Dec 26, 2014

Seventh anniversary

I cannot believe I've had this damn blog for seven years. What's wrong with me? By my count, this is the 858th post published on this blog since 2007. You'd think I'd have had better things to do.

The truth is, I haven't. Back in 2007 I was still a dropout with no life whatsoever. I started my university studies in 2002, managed three years and then just sort of dropped out. I can't really remember anything from, say, 2005 to 2008 or 2009. I don't remember starting this blog. It's just here. I think it was because I'd lost my job writing, and wanted to keep my hand in at least a little. I'd also fallen out of the habit of writing in English. Having a blog also let me pretend I was doing something. I was suffering from fairly severe depression and social anxiety, and being able to put together a blog post was an achievement. I very badly needed achievements. Of any kind. But this is speculation; I genuinely can't remember.

I do remember that I've always felt I've written for an audience of two people. Looking at the statistics, that's still pretty much true, and I'm actually quite happy with that. My opinions on current affairs tend to be wildly unpopular; I can't even begin to imagine what would happen if I told people what I think of the TTIP treaty, for instance. As I do think it sharpens the mind to work out one's opinions in writing, and I wouldn't take writing seriously if it wasn't at least nominally public, I've appreciated having an opportunity to air my views to an audience that barely qualifies as one in terms of numbers.

At times, I have actually managed to reach wider. I continue to be amused that people are still coming across my Ancient Aliens post; given how short and limited in scope it is, I'm a bit surprised it elicited even that much comment. In the early days of the blag, I also got into a bunch of fights with people over racism, because back then that was what you did if you were Finnish and on the internet: get into fights with strangers over whether Muslims are people and does it count as racism if you make up a fancy word for it. Then we had an election and something like 20% of us voted for a vaguely anthropomorphic Catholic Innsmouth frog and his party of gibbering racists, so apparently this is a thing for us now. The gibbering racists are opposed by a cabal of left-wing loonies who think that Finland's multi-billion euro deficit either a) doesn't exist or b) will go away if we print enough money. You see why I don't like to talk about current affairs.

I also find it harder and harder to see the point. I think Farhad Manjoo hit the nail on the head in True Enough: the Internet does allow for an unprecedented transmission of information, but also gives people the ability to seek out information that matches their pre-existing biases and create ideological echo chambers by networking with the like-minded. When someone momentarily leaves their echo chamber and encounters someone who disagrees with them, the echo chamber has so completely naturalized their ideology that they simply cannot deal with any dissent and immediately resort to strawmen and childish vitriol. Having mentioned the gibbering racists, it needs to be said that there are people with whom it is not reasonable to have a civil discussion. I don't feel it's morally defensible to have a nice, calm, and friendly little chat with brutal neo-Nazis advocating white supremacism, or the particular variety of antifeminist who thinks the real problems in society all have to do with his dick. Fuck those people. But even with perfectly reasonable folks, it feels almost impossible to have a civilized exchange of opinions. It's as if we treat the Internet as some kind of collective subconscious where none of the conventions of ordinary society apply and we can give free rein to our thymoeides, which I suppose is geographically appropriate, but hardly makes for good conversation. If C. G. Jung traveled in time to today and saw the comments section of a major newspaper, he'd be astounded that we've invented a machine that prints out the id.

So my impression increasingly is that one can either preach to the choir or argue at people who aren't even listening in the first place. I'm sure they feel the same way about me. So I don't really see the point. I'm not sure I ever did; years ago, I think I got into this business of arguing with people on the Internet out of sheer loneliness and a burning need for anything even vaguely meaningful to do with my life. I think I can safely say that online arguments weren't very meaningful. People don't usually believe me when I say this, but I don't like to get into fights. I'm very conflict-averse. Being raised as a boy just means you have to get good at pretending you're not. This is also what has led me to question my use of the social media. I increasingly feel that there, too, you can toe the party line in terms of acceptable political and cultural opinions in your particular circle of online acquaintances, and get your likes or your favs or your whatnot, or break with consensus and suddenly the same people who seconds ago were liking your posts and recommending you to their friends want nothing more to do with you. I genuinely worry that we're becoming less tolerant of diversity, in ways far more commonplace than fascists with torches. Which, of course, we also have in Finland again these days.

Now that I'm on the topic, I really must add that I harbor a special dislike for the kind of people who use the social media for nothing except complaining and finding fault with everything. If every single social media post you make that isn't a vacation picture or an inanity can be fairly summarized as "look how much smarter I am than all these other people", consider the probability that you are an asshole. (A blog, in case you're wondering, doesn't count as a social medium.)

Since 2007, I've gotten a lot better. I went to prison, lost quite a bit of weight, got to collaborate with my brother on his game, returned to university and got a bachelor's degree - in theology, of all things. Comparative religion, to be exact. I studied conversion narratives on Finland's biggest online racist forum for my bachelor's thesis, and I'm currently working on a master's in contemporary history, with my thesis there on the development of Finnish armored doctrine in the 1920's and 30's. So in a sense, I'm now writing things that feel meaningful, and they're taking up quite a bit of my time. I also finally managed to get a pen-and-paper roleplaying campaign started again; I'm running a Rogue Trader game, and so far, it's been a terrifying, but rewarding, experience.

When I say I'm better, I don't mean that I'm well. Returning to some semblance of normal life has been very difficult, and although recovering from my near-debilitating social anxiety has gone better than I had ever hoped it would, it's still massively stressful for me to go through a normal university semester. On top of that, I got into a relationship last spring that made me happier than I ever remember being, and that was then ended brutally and suddenly by the other person. I still don't understand what happened or why, and it still hurts. A lot. I may be up and about and at times managing to pretend I'm something like a normal person, but my mind was completely unprepared for the level of emotional violence that that breakup was for me. I'm not remotely over it.

I still struggle with depression and a deep feeling of loneliness. I feel so petty complaining about that, as by just about any criteria I have a whole bunch of friends and some loved ones, but I have an incredibly hard time being able to accept that people care about me. Especially since the last time I did, I got hurt very, very badly for it. In retrospect, I suppose I expected too much from my recovery. My life is now so much better than it was when I started blogging, and I'm far less depressed than I was then. But I'm still not well, nor do I think I ever will be. I vacillate between wanting to engage with the world and feeling thoroughly alienated from it. In many ways I think trying to be socially active is futile, but I'm haunted by a desperate loneliness that I don't know if I can live with. I keep going, not from any sense of purpose or meaningfulness, but because I don't know what else to do. I hope things will get better. I try to make them better. I'm just really bad at, well, everything. Nor do I know what to do if things don't look up.

So, to sum up, I'm very much in the middle of re-examining my relationship to society and public life in general. Right now, everything feels so completely pointless that I despair. In politics, we face a continuing European economic crisis and the rise of fascism, along with an aggressive and increasingly desperate Russia. While our economy and defense decay, our public debate consists of hordes of wingnuts and moonbats locked in a race to the lowest common denominator of moronic populism. I don't believe there's anything I can do to make a difference. In terms of my personal life, I'm finally getting somewhere, but none of it feels like it means anything. I'm still desperately, at times unbearably, lonely, and that doesn't seem to be changing. But I don't feel quite ready to give up, either. So I have no idea what to do. I guess I keep going. But I have no idea how much longer I can do this.


Leon said...

I'm still following your blog and hoping you continue, your Tolkien stuff has been really good.

Hang tough internet Finnish guy.

Michael Halila said...

Thank you, I really appreciate that! I'm working on my next Tolkien installment.

sys meme said...

Michael, you keep me going. I moved to Finland some years ago - terrible mistake. You're one of the few sane people here. I found your blog shortly before the police state put you in gaol. If not for you I'd have done something terrible. Please keep going. <3

Michael Halila said...

Wow, thanks. That's quite humbling. Thank you. I'm doing my best. I hope things look up for you as well!