Abstracts for Akadeemia 02/2013

19 February 2013
Only in en

Tiit Kärner
The world happens

According to present-day knowledge, the whole development of the Universe is a process of self-organisation, the course of which is determined by chance and the effective laws of nature. These factors are functioning even now, when biological development has peaked with the humans and human society. In social sciences, however, the predominant view dating from the 19th century is that society is people’s free creation.

Considering the current size of humankind, it is inevitable that its functioning manifests statistical regularities characteristic of large collectives which are revealed in the common features of structures and functioning mechanisms of different societies. The concrete ways how such regularities are manifested depend on the specific features of the objects that constitute the collective. A characteristic feature of humans is the existence of the ability of thinking, which, paradoxically, is almost not revealed in these statistical regularities. This means that, development, even in its present, societal stage, is greatly a process that does not depend on human will.

In a few last decades, the studies in human sciences which have shown the role of inherited factors acquired during evolution in human behaviour seem to confirm this stance. Daniel Kahneman (Thinking fast and slow) et al. have shown that the handiest and most frequently used part of human thinking has been given at birth, and it is oriented towards survival rather than to solving the problems of present-day society. The humans do not use their ability of thinking to a remarkable extent. The impulses determining their behaviour are accidental rather than thoughtful, and the concepts and understandings through which they interpret the world – or even themselves – are greatly inadequate. The “noise” caused by this is so great that the rational common elements of society have no impact. People’s ideas about the regularity of the world and the causal connections reigning it are greatly their own imagination. Imperception of the role of randomness and searching for culprits in everything puts a strain on human relations and causes conflicts. Broader awareness about these research results and better understanding of human nature might reduce a great deal of tension, thus improving the life quality of individuals and the whole society.

Ilmar Tõnisson
Nationalism as a cultural mission

On the occasion of the 95th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia (24 February), we publish the article published in Üliõpilasleht (Student Paper) in 1930, which stresses the significance of the nation as the carrier of a unique culture. This stance means that nationalism becomes an obligation that cannot be condemned from the viewpoints of aesthetic beauty – nationalism includes even the negative features of the nation. Cosmopolitanism flirting with aesthetics becomes an obstacle to patriotism that is necessary for the development of the nation.

The author emphasizes that Estonians cannot have so much nationalism that it would become a threat to others. On the one hand, this is caused by the lack of excessive emotionality in the Estonian national character; on the other hand, the cultural unit is too small to pose a threat. The hazard of nationalism can lie only in its too big quantity which creates a brute force that attempts to destroy smaller cultural units. Estonian nationalism, however, is a creative factor which cannot be too radical or intense. Estonian nationalism is cultural self-realisation, an attempt to be a human in one’s own way and, in its originality, to strive for general human values.

Indrek Paavle
Between fear and hope: Estonian inhabitants’ perception of the international situation in the second half of the 1930s

The aim of the article is to find how the Estonian people imagined other countries, the international situation and its development prospects in authoritarian Estonia from 1934-1940. The treatment is based on reports reflecting people’s attitudes, compiled by the political police, the propaganda office and other institutions.

The transition to authoritarian governance in Estonia in the latter half of the 1930s brought about restriction of freedom of speech and people’s alienation from politics. The domestic events were considered dull, while international events attracted greater interest. One of the reasons for this was the increasingly tense political situation in Europe. All major events in Europe and even farther away caused resonance among the people. Compassion was expressed for occupied small countries and the activities of aggressive great powers were denounced.

Greatest attention was paid to the events in the neighbouring countries and to those that posed a threat to Estonia’s security. Changes in the USSR and Germany attracted the greatest interest. Scarcity of information resulting from the isolation of the USSR contributed to the deepening of the stereotypical image. The USSR was imagined to be a working people’s state where the life of the proletariat was good but the value of human life generally cheap. Soviet foreign policy was considered aggressive, and its goals – spread of communist ideology and enlargement of the country’s territory – a threat for its neighbours. The opinion was that the USSR paid great attention to propaganda, but its culture was more primitive than Estonian and its economy weak. Nonetheless, the eastern neighbour was not seen as a particularly great threat; people believed in the possibility of normal co-existence even in the case of direct aggression. Communists were feared, but the attitude to the Russians was neutral rather. Germany was feared and the Germans were always hated more than the USSR and the Russians. As the aggressiveness of Hitler’s regime became increasingly obvious, the hatred for Germany grew. An abrupt change in those attitudes happened during the first year of the Soviet regime, in 1940-1941.

The public opinion in the second half of the 1930s wavered between fears and hopes. Most of all, people were afraid of war and loss of independence. Simultaneously, hope persisted that Estonia could evade war and greater upheavals even if its neighbours did not fare so well. The hopes, however, turned out to be futile and the reality much more dismal than expected.

Alar Maas
European identity in Estonia from the 1860s to the present

One of the characteristics of Estonia is that it can identify itself as simultaneously belonging to several regions of Europe: Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Northern Europe. To a certain extent, it is also justified to say that Estonia is situated on the border between Europe and other cultural regions. Another characteristic of Estonia is its smallness, which can be both a hazard and a circumstance stimulating active communication with the rest of the world, thus having a productive meaning.

Until the mid-19th century, the Estonian society still greatly functioned in the context of pre-Christian arrangement of life and thought. Integration with the European cultural space became possible during the national awakening period, which started about 1860. Among the essential preconditions were the changes introduced by the church, which contributed to the growth of the significance of the Estonian language, and, as a result, the ideas bred in Europe became to be felt as natural.

During the following period, Estonians have participated in all the ideological upheavals in Europe. Until the present, the changeable power relations and ruling ideologies around and within Estonia have both opened up opportunities for Estonia and closed them down. Both nationalist and social democratic ideologies have given Estonians opportunities for their cultural self-realisation and restructuring of the society, but in the hands of the great powers, they have also masked the realisation of their Chauvinist aims on account of Estonians. Regardless of everything, Estonia has acquired ample experience which enables us to evaluate of propositions offered by different ideologies.

Simultaneously, a tendency has spread to distance ourselves from our own Estonian ethnic culture. The education system taken over from Europe has taught Estonians to see and systemically use primarily the aspects common with the rest of Europe. The distinctiveness of Estonians’ old folk culture and the powser its involves are not sufficiently acknowledged, and in such a situation, hidden positive features of Estonian culture are destined to fade away in the long run.

Until World War I, the national cultural discourse could be considered predominant in the European ideological context. Thereafter, this was ousted by the competition between different economic-political ideological systems, which, as a result of World War II, peaked with the division of Europe into two confronting and competing halves. Even the breakthrough in the 1980s/1990s did not bring about greater concentration on the cultural/spiritual dimension of human existence. The confrontations the actual content of which results from the competition in the previous period have proved very persistent. These circumstances burden the identity of present-day Europe and pose a threat to the efficiency of Europe in the future. Public Euroscepticism cannot disturbe the progress of European integration in its positive meaning. A real threat is hidden Euroscepticism which considers the opportunities offered to the member states merely fictitious, does not make use of them and directs the European Union towards the so-called federative Europe – i.e. to actual resemblance with the Soviet Union. A hazard for the whole of Europe is the concept that has partly formed under the ideological impact of the Soviet Union that humans have an identical world of thought, and their ethnic and cultural originality can be accepted only formally.

At present, the opportunities and problems of Europe can greatly be transferred to the Estonian context. The specific problems of Estonia, which hinder the implementation of positive aspects of European integration, are the economic weakness and the resulting meagre opportunities to use the prospects offered by free competition. The proportion of population working abroad is also so big that it threatens the sustainability of national culture. A recent sign of danger is the discussion about the necessity of higher education in Estonian.

Erki Tammiksaar
The beginning of oil shale industry in Estonia – Prerequisites and causes: Historical insight. Part II

Scientists became aware of the existence of oil shale in the earth of the province of Estonia as early as 1789. By that time, it was also known that oil shale was suitable to be used as a combustible. From the 1870s, information about the heating value of oil shale began to increase. Nonetheless, oil shale was not introduced as a combustion material in Estonia since the Russian empire, relying on the Committee of Geology, did not consider oil shale mining promising. Interest in the private use of oil shale was insufficient, as industry in its real meaning was absent in Estonia in the last decades of the 19th century. For the introduction of some kind of industry in Estonia, coal was used, as the corresponding technology was already known and coal was cheap.

Thus, something extraordinary had to happen in the Russian empire to make state officials and the wider public regard oil shale as a useful resource. World War I and the shortage of combustibles in Petrograd, the capital city of Russia, provided just that impetus, as they reminded the authorities that Estonian oil shale was not far from Petrograd and just by the Baltic railway line. In spring 1916, the Main Committee of Fuels of Petrograd considered it worth carrying out a survey of oil shale. The results (the extent of the oil shale field and the thickness of the layers) exceeded all expectations. Tests performed with oil shale also proved to be successful, especially considering the critical need for fuel.

Oil shale mining in Estonia was affected by complicated political circumstances in Russia in 1917. Although the mine was ready, full-scale mining operations did not start. The Estonian civil engineer Märt Raud had an opportunity of applying the experience of the Russian oil shale industry in the independent Republic of Estonia already. His contacts helped him reach the information collected about Estonian oil shale and the possibilities of its use in Russia. By the 1928, an electric power station using oil shale and a shale oil plant had been founded, and trains ran on oil shale. In Estonia, oil shale as a fuel gained the first place as compared to other heating materials. Still, it must be admitted that no other country except Estonia consumed oil shale intensively (and does not do that today either). Thus, Estonian oil shale has mainly been of local importance. As compared with coal and petroleum, it is a very ineffective fuel and capricious as a raw material for chemical industry, but oil shale guaranteed energy independence to Estonia, and this aspect has been of highest importance in our (economic) policy until now.

Peter Frederick Strawson
Freedom and resentment

Pessimists believe that if the thesis of determinism is true, then the concepts of moral obligation and responsibility have no application, and the practices of punishing and blaming, of expressing moral condemnation and approval are unjustified. Optimists, however, hold that these concepts and practices do not lose their raison d’être if the thesis of determinism is true.

The author himself belongs among these philosophers rather who consider this thesis inessential, and he attempts to reconcile the views of the pessimists and the optimists. On the one hand, such attempt is based on talk on non-detached attitudes – such things as gratitude, resentment, forgiveness, love and hurt feelings. One the other hand, these attitudes of involvement or participation are contrasted to what might be called objective attitudes. The latter side is represented by the image of morals proposed by the optimists. The only operative notions invoked in this picture are policy, treatment and control.

The social utility of these practices, on which the optimist lays such exclusive stress, is not in question. What is in question is the pessimist’s justified sense that to speak in terms of social utility alone is to leave out something vital in our conception of these practices.

The vital thing can be restored by attending to that complicated web of attitudes and feelings we – i.e. all of us – keep in mind when speaking the language of morals, we speak of desert, responsibility, guilt, condemnation, and justice. Because the optimist neglects or misconstrues these attitudes, the pessimist rightly claims to find a lacuna in his account. We can fill the lacuna for him. But in return we must demand of the pessimist a surrender of his metaphysics.

Optimist and pessimist misconstrue facts in very different styles. But in a profound sense, there is something in common to their misunderstandings. Both seek, in different ways, to over-intellectualize the facts. The optimist’s style of over-intellectualizing the facts is that of a characteristically incomplete empiricism, a one-eyed utilitarianism. He seeks to find an adequate basis for certain social practices in calculated consequences, and loses sight (perhaps wishes to lose sight) of the human attitudes of which these practices are, in part, the expression. The pessimist does not lose sight of these attitudes, but is unable to accept the fact that it is just these attitudes themselves which fill the gap in the optimist’s account. Because of this, he thinks the gap can be filled only if some general metaphysical proposition is repeatedly verified, verified in all cases where it is appropriate to attribute moral responsibility.

Edmund Husserl

The constitution of material nature (Excerpts). Part II

In paragraph 15 of the second chapter “The essence of materiality (substance)” of his book Studies in the phenomenology of constitution, the philosopher deals with determining the essence of the “material thing”.

He describes how the thing is constituted in the continuous-unitarity manifold of the sense institutions of an experiencing Ego or in the manifold of “sense-things” of various levels: multiplicities of schematic units, of real states and real units on various levels.

Thereafter (in the third chapter), it is revealed that the qualities of material thing as aestheta, such as they present themselves to a person intuitively, prove to be dependent on the make-up of the experiencing subject, and to be related to the Body [der Leib] and “normal sensibility”. The Body is, in the first place, the medium of all perception; it is the organ of perception and is necessarily involved in all perception. Besides its distinction as a centre of orientation, the Body, in virtue of the constitutive role of sensation, is of significance for the construction of the spatial world.

“All kinds of rumours are going around…”: Reports about the situation in Estonia in 1943-1945. Part XXI
We publish information summaries about the situation in Estonia in the last years of the German occupation, the beginning of the second Soviet occupation, and about the fate of Estonian refugees. The reports meant for Estonian diplomatic representatives in Finland and Sweden (in 1943-1944 also for the Finnish General Staff) were mainly compiled by journalist Voldemar Kures (1893-1987). He interviewed refugees, monitored letters from Estonia, newspapers, radio programmes, etc.

Published 19 February 2013

Original in Estonian
First published in

Contributed by Akadeemia
© Akadeemia Eurozine

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