Cultural diversity is unstoppable – it exposes Finland’s white privilege and intolerance

by , under Enrique

A Silminnäkijä television program exposed Thursday something we all knew: how you are treated in Finland depends on the color of your skin and ethnic-national background. Should this surprise us?

What is more incredible? Is it the indifference of the police, bouncers and near-silence of society as people are openly discriminated right before our very eyes? Answer: all of the above.

How we got to become a society that condones intolerance and open discrimination isn’t difficult to understand. Look at the Romany minority, which has lived here for five centuries, the Saami and study closely our history. When you read our history, read it critically and don’t allow yourself to be spoonfed by the codewords that hide our intolerance.

Outright denial is the oxygen that intolerance, prejudice and Finnish white privilege use survive. No matter how qualified and how big the scoop you have on this issue, it will rarely receive the needed public attention and, most importantly, a long-overdue public response. Why? Because we’re still in denial mode.

Because too few really care enough about your rights in this society if you are an immigrant or visible minority, it means that you will be relegated to second- and third-class status. No matter how much you try or how qualified you are, you will never be able to compete, be treated equally and feel at home.

In the process you may become a mamu, a modern Finnish Uncle Tom, and rise a notch or two in status but never ever be equal and enjoy the privileges of white Finns.

Is it your fault that Finland is becoming a culturally diverse society? Is it your fault that white Finnish society has defense mechanisms to show its hostility and loathing for you in the form of politicians like Jussi Halla-aho, James Hirvisaari, Susanna Koski, Wille Rydman and many others including the media and the whole establishment?

Certainly it isn’t your fault. The cards are stacked against you in this society because that’s how they are meant to be.

And why wouldn’t they be? The police service is white, political parties are white, the media is white, universities are white, our history is painted with strong brushes of white paint that constantly remind “us” against “them.” Add to this mix the element of denial and self-righteousness at the cost of others, which drown out the New Finland, and we begin to understand the severity of the problem.

Do you have to be a social scientist to grasp that Finland is having a hard time accepting cultural diversity? Check out the Restricting Act of 1939, which made Finland a closed country to foreign investment, and the fact that immigrants got their firs Aliens Act in 1983, or 65 years after independence.

A Helsingin Sanomat article on Finland’s largest-ever march for immigrant rights in 1981 wrote the following: “Moreover, foreigners should be given the right, among other things, to join a political party, to be a member of a union, and the right to own a home.”

Folks! This article was written 32 years ago!

The Restricting Act of 1939 prohibited foreigners from owning real estate and acquiring a majority stake in Finnish companies – limiting this to 20% normally and 40% under special permission. The Act stipulated that foreigners could not own shares in sectors such as forestry, securities trading, transportation, mining, real estate and shipping.

Imagine how a society must educate its children and how it must maintain and feed certain prejudices in order to justify such a closed model of society?

Like it or not, Finland is a growing culturally diverse society. No matter how extreme and hostile the arguments become against the acceptance of other groups as equal members of society during this century, our culturally diversity will continue to grow. Nothing will stop it. Those who attempt to, will look like modern Finnish Don Quixotes charging against windmills.

As our cultural diversity grows and as our voices become louder and put intolerance on the defensive, the closer we’ll be to making this country a just place for everyone.

  1. vesajarv

    “Imagine how a society must educate its children and how it must maintain and feed certain prejudices in order to justify such a closed model of society?”

    We educate our people for intolerance? believable? No

    You don’t seem to understand human psychology. Prejudices are “natural” to humans, you don’t have to feed them.

    For example:
    “Prejudice Comes from a Basic Human Need and Way of Thinking, New Research Suggests”
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111221140627.htm

    “It’s virtually impossible to change the basic way that people think.”

    It’s not all negative:

    “…If people who need quick answers meet people from other groups and like them personally, they are likely to use this positive experience to form their views of the whole group. “This is very much about salient positive information taking away the aversion, anxiety, and fear of the unknown,” Roets says.””

    Closed model of society is a natural model for humans: People form groups with people, that are similar to themselves. It’s a challenge to change this.

    “our voices become louder and put intolerance on the defensive”

    Attacking against intolerance and forcing people to accept diversity is the wrong way to do it:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110707151445.htm

    • Enrique Tessieri

      –We educate our people for intolerance? believable? No

      So we are supposed to educate our people to hate others. In order for this to work, we must make up wise tales about “them” and “us.”

      Thank you for confirming that there is a well-entrenched system that teaches, converts and reinforces intolerance in our society.

    • Mark

      Vesa

      The arguments as you present them are not an accurate representation of the research. Not your fault perhaps if you only took the articles title and lead, but these are constructed by media people to try to generate as interesting a story as possible, but often give a far too narrow interpretation to the actual research the story is about.

      For example, saying ‘prejudices are “natural” to humans’ is about the same as saying murder is natural. What is offered is an explanation, a description of a negative behaviour, but that doesn’t make it acceptable, or even the norm. Here is a much fuller extract from that piece that illustrates much better what are the key issues under discussion:

      “Of course, everyone has to make decisions, but some people really hate uncertainty and therefore quickly rely on the most obvious information, often the first information they come across, to reduce it” Roets says. That’s also why they favor authorities and social norms which make it easier to make decisions. Then, once they’ve made up their mind, they stick to it. “If you provide information that contradicts their decision, they just ignore it.

      First, notice it says ‘some people’. Second, notice that they refer not necessarily to ‘experiences’, but to information. In fact, contact theory shows us that real contact is a much more reliable form of information, but in the the case of prejudice, it is mostly informed by second hand information. Third, even when they are presented with contradictory information, they don’t change their minds – thus, prejudice is seen not only as an inefficient form of judgement, but also a quite stubborn one. This is not something to be promoted as ‘natural’, but something that should be questioned as lazy and damaging.

  2. vesajarv

    For example, saying ‘prejudices are “natural” to humans’ is about the same as saying murder is natural.

    True, I just wasn’t able to give a better summary of the research.

    First, notice it says ‘some people’.

    I think it actually means ‘some people more than others.’ I think no one can avoid the mind’s categorization process entirely. Prejudices are tricky to fight against, because it’s so part of the thought process, that you might not even notice when you have them. (Some people will notice them better than others.) It requires some effort at least. That’s why, if people feel like they are forced to accept diversity, they are not motivated to even make an effort.

    Prejudices are everywhere: fat people are discriminated in job markets, taller men have higher salaries than shorter men, they get promoted more easily etc.

    • Mark

      Vesa

      I think it actually means ‘some people more than others.

      Vesa, it’s always worth going to the original research if possible when reading these media stories. Go here for Roet’s and van Hiel’s original article.

      For example, the ScienceDaily article states in the lead paragraph and again in the conclusion “Where does prejudice come from? Not from ideology, say the authors of a new paper…[and]…Roets’s conclusions suggest that the fundamental source of prejudice is not ideology, but rather a basic human need and way of thinking.” [bold mine]

      And yet this is not Roet & Van Hiel’s conclusion at all. In fact, they state very early in the paper that “Integrating Allport‟s writings with contemporary research, we also show that the effects of motivated cognition on prejudice are explained (i.e., mediated) by essentialist thinking and authoritarian ideology [bold mine].

      Roetvanheil

      Why don’t the ScienceDaily mention this very important pillar of ‘authoritarian ideology’ as a source of prejudice? The graphic above is taken from their paper and illustrates far more clearly the relationship between need for closure as a precursor, with essentialist thinking and authoritarian ideology as mediating factors, and prejudice as an outcome.

      I don’t doubt that prejudice has some basis in a ‘general cognitive motivational style’, but that is not to say that it is or should be understood as a norm or that this is the end of the matter from a psychological research or political/social point of view. Moreoever, what Roet & Van Hiel are very keen to point out is that it is linked strongly with essentialist thinking. As this is a philosophical throwback going as far back as Greece and having permeated all manner of domains of thought, it’s very hard at this point to decide whether it is a ‘psychological’ frame they are describing or a deeper societal philosophical frame.

      A feminist would likely challenge this paper from the point of view of ‘social relations’, i.e. that it says nothing about issues of ‘power‘, how much or how little groups have in relation to each other, or how some groups may compensate for loss of power in relation to other groups. Indeed, it is only when looking at issues of power (status, influence, resources, etc.) that a great deal of the dynamics of this behaviour becomes clear.

      Also, not to be too critical of Roet & Van Hiel, but the key piece of research they cite in support of their conclusion is actually their own research. 🙂 Most top journals would reject this paper (or ask for the citations and discussion to be revised) because they reference their own work too much. What they do seem to establish is that there is a link between essentialist thinking and the need for cognitive closure (NFC), i.e. reducing ambiguities (the unknown). But then, what feeds the need for closure? Further, they reckon that about HALF of the reason for prejudice was explained by essentialist thinking, which raises the issue of what explains the other half?

      Well, they reckon the other ‘half’ is down to ideological belief: “Moreover, according to Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, and Sulloway (2003), people adopt an ideological belief system such as authoritarianism precisely because it promises to satisfy their deeper psychological needs and motives, particularly their closure needs.”

      Again, I’m rather stumped as to why the ScienceDaily thought they could dismiss ideology when in fact it forms a key pillar in the research. It’s a gross misrepresentation.

      Indeed, it’s worth restating just how far the researchers went in studying and incorporating this effect of authoritarian ideological thinking in their research:

      Studies by Cunningham et al. (2004), Onraet et al. (2011), Roets and Van Hiel (2006), and Van Hiel et al. (2004) have demonstrated that a stronger endorsement of authoritarian views of society largely explains why people high in dispositional NFC show increased levels of blatant, subtle, and even implicit racism.”

      …and

      “These mediation effects were obtained for Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA, Altemeyer, 1981) and to a somewhat lesser degree for Social Dominance Orientation (SDO, Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994), which capture Allport‟s (1954) description of authoritarianism in terms of craving for authorities imposing discipline, and preference for defined hierarchies, respectively.

      But thanks for bringing this to our attention, Vesa. I’d be interested if you have any further comments in view of these points.

  3. vesajarv

    Thank you for confirming that there is a well-entrenched system that teaches, converts and reinforces intolerance in our society.

    You’re welcome, although I was really trying to say the opposite.

    well-entrenched system?

  4. vesajarv

    Mark

    I understand the study differently. These people (high-NFC individuals) are drawn to these ways of thinking: essentialist and authoritarian. It says in the document:

    …to meet their desire for closure in the social environment, people typically resort to essentialist categorization and authoritarian ideologies…

    You are suggesting, that when the society is not authoritarian, they don’t prejudice, they are well behaving?

    To my view ScienceDaily article is correct in saying, that “the fundamental source of prejudice is not ideology.”

    What I was trying to say in the answer to the original post is, that it’s not that simple, that first there’s a flawed ideology or culture, which then causes intolerance. Today people can find weird ideas and ideologies from all over the world, ideologies, that can “satisfy their deeper psychological needs and motives.”

    Clearly there are ways a culture can reduce the negative effects.

    • Mark

      Vesa

      I understand the study differently. These people (high-NFC individuals) are drawn to these ways of thinking: essentialist and authoritarian. It says in the document:

      You say ‘drawn to’, the authors say ‘resort to’. I think this is necessarily a grey area in the research. An association is not causation. The idea of NFC is basically that humans prefer to have an opinion, however ill-informed, rather than face the anxiety of the unknown or the ambiguous. Research has looked at how quickly people form opinions and what happens when they start to take ownership of those opinions. In other words, once people start to commit to an opinion, they rarely change their minds in a fundamental way.

      My own thinking is that people usually have a general position, either taken from someone they admire and aspire to be like, or because an idea tallies well with existing beliefs, and then seek arguments that fit that general position. I’m the same, though I have changed my mind fundamentally on a lot of issues over the years as I’ve gained knowledge.

      I think you cannot so easily speak about certain ‘beliefs’ as related to single drives or instincts, such as NFC, separated from the wider belief system the person holds to or even to other motivations and cognitions. Context is everything, and here context means existing beliefs and also how those beliefs are situated within the society, i.e. majority or minority beliefs.

      I don’t think ‘need for closure’ plays such a big role other than saying that humans prefer to have some opinion rather than no opinion. Indeed, taking a strong opinion probably brings more anxiety because it is much more likely to bring strong confrontation, so that rather upsets the assumption at the heart of NFC.

      It also seems clear that educated people have been trained to ‘delay’ their opinion formation in the process of acquiring information, but even then, I think people choose a stance fairly early and then build their knowledge formation around that stance. Thereafter, we read the data in a way that ‘works for’ our pet thoughts and beliefs.

      When I first made my way in studying psychology and religious experience, it was pretty clear that ‘schism’ was the order of the day, all day, every day, for almost every single idea put forward. Having studied in several other fields over the years, that has remained absolutely true. Human beings like to argue. One researcher once put this into a theory of ‘thesis–anti-thesis’, with subsequent thinkers left to find some kind of synthesis. I’m not sure it’s so neat and tidy as that – more like a myriad ways of chopping up a subject, with usually a handful of ways tending to drown out other forms. Look at how stories/comments rise to the top of news aggregators like Reddit and you see a very similar process at work every day.

      I have thought that this tendency to endless schisms is depressing, though I guess it does seem to motivate exploration. The negative outcome of it though is a tendency towards simplification, paradigmatic dominance, and also assassination of the imagination once one’s core ‘knowledge’ has been established.

      I was told as a young man that it is rare and unusual to find a person who is willing to have ‘a revolution every week’ in their thinking as part of growing intellectually. Indeed, the energy that requires is immense, and the ability to deal in various stages of ‘uncertainty’ is likewise beyond the means or desire of most of us. I’ve had a few revolutions, and they are hard work – as it entails admitting to a high degree of naivety.

      While this probably reinforces the idea of NFC as presented in the paper, as something leading to fixing ideas, I would hesitate to draw that conclusion. First, there are several factors tied up in this research. It’s not just that people form an opinion, some people form a ‘harder’ opinion than others. In other words, the need for closure isn’t in itself the factor that leads to prejudice, but how hard that closure is and how much information its based on. This is why the researchers HAD to build an ‘intermediate’ set of factors. And this also means that these factors are therefore probably much more salient when it comes to understanding prejudice than the bald statement that people like closure.

      You are suggesting, that when the society is not authoritarian, they don’t prejudice, they are well behaving?

      I don’t think you can describe ‘society’ as authoritarian. We can describe political systems as such or individual personalities. When it comes to individuals, I think the work of Erich Fromm on the authoritarian personality is always my first port of call, and when it comes to political ideas, then the history of fascism and nationalisms are my starting points. Fromm linked political systems to ‘family systems’, where authoritarianism is a function of power and relations within the family. In other words, authoritarianism is an effect of specific kinds of relations between people, often between parents and their offspring.

      the fundamental source of prejudice is not ideology

      I’m not sure that ‘source’ is a useful or even demonstrable concept here. The author’s refer to NFC as a ‘basic determinant’, and as such, they don’t see it as the ‘only’ determinant. I’ve already mentioned how NFC has to be mediated by other factors, a point well acknowledged throughout the article. Indeed, using words like ‘determinants’ and ‘processes’ as if the two can be easily separated or find separation in the human psyche is actually quite a leap.

      A ‘determinant’ is therefore better understood as a factor that plays an important part rather than seeking to find only ‘causal’ parts. Indeed, one could argue that the need to find always specific ’causes’ in human behaviour is itself a demonstration of the style of thinking they seek to explain. 🙂 Determinants/traits are not easy to pin down in psychology. This is why these ideas sit within the field of ‘motivations’, ‘cognitions’ and ‘epistemology’.

      that it’s not that simple, that first there’s a flawed ideology or culture, which then causes intolerance.

      I certainly agree with you about this. The ideology doesn’t ’cause’ intolerance, but it can certainly promote it and give it respectability. I think much of the drive towards ‘nationalism’ and prejudicial thinking is one rather of ‘belonging’. This idea doesn’t enter into the frame at all. In that sense, the ‘closure’ represents the closure of who is in the ‘family’ and who is excluded, and why.

      In one sense, identity is often built on a process of differentiation – as one Glaswegian wisely observed “the Protestants in Glasgow are everything a Catholic ain’t”. We often define ourselves in ‘opposition’ to others. In Tyneside, your identity is built simply on the accident of whether you were born North or South of the river. Such obvious and entrenched biases in the way we devise identity need to be challenged. The alternative to these forms of ‘exclusive’ identities is to construct ‘inclusive identities’.

      Exclusiveness is an effect of hierarchical systems, of ‘status’ cultures, and the desire to put certain people down and to keep them down. It’s a mark of Feudalism and the power structures that made the good ‘Christian’ of the upper middle classes live with their power and privilege while not being able to escape seeing the poverty and oppression for which they were often responsible, while still keeping a ‘good conscience’. It was assumed therefore that there was a ‘natural order to things’, and in this natural order, a certain kind of distorted thinking and philosophy had to exist to justify its inequalities.

      It is therefore perhaps no surprise that even today, elements of ‘natural’ psychology still search for ‘natural’ explanations for such social inequalities, all but ignoring the fact that prejudice serves to maintain privilege. Asking why it’s difficult for people to give up their prejudices is the same as asking why it’s difficult for people to give up their privileges. Privilege breeds a sense of entitlement, but it also breeds a sense of superiority.

      You cannot really deal with or explain racism unless you have dealt with these factors. Indeed, they are conspicuous by their absence in this NFC research framework.

  5. MattiR2106

    Imagine, if you will, the instigator of this blog is an individual who comes to us from an area of the world where dictators, generalissimos, and juntas are the rulers of the land…. where decades of history has little to offer but vast gov’t corruption after accessing control on the promise of eliminating corruption…. and people go missing after expressing their opposition to the regime… Yet this individual lands on our sacred shores and begins to berate us for our way of expressing democracy…. He doesn’t seem very impressed with results of the recent election and the present makeup of the gov’t …. Well, tough bananas…. as is said in ‘banana republics’ whence cometh this oracle and his vision for a new Finland where we somehow owe the unfortunates of the world a refuge…. Is it not strange that people from the ‘failed’ democracies feel they are somehow experts on the subject and attempt to force their will on the populace of a country where democracy seems to work quite well…. is everybody happy with the results of this election…. obviously not…. but it is what it is….

Leave a Reply