27 August, 2009

Media and objectivity

I'm downright disappointed with the present-day media. I read the web version of the biggest Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, daily and I have to say that the level of journalism is simply appalling.

A couple of months ago, they discovered that one of the government parties, Keskusta, had gotten serious amounts of money from a corporation called Nova Group, plus also an organization called KMS. People were daunted by the fact that one of the biggest political parties got a lot of their financing from more or less shady sources. Some even claimed Keskusta to be corrupt.

Helsingin Sanomat published news about this whole incident pretty much daily and reported all the major discoveries in tracing the background of the so-called "election money". That was good. But, people were thinking to themselves, how about the other big parties - where does their money come from?

Helsingin Sanomat didn't even bother commenting on the other parties for weeks.

Clearly, the just ran after the scent of blood like dogs. The newsaper lacked even the slightest hint of mere reflection of the fact, that it even might be at all possible for the other parties to have equally shady sources. Doesn't sound that objective to me....

To take this to a more general level, I'm asking the following question:
Shouldn't a newspaper (or media in general) be committed to objectivity, insted of just hunting for shocking headlines and mobs of readers?
How could we justify not being objective? Ok, the media company needs to make profit. Can we argue that it can be unobjective in order to attract more readers and thus make more profit?

I think not. I mean, where would it end? Being unobjective means basically not actively looking for, or even trying to hide, all the possible connections. Doesn't that pretty much equal lying? If we accept that, we would also have to accept making up nonexistent news, shouldn't we? Besides, lying and ripping off people's money in the process doesn't really sound very sensible, does it?

What's the point of media companies anyway? Is it to spread the news as objectively and fast as possible to the general public? Or is it making as much profit as possible? Are these two somehow connected? Should they be?

Definitely they should be. One could argue, that readers flock to the paper with the fastest and most objective news, but in Finland it doesn't really work that way. The media market is an oligopoly. There's hardly any good alternatives for YLE and Hesari, are there?

At least I can have some solace in the fact that Internet is creating opportunities for different viewpoints, and we don't have to blindly trust what the newspapers are telling us. On the other hand, isn't there even less chance of a simple freelance writer being objective? After all, he's got his ass and persona on the line, so isn't it harder for him to escape his subjective viewpoint?

Perhaps you just can't really trust anything blindly anymore. I guess you just have to read several sources simultaneously, and make up the conclusions yourself. I guess the reader is the one with all the responsibility these days.

26 August, 2009

Work and meaning

Ok, let us begin with some questions: what is your work? What does your input mean to your company? Is your work noticed? Are you making a difference locally? How about globally? Most importantly, what does your work mean to you?
Someone might say: "Why should I care, it's just a job for God's sake?"

Exactly. From my experience, by saying "just a job" most people mean that:
I) they go to their job, do their stuff and get out
II) they don't think of their job as anything special

Let's delve deeper into the meaning of "just a job" from a couple of viewpoints

1. The company viewpoint
Those people with "just jobs" aren't really effective. They do what is required, but don't really put their minds into it, meaning that their potential for development is rather limited. For the company this naturally means less profit in the future. So, clearly for the company that kind of people aren't a very wise investment.

2. The employee viewpoint
So what is happening here is the exchange of time for money. You're trading in time, and getting out money, and very little else. You might make some occasional friend at work but that's about it. No rush of adrenaline, no highs and lows. Just the same old job. Day after day, week after week...really starts to wear you down, doesn't it? Nothing ever changes, it's all the same. You go on holiday for a week, come back - it's still the same! They hardly even noticed you were away! A couple of days later, even you hardly notice you've been away!

Why does all this matter? Well, I personally believe that this is the cause of a lot of unhappiness in the Western countries. When you have "just a job" you're just erasing your life periodically. It's a subjective blackout. For those couple of hours per day, you pretty much cease to exist. Imagine having to shut yourself down for the workday, every day. It's bound to create bad results!

How did this happen? Well, historically, companies haven't always been the thousands-large monsters they are today. It probably all started when a guy who was good at making swords realized that it's hell of a lot nice to make that sword for Karl and his brother and get food for that instead of farming all the time himself. Basically, he liked making swords. See the difference to our days? There's loads of people who work in an office and fiddle around with piles of paper all day. Is it because they like to fiddle with piles of paper? Probably not, more likely they prefer staying alive to starving under a bridge. They just aren't that interested in their job, it lacks meaning.

Who's to blame for this? Well, nobody, really. It's somehow in the whole system of society. Naturally, it's better to have a job than to starve. But still, it'd be a hell lot better to have an interesting job. But alas, supply and demand don't match in the job market.

What to do about it? Naturally we'll have to try to match supply with demand better. But businesses can do a lot themselves. They can really start seeing employees as people, instead of as just a resource. I know that there are businesses doing this already, but on a larger scale it needs improving. It's the managers' main responsibility to make the employees see the results of their job, to feel themselves needed. Get rid of all the totalitarian influences in the leadership style, and keep Kant's Categorical Imperative in mind:

  1. Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.
  2. Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.
  3. So act as though you were, through your maxims, a law making member of a kingdom of ends.

21 August, 2009

One-dimensional business

First of all, sincere thanks to Martin R for inspiration and the points in the first chapter. I really value my friends' opinions, even if I don't always agree with them!

Let's start of with the notion that companies have the rights of a juridical person. Then, consider the following: what do companies want? What is their purpose? Clearly, their purpose is to make as much money as possible - it is even in the Finnish law! Suppose a regular person would only have one purpose of existence, be it for example to make as much money as possible. How would one think of such a person? Wouldn't we consider him or her to be more or less a psychopath?

As some of you may have noticed, the above argument has it's defects. Clearly, it makes a suspicious jump from the concept of a juridical person, implying a connection to the "regular" person. Like this:

I. A company is a juridical person
II. A company has only one purpose, making money
III. Any regular person with just one purpose is a psychopath
C. A company is a psychopath

So, the link between a juridical person and a regular person is missing. However, I still think that this is a very important thing to consider.

Why do the companies have only one purpose? Is it impossible for them to have any other goals?
Currently, everything in the business world is measured in money. It's a sort of utilitarianism, except the concept of "usefulness", "happiness" or "greater good" has been replaced with "financial value". Caring for the environment, looking after employees etc. is only useful for the company as long as it creates more money. Image loss, loss of work efficiency, eventually loss of good employees have such big financial drawbacks that it is simply rational to treat your employees well and not spoil the environment - at least in most cases.

What if nobody gets to know about polluting the nearby river? It creates no upheaval among citizens, it never affects the reputation of the company or it's sales! The motivation for behaving ethically comes from the outside, and that's not a very good situation... Well, we have the media for these situations, someone may argue. Look, I'm not very convinced about the supposed objectivity of the media. Believe it or not, but they can be bought as well.

As a conclusion, I only got so far as recognizing the problem with the one-dimensional point of view of companies. Ethical choices are hard to measure in financial terms, and the collateral damage argument really assumes a fully functional, objective media.

I'll try to develop the subject along a couple of lines further and see what I can come up with... If I tried to cram everything into this text it'd simply get out of hand and out of structure. For now, I'll leave you in the hope that all this at least managed to arouse your interest in this problem. Hopefully I'll get back to the subject soon enough.

11 August, 2009

Freeing your mind

I was reading about surrealism and it got me thinking about freeing one's mind and new points of view. How do you do that exactly?

Personally, I've always had three tricks for that:
a) reading
b) running
c) travelling

Strangely, all those three seem to have more or less the same net result, meaning that I'm able to ease my mind, let go of stress and think more freely, to get new points of view. But why those three means? What do they have in common?

If you think about it for a minute, you'll quite soon realize that they all involve a change of environment.

Travelling, that's change by definition. You're bound to experience new things and get a different outlook on life abroad (or if you don't, something's gone wrong with your trip)
Running also quite naturally takes you away from your room, the office or wherever you spend your hours.
But reading? Isn't that exactly something you would do inside your own room? Well, yes and no. Physically, you are in the same environment. Mentally, however, you exist in somewhere else.

So why are these things so important? Well, I'm fairly convinced that new points of view are always worth their weight in gold. It's always fascinating to find a new idea or just to improve an old one! That's why I try to do as much as possible of the three pastimes above. For you, the "top three" might be something completely different, though. I encourage everyone to find their way to relax their thoughts and find new ideas. You'll never know what ideas there are to be discovered! (ideas not in the Platonic sense here)

06 August, 2009

Expertise, specialisation and ethical interest

I spent the past two days reading Edward Said's Representations of the Intellectual (well, actually the Finnish translation). There was a certain point that caught me more or less by surprise. Mainly, the notion that these days people get into more and more specialised fields, and the knowledge we actually possess is all the more fragmented. Said claims, that a true intellectual should be interested in a wide variety of fields.

In a sense, I agree with this notion. After all, being an intellectual is in my mind caring about ethical issues. Trying to be open, as objective as possible and basing ethical choices on facts and universal principles, rather than going with the masses.

To be able to have opinions about ethical issues, naturally the first requirement is that you have to be interested in those ethical problems. And, unfortunately, that is something that a lot of people lack. I've had various discussions with people in Helsinki University of Technology, and to my horror found out that there are a lot of people who aren't interested in ethics in even the most superficial sense! "Why would I want to bother myself with that?", "What a waste of time!" and "What a lot of social science bullshit" are examples of opinions I've come across over the years.

To me, ethics is something I cannot - and don't want to - avoid. I'll rather live a happy life, comfortable with my decisions, than have all the fame, money and power in the world. I know, I know, easy to say that now as I don't have a mortgage stress-factor and wife, 2 kids and a dog waiting for me to bring food to the table. To be honest, I'll still rather skip those and try to live according to my morals! All you rreally need is an open mind, a group of good friends and a little touch of beautiful Mother Nature :)

Finally, here's something that I think sums it up pretty nicely. At least, if you think of liking as facing ethical dilemmas and emerging as an intelligent subject (an opinion I'm sure not everybody shares)

You might as well learn to like yourself, you have an awful lot of time to spend with you.”
- Anonymous

04 August, 2009

The first day of the rest of my life

Have you ever been reborn?
Do you remember what it felt like?

I just returned from Slovenia, where I spent some days at the Velka Planina in the mountains, accompanied by some of the greatest people I've ever had the pleasure of getting to know. We really did nothing special, just gazed at the awesome landscape and discussed the state of the world.

And it was awesome. It was mind-blowing. It was like a slap in the face and kick in the butt that said: "What the hell are you doing? Where did you leave your heart?" I'm still shaking as I'm writing this. The meaning of life - what a simple realization!

What is it then? Well, it ain't get rich or die tryin'. It ain't conquering the world. It ain't 42, either.

Let go.
Open up.
Open your heart.
Lose control.

Make each decision with your heart.

Fight your moral battles.

Stop running from yourself.

Let this be the first day of the rest of my life.