Pentti Linkola’s ‘Can Life Prevail?’: Book Review

Pentti Linkola
Can Life Prevail?
Arktos Media, 2011

Pentti Linkola is an environmentalist who practices what he preaches. Born in Helsinki, Finland, in 1932, he lived most of his life in a small cabin and, before his retirement, supported himself by catching fish and selling them from a horse cart. He has no car, running water, computer, or electronic products. He mostly travels by bicycle, except for taking a bus for longer trips. Only recently did he get a cell phone “for emergencies.” He’s put almost all of his money into the Finnish Natural Heritage Foundation, which buys up land in Finland (one acre at a time) to conserve it.

Although Linkola’s works are popular in Finnish “green” circles, the first English edition of a collection of his essays, Can Life Prevail?, wasn’t published until 2009.

The introduction of the book, by Brett Stevens of Amerika.org, outlines the controversial aspects of the Linkola’s thought:

  • “Progress” is a myth (in the technological, economic, and moral/social realms)
  • An elite is needed to rule. Democracies, being political systems with individual desires as the highest goals, empower human selfishness.
  • “Passive” population control is needed — such as ending immigration, international trade, and licensing births only to worthy parents.
  • Private cars should be abolished, in favor of bicycles, rowboats, and horse carts.
  • Manufacturing should be state-owned, producing only high-quality products that are necessary.
  • Children’s education should include practical skills, like fishing.

Linkola’s Anti-Egalitarianism

Linkola freely and simply states that some people have no value. But these people are not those that the modern world finds useless. People with simple skills, but not a good “career path” — the high artists, philosophers, and simple farmers — all have a place in his world. But most of the Western bourgeoisie do not. According to Linkola:

Some individuals exceed the ‘environmental allowance’ by a factor of thousand: they vastly decrease the richness of nature and squander its resource reserves, both through their own way of life and through their influence. There are also plenty of evil people around, who have no moral standards: downright criminals who in extreme cases cause a horrid amount of pain to other members of their species. What mysticism, what black magic can allow such creatures to possess full human rights?

Linkola suggests a classification of people that has much in common with the noble line of Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras and Plato: according to their degree of humanity, based on intelligence, wisdom, culture, emotion, and empathy. To Linkola (unlike some anti-egalitarians), physical deficiencies have no place in determining an individual’s merit, since those do not impact a person’s spiritual and mental richness. Intellectual or emotional retardation, however, is another story. He poses the question:

Some totally deficient individuals cannot even be compared to the most primitive expressions in the animal kingdom: why should a higher value and better rights be assigned to these people rather than to the chimpanzee, beaver or pipit?

Like many environmentalists, Linkola is opposed to massive third-world immigration into Western countries, due to the increased environmental destruction a modern lifestyle causes:

What is generally ignored is the fact that immigrants from poor nations, whose birth rate is at par with that of their cultures of origin (if not higher, thanks to the social care they now benefit from), dramatically increase the wealthy population and environmental burden of industrial countries.

He is also critical of tiny attempts to save the environment, such as doing a bit of recycling or installing a solar panel, but nothing else:

There is no apparent difference between the behavior of the communities and individuals that are part of mankind’s unenlightened majority and that of the enlightened, aware minority. Everywhere, man remains a complete lout, a destroyer of the biosphere. The only difference is that among the enlightened portion of mankind there is more chattering to be heard and more rustling of papers.

The Protection of Animals Vs. The Protection of Humans

can-life-prevailSeveral essays in Can Life Prevail? discuss animal rights and animal welfare. Linkola praises Australian philosopher Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation, and emphasizes that “that the oppression of animals at the hands of humans is by far a more ruthless phenomenon than the racist oppression practised among people.”

Linkola has a simple suggestion for dealing with people who inject cattle with growth hormones, keep animals locked all day in artificial lighting, stuff food into the livers of geese for foie gras, and other practices of animal cruelty: the death penalty for anyone responsible!

Unlike many environmentalists with less extreme views on some topics, Linkola is not a vegetarian. This is because he is not so concerned with the fact that animals die, but with their quality of life while living. Thus, he is staunchly opposed to factory farming, where animals live miserable lives and are treated more like objects than animals in the extent of their anguish, having their dignity and pride destroyed before suffering equally miserable deaths. Hunting, on the other hand, allows animals the freedom to live their own lives in their natural habitats. They may end up dying painfully, as in nature, or it may be relatively painless. Either way, it is a much more humane option than most modern farms. His ultimate goal is that animals be given a good life, rather than merely a “humane” death after a life of misery and mistreatment. He admits that humans are omnivores, yet says the modern lifestyle doesn’t require a meat-intensive diet, advocating instead for a diet based on vegetables and fish.

Linkola makes several key arguments and suggestions regarding animal rights:

  • He advocates a ban on keeping farm creatures inside during the summer.
  • He says the argument that the earth could sustain its current population if only everyone was a vegetarian is untenable. Efforts and energy should be directed instead at suppressing the population explosion that is causing environmental devastation.
  • High-tech agricultural practices cause more harm than just animal abuse: such as soil depletion and field erosion.
  • Shrinking the number of cattle would help cut down on methane gas (and help the ozone layer).
  • “Human rights = a death sentence for all Creation.”
  • Building a motorway is “undoubtedly a criminal activity”: They cover up green and productive land and kill “trillions and quintrillions” of animals.
  • “Even though humans will first destroy vast numbers of animals, plants and fungi, they will inevitably be crushed by the avalanche they have caused: humanity will ultimately consume itself.”

Signs, Sales, and the Burden of Thought

In anther essay, Linkola talks about the emotional and spiritual consequences of advertising. People come to life when they see signs that things are for sale. But to Linkola, the grocery store windows plastered with sale prices are ugly:

. . . the cityscape is becoming gross and shabby. Beauty is always a central and inalienable value, a value far more important than economy.

Even more consequential than making the landscape ugly, advertisements become a burden on people’s thoughts, since people’s “thinking is constantly being drawn towards trivial nonsense.” To Linkola, these signs represent the “extremely material Zeitgeist” in which we live. Throughout history people have tried to get rid of materialism, and to focus instead on science, art, and philosophy. But “now, we have entered the time of the most manifest and absolute materialism ever known to the world: the reign of money.”

In placing the blame on the creators of this new Zeitgeist, Linkola singles out journalists as a particularly vile and harmful category of men, for they are the ones who promulgate the reigning cultural hegemony. (Though two other groups are worthy of blame as well: the owners of the media, and the public who doesn’t demand more substantial entertainment.) He writes:

Journalists are not only monkeys running after the latest trends, emulating each other like sheep; journalists also dictate fashion and values. . . . Journalists effectively have the same function as the sales signs in shop windows or the advertising leaflets in our letterboxes. These mediators of information have an incomprehensible desire and capacity to fill people’s consciousness with rubbish that is both trivial and false, while erecting huge walls around serious questions.

Hygiene and the High Price of Food

One of the most interesting aspects of Can Life Prevail? is Linkola’s many examples directly from his life in Finland. Unlike other books on deep ecology, which are filled only with statistics by country and projections, Linkola combines hard reason with stories of how environmental destruction is impacting the rural areas of Finland and his fellow citizens.

One example is in the essay “Humbug.” Finnish fishermen used to make their own rules about icing fish when transporting their catch from the water to market. Fish were kept on ice when it was warm, and the fisherman’s judgment never caused any health problems. Now there are strict regulations in Finland, and the fishermen have to ice their fish in the fall, even when it’s not warm enough to cause problems. Transportation frequencies have been increased, and increasingly expensive equipment must be used. The result is that the price of fish rose, while the fishermen made less money. Linkola muses that if only he had enough money, he would “deport all the hygiene inspectors to the landfills where they have disposed of so much good food that was produced with the nation’s hard work.”

On Drowning Cats

Despite his many noble ideas about the world, there are some parts of Linkola’s philosophy that are worthy of criticism. For one, he doesn’t value the desperation in which many of today’s families live. No doubt many of his readers long for his simple lifestyle, but feel trapped by jobs, children, and the need for money in order to escape to a simple life.

In two different essays, Linkola advocates the drowning of domestic cats, since they kill lovely birds as well as beneficial rodents and mice. A graphic description is given of kittens being drowned in bags. One gets the impression that Linkola — known for his love of birds — simply despises cats, since he doesn’t suggest any of the humane and common options for cat population control. Mandatory spaying and neutering of all cats, with strict penalties for those who don’t, as well as requiring licensing for breeding animals is a not only a more humane option for dealing with stray animal populations, but more practical as well.

*  *  *

If you often view your fellow human beings as “savages,” you’ll find good company in Linkola’s thoughts. Although a few of his ideas are questionable (like the abhorrent drowning of feral kittens), overall he presents a rational argument for leaving behind the “progress”-driven, consumerism-based lifestyle that is destroying not only the land and animals of the earth, but the souls of its people. Can Life Prevail? takes a hard look at some of the most controversial issues facing the world today: overpopulation, lifestyle “improvements,” trade, immigration, the value of human life, and the value of animal life. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s concerned about the future of the world, or who is fed up with the meaningless environmental rhetoric spouted by political talking heads and the mainstream media.

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