to Leiden University in 2018 but I didn’t have a house to live in. I applied through university relatively late and therefore they did not offer me a room in the given price range. I traveled to the Netherlands in search of a room but no luck. Then two weeks before the start of the studies I called the university and they told me to call again after two days. I called and they offered me a room. I was lucky but I did not wait for luck like Gladstone Gander, instead I generated these three events (applying, traveling, calling) and the third time was the charm.

2. generate lucky events on which you can capitalize

Beneficial chance events, lucky coincidences, and happy accidents are events that come about through, for example, taking classes directly or remotely, getting to know and interacting with new people, and surfing the internet [4]. These events can lead you to places paramount to your career growth.

And as you network, don’t just make contacts, make friends. I recently found this Guide to Twitter where Tasshin mentions how Twitter is one of the best places to make new friends. See also Codus Operandi's piece about Luck Surface Area.

It turns out that Twitter is a wonderful place for finding friends. ― Tasshin

I've made good friends who could have helped me in different things, such as recommend me as research assistant, work in a start-up, or get an internship. I did not capitalize on these chance events because they were not in my interest at that moment. But it goes to show that having friends will lead you to new ideas and opportunities. Ask yourself, would you hire a stranger or a friend?

3. embrace uncertainty

Uncertainty is anxiety-inducing. Anxiety is normal when planning the future but it is possible to overcome it. And truth to be told, uncertainty is present despite having a seemingly stable career [4]. You can never know what out of the blue may happen next, as evidenced by the pandemic. And because the future and individual human behavior are impossible to predict, we should therefore humbly accept uncertainty.

My anxiety decreased the more diligently and earlier I prepared and worked toward a goal. I curiously explored possible Master’s studies during my second year of psychology studies. And as the time to apply was near, I found all the possible Master’s studies that I was interested in, ranked them according to my felt preference, “gut feeling”, and then applied accordingly. I wasn't anxious about the results during the application phase anymore because I had done my work toward finding what I was interested in, and also wrote good enough motivation letters.

4. use rational and intuitive decision-making styles

There are five decision-making styles [2,5]:

  • logical and structured approach (rational style)
  • reliance on feelings and impressions (intuitive style)
  • reliance on the support of others (dependent style)
  • postponing or avoiding making decisions (avoidant style)
  • impulsive decision making (spontaneous style)

Dependent, avoidant, and spontaneous styles are all manifestations of nonproductive indecision. In contrast, people who combine both rational and intuitive decision-making styles are in the best place to make the best productive decisions.

It works as follows. First gather as much necessary information as possible, and then let unconscious thought processes carry out their task; that is, don't consciously mull and work on it. After a seemingly inactive period, you will get vague feelings, “gut feelings” rather than explicit thoughts about the direction you are going to follow. For more, see The Theory of Unconscious Thought.

Contrary to popular belief, decisions about simple issues can be better tackled by conscious thought, whereas decisions about complex matters can be better approached with unconscious thought. ― A. Dijksterhuis & L. Nordgren

I have used this method everywhere since I first learned about unconscious thought processes at age 20. I read a book called The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy. The book, and namely unconscious thought processes, helped me to choose to study psychology out of all other possible career paths.

I recount the feeling very strongly. Before I fell asleep, I asked myself the question 'what should I study' a dozen times. When I woke up, I had forgotten about it and went on about my morning. As I was about to make a sandwich, I remember vividly how my mind emanated the words and prompted a cocksure feeling that inspired me to study either law or psychology. (Sounds schizophrenic I know!)

5. good enough is the key to happiness

Having too many or too few options can make you less happy [5]. It is a U-shaped relationship: having limited options is the best, the goldilock zone. Too few options suck, while too many options lead to paradox of choice, which can lead to regret because people want to maximize their options. In other words, the feeling that you could've had or done better because you knew there was or was going to be a better alternative. It all makes sense in hindsight, right?

The key to happiness is to limit desires, and then be happy about the mundane things that you get for free.

I could've applied to a dozen different Master's programmes across Europe. But I limited my options by applying to Finnish programmes that had interesting courses.

In the end I planned to apply to five Master's programmes. Whilst writing a motivation letter I decided not to pursue neuroscience. I was rejected from two programmes, and then finally accepted to the peace programme. Consequently, I decided not pursue clinical psychology because the peace programme was good enough.

6. be aware of your (dis)advantages

People are born to a time, place and parents that they did not choose, with varied weaknesses and strengths that their upbringing and genetics dictate. So described, there exists real limitations, personal and contextual factors that potentially limit what you can and cannot do [4]. Limitations notwithstanding, focus on the positive, the advantages that you can use in your favor.

We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand. ― The Last Lecture

I was born in a welfare country and to a family that is not nuts. And I think this is possibly one of the greatest eras in human history to live in. A dozen potential human extinction events in the future and present negative news in the media notwithstanding, humans around the globe, on average, are doing much better now than they ever were in the past. (Then again, humans are doing well, but what about other animals and environment?)

(For more, read Factfulness by Hans Rosling and Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know by Ronald Bailey and Marian Tupy.)

Finally, in the past five years through healthy interpersonal comparison and meditative self-reflection, I have begun to understand my personal strengths and weaknesses that I am not going to elaborate and list further.

7. believe in yourself you can do it

Self-efficacy simply refers to your belief that you can do it. It is extremely important in career development as it is strongly and inversely correlated to career indecision [1]. The more you believe in yourself that you can do it, the better you are at making the decision. Check out the 4 Ways To Improve And Increase Self-Efficacy by Positive Psychology.

[Luke:] I can't believe it. [Yoda:] That's why you fail.

Before applying to entrance exams in psychology in Turku, I had high self-efficacy. After the results I was disappointed to hear that I wasn’t accepted. My belief in my own abilities hit rock bottom. I didn't fix it by trying again because I was afraid of failure. Instead I decided to apply abroad. Studying psychology abroad certainly rebuilt my self-efficacy. I actually had enough confidence to apply to Turku again, but by then I had set my mind to other options.

8. know that your personality matters

The Big Five personality test can predict important life outcomes. High conscientiousness, extraversion, and openness, and low neuroticism are shown to be related to successful career development [1]. Get to know yourself better through these free tests:

When I was 20 I did the Meyer-Briggs personality test. It inspired me, and motivated me to study psychology. I later learned that it wasn't a scientifically proven test. Whatever, because it helped me to understand myself better. Notwithstanding, I now recommend Big-5 personality tests given it is a more scientifically rigorous and more accurate picture of your personality. Then again, you can take the MBTI test to find career inspiration while knowing that it does not reflect your personality.

9. be aware of your outcome expectations

Outcome expectations can take the shape of social, material, and self-evaluative forms. Is it good for my family? Is it good for us financially? Is it good for me? What will happen if I try?

These questions can dictate your behavior [1]. If you think that the outcome is going to be bad, you have already given into pessimism and defeatism that feeds further surrender and inaction. In contrast, if you remain positive and optimistic, there is a larger probability that the outcome is going to be favorable.

While the quote below by Lao Tzu is a slippery slope, psychological science tells us that outcome expectations (thoughts) can influence our actions significantly. I don't know if they can influence your “destiny”.

Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny. ― Lao Tzu

Going to the Netherlands meant leaving family and friends behind, spending money on tuition, and studying psychology that would not promise me the title of psychologist. Alternatively, it also meant new friends and experiences, investing in myself namely education, and opening new opportunities in career development.

10. and be resilient

Given that adverse unexpected events can happen anytime during your career development, it is extremely important to be resilient. To bounce back from adversity, you have to be nimble, protean, and resilient. Career resilience naturally increases as you age and gain experience through the process of persisting, adapting, and flourishing despite challenges, changes, and disruptions over time [3].

Next, notice which personal and contextual factors you can improve to increase career resilience, but also which factors may hinder or block your career growth.

Personal factors:

  • individual's characteristics (The Big-5, internal locus of control, self-efficacy, self-esteem)
  • skills (technical competence, time management, interpersonal and communication skills)
  • attitudes (optimism/pessimism)
  • behavior and habits (physical exercise, self-care, help-seeking, learning about the organization's culture, professional development)
  • career history (prior experience)

Contextual factors:

  • supportive workplace (supervisory support, peer support, psycho-social mentoring, career mentoring, supportive organizational policies)
  • job characteristics (autonomy, feedback)
  • supportive family (spouse/partner support, emotionality of partner)

Together personal and contextual factors form a bidirectional relationship affecting each other. These two then together affect career resilience that impacts your career satisfaction, intentions to change careers, and subjective career success.

In the summer of 2021, I was cutting grass in several districts and motor roads. Then the company hired another person to cut grass. It didn’t take long until I realized that there wasn’t enough work for everybody. (It was a hot and dry summer that burnt the grass.) I made the uncertain, short-term decision to change jobs, and one week later I got a call to work on excavation.


I end this post with my second favourite quote that I live by:

“If you don't know where you want to go, then it doesn't matter which path you take.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

References

[1]. Lent, R. W. & Brown, S. D. (2013). Social Cognitive Model of Career Self-Management: Toward a Unifying View of Adaptive Career Behavior Across the Life Span. Journal of counseling psychology, 60(4), 557-568. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0033446

[2]. Lipshits-Braziler, Y., Gati, I. & Tatar, M. (2015). Strategies for coping with career indecision: Concurrent and predictive validity. Journal of vocational behavior, 91, 170-179. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2015.10.004

[3]. Mishra, P. & McDonald, K. (2017). Career Resilience: An Integrated Review of the Empirical Literature. Human Resource Development Review, 16(3), 207-234. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534484317719622

[4]. Mitchell, K. E., Al Levin, S. & Krumboltz, J. D. (1999). Planned Happenstance: Constructing Unexpected Career Opportunities. Journal of counseling and development, 77(2), 115-124. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1556-6676.1999.tb02431.x

[5]. van Vianen, A. E. M., De Pater, I. E. & Preenen, P. T. Y. (2009). Adaptable Careers: Maximizing Less and Exploring More. The Career development quarterly, 57(4), 298-309. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-0045.2009.tb00115.x

#essay #psychology #experiences

Over the past four years, I have been reluctant to write, but I have had the desire. I pay fifty euros every year to eliminate the technical obstacles. Now I face challenges in blogging, and it is not the creative writer's block or procrastination.

The challenges I face now is little traffic, post length, attention economy, privacy, and value and originality. The challenges are likely all interrelated, which means that they impact one another in meaningful ways. Therefore, solving one challenge may solve the others too.

1. little traffic

I see statistics about how many people read my posts. The reason for low numbers lie mainly in an unspecified topic, and my lack of advertising and networking, and inconsistent publishing.

1.1. vague topic

I haven't made up my mind as to what I should write about after three and half years. I don't know why somebody would read my blog if it is something “simple” like how Bitcoin works. There are countless other blogs that write about it and maybe even better than I ever could. (See WORDS Bitcoin Journal)

This brings to my main point: I am not an expert in anything but my own life. This is the reason my blog over time has grown into a journal and a story of my “exciting” student life. And there is only so much I can write about my adventures. I realize I should write about something niche that I enjoy putting my free time into, if I wanted to increase view counts.

1.2. lack of sharing

I don't advertise and share my blog, because I don't have a specific, niche topic that a certain audience would return to read. I don't know who to advertise my blog to except my family, friends, and colleagues. Mainly because it is indeed about my life. As a result, I get little visitors.

If I had a niche topic, that would open the possibility for me and others to share it to like-minded, interested people. My life is honestly not that interesting.

1.3. inconsistent publishing

I don' publish consistently and so people don't return unless I notify them through other channels. I don't publish consistently because I don't know what I should write about. I can't write about my life all the time, and I don't have a topic outside of myself that I know what to write about consistently.

Focus on writing freq over anything else. Schedule it. Don’t worry about building an immediate audience. Focus on the intrinsic. @andrewchen

2. post length

I sometimes want to write short pieces, like 300-word articles, but I have the feeling that it is too short. In contrast, long 2000-word articles are too long and people don't have the time to read them.

For SEO don't write short articles (>2000 words). @ferrucc

3. attention economy

Given the addicting social media, competing against attention economy is not that great. Why would people read my blog when they can get their good-feeling neurotransmitters off TikTok? Perhaps my audience then is not them. Because if it were, I am using the wrong medium to reach them.

No one has time to read your article, write the first lines like they're a TLDR. @ferrucc

Am I even competing in first place given that I have no agenda that I am pushing, neither am I trying to win something, or clickbaiting in the hopes of increased ad revenue?

4. privacy

What can I share? How much can I share? Can my words be used against me out of context? What are the negative consequences of my blog posts? These questions are in my head and I don't know the answers.

What may be the most universal answer for all bloggers is to not write profanity or humbug, do their research, share only what they feel comfortable with, and know that their digital footprint will last there for decades if not forever.

5. value and originality

This is perhaps the biggest reason as to why I am reluctant to write. I think that whatever I write is just a rehash and therefore not original. What is the value in a paraphrased copy? Then again if I truly wanted to write something original that would mean researching a topic for months and then write a piece about it. I don't have time for that either.

Why would people read my stuff? Because they find my work clear, organized, persuasive, and valuable. But if it is just a rehash, why would it be valuable? Because for me it may be unoriginal and already known, but for others it may be the first time they've heard of it. Therefore, whatever little thing I post, it can be of value to someone.

There’s always room for high-quality thoughts/opinions. Venn diagram of people w/ knowledge and those we can communicate is tiny. @andrewchen


Given the five challenges I've encountered—lack of niche topic and sharing, article length, attention economy, privacy, and value and originality—the central one is definitely the niche topic.

I think that when I find what I am excited to write about, everything else will come after. I will share more aggressively because I know there is value and originality in my writing. Privacy is not an issue anymore given that it is not about me anymore. Competition becomes easier when I establish myself as an expert of some topic. And as a result of an exciting topic, post length will naturally find itself long.

Writing has made me a better thinker and researcher. I expand on my reasons why. @gregorygundersen

Here are some helpful resources and inspiring blogs that I sometimes read that I've found over the four years of blogging.

resources

  1. https://andrewchen.com/professional-blogging/
  2. https://robertheaton.com/2018/12/06/a-blogging-style-guide/
  3. https://idiallo.com/blog/im-bored-what-do-i-do
  4. http://gregorygundersen.com/blog/2020/01/12/why-research-blog/
  5. https://ferrucc.io/posts/starting-a-blog/
  6. http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/how-to-write-in-plain-english.html
  7. https://www.preetamnath.com/blog/why-you-should-write
  8. https://buomsoo-kim.github.io/learning/2020/03/30/Craft-of-writing-effectively.md/
  9. https://mae.ufl.edu/designlab/Online%20Resources_files/Technical%20Writing%202.pdf
  10. William Zinsser – On Writing Well
  11. William Strunk – The Elements of style

blogs

  1. http://paulgraham.com/index.html
  2. https://matt.might.net/articles/
  3. https://eiko-fried.com/
  4. https://www.gwern.net/index
  5. https://blog.ncase.me/archive/
  6. https://zenhabits.net/
  7. https://www.benkuhn.net/
  8. https://danluu.com/
  9. https://dynomight.net/

Have you noticed that consistent, right behavior is required to provide something of value. Routinely investing, exercising, painting, composing, and whatever, and if you keep doing it consistently—regularly and every day—you become a master at it and reap the maximum gains. This hold true for consistent lazy behavior too that is a path to becoming the very best procrastinator. I would know.

So described, consistency/constancy implies regularly occurring phenomena that repeats itself. Human behavior notwithstanding, I can also see consistency in far more exciting and less mundane things. For example, mathematics is the most reliably consistent phenomenon there is. One plus one is three. It is absolutely exact. The end. I think that is astonishingly beautiful.

Computer code without bugs is consistent and has predictable outcomes. For example, depending on the difficulty height and change, Bitcoin pushes constantly out new blocks approximately every ten minutes, as per its code.

fractal

Even as complex as nature is seemingly consistent as evidenced by chaos—constistent feedback loops, repetition, self-similarity, fractals, and self-organization.

In addition to the fractal illustration above, fractals are also tree branches spreading out sporadically in the sky, waves splashing violently on a rock and dispersing quietly, and thick smoke dissolving in thin particles in the air. In chaos lies certain familiar consistency.

Relatedly, cycle of birth and death that is shared across the living and non-living organisms, is beautifully constant across time and place.

Moreover, my consciousness—the quality or state of being aware especially of something within myself—is continuously and consistently built out of stimuli that my basic human senses pick from internal and external world. Then my brain decodes and encodes the stimuli and creates consciousness. To be conscious and alive is one of the most underrated reason to be grateful for.

Consistency in art, like symmetry, is pleasant to look at. Then again abstract art can be chaotic just like nature. Chaotic parts in abstract art are in agreement with each other, thus harmony emerges as a whole.

Art is also films, and therefore films that violate continuity are not consistent across the plot anymore. For example, the multitude of plot holes in last few seasons of Game of Thrones TV series lost its continuity.

Continuity is also broken in music when the rhythm breaks and becomes inconsistent. That is why you hear similar-sounding music decade over decade because people are afraid to break cliché, old patterns because, after all, they work.

Mental impairments like depression show abnormal neural activity as evidenced by brain studies. It is not consistent with an ordinarily-functioning brain activity. Though can any brain activity really be inconsistent, given that the brain adapts to situations that demand such activity to survive however maladaptive it is?

So described, human behavior, mathematics, nature, consciousness, art and design, musical rhythm, films, and mental impairments all show consistency. I think it is everywhere we look.

But logic of some women are not always consistent, however. Then again, if she is chaotic then it has consistent elements, as evidenced by chaos theory. (Sorry for the blatantly bland and cliché gender stereotype of women which is obviously not true.)

#essay

I spit upon it because it makes me allergic. I dislike it strongly from the bottom of my heart and curse it to all eternity. I absolutely detest and hate it, the abomination that it is. What is it? Keep on reading.

Inspired by my friend, I realized it is more fascinating to hear when mundane things are disliked than liked. Even more so if the language is more extreme. For example, I absolutely love sports and chocolate but the reasons for it are boringly predictable. Both alleviate stress, replenish energy, and improve cognition and/or mood. We know this, and if not, we have at least heard of this. (And if you haven’t heard of it, now you have.) Frankly, I don't care if you like chocolate or sports. The odds are that you do like chocolate, though less so about sports.

In contrast, when I hear that somebody hates exercise or chocolate, I am flabbergasted and conflicted, which consequently piques my interest and I want to know more. After all, exercising and chocolate are perceived as a good thing by almost everyone, so naturally it makes me wonder why somebody would not like them. Even more so if the other person's words do not express healthy preference or disapproval but passionate hate and regret.

Drawing myself and another person on a Venn diagram visualizes and compares our agreements and disagreements. And I am certain that people share more than they think, which is exactly the reason why I think it is more fascinating to look at where we differ than what we share. The larger a specific dislike gap between us is, the more motivated I am to find out why. Especially if the dislike deviates not only from me but also of the general population, the status quo, and the average.

Mind you that perceiving only differences, whatever tangible or intangible they are, and forming opinions of them can absolutely become harmful. It can become harmful if debates about different opinions lead to me categorising the other person as “one of those people”.

Therefore, I emphasize that we humans are much, much more similar than we are dissimilar. And so the practice of talking about differences is fine as long as we remember our similarities and as long as the outcome does no harm. Otherwise a slippery slope to stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination can happen. I am not concerned about people who use a wide range of verbs and adjectives. I am concerned about those who only use the hate word, because it indicates that the person is not flexible enough to think about his or her attitudes and actions.

If you like and love something: nice. I like and love a myriad of things. Notwithstanding the importance of common hobbies, likes and whatnot between two like-minded people, it is like I said: of themselves, the commonalities are sometimes not as interesting compared to the differences. Heated debates and strong opinions are interesting is all I am saying.

So described, strong opinions and their expression through stern, colorful language is fun and extremely compelling but only up to a point. And I do not know where the point of acceptable threshold lies, except that it cannot verbally harm anyone. So yeah, that said, fuck Tinder.

#essay

I live in Vaasa, Finland now. I have a group of friends from Canada, the U.S, and Belgium. Or was it France? That guy never made up his mind about his national identity. The Canadian lass has Scottish ancestry and knows how to make super delicious white bread. And the guy from the States actually has a Finnish passport, which means that upon arriving to Finland, the military asked him to join conscription. Ironic that he went to study peace but instead was given a rifle.

What an odd bunch of people we are. Anyway, after the turn of the year, a young woman from Turkey, a middle-aged Irish guy from Finland, and a young Finn-Swede(?) guy move to Vaasa. I think we are going to need more chairs and cutlery if we are going to keep hosting our weekly dinners. Also card games are going to get interesting with more players.

So I mostly spend my daily life behind a laptop screen, lifting dumbbells, in ice-cold sea, and with friends. I have also spent time chatting and calling with a girl I met last spring who is now studying abroad. But we did not want the same things, so it was in our best interest to put distance to our relationship. That was honestly the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Love can be ecstatic and agonizing at times.

Sad. Anyway, what are my thoughts on the courses and the programme as a whole so far? If my experiences of Leiden University and its bachelor programme can be assumed comparable enough, then I would say that the PEACE programme is somewhat blah. For one, all the courses lack—perhaps because of online format—meaningful social interaction like highly needed networking, sharing knowledge, and understanding worldviews of different nationalities and lived experiences. Or, the fault may lie in lack of pedagogical education for some educators as one of my friends reasoned.

Online format sucks now more than it did in my bachelor studies. Back then it was super great but now I am tired. Given that the online sessions are lectures and debates, it is important to speak up. But people do not initiate and participate in discussion online as much as I would wish (me included), interrupting feels super inorganic compared to face-to-face, and don't get me started about technical difficulties.

Continuing with my complaints, the programme has only one quantitative research course, which was one of the worst “statistics” courses I have ever taken. The course is a huge flop.

Lastly, from the three canceled courses for next semester, one would have been an absolute must course called Negotiation and mediation: Essential strategies and skill. Currently there is one identical course in Tampere for one month but its schedule conflicts with other courses I am taking. Perhaps next academic year is better.

Shortcomings notwithstanding, there is a lot of good in this programme too. Indeed, I have become aware of things that I would never have realized otherwise and I have learned quite a bit too. I think? I forget a lot too.

So far I have taken the following courses from the best to the absolute worst: Introduction to Peace and Conflict Research, Humanism and Peace Work, Power of Nonviolence, Psychology of Evil, Gender Equality, and Test Construction.

To synthesize all six courses respectively in one sentence, I would say that the most striking things I've learned is that killing a fellow human being face-to-face apparently does not come natural to a soldier without conditioning as evidenced by war case studies and clinical psychology; the real threat of several existential threats notwithstanding, when looking through the lens of humanism and data we are de facto progressing toward a better future; using asymmetric warfare, namely nonviolent methods are the best way for normal people to use against those who use violence like dictators; and moral disengagement is the biggest reason why normal people do evil things. I did not learn anything from Gender Equality, Media and Peace and Test Construction. Rubbish, absolute waste of time.

Next semester is going to be interesting. After Christmas I will spend time with a dude between 6 and 14 years old as part of a volunteering program by the Mannerheim league for child welfare. That ought to be interesting. I hope to find a suitable Master's thesis topic though I am currently gravitating toward Bitcoin as a nonviolent movement and method. I want to meditate daily again. I want to learn Estonian. I want to find a relevant internship in Finland or elsewhere. I want to keep learning guitar and sing songs.

In the sauna where I go twice a week with my Belgian-French friend, I was called a person who has its future ahead. She asked if I know where I want to be in the future. I don't know was and will be my answer. Predicting human behavior and predicting the future is an equation with myriad variables that is impossible to calculate. This applies even to my very own behavior. Every year is so unpredictably scary and anxiety-inducing yet predictably beautiful and exciting.

However, that does not mean I am aimlessly wandering or that I have no dreams. (Then again if I do not know which way to go, does it then matter what path I take?) I am where I need to be and doing things that I like. Besides, building a career is always a neverending exploration and self-discovery, so there is no specific end that I am after. Fundamentally people have a strong need to belong. In that sense, my dream is to find a group of people that do meaningful things especially toward people's wellbeing and flourishing—for example peace building. My French-Belgian friend said that my dream was awfully close to Nazis. Nein!

autumn colors

replot bridge #university #finland #peace

Of all its many values, the greatest must be the freedom to doubt

Science enables us to do and make things. Those things may be for good and for bad, so scientific endeavor is also a moral question. But despite the fact that science enables us to do and make horrible things in the world, it is of value because it can produce something.

Science is fun, intellectual enjoyment through reading, learning, thinking, and doing. Enjoying science is important as as to do and make things that people enjoy.

I stand at the seashore, alone, and start to think. There are rushing waves, mountains of molecules, each stupidly midning its own business, trillions apart yet forming white surf in unison. Ages on ages before any eyes could see, year after year thunderously pounding the shore as now. For whom, for what? on a dead planet, with no life to entertain. Never at rest, tortured by energy, wasted prodigiously by the sun, poured into space. A mite makes the seas roar. Deep in the sea, all molecules repeat the patterns of one another till complex new ones are formed. They make others like themselves and a new dance starts. Growing in size and complexity, living things, masses of atoms, DNA, protein, dancing a pattern ever more intricate. Out of the cradle onto the dry land, here it is standing, atoms with consciousness, matter with curiosity. Stands at the sea, wonders at wondering, I a universe of atoms, an atom in the universe.

Science is thrill and awe and mystery of the deep unknown. The more we know, the more we realize that we do not know and how much there is to know. It is a deep rabbithole, a grand adventure. The scientific age is when poets write and artists portray about the wonderful questions, mysteries, and marvels of science.

Science tests us with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty. Often we do not know the answer to a problem so we are ignorant. Then we are uncertain when we do not know the result. Doubt arises when we get sure of what the result is going to be. To progress, we must recognize insightful, conscious ignorance and give room for doubt.

Our freedom to doubt was born of a struggle against authority in the the early days of science.

Science does not teach good and bad. Education, applied sciences, and even peace can be good or bad depending on how you use it. Because there are no clear instructions on how to use these forces, we are left with life devoid of meaning. We must frankly admit that we do not know the meaning of life. And in admitting we become open-minded and not descend into ideology battles, but instead follow reason, doubt, and develop ideas by trial and error.

We must leave the door to the unknown ajar.

Science dies if we let authority dictate. We must resist authority that inevitably limits our imagination. We have to be responsible to do what we can, learn what we can, and improve the solutions and pass them on. We have to be responsible not to suppress philosophy of ignorance, freedom of thought, and freedom to doubt.

http://faa.unm.edu/P302.041.SU17/Resources/Reflections/feynman.pdf

#essay #science