Finland’s Most Controversial Philosopher
Everyone Finnish seems to have heard of Pentti Linkola, but he’s almost unknown outside the country’s borders. 65DN investigates Finland’s most provocative environmental thinker.
When I told Mikko, a Finnish PhD student who I chat to in the local park, that I was researching an article on Pentti Linkola he told me that he had not only heard of him (it seems that everyone has) but had actually met him once, on a train. Mikko’s school biology teacher knew Linkola reasonably well and recalled the philosopher pinning a Luther-like manifesto to the student notice-board on how he rejected consumerism and capitalism.
Linkola is a hugely controversial figure. To his opponents, his is an ‘eco-fascist’ who advocates eugenics. Even to those more sympathetic to him, his ‘deep ecology’ is too extreme, even for members of the Green movement. But he has undoubtedly made a profound intellectual mark, winning the coveted Eino Leino literary prize.
Those who are interested in a philosophy have usually heard of two Finnish thinkers: London University’s Edvard Westermarck (1862 – 1939) and Cambridge University’s Georg von Wright (1916 – 2003). But what they might not know is that Georg von Wright was actually in awe Linkola, writing to him to say that he could not face thinking about the kind of issues that Linkola spends his life writing about – humanity causing an ecological catastrophe and its own destruction – and admired Linkola’s ability to do so. ‘I hold you in high regard as a thinker,’ wrote von Wright.
Gaining an interview with Linkola is impossible. He is very reluctant to give interviews and it is, anyway, extremely hard to contact because he lives in accordance with his philosophy. Linkola works as a fisherman and lives in a cabin in the woods near Lake Vanajavesi in southern Finland. The eighty year-old also farms a small acreage and has done conservation work in Northern Ostrobothnia.
Reading his works might be a problem for expats because they’re (almost) all in (quite difficult) Finnish. However, searching the website maintained by his supporters makes his philosophy fairly clear.
All economic progress should be stopped, argues Linkola, and humanity should return to living in harmony with the environment by practicing measured hunter-gathering and small-scale farming. Democracy, he proclaims, should be abolished because humans are too greedy and stupid to know what is good for them. The human population should be kept to a minimum with the state giving out ‘birth licences’ only to the highly intelligent. Transport should be by bike. Manufacturing should be state owned and minimal and, ‘Education will concentrate on practical skills. All competition is rooted out. Technological research is reduced to the extreme minimum. But every child will learn how to clean a fish in a way that only the big shiny bones are left over.’ Only such a manifesto, claims Linkola, will stop the complete destruction of the world and renew flourishing of biodiversity – a good in itself.
The other way is to see for yourself what Linkola actually thinks by reading the single book of his that was, just last year, translated into English. Can Life Prevail? is also his most recent book. A collection of his newspaper articles written between 1993 and 2002, it probably provides the best overview of his philosophy.
Reading it, you see Linkola’s almost religious fervour for ‘nature’ combined with what seems like a loathing of all human beings. ‘One could walk for miles and miles . . . without finding a single human trace . . . It is in these places that I first learned the meaning of the word “rapture”: what it is like to be seized by an other worldly force, to purposefully lose oneself in the woods . . . Oh! The mighty, wild lands of Ranua and Pudasjärvi!’ he proclaims.
But this reverence for nature can be starkly contrasted with what Linkola would do to (individual) humans, ‘Forms of boastful consumption must be violently crushed, the natality of the species violently controlled, and the number of those already born violently reduced – by any means possible,’ he writes. This includes poisoning, or even nuking, entire cities. Insisting that he loves humanity (which he calls ‘the cancer of the earth’), he claims that this is the only way to save at least some of it. Democracy, Linkola argues, is always inferior to dictatorship because most humans are just ‘hapless’ sheep. They need wise leaders . . . such as Linkola.
Linkola, at some points, advocates arguments which some environmentalists, at least, might begin to agree with. For example, he suggests that mechanisation leads to large numbers being idle and thus proposes that it be slowed down so that everyone can have a job. His examination of the fishing and forestry industries and the reduction in Finnish biodiversity is very informative. He criticises those who insist on using locally sourced food, arguing that if they were consistent they would simply grow all their own food. Linkola notes the problems caused by overpopulation and suggests, at points, compassionate ways to reduce it, argues in favour of violence as a way of protecting freedom (giving the example of the Winter War), and bemoans the dominance of consumerism. He even makes the interesting point that it was ‘dangerous’ to have somebody as ‘fat’ as Martti Ahtisaari as Finnish president: ‘it is frightening to see the presidential chair filled by someone who has completely allowed his will-power and discipline to slacken in one area of life.’
But, in much of his writing, in contrast to people like von Wright, he seems to wish merely to provoke and to be as ‘controversial’ as he can possibly be. He is a polemicist rather than a logician and, unlike von Wright, does not read many non-Finnish thinkers – Linkola being proud to not even be able to read English, the spread of which, for him, parallels the spread of consumerism and Finland’s adoption of materialistic, ‘Western’ culture.
Linkola advocates the killing of all cats because of the damage they apparently do to Finland’s ‘native’ species. And, even putting aside his advocacy of mass-murder to reduce the population, Linkola excels himself in his essay on 911, entitled ‘Bullseye.’
He describes the event as ‘little more than a brawl’ compared to Hiroshima, implying that 911 only evoked the reaction it did because the dead were American. Linkola asserts that we don’t know the exact number who died because ‘we never even got to know who they voted for as president in the last election’ but it was surely ‘only a few thousand.’ He concludes that it was, anyway, good for the world that they died. World Trade Centre employees were ‘the priests and priestesses of the supreme God of the Age: the Dollar.’ And those who died on the flights, specifically, were ‘a wealthy, busy, environmentally-damaging and world-devouring portion of mankind.’ He compares the hijackers to the Finns fighting the Winter War against the Russians, and refers to them as courageous heroes whose ‘magnificent’ act slowed-down economic growth, helped to reduce the population and was a triumph for anti-materialism.
Philosophers may find a great deal to criticise in Pentti Linkola but he is certainly worth reading, if only to discover why he’s so well-known in Finland and precisely what all the fuss is about. Reading Can Life Prevail? one can see why he’s gained the reputation which he has.