Friday, October 3, 2008

Finnish men and violence, part 1

~ a Kauhajoki creek ~

On many people's minds, especially Finns and those of Finnish descent, has been the troubling mass and cold-hearted killing in Kauhajoki of innocent people at school by a young man, who by all appearances, seemed to be "average". Well, maybe he was average: average in joining male gun culture, average in living in media culture, and average in enjoying privileges as a male. He may have been average in physical appearance (for a young ethnic-Finnish man).He may have come from an average Finnish family, and had an average upbringing. He certainly lived in an average Finnish town, and had an average Finnish education.

Yet he was not the average in his extreme action; he was an extremist. To use a northern flip of a much ballyhooed (and racist) expression -- "a Muslim extremist" -- this man was a Finnish male extremist. He has company, as there are other Finnish male extremists. The Kauhajoki extremist had no reason to hate, he just hated. He just hated humanity. So, where does this average but extremist man's hate-filled violence come from?

~ a Kauhajoki field ~

There are many Finnish men who engage with beauty , who are gentle (like mun isä was), humorous (like my cousin Ari), prone to tears and sentiment (my brother, Roy), and compassionate, kind, respectful, and hospitable (many I have met), and not violent at all, so violence is definitely not inherent. Gosh, my father never even raised his voice, never mind his hand!

Nor is violence caused by the climate. Someone recently told me (a Finnish-Canadian man, to boot!) that he believes unbalanced thinking that ends up in violence has a lot to do with the climate, with the kaamos, the unending months of darkness in winter.

If that is true, I asked him, then why haven't you become insane and harmed someone? Or why isn't everyone who lives in the North bonkers? Darkness does not cause psychological turmoil; indeed, some would argue that the dark can open the way to deeper understandings, that the way to the light is through the dark, that the light does not exist without the dark. How could it? How could we understand light if there were not dark to compare it to? Didn't Martin Luther King, Jr. say that only when it's dark enough can you see a star?

~ cows in Kauhajoki ~

Besides, even if darkness and the climate caused psychological upset, the question to ask is how is that upset acted out? Like the question of getting drunk and the behaviour that is exhibited while drunk. These are 2 different questions to consider. Alcohol does not cause men to get violent; it's the social belief and acceptance that alcohol will make men violent, so they act that out. (and the gendered conditioning that alcohol will cause women to be sexually uninhibited, so they "can't help it" if they act sexy when drunk). That's bunk. People throughout the world and throughout history show a variety of different kinds of behaviour when drunk. Indeed, alcohol intoxication has even been sacred; the realm of shamans, of the spiritual leaders.

The problem is that male violence and male-power-over are condoned in society, not only Finland. We have normalized institutionalized male violence such as military and war, violence in sports, the violence of the prison and (in)justice system (made by men in power for men, women and children not in power), media culture's fixation and valorizing of male violence, and many more socially constructed sites of the ok'ing of state and social violence by men. That men have made the institutions of violence does not mean that it is exclusive to them, however, as women, too, have embraced violence and taken up arms for violence, and have hurt, and maimed and killed others.

But men are in the majority when it comes to embracing violence. It is tied to constructions and practices of masculinity.

But the Q remains: if male violence is a norm, why only in some places, such as North America and Finland, has male extremist violence erupted into school killings? into killings of one's colleagues?


marja-leena said...

Thank you, Taina, for this thought-provoking article on a tough question. So often depression is linked to the northern people but you argument debunks that. I wonder if the ease of the internet and its hate sites contribute to those already a bit unstable and inclined towards misanthropy? What makes a person a misanthropist? So many more unanswered questions...

northshorewoman said...

definitely, the internet enables all sorts of perverse and unhealthy actions. One only has to think of sex tourism, pedophiles, the explosion of child pornography, and trafficking of guns, humans, and drugs. Through the internet, these have become huge, accessible to anyone with a modem. At an event the other night a woman who works on the issue of refugees, spoke about trafficking and said recently there was an 11 year old girl who was trafficked into Canada and ended up being doubly victimized: she was jailed in Montreal, in solitary confinement for one month. An 11 year old child. Where is the media about this?