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Outi Alanko-Kahiluoto

Satu Outi Kristiina Alanko-Kahiluoto
Born June 14, 1966, Helsinki

PhD 2007, Licentiate 1994, Master of Arts 1993 (comparative literature), University of Helsinki

Member of parliament, 2007–
Chairman of the Greens’ parliamentary group 2013–
Member of the parliamentary Social Affairs and Health Committee
Researcher, research associate and teacher 1993-2007, University of Helsinki, Institute for Art Research
Member of Helsinki City Council 2005–
Chairman 2015–, NYTKS (The Coalition of Finnish Women´s Associations)
Chairman 2015–, Green Women’s Association, 2015–
Member of the Council for Gender Equality (TANE)

Writing Otherwise than Seeing: Writing and Exteriority in Maurice Blanchot 2007. Doctoral dissertation.
Maurice Blanchot. “Kirjallisuus ja oikeus kuolemaan(‘Literature and the right to die’), Nuori Voima 6/01, 14-28, NVL, 2001.
Kirjallisuudentutkimuksen peruskäsitteitä (’Fundamental concepts of literary research’) ed. together with Tiina Käkelä-Puumala. SKS 2001.

Awards and special achievements:
Honorary award of Finnish Youth Cooperation – Allianssi for working for the benefit of youth as a Member of Parliament 2011
Allianssi award for the most pro-youth Member of Parliament 2013 and 2015
Cross of Merit of Disabled War Veterans for work for the benefit of Finnish disabled war veterans 2015

Photo: Veikko Somerpuro
Written by Outi Alanko-Kahiluoto (Tiia Niemelä, ed.)

Translated by Matthew Billington

A humanities scholar in politics

In a recent interview, a leading Finnish populist politician said that the current refugee crisis wouldn’t be solved by “teary-eyed humanism.” So it won't, but the populist had misunderstood humanism. The director Susanna Kuparinen hits closer to the mark when she says: “Humanism is cool; it is the heart of education. It's the kind of empathy that isn't wet; it's almost as pure as mathematics.”

It has been discouraging to see how little research, solid research results, and education in general is valued in politics. Many leading politicians conflate not only society and business, but also university and business. We shall see how badly education will be ravaged before politicians realise they have entirely misunderstood the function of the university.

I am grateful for everything that Finland’s free education system has offered me. For me, reading has always been a chance to leave myself and my surroundings behind, to approach the other. In my childhood, my family often had to move, and I had lived in six different towns all over Finland even before I began school. The library was an easy place to go before you knew anybody in a new town. Local libraries are an effective way of alleviating loneliness and preventing marginalisation.

Photo: Veikko Somerpuro

Literature teaches you to change your perspectives and imagine different conditions. Still, I think Susan Sontag is right when she says that in difficult social conditions you can lose your empathy unless you are able to convert it into deeds and action. You need to be able to feel that your actions have meaning. Otherwise your compassion can turn into cynicism and eventually even to hatred.

I'd like to tell Finland’s leading populist politician that if you have no compassion, you won't be able to make socially, ethically, and ecologically sustainable decisions. You feed xenophobia by cutting the most from those who already have the least. Even the exploitation of natural resources is a lack of empathy of sorts – exploitation and violence aimed at the environment. That's why, as Martha Nussbaum says, humanism is more important than economic growth and humanism is a precondition for democracy and a just society.

The Earth will be destroyed if we harden our hearts and refuse to think how much global warming will cost future generations. The massive refugee influx into Europe that we are witnessing now is just the beginning, as global warming, exhaustion of farmland, and food wars will force people to leave places that are no longer habitable. A shortage of empathy will cost us dearly.

Vartiosaari island, one of my favourite haunts in East Helsinki. Photo: Okko Oinonen


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