Brexit and the cosmopolitan world order

Posted: June 27th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: european union, governance, human rights, philosophy, politics, thoughts | No Comments »

There are those who see the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union as a prelude to turning back to the times when the main sovereign actor in the world is the (nation) state. However, resorting to the intergovernmental model is not the only option to analyse Brexit, the other views (cosmopolitan pluralist, minimal world state and cosmopolitan democracy) should be analysed as well.

Intergovernmentalists probably see Brexit as a natural consequence of a political union that has stretched too far. There can be no (democratic) legitimate government above the nation state level and thus any attempts at political unions such as the EU are futile if not harmful, this thinking goes.

The negotiation of national parliamentary sovereignty and binding supranational rules have been unsuccessful in the EU-UK case and thus it is only normal that the state that has delegated powers to the EU can now take those back and leave. In this traditionalist thinking, the citizens of the UK had all the rights to vote for Brexit, because it is they who are ultimately in charge of the fate of their country and whatever they do (even if it harms themselves or others) is right.

The cosmopolitan pluralists believe that (nation) state is over or in decline and no longer the centre of sovereign power. Therefore power has been shifting to multiple other levels of government, global, regional, subnational, corporate multinational etc. The state is just one of the levels of a pluralist, complex, interdependent, networked world which does not have a centre of power.

From this perspective, Brexit as a decision by referendum of the UK citizens was unfair: in a cosmopolitan plural world order everyone who is affected should get a say and stakeholders consulted. In an interdependent world why are the citizens of one entity allowed to screw things up for everyone else? Scottish independence is a neat example of the subnational levels of governance exerting influence beyond the nation state. Even if the UK left, this does not mean that we should not continue to democratise the supranational levels of governance (i.e. the EU) and continue building a strong European polity.

The proponents of the minimal world state model are of the view that there are certain universal core principles that apply to all states and all people, which cannot be derogated from and the breach of which will limit state sovereignty. Universal human rights at their core are as such limiting state sovereignty: humanitarian interventions can be used to prevent mass grave human rights violations, such as genocide, in a sovereign state. Other violations might bring sanctions and trade restrictions. This minimal world state is institutionalised through the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly (and other UN bodies) and includes international NGOs as powerful actors. The deliberations at the global level in other matters than human rights as well (millennium development goals) exerts soft pressure to states to comply.

Brexit does not really have a consequence in terms of the minimal world state model, because both the EU and the UK remain a part of it and will need to comply with the core requirements. The influence of the EU and the UK in the world state level might be decreased because of the weakening of the position of the EU.

Cosmopolitan democracy model requires democratic decision-making in all levels, including global. This model sees the future creation of a world parliament and limits state sovereignty only to those issues that are internal to that state. In this case states are subordinated to a global democratic entity and transnational solidarity is the norm, because most problems are not confined to the borders of any one state.

Brexit is a setback to cosmopolitan democracy if one counts the EU as a precursor to eventual global democracy. In a fully developed cosmopolitan democracy Brexit would not matter because nation states would not matter either. The UK leaving the EU would be similar to a redrafting of the administrative borders of a county or district, which does not have global impact.

In conclusion: none of the models of international political theory offer a complete solution. The world is slowly turning away from the intergovernmental model, but neither the minimal world state and cosmopolitan pluralism models are fully existing yet. And even though cosmopolitan democracy is as an ideal an interesting one, it seems to be a long way to go before it can be realised. Brexit can be read as a countertrend towards intergovernmentalism, but it (and the reactions to it) also reflect the unsuitability of the current international political frameworks to deliver. The confusion and reactions in different countries (and the fact that we in Estonia also care deeply about Brexit) can be seen as supporting the emergence of cosmopolitan pluralism as the main framework, but as it also is vague and confusing it does not offer much help. Minimal world state does not seem to be affected much (even though prevalence of nativism might mean even less interest in responsiblity to protect doctrine and thus weakening of the applicability of the model).

Read more:

Zürn, Michael. “Survey Article: Four Models of a Global Order with Cosmopolitan Intent: An Empirical Assessment.” Journal of Political Philosophy 24.1 (2016): 88-119.

Fuzzy borders

Posted: January 4th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, european union, human rights, law, philosophy, thoughts | No Comments »

There has been recently some discussion in Estonia on the culture of complaint, especially in the rather influential conservative-libertarian circles. This concept, which was initially proposed by the late art critic Robert Hughes in his bestseller book in the US in 1993, was expressed in Estonia in modern terms by Elver Loho in his post on Obviously I disagree with both Robert Hughes and Elver on these issues, but that is for another post at another time. However, this has started me thinking on group-based approaches to categorising people.

It used to be easy to define and label individuals based on specific stereotypes and assign them to ingroups and outgroups, i.e. Estonian and Russian, woman or man, gay or straight, which could then become basis for discrimination or even worse as history has witnessed. However, there are additional facets to this because people’s identities and group boundaries are changing too because of social progress and also technological progress that has made unparalleled mobility and connectivity possible for many people around the globe.

Ingroups and outgroups are becoming at the same time fragmented and globalised due to the impact of social media. Fragmented in the sense that people find new ingroups based on extremely specific criteria (fans of an obscure singer) that allows them to cultivate their individual interests while sharing them with people from around the world. Globalised in the sense that there are new global ingroups and outgroups (Beliebers, Apple fans, chemtrail conspiracy theorists, etc etc) that come and go. These seemingly superficial categories have much more impact than one thinks, comparisons with religious cults are not totally out of place.

On the other hand, the perceived borders between groups based on which people used to be labelled and grouped together are becoming fuzzy. Distinct human races have been proven not to exist, ethnicity is more and more self-defined and unlimited (how would you objectively define an Estonian?). People migrate and get multiple relationships with different ethnic and national communities.

Country borders are becoming porous, because states cannot any more decide who can live in their country. In Estonia’s case, 500+ million EU citizens have a rights and obligations in relation to Estonian state, as well as the huge number of permanent residents who are non-citizens, not to mention refugees under international law. Although non-citizens have no access to traditional representative democracy through elections (which is a problem), they can wield power in other ways (for example through the judiciary and the executive branch). Citizenship has little meaning left for defining ingroup/outgroup. E-resident Edward Lucas is probably considered by many Estonians belonging to an ingroup more than many of the 300 000 Russians living here on a permanent basis.

One cannot really base one’s attitudes towards people based on perceived gender and sexuality, either. Gender and sexuality is not binary, because in addition to cis gender persons there are people who identify as various forms of trans* and in addition to strictly heterosexual people there are a range of (closeted and non-closeted) lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, etc people. Also, disability as a social construct can now under anti-discrimination law mean any long-term physical or mental impairment that prevents from participating in work-life equally with others (i.e. including certain overweight people).

This variety of differences, which is also intersecting in each individual and unique human being, some of which has always existed and some of which has been made possible by technology (i.e. mobility and connectivity) is the thing that seems to making people uneasy and uncertain, because they cannot rely on their prejudice and stereotyping. I do not have an easy stereotype for a cis gender, lesbian, Chinese businesswoman, who lives in India and has a British spouse. What if she is also a Belieber and uses Linux? Stereotypes that used to be good for easier living are increasingly unreliable and also unacceptable (which is why sensitivities and so-called political correctness has become an issue).

In order to cope, one cannot but to have tolerance for all the various individual differences and find common ground on shared humanity, which leads us closer to Benhabib’s cosmopolitan federalism.

Read: Benhabib, Seyla. “Borders, Boundaries, and Citizenship.” PS: Political Science and Politics 38.4 (2005): 673-677.

What’s wrong with Rahvakogu?

Posted: January 12th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, human rights, philosophy, politics, thoughts | 1 Comment »

A new web-based portal has been created in Estonia, called Rahvakogu (People’s assembly in English). It is described as “an online platform for crowd-sourcing ideas and proposals to amend Estonia’s electoral laws, political party law, and other issues related to the future of democracy in Estonia.” The web-based portal is the first step in a process dedicated to amending Estonia’s laws regarding elections, political parties, their funding and inclusion of civil society. In January the ideas are gathered, in February they will be analysed by experts and in March they will be debated at town-hall like events after which they will be presented to the Riigikogu (Estonian Parliament). It is backed by Estonian Cooperation Assembly (an institution hosted by the President mainly dealing with publishing the Estonian human development report and several NGOs). The process got started after a financing scandal concerning the ruling party Reformierakond and subsequent denials by the people involved.

As a disclaimer, it should be mentioned that the things that came up in the scandal were bad and shocking and should receive a response. It is not clear whether the stepping down of the Minister of Justice was an adequate remedy, but it seems that parties will not engage in similar shady deals any longer. One should also not feel anything but great respect towards everyone who have been pressuring those who lied and who want to change the system to be better. In a democracy that is what has to be done, the governing system is never going to be perfect, nor will there ever be perfect politicians. Political party financing scandals are common in all democratic countries, big and small.

It is great to have more people contributing to a democratic governing system. As time goes by, new forms of governance are also appearing, including multilevel and network governance systems, taking into account the multitude of actors involved in governance. That is especially true in the context of the European Union, but also in the level of the state, the local governments, multinational companies, etc. It is great to have more inclusive, more participatory democracy in which politicians are not the only ones with competence or influence.

However, Rahvakogu as a response to the crisis is misguided at best and dangerous at worst.

First, Estonian democracy is at a stage in which it is important to focus not on the “will of the people”, but on the protection of minorities and human rights. Estonia has built up in 20 years a fairly good system of government in which the will of the people seems to translate into policies and rules. There is no election fraud, there is a free and unfettered media, the governing system is one of the most transparent ones I have encountered. You are able to have your say and argue your case. Things are not so good when it comes to understanding that majority is not everything. The classic case is the abolition of the death penalty, but there are also cases like equal rights for same-sex couples, etc, which are not supported by the majority of the population, yet they are something that needs to be done. A modern democracy not only translates the will of the people into policies and laws, but also does this in a way that takes into account human rights, including the rights of the minorities. Otherwise it is a “tyranny of the majority” or ochlocracy or mob rule.

The Constitution is there for a reason. It sets up fundamental rights and the basic governance system, including the institutional set-up as well as law-making processes. It limits the power of those who make rules and protects those who might be impacted.

Rahvakogu takes place outside of the constitutional framework. Because of the context in which it was created, it has huge popular support, which means that it has or at least appears that it has legitimacy. This legitimacy is based on the people and institutions involved, but also the support of the media and the context of perceived failings of the exisiting democratic system. This means that when those Rahvakogu proposals appear in front of the parliament, they carry a lot of importance and support so that it will not be easy for any parliamentarian to say no to them. This means that Rahvakogu becomes kind of ad hoc de facto alternative to the parliament, which is definitely not compatible with the Constitution.

Perhaps I am exaggerating the situation and things are not that bad (they are not that bad yet). However, looking at what has happened in Hungary, one should be very careful. The statements attributed to the people involved in the process have also been worrying. The Charter12 that was a kind of manifesto also contributing to the creation of Rahvakogu includes a passage that states:

A new social contract is needed. Neither the President, the Riigikogu or the Government have shown their desire to change the situation. If the system is incapable of reforming itself, then in order to execute its will and exert pressure, civil society must convene an alternative institution, dominated by representatives of civil society.

So my main argument against Rahvakogu is that it hurts rather than helps Estonian democracy. It tries to fix small things about financing political parties, putting into danger much bigger things like our legitimate democratic institutions. It promotes an understanding of democracy as unfettered rule of the people rather than responsibility that comes with it.

There are a number of other concerns:

  1. The process only includes a certain segments of the society. The website is not available in Russian or English, thus leaving out those people who are Estonian citizens or who just live here for a longer time. It shows that when it comes to important social issues, Estonia is still monoethnic and monolingual country (obviously people with no internet do not deserve to have a say as well).
  2. The process is opaque. It is beyond bizarre that a process that calls for more democracy lacks basic transparency (i.e. who are the people involved and how, financial issues etc).
  3. The hastily organised system is neither well-funded nor thought through. The analysis and impact analysis of proposals will be done supposedly by volunteers for free in a month.
  4. E-democracy is great, but it should still be democracy. Technology should be made to serve people, rather than be a thing in itself. Many people involved seem to still have this faith that technology will be the solution to all of our problems. The problem is in us, so the solution is in us as well.
  5. There is very little to no criticism of the process in the public discourse, probably out of fear of being unpopular. The people involved are also seem to be taking an arrogant, superior position (specifically the head of the Estonian Cooperation Assembly).
  6. It is a diversion from more pressing issues that are crucial for the further development of Estonia (aging population, migration, future of EU). So many people (now also myself) have spent so much time and effort on this, other pressing matters receive little or no attention.

It might be that the above is just an unfounded fear and I should start wearing a tin-foiled hat, perhaps my professional background as a lawyer makes me think in a specific way, but I am really worried about what is going on. I am not sure if it would be worse if the whole thing fails or if it is successful.

Update 13 January 2013

Some more thoughts:

1. There is also the connection of the President to the process, which runs against the idea of separation of powers. The process is mainly managed by Olari Koppel from the Estonian Cooperation Assembly, an institution, which is attached to the Office of the President. Mr Koppel was very recently a senior member of the President’s staff. Also mentioned on the list of collaborators on the project is the Legal Adviser to the President Ülle Madise. A well respected scholar as well as civil servant, I do not think she would get involved in anything that is legally questionable. However, if there is a proposal that comes through from Rahvakogu, it is confirmed by Riigikogu and then it comes to the President’s desk for signature (the President can refuse to sign those drafts into law which he thinks are unconstitutional). Does the President stop the law and what happens if he does or does not do it? (Paragraph edited for clarity on 13 January 2013, at 14:47)

This is a serious issue, as many of the proposals (even those that are presented by “reasonable” people) are possibly contrary to international human rights standards and basic democratic concepts (limitations on political speech, getting rid of equal votes by giving parents and extra vote, etc). The process needs to be such that things such as these do not go through.

2. I will expand a little on some of my short points of concern (my main critique is still the potentially harmful impact to democratic institutions and the democratic process, as elaborated above):

2.1. Laws should never be made according to strict time-pressure. The current schedule is way too tight for even the best minds to go through them in a meaningful way. Considering that there is a lack of competent social scientists in this country (mostly due to lack of adequate funding for social science research), it remains to be seen if the smart-sourcing part really is that smart. Smart legislation requires years long process of getting input from stakeholders and the general society, analysing its impact and then having a debate about it. Doing all that in three months for the hundreds of proposals seems like a mission impossible for me. Especially when there is no financing available. And if there was financing for the analysis, then would it not be correct to organise a public procurement for this, so that the best offer can win (this alone might take three months).

2.2 The fact that there is a list of names on the Rahvakogu website does not make the process transparent. We would not accept if the government only published names of officials and not what they do and what they are responsible for. The fact that we know that there might be 20 000 euros allocated for the process does not make it transparent if we do not know how it is going to be spent.

2.3. The problem is not that there are not enough ideas to make things better in terms of elections and political parties and their financing. The ideas are there and have been there for a long time. Therefore crowdsourcing is quite unnecessary, what is necessary is to enact those amendments. They can be legitimately enacted only following the democratic process and not by bullying the political parties through Rahvakogu to accept them, thus threatening the democratic foundations of this country. This time it might be the ‘good’ guys doing it for a ‘good’ cause, but the same thing might be repeated by people with other motivations in the future.

2.4. The distinction between Rahvakogu and other portals such as the failed Täna Otsustan Mina (Today I Decide) or is quite clear. The former was set up by the government, thus being clearly a part of the democractic process with all the democratic safeguards intact. The latter is a private undertaking for different proposals, one that is neither endorsed by the President nor run by a public organisation, and there can be many such portals, if people wanted to start them up. Most importantly, however, it is the context in which Rahvakogu came to be which might be dangerous. At any other time, it would not have the same impact or perceived legitimacy as it has today.

A new constitution for Estonia

Posted: August 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, european union, human rights, law, philosophy, politics, thoughts | 1 Comment »

I do not agree with those who say that Estonia’s current constitution is great for us and nothing should be changed. I think the opposite is true: a new, modern constitution would give more confidence and stability in the otherwise rapidly changing times. A new constitution that is made not out of necessity, but as an opportunity to kickstart Estonia’s development.

The constitution was drafted in almost 20 years ago, in a completly different set of circumstances. Accession to the EU was not on anyone’s minds (nor did the EU exist in its today’s form), the understanding and content of several human rights provisions have been altered, etc. The world around us has changed, and Estonia has changed even more dramatically.

The Estonian constitution has been for me, and I suspect for most Estonians, the most fundamental basis for the existence of the Estonian state. I cannot really remember the first time I read it, but it was during school, and I think it was one of the things that made me decide to study law, instead of anything else. The constitution sets out clearly and powerfully why we have the state and what it does. I was most impressed with the Bill of Rights section, which I thought was a brilliant thing to have. Indeed, I was not and am still not so much interested in the institutions the constitution created, but rather the principles it provides.

Estonia is a part of the EU and this is not reflected well in the constitution. The constitution suffered its heaviest blow with the 2004 Amendment Act and its subsequent interpretation by the Estonian Supreme Court. Today, it is no longer clear to which extent the constitution applies in case it is in conflict with an EU legal act. A new Constitution should state more clearly and confidently the basis according to which Estonia belongs to the EU, and not only that, but the way it operates in today’s multilevel governance framework. This not only applies to the EU level, but also to the relationship between the state level and local governments. The latter subject (i.e. local government functions and their financing) have been one of the most contentious issues in Estonian politics for a long time. Therefore my first proposal would be to describe in a chapter the role of the Estonian state in this framework. The current constitution largely ignores the fact that governance is no longer limited to a single state entity, but is much larger concept.

The Bill of Rights needs updating. There have been many changes in recent decades in the understanding and development of human rights, including for example data protection rights. The family rights section should also be expanded to be more clearly inclusive of all types of relationships. For example, although the current constitution does not prohibit same-sex marriages, these relationships should be more clearly protected. A good, but not perfect, example could be found in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The provisions relating to the nation state should be reviewed. The constitution contradicts itself by providing those who are of Estonian nationality preferential treatment. The preservation of the Estonian nation in the preamble is one of the things that should go, and better protection be afforded to minorities. Multiple citizenship should be clarified in the constitution, the current blanket ban is unfair and dumb. The constitution would provide an opportunity for a truly new societal agreement to involve in the governance of the state also those who have been left out so far (ethnic Russians and other marginalised minorities) and move Estonia forward in the democratic path.

A few other things that I would also rather see changed:

1. Abolish compulsory military service. It has no place in today’s society: it serves no legitimate defence need and is burdensome for the individuals from the liberty perspective as well as the society as a whole.

2. Add innovative  things that pave the way for success, for example the right to access to Internet and the principle of Open Data.

The rules that govern us determine where we go as a society. I think there should be more discussion in Estonia on the most fundamental of these rules, especially on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Estonian constitution next year. Let’s face it: the current constitution and life in Estonia today have grown apart and need to be re-aligned. Otherwise we will see in future more and more incredible feats of teleological interpretation, which interpret a clause in the constitution to say the exact opposite of its text and that is not good.

Causes are not excuses

Posted: August 12th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, european union, human rights, law, philosophy, politics, things that suck, thoughts | No Comments »

In light of recent extraordinary criminal activity (mass killing in Norway, looting and riots in London, also the gunman at the Estonian Ministry of Defence) there have been calls not to look at the causes of these crimes. These actions have been deemed by some as mad or crazy acts which supposedly took place irrationally, from some sort of natural evil that surfaces from time to time. Those acts might have been desparate and committed by people who are not sane and they are, of course, criminal, but that should not prevent us from looking into why these actions were taken. What was it that has driven some members of the society into these horrific actions against their own societies? As a side note, it is interesting to observe that although the preoccupation of governments have been focused on how to react to an outside terror threat, these actions have been taken by the citizens against their own state.

I do not advocate shifting the blame from the individual who committed the crime to the society on the whole. It is clear that those individuals who were proven to commit a specific act deserve to be punished according to the law. However, in order to prevent such acts in the future, it is important to look at and analyse the causes of these events. The society should also look into things that are wrong and try to remedy these. This way, the horrific events could be turned into possibilities to make a better society. This does not mean that we somehow reward the criminals, because the motivation should not be fear of someone doing something similar again, but to eliminate the root causes of these actions.

Some people (especially those who like to see things in black and white terms) think that there are people who are evil and that is that. Those ‘evil’ people need to be tracked down and put to prison or even killed. That is not the way I look at things. I think people and life in general is much more complex. Goodness and evil are subjective, relative terms that could, at best, relate to specific actions in a specific ethical or moral framework, but not really to the whole of a person.

Faced with complex set of issues that shock or frighten, people tend to seek for strong leaders with simple, harsh measures. However, I think it is best to analyse the situation and also look at the root causes of these criminal events. Trying to ignore problems will not make them go away.

Psychological shield for Estonians?

Posted: February 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, philosophy, politics, thoughts | 1 Comment »

Unfortunately it is not possible to rely only on peasant common sense when thwarting hostile attacks to influence us, because big states use billions for this war without frontiers. Estonia needs an immune system. Our national psychological defence must be constructed to a wide and strong base. Then the external influences and crises will not break our internal connections, society and the state as a whole during bad times.  (my translation)

No, this is not a quote from ‘1984’. It is from the speech made on the occasion of the 92nd birthday of the Republic of Estonia by the head of our defence forces. I have never understood why a high-ranking military person should be allowed to make these kind of political speeches at all, but using this kind of Orwellian rhetoric and nobody really caring about it is for me a dangerous sign. Connect it to the recent gaffe by our Minister of Defence who claimed that Estonian independence was a “triumph of national will” which seemed similar to the title of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will.

Nationalism is dangerous: the national unification function it provides threatens individual liberties, and discourages dissent or unpopular opinions, which in turn makes the society more closed. Do not get me wrong, I consider myself proud to be Estonian, but I do understand that the fact that I was born Estonian is random and does not mean that I am somehow better than someone who was born with a different nationality.

In my opinion our concept of nation state must be reconsidered. It is difficult to justify in today’s world the preservation of the Estonian nation as the primary reason for having the Republic of Estonia. We need a separation of the nation and the state.

Catching internet trolls

Posted: October 2nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: human rights, law, philosophy, politics, thoughts | 7 Comments »

We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.  John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859

In the memokraat blog, the Short Guide to Catching Trolls (Lühike trolliküti käsiraamat ehk ettepanekud online diskussioonitehnoloogia arendamiseks Eestis) was posted discussing the issue of trolling at the reader comment sections of Estonian online news media sites. I briefly participated in the debate, but now will provide here an overview of some issues and questions that I have been thinking about since then.

1. Defining the troll. The Guide defines troll as someone who posts insulting comments in an online environment with the purpose of provoking others and disturb the discussion. What constitutes an insult, provocation or disturbance is subjective to a certain level and depends on the cultural and social background of a person. My comments for the Guide as posted in the comment thread could be considered trolling as at least some people thought that part of my arguments were arrogant (when I suggested that people who are so thin-skinned that they could not tolerate hostile commentary should not read it), the style I write and express my opinions is usually a little provocational and some people might think that it disturbed the discussion. Thus in a wide reading of the definition I am a troll and so is nearly anyone who does not conform to a certain subjective criteria defined by the owner of the site. The banning of such trolls as myself results in discussions that are perhaps non-insulting and uncontroversial, but at the same time also rather valueless in terms of expanding the scope of discussion and bringing in alternative views.

2. Defining the problems? The trollhunters claim that the problems are caused by the technology used for commenting at Estonian online news sites. They claim the technology used is to blame for the exclusion of certain other people (who in a bizarre twist are claimed to be unable to freely use their freedom of speech because they are afraid of others also using it but critically), that this leads to radicalisation of public opinion and intolerance and distorts public opinion. All these claims lack evidence, studies or any research: we are expected to accept these premises as self-evident, when they are actually not.

The biggest unsupported assumption the authors of the Guide make* is that the root of all evil is anonymous commenting, which may or may not be the case.

3. Freedom of speech in an online setting. It is true that freedom of speech is not absolute and the exercise of it also requires responsibility for one’s opinions. However, for acts that bring criminal liability there already is a possibility to identify almost anyone online so the anonymity is only superficial. Thus it is possible at least in theory to make people accountable for their words also now.

50 years ago internet did not exist and therefore the human rights standards we have need to be adopted to the internet era. Certain principles remain the same, but the internet might change the content of certain rights subtantially, including freedom of speech. Offline analogies do not always work in the global unregulated internet with low barriers to entry.

4. Self-regulation is not always best when dealing with human rights issues. The trollhunters state that the least they want is state intervention or regulation. They propose a system of self-regulation, whereby the parties who control the commentary space make an agreement which is then adopted and implemented. In my mind it is dangerous when private entities make deals that involve limits to freedom of speech, because questions of accountability and transparency rise. I also believe that this might be even worse than state regulation, because the state is much more bound by international human rights obligations. So in cases that involve human rights I think it is preferential to have state regulation, rather than allow for private parties who control substantial public discussion space to make their own agreements to limit certain aspects of online activities. In many many spheres self-regulation is possible and works very well, but I am not sure if this is it.

In general terms there is another fundamental point why I think any regulation of online commentary space is not beneficial. Net neutrality means that content providers should not restrict specific parts of the internet depending on subjective criteria. The internet has flourished partly because of the freedom it provides and the abscence of walled gardens. What the trollhunters want to create is a walled garden, admittedly with very low walls, but still access to commenting would become more limited.

I also disagree that this discussion should be framed in terms of media freedom. Online commentaries do not constitute media or journalism in my opinion, it is a separate issue and therefore references to media and press freedom indexes do not really matter. The public debate in the matter has also included mostly people from the media sphere and not other areas who have framed the debate in their own terms.

Short rebuttal of the trollhunters critique of anonymity online:

1. The whistle-blower effect. The trollhunters claim that an anonymous tip option might be sufficient cannot be accepted because it is media-centric and would require an interested journalist to pursue the topic and lack of self-censorship in the media. Anonymous hints cannot replace anonymous commentary, they are different things. The trollhunters agree that certain levels of anonymity might be necessary for informing the public, I say it is essential.

2. Balance between insulting and constructive comments. This depends on the topic, but in most cases I would say based on my experience that insulting comments do not prevail over more insightful ones. Again, there are no studies made or statistical data available other than Delfi claiming that insulting comments are only a fraction of the total body of comments. Even if the majority of comments would bring nothing to the debate, is it worth not having the few that do?

3. Censorship. The trollhunters here refer to the right of newspaper editors to choose what to publish. The commentary space is not in my understanding part of the newspaper and can function without it. The fact that newspapers have always edited their stories have been due to physical lack of room in the paper and the need to provide a concentrated overview. The internet does not have these physical limits and there is nothing lost with adding to concentrated overviews and officially sanctioned opinions other stuff as well. The claims of this leading to mob censorship are speculation.

4. Impact of insulting anonymous comments. It is true that some people are more sensitive to criticism and insults than others, but again, there is no need to censor everyone because of this. Some views are controversial and people get offended. If I want to claim that there is no god, then this is offends people and I will be branded a troll. I believe that online commentary space must allow for expression of those less conformist views, which are not published by newspapers. I disagree that it is right to take away the freedom of expression from one group for the benefit of another.

5. Strength or importance of message. See above. I still refuse to accept the approach that it is somehow justified to prefer one group of people to another in terms of who may or may not express their views.

6. Vox populi, vox dei. I agree with the trollhunters that there needs to be no correlation between general public opinion and views expressed in comments, but I think it also depends on the topic. Likewise, I have seen no statistics which confirm that people believe that views expressed in online commentaries represent the general views in the society.

7. Video game violence argument. The idea is that people can insult others virtually so they will not do it offline. I think there is no correlation here, but no studies have been provided saying one thing or the other. The anger people have is in my own opinion a consequence, and not a cause of the processes in the society.

8. Moderated comments loses valuable discussion. This is subjective. If in some specialist finance related forum it works and likeminded people can express themselves better and feel good about it then fine. I do not think that discussion space for general public should work the same way (the danger to stifling of dissent and danger of conformism).

9. Too many comments to moderate. I think the notice and take-down system works pretty well.

10. Topic already discussed. Nothing to say here. Everything should be open for discussion.

11. Notice and take-down. Probably the system could be improved, I think it is disproportional to ban all anonymous comments due to imperfections of the notice and take-down system.

12. Turn to police. In case there is no real threat police should not be involved. If a person says to another that go jump off a cliff then this obviously is not a real threat. Again, in those cases where there is real threat police should be involved. It does not mean that all anonymous comments need to be banned because police does not do their work.

13. Economic factor. I am not sure if the commenting option is ecnomically beneficial or not, but of course that should not be the prevailing argument for or against limiting free speech online.

14. Freedom of speech is why comments are kept. Not a convincing argument, I agree. But I do think that once they have been introduced, stopping the ability to comment wold be problematic as it has almost become a service of general public interest.

15. Historical perspectives. There has been no time like this and therefore parallels with the past might or might not provide insight into dealing with the issue at hand.

* As pointed out by Daniel, I have put words in the mouths of the trollhunters that they think that anonymous commenting is the root of all evil. The trollhunter guide does not state this and it was an exaggeration on my part. However, I still think that the general tone of the Guide seems to connect anonymous expression with the existence of insulting and derogatory comments. I guess it would be fair to say that the authors consider it as a not an insignificant part of all evil 🙂


Posted: December 20th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: michael jackson, personal, philosophy | No Comments »


by Michael Jackson

As I was feeding squirrels in the park, I noticed a small one that didn’t seem to trust me. While the others came close enough to eat out of my hand, he kept his distance. I threw a peanut his way. He edged up, grabbed it nervously, and ran off. Next time he must have felt less afraid, because he came a little closer. The safer he felt, the more he trusted me. Finally he sat right at my feet, as bold as any squirrel clamoring for the next peanut.

Trust is like that — it always seems to come down to trusting in yourself. Others can’t overcome fear for you; you have to do it on your own. It’s hard, because fear and doubt hold on tight. We are afraid of being rejected, of being hurt once more. So we keep a safe distance. We think separating ourselves from others will protect us, but that doesn’t work, either. It leaves us feeling alone and unloved.

Trusting yourself begins by recognizing that it’s okay to be afraid. Having fear is not the problem, because everyone feels anxious and insecure sometimes. The problem is not being honest enough to admit your fear. Whenever I accept my own doubt and insecurity, I’m more open to other people. The deeper I go into myself, the stronger I become, because I realize that my real self is much bigger than any fear.

In accepting yourself completely, trust becomes complete. There is no longer any separation between people, because there is no longer any separation inside. In the space where fear used to live, love is allowed to grow.

These wise words were written by Michael Jackson, of all people, in his book Dancing the Dream. I think there is a lot of truth to this. It has been difficult for me to trust people, and part of it is not being able to accept my own insecurity and fears.

Of underdogs and frontrunners

Posted: May 5th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: philosophy, thoughts | 1 Comment »

This post is not about anything specific, it is a reflection on something I was thinking about recently.

I have always been a person who is prone to rooting for the underdog. I do not exactly know why it is so, but something about being second has always appealed to me. I kind of resent winning, even if it is me who wins, because winning means completion, achievement, closure. Failure on the other hand does not, it provides better opportunities to grow, to learn, to be better. Winning makes you complacent, arrogant and careless, whereas losing makes you work harder, faster, better.

In Estonia (and I guess in much of the Western world) winning and success are celebrated and revered. Nobody wants to be a loser, nobody cares about the guy who finished second. Being a winner/successful creates pressure to keep it that way, whereas people who are the underdogs can take it easier and cooler. The pressure to be successful in terms of the society (meaning mostly fame and money), is big and people sometimes take desparate measures to achieve those things. That is why I have prejudice towards those who are successful.

I love underdogs and try to be one myself (I do not actually try to not succeed, I just do not work especially hard to succeed). I do not value much financial or societal success, but rather try to live on my own terms, in my own world, as much as it is possible. It means that I give up a lot of things and probably miss out on many exciting and interesting things in life, but it also means that I am honest and true to myself. This means that I act through others, try to keep myself in the shadows as much as I can. This also means that I have made the conscious choice not to appear or talk to the media or be publicly associated with a specific matter, even if there is a possibility for this, this is why I have so far not published any articles in the popular press. It is not that I do not think that I have nothing to say or that what I say might be worthless, I am just not going to play the game as much as I can and try to make my own playground where it is my rules. It is better for me that way.

That is why I have this blog as well. It is on my terms, nobody but me decides how the blog looks like, or what I write here or whether I keep writing at all. I can write small insignificant snippets about things that I am excited about or I can write longer, more reflective pieces. Nor do I desire a big readership for my blog. It is a blog for an underdog.

Cosmopolitan Europe saves the world

Posted: January 15th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: european union, philosophy | No Comments »

… and I am not referring to the magazine. This article by Ulrich Beck very clearly articulates what I have believed for a long time: that the time of the nation-state is over and that the EU is the model of a new type of governance which requires a change of paradigm.