Episode #74 Why is Matters to Value Dignity over Nationalistic Pride with bestselling political columnist and author Ece Temelkuran
Imagine a world where dignity is valued over nationalistic pride; where we know that ‘enough’ is the opposite of ‘more’; where we understand the bonds that draw us together. Author Ece Temelkuran launches her new book ‘Together’ – and shares with us its message of human resilience.
Ece is one of the Turkey’s best known novelists and political commentators. She has contributed to the Guardian, Newstatesman, New Left Review, Le Monde Diplomatique, Frankfurter Rundschau, Der Spiegel, The New York Times and Berliner Zeitung.
Her books of investigative journalism broach subjects that are highly controversial in Turkey, such as the Kurdish and Armenian issues and freedom of expression.
Her novel Women Who Blow on Knots won a PEN Translates award, sold over 120.000 copies in Turkey, and has been published in translation in Germany, Croatia, Poland, Bosnia and France with editions also forthcoming in China, Italy and the USA.
Her non-fiction work: How to Lose a Country is a searing indictment of the rise of the neo-fascist right around the world, rooted firmly in her own experience in Turkey.
Together breaks new ground – a series of ten essays, each exploring life – hers and the world’s – and ways the human spirit rises above the exigencies and horrors that we can create – to manifest the bright points of human existence that signal hope for the world.
The writing is lyrical, sharply insightful and deeply moving. In this podcast, we explore the woman beneath the words – and the ways we can take what she offers to bring us all closer together.
Manda: My guest this week absolutely hits the nail of art meeting, activism and politics, meeting philosophy. Ece Temelkuran is a Turkish journalist and writer whose first book in English that I read, How to Lose a Country, was one of the most devastating books of the last few years, because it highlighted what had happened in Turkey with the rise of fascism and explained to us in real time how it was happening in the UK, and the US, and everywhere else around the world. And while I definitely recommend that you read it, read it when you’re feeling resilient. Her most recent book comes out tomorrow, if you’re listening to this on the day of launch and on any other day, it’s already out. It’s called Together: 10 choices for a Better Now. And because full disclosure, we share an agent. I was able to read a proof copy of this earlier in the year and it’s beautiful, genuinely, I am going to fall into fangirl then, because I rarely come across writing of this quality where both the content and the actual sentence structure is moving and utterly powerful and poignant and thought-provoking and absolutely on the nail for where we need to be at this moment.
It’s a book that unpicks where we are from the perspective not of the UK, which is very good for my insular sense of self and of how we could be. And so I really wanted to talk to Ece about the writing of this, about how it came to be the book she needed to write and about how she sees the world, having written it. And we had one of those conversations that roamed across time and place and history and philosophy. And I loved it. The sound quality, Zagreb to here, not great… but I think it’s well worth persevering. So people of the podcast, please welcome Ece Temelkuran. So Ece Temelkuran, welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast. It is such a pleasure to have you here. I am genuinely in awe of your writing. It’s beautiful and moving and thought-provoking and so of the moment. And so I wondered if you would like to read us a little bit from very near the beginning of Together, just to get us in so that we can hear what you sound like.
Ece: Thank you. What do we do now? During 2019 I was expected to answer that question after almost every talk I delivered in countless different theatres in countless different countries. After How to Lose a Country was published, I spent almost the whole year speaking about the logic of the political machine that had created all the confusion, fear and desperation we found ourselves suffering. No country is immune to the paralysing political and moral plague of our times, I was saying. By the time I managed to convince the relaxed Western audiences that this new type of fascism was waging a global war against basic human reasoning, my predictions were already coming true. Each time I finished a talk, for a brief moment, the same heavy silence filled the room right before the Q&A began. In that lead-like stillness, I eventually understood many were trying to make a crucial choice. Shall I ask for the way out from this invasive insanity, or shall I just go out and have a drink to forget? After all, many of us thought that the choices we had so far been provided with today’s world were rarely meaningful, or they were terrifyingly massive, like all out revolution. The West space in between where real life happened was rarely the issue. And in that real life, a period of history was coming to an end. But it felt like humankind was collapsing altogether. All status quos have the magical ability of deceiving the masses into believing that when the system collapses, everything else will collapse with it.
Manda: Thank you. Yes. And so, there’s so much even just in that few paragraphs that I would like to talk about. That’s the really interesting thing about this book. I’ve read it several times now, and as I go through, I have a draft, I’m highlighting the bits that I really want to talk to you about. And in the end, there is more of this book highlighted than not highlighted. So before we get into it, before we really begin to look at the magical ability of the status quo to deceive us into believing that we are going down with it, and I have to say that is what keeps me awake at night, I’d really like us to get a little bit more under the skin of how Ece came to be the person who wrote both How to Lose a Country and then Together because they’re books that clearly arise from the same well, but they’re different. So tell us a little bit about who you were before you started writing.
Ece: Well, Manda, thank you, first of all, I couldn’t thank you in the beginning. Thank you for having me on this podcast, and thank you for reading and liking this book. Before I wrote this book, I wrote How to Lose a Country: Seven Steps From Democracy to Dictatorship, which was perceived as a hopeless book, rather, by the audiences. The basic bottom line of the book was that fascism is globally rising, and no country is immune to this rising authoritarianism. And everybody will find themselves in this paralysing and maddening confusion, which we have been through in Turkey for quite a long time now. So I have been living in that madness, which is still going on in my country until I came here to Zagreb almost five years ago. People think that fascism is something that is limited to political realm, whereas what I experienced in Turkey, what we all experience in Turkey, that fascism is very intrusive. It goes into your personal life, personal relations as well. And it does not only disrupt the political mechanism through oppression, but it also dismantles the basic reasoning of human kind and basic moral values, our moral consensus as well. So after experiencing that, it a must for me to write How to Lose a Country. But you know what? When you write about evil, and hopeless situations, and fascism, when you visit fascism through your writing for a long time, almost, it’s a reflex, a natural reflex.
Ece: You want to create something beautiful, something more full of light so that you personally prove to yourself that you are not defeated, you are not completely erased from the history, from the present time, because most of us, not only in Turkey or in those countries which are considered to be crazy, not only in these countries, but also in countries, I think many people feel like asking this question, am I going mad or is the entire world going mad? What’s happening? So we are confused. We are full of fears. We feel, mostly we feel defeated, I think, with this wave of insanity: political and moral insanity. And so I thought, I have to create something. I have to write something to communicate to those people that still have some residue of faith in humankind, but they don’t know what to do. Or they don’t, they feel like they’re completely alone. I wanted to create this web, actually. If I’m lucky enough, it will happen after this book. I wanted to create this web all around the world for those people who ask the question, what do we do now? And who are trying to mend their faith in humankind. Because after a while, if you are subjected to fascism and all its tentacles that that are choking life, after a while, after being subjected to that insanity, you start to think maybe humans are not good enough, maybe humankind is not good enough to survive.
It really struck me during the pandemic. I don’t know if you remember, many people from different countries during the lockdown starting started posting the footage of empty cities. And what they were were amazed by was the fact that there were no humans. So the natural life, the animals and so on, were taking over the cities, or in general life. And their fascination of this picture made me think, because it felt like people loved what they saw: a world without humans suddenly start looking more beautiful than the actual world we’re living in. So I thought, oh, this is a symptom actually, that people, that humans no longer like themselves, no longer love themselves, and even speaking of love or speaking of faith in humankind, sound too naive, so naive that we cannot help but respond to this love and faith, to these words, without sarcasm. So this is what I see when I look at the world for quite a long time now, we are seeing the worst of our kind representing us not only in political life, but also in social life, in media, and culture and so on.
So I think overall we are feeling like we couldn’t do a damn, we couldn’t do it, as humankind. We failed, and that’s the end of it. And there is this pressing urgency constantly. Now, we have to do something now, and that also freezes us. We cannot do anything, and we feel like it’s too late anyway, we cannot do anything. The world is going to hell and humankind is coming to an end. So the only thing we can do is our personal survival. And the only thing we can we should focus on is this personal survival. I think that’s creating a certain zeitgeist that paralyses the humankind in a very deep sense. This is why I wrote the book. And it was all bottom line. This is the reason I wrote the book. I wanted to heal myself. Because I have been defeated, I had been slapped by this fascism in my country. So I wanted to get back on my feet as a human being. And I wanted to see in myself, what is the.. how resistant beauty in me and how I can realise it in today’s world, so that people can respond to me as well. And then we can go on with this conversation about the beauty, about the hope, about humans, and the beautiful side of humans. Oh, my God. I’ve talked too much!
Manda: No, it’s really interesting. I’d like because I want to really go into the book and then also go into where your life has moved since then because life is ever moving in. The publishing cycle means that books are always a little bit out of date. But I’d like… because most of our listeners are in the West, and we don’t know how life was in Turkey. Can you describe a little bit of how it was growing up? Because you have a couple of stories in the book, I wrote down. The Little Black Fish story, which I think is just glorious, and also the story of finding dignity at school. And it’s clear that even in your school days, political oppression was infiltrating the classroom. And so I’m not clear, because my understanding of modern history is appallingly bad, how long ago fascism really stamped on Turkey, and what was life like before? What was it like after? And how is it like now? Can you just draw us a bit of a picture of that?
Ece: Sure. Turkey is one of those countries which was affected by the world Cold War, actually. And several countries in the Middle East were considered to be the last frontier against USSR then, former USSR, against socialism, against communism. So they were seen as the guards of American democracy, so to speak. Turkey is a NATO country. So I was a child, I was eight years old in fact, when the military coup happened in Turkey in 1980. I was eight years old. It was very clear to us that the people who run the state and who run the social life were changing. Our teachers were changing. The general feeling of life was changing. I, like many kids in my generation, I grew up in the shadow of military, and military rule. And then there was democracy. But it was a crippled democracy. And today what Turkey is going through is actually because of those days, because generations of progressive people were rooted out from social life, from politics, from life in general. They either were exiled, or tortured, or killed, or imprisoned for quite a long time. So it was as if in my country several springs were cut out. So at last, the spring did not want to come to the country anymore, I mean, in political terms.
So I grew up in this environment, of course, in a family which I would call leftist progressive, both my mum and my father were socialists, and still are. And my mum was a student, and she was politically active. So she ended up in prison. And my father was a young lawyer who rescued her from the prison. And before even she stepped out of the prison, he proposed, and that’s how they got married. I’m their first child. Yeah, it’s actually a long story, but this is the bottom line. So I’m a child of such a couple, and I grew up with the stories of torture, imprisonment, exile and so on. And it was very hard for my mother to protect me from the evil side of the story whereas I was mostly told about why we are doing this, and the human values that we are trying to protect through politics and so on. And the first book I was read by my mother was the Little Black Fish, written by an Iranian revolutionary who was killed by Shah before the Islamic Revolution. So the Black Fish, that’s kind of sealed my destiny. I think that I do believe that the first book, first books, have a special magic on people, like they put a spell on people.
Actually, they kind of determine where your life will go. So my book was The Little Black Fish and the story goes: the little black fish leaves her family, and then she goes to the big sea. And then she goes through several adventures, and she survives by organising the little fish, the other little fish, and so on. And then she comes back to tell the stories, and everybody loves her, and so on. I learnt almost twenty five years after I read the book that the ending of the story was not like that, because my mother changed it. I thought, OK, I’m the little black fish. I’m going to go round and go through adventures and then I’ll come back home and tell the stories and everyone will listen. No. The actual ending of the book is that little black fish is lost. Nobody hears from her anymore. But then I think my mother sealed my destiny by putting a, you know, happy ending to that story, which is a good thing. I think she wanted to make me believe that things will get better. And, you know, love is possible, and happiness is possible, and dignity is possible, and so on and so forth.
I am not sure if I would change the ending of a story when I was telling a child, until it happened to me. I as well, you know, years later told the same story to a kid: to Valentino, to the son of a friend of mine. I am her secular godmother. That’s another story in the book. I changed the ending. I changed the ending, because we have to grow. We have to care for the coming generation. We can’t, we do not have the luxury to make them hopeless. We do not have the luxury of not giving them hope about future. And it’s people like us, I think, Manda, carries the human history towards somewhere, because many people, the majority of the people, would tell you that the humans are rotten, or humans in their essence is not good, and so on. But it is a moral and political stance to believe in humans, to believe the goodness in humans. Well, that is what makes me a democratic socialist politically. But also that is what makes me a writer, because I do believe that it is still worth telling stories to people. And I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t believe in them. So, yeah, it’s all about believing in people, I think.
Manda: Yes. And and yay for your mother and father, for first of all, getting together under those circumstances. Are they still living in Turkey?
Ece: Yeah, well, actually, after two years now they’re in Zagreb and yeah, I couldn’t see them because of the pandemic. Now they’re in Zagreb with me.
Manda: OK, because I’m trying to imagine… you say at one point in the book, ‘fascism destroyed my life’ and I really wanted to explore that. But I think you’ve basically… it took your childhood. You do describe very movingly a moment with a teacher, which we’ll leave people to read that when they buy the book, and that sense of fascism infiltrating the totality of a society until it has, if I understood you correctly, crushed political dissent. And yet you are here, your parents only very recently left, and in our explorations of hope and finding agency, if we were not on the edge of climate change and ecological breakdown and, you know, the total extinction of humanity, let’s put them aside for a little moment and assume that the wheel of history was turning in its normal fashion. Do you think that fascism can survive for a long period? If nothing else, in terms of climate change was equal, do you think Turkey would still be a fascist country 100 years from now?
Ece: No, I don’t think so, because evil is not sustainable. Evil requires a lot of energy. If you believe in humankind, and the goodness in its essence, therefore, accordingly, you have to believe that evil is unsustainable, that it’s unnatural, and it requires a lot of energy, by the way, really. I mean the evil.. OK, let’s not talk about Turkey, but Brexit. Do you think, because Brexit is a good polarising topic in Britain, or Trump as well, or any other phenomenon like that in any country, it requires a lot of anger. It requires a lot of energy to sustain that anger. But it is not, it cannot last long, because we, the humans, we need normality. We need some sort of peace. So I do, just because I think that evil is not sustainable, I do think that fascism cannot last long. But we have to, I think, think about this. When we say ‘fascism’, without even noticing, many of us picture Nazi Germany, Hitler, the moustache of Hitler, and the uniforms, and so on. No. Fascism is an ideology, and also a moral attitude that believes that humans, in their essence, are evil. So they have to be contained. The freedom will have horrible consequences, because the humans are evil, so the freedoms should be limited, and so on. So this cannot last long, because I do believe that humans, whatever happens, still know that they are good. They can be good. So, yeah, fascism is a moral failure as well. No, it cannot last long, but the damage it caused, it causes, that can last long. And that is what Turkey’s suffering from today, actually. But taking a stance against fascism is a moral conviction. It’s not even a political, it’s deeper than that. It’s not only a political response, but a moral conviction, because you have to believe that you are evil in order to support fascism, you see?
Manda: Do you think?
Ece: Am I clear?
Manda: Yes, but I’m not sure. So this isn’t the rabbit hole I had intended to go down, but I think it’s really interesting. So if we look if we look at Brexit, if we look at the Trump phenomenon in the States, I have, kind of members of our extended family who are definitely on the other side of this divide, and they don’t think that they are evil at all. They think that they are the only good people in the world, and that everyone to the left of them is desperately trying to destroy all that’s good and natural and balanced and pleasant, and that we just don’t understand. If they’re being nice to us and deciding that we’re not actually evil, it’s because we are deluded. But everybody else that we would support is evil. And they, I’m watching the manufacturing of moral outrage, and I think it’s one of those interesting things, because you’re right, it does take energy, but it’s in neurophysiological terms, that righteous anger is one of the single most addictive emotional states there is. It’s pretty much up there with snorting cocaine, in terms of its addictiveness, and then watching the phenomenon of our age where you get to make your own reality, or somebody gets to make a reality that you choose, there’s a bunch of pattern matching happening. There was a very interesting article on Medium about a month ago by someone who was a game designer, pointing out that the Q Anon uprising in the States, the extent to which they were using the mechanics that game designers have been using for a long time, this is probably not where either of us intended to go, but let’s be clear, we can always cut it out if we don’t like it. So this person, and I don’t know their gender, let’s assume it’s a woman just for amusement’s sake, designs games, they’re apparently very popular, that are partly on computer and partly in real life. So the computer gives you clues, and you go to places in real life. And what you do there is you make sense of the clues you have been given. And the author described a situation where she’d created some clues that took the game players to a basement. And in the basement she’d left some clues. But what they found was some bits of wood on the floor, which, if they put them together, made an arrow that pointed to the wall, and there was nothing on the wall. But there was a sledgehammer in the corner of the basement, and she had to run in and stop them at the point where they were taking the sledgehammer to the wall of somebody’s perfectly harmless basement, because they had made the patterns match something. And there was definitely going to be a clue in this wall. And they hadn’t stopped to think, that it wasn’t a basement owned by anybody they knew. And is it likely that we would require you to smash down a wall as part of a game? They were so excited by having matched the patterns. And the author then went on to say that what she’s watching with the Q Anon phenomenon is the kind of psychological manipulation that makes Facebook and Google and all of the PhDs trying to manipulate people behind the screen look like children, because what Q has done is give people a range of conclusions, and then crowdsourced the conspiracies that get the most traction, and then left people to match the patterns themselves, in the way that these people had found random bits of wood on the floor, and they made an arrow. And because they had made the arrow, because they had fitted the bits together, there’s a huge amount of emotional neurological reinforcement for ‘I made this pattern, therefore, this pattern is right.’ And that this is what Q is doing, it’s crowdsourcing conspiracy theories, allowing people to fit random stuff into patterns that then reinforce their belief that it must be right, and there is nothing, they now believe that Biden was actually killed on the 6th of January.
Ece: I didn’t know that one.
Manda: Oh, yeah, the person who’s there now is a body double. And the proof is, that once in a while he’s wearing an earpiece. And that’s the signal to let them know that actually, the guy in the White House is on their side, and is doing what he wants them to do. And there’s no rational argument for this. And it’s extremely addictive. And it’s breaking apart families, exactly as you were describing. You describe in the book how certain families just could not survive: the woman who could not stay with her husband any longer because he hadn’t gone down to the square. And the Q thing is similar. The people, you know, the families, the married couples where one side is a Q believer and the others aren’t, there are no whole areas of the Internet devoted to trying to rescue people from that situation, and failing, because it’s so addictive.
Ece: And what is most, what is even more terrifying is that now our politics globally are shaped by the same ‘yes or no’, this binary choice, which is the least and the worst of democratic tools. We are going through referendums. Referendums are not democratic at all, and they are actually shaping our political thought around this or that, which is not open to discussion. There are two options, and this is the game we play. So break the wall or not. Whatever. So this infantilization of human mind is one of the biggest problems of our age, because in order to believe that there is a body double Biden blah, blah, blah, blah, you have to be in that environment, this gaming environment. And you cannot go out of it, which means to be an adult, to see the complex situations, and make complex moral choices, and so on. Let me tell you another story that recently Turkish social media is full of, is going crazy about this moral discussion. There are writers and musicians who are doing music or doing collaborations, cultural collaborations with the government. And everybody on social media have been discussing about that. And it’s a complex moral issue. If you really make it basic, like very simple, the question, what are we supposed to do? How, what is our relation is supposed to be regarding a fascist government? It seems when you ask these questions as simple as this, the answer is easy: oh, you’re not collaborating with them at all. But then in real life, there are complex situations. And it’s not like a game. There’s no wall. There’s no error. It’s just, you have to find your way, especially when you’re suffering, when you are starving and so on. It’s a matter of dignity. It’s a matter, it’s a question of human dignity, and so on. But then we are trying to make all these moral discussions in an environment, in a communications sphere, where nothing is regulated, and where there is this illusion of equality, the learned and the ignorant are supposed to, looking like equals in this communication sphere that we are operating. Nothing regulates, nothing values. There is no parameter that measures what is more valuable, what is not. And so this is one of the problems that we are facing in today’s world, that there is Greta Thunberg, who is trying to do some real good to this world, and there are these small people who are attacking her because of her, whatever, the Asperger’s syndrome, whatever syndrome she has, and the ignorant have always been, and still are, more crowded, and they can make more noise. And we are trying to survive in this communication sphere. And the truth is trying to survive in this communication sphere. And we always forget that this communication sphere where our truths, and where the good, where the rights are shaped, it’s a private garden. It’s a company. These are companies, that are profiting from all this communication.
But going back to evil and good thing, again, you said that there are people who think that the rest of the people who rejected Brexit are evil. What I mean is that there is this fear of humankind in those people who think that there is evil and the evil must be suppressed, who are afraid of humankind. Those are the people who also think that they are, they do share the evil of being human, I think, that is what stands in the very centre of fascism. This is what I think, yeah. And whereas people who have some kind of faith in humankind, they are still standing on this belief that human can be good, and that good can thrive. It’s not easy to make these very fundamental moral questions in our daily lives. It’s not easy to see as clearly as I tell you now, but I think there is some good and evil. We have to talk about this good and evil, because what I witness lately, we are so afraid of talking about the good. There was this panel a few weeks ago I joined, and the question was, the morality of good, is it always hypocritical? Is it always oppressive? Why do we think that good will be oppressive?
Manda: Yes, it’s really interesting. But I think this is something that gets to the core of where we are.
Ece: Yeah? Do you think? Yeah, there are people you know, the zeitgeist is too much contaminated by the relativities.
Manda: Say a bit more about that?
Ece: Yeah. Good is, we cannot find what good is, and you cannot know what right is. It is part of this truth society, I think, post truth age. We cannot know what good is. And if we know that, if we say what good is, it can be oppressive. I think this is also the consequence of the end of Cold War because there were two polars in the world and there were two moralities, so to speak. And as the one polar collapsed dramatically, now there is only one polar and that one polar, politically and morally, tell us that good cannot be one, good can be multiple. So at the end, we end up with people talking about Biden, double body, blah, blah, blah, because that is their truth. That is their good, whatever. That’s their right. That’s right for them. So this confusion, this complete mess, I think arise from the idea that good cannot be one, the truth cannot be one.
Manda: And yet I, I kind of do. But it’s interesting, because that’s not the world that I inhabit. In my world, and the kind of very secluded bubble that I live in, those conversations are not happening. But then I haven’t grown up in fascist Turkey, so that’s possibly not surprising. So let’s come back to the book. I am looking at the table of contents as we speak. And given all that you’ve just said about post-modern ideas of good potentially being oppressive, which I have to say does my head in, but maybe we need to redefine good. I’m looking at your 10 chapters, and each one is about choosing. Choose hope over faith, choose dignity over pride. I loved that Chapter. Choose enough over less, and the story of your friend with the black leather jacket, and beginning to dismantle our concepts of what life was like on the other side of the Iron Curtain. And I’m wondering, where are we heading in the highly complex world where there are definitely people who think that humanity is an abhorrence, and that they either need to cleanse themselves of it or the planet will be better without us. But there are also a lot of people who believe in the creative compassion of humanity, of the capacity to be communitarian, to be connected, to build the web that you spoke about at the start, of people who care, of people who want a world where everybody wakes up and looks forward to the day. Everybody human and not human, and that if that is possible, it’s got to be not just us, it’s got to also be the Q Anons, and the people driving everything to the political right. We can’t create a future that’s only good for the progressive left. So you’ve written the book that you’ve written, and you have a vision of a web, which really intrigues me, partly because I started Accidental Gods with the vision of a web all around the world. So it’s triggering that same vision. If the book does what you want it to do, where will we be, and what will the world look like?
Ece: Great question. Very, very difficult to answer, though. Unfortunately, I’m a realist person. I know that there won’t, you know, I do not believe that there will be heaven on this earth. I just want normal level of craziness, not, I want craziness not to be intrigued and amplified to this degree that we are living right now. Let’s say the book is coming out of the 13th of May, on 14th of May, starting from that day. I want people from India to talk to people in the United States. This is the beginning of what I imagine, or from Norway to Africa to African countries, let’s say Tanzania, because I know that Tanzania reads How to Lose a Country immensely, for some reason. And people from Russia to say, Greece. I want people like us now talking. I want them to talk and tell each other that we can do this, we can survive this. I want to see how many we are. You see? I want to see how many we are, because I do think that we are the majority, in fact. When I say we, the people who believe in equality, dignity, justice and goodness in humankind. I think we are majority, but we are not speaking as loud as the others.That is our problem.
This world and our understanding of this world have been seized by a minority who are only interested in their individual survival and in their power games. And I do think that people who are not making too much noise, as much noise as the others, are stronger, and they can actually build a world where the good is undisputable; the good in humankind is undisputable. And I know especially after seeing Greta, and how many young people follow her, I know that there is this young generation who hate us for not for not having done our job properly. And they’re going to take over very soon. And most of the things we talk today, we discuss today are completely meaningless to them. They see the urgency. And I want this book to be read by them, because those young people need someone to tell them the story with a happy ending. Like in the little black fish. This is what I wanted to do for them.
Manda: And so how are we going to make that happen, Ece? You and me.
Ece: You and me? I think we have to talk about… when I say this, what I’m about to say was actually, we have to talk about love and understanding and compassion more. But I am so afraid of being taken as this rainbow and unicorn person. That’s why I actually want people to read How to Lose a Country before reading this book so that they know that.
Manda: There’s no danger, I promise you.
Ece: Very much, very much political, and seeing the political reality, and so on. But on having known, having written about that, having told all these things, and having been the witness to the worst of political reality, I now say that, OK, this is the word we have together around: dignity. Because this word is the word that can provide us with, that can apply to all of us. Even when we are privileged, we have a broken dignity. One. Second, anger. Get rid of this anger – what – addiction, because you are missing most of the story when you are angry, because your focus is your anger, and so on. And there are other ten words, like eight words now, or all in all ten words, that I want to talk about, and I want people to talk about, because it has been quite a long time that we don’t talk about these things. I think you are as old as me, so I can say this. Remember 70s, 80s? When now we look at those people, look at those footages of those people, and we see this naivete. We see they’re talking about love, they’re talking about the good, and so on. We have to go back there. We have to remember to talk about these words, I think, in order to create better politics, and eventually a better world.
Manda: And for it not to feel like rainbows and unicorns. You have a very interesting story in the book of the the taxi driver who thinks that Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is amazing, but he’s not going to vote for her because she’s all about rainbows and unicorns, which partly shows he’s not been listening. But that is, there has been a hijacking of the concept of decency and integrity, and as you say, dignity, and friendship, and companionship, and connectedness, and turning them into something trivial, whereas pain and anger and fear and resentment are real. And I’m really interested in why you think that has happened, why has that been allowed to happen? Because we have a fairly major set of global religions, all of which say that love and compassion are at the absolute core of human existence. And the only way to any kind of spiritual evolution is through those. And the people who are often the hardest to the right are often also spouting those religious texts, but they clearly don’t mean them, and it’s a very interesting doublethink. Have you unpicked that?
Ece: Yeah, it is a quite dangerous topic to talk about because I’m not a believer, I’m not a religious person. Let’s put it like that. I’m not a religious person. I don’t believe in a religion. And when I talk about religion, it’s… I know that from Turkey, and from other countries as well, it’s a very sensitive topic. But those people who are progressive but religious, they would understand what I mean when I talk about love. But in this, you know, in this economy and cultural and social system, we’re living in, if they do not riot, all these religious people, if they are not critical of the life they are living in, I do not think that they are actually talking about love of the other. They are talking about love of the self, and nothing else.
Manda: Okay. Let’s head in a slightly other direction. You said you didn’t think that heaven on earth was possible. You wanted to just return to normal level of craziness, which is lovely. But my feeling is we’re never heading back to normal. That normality, for humanity, for the rest of our survival, if we get through what we’re getting through, is that change is the only constant, and that somehow we need to negotiate that. So what I was interested in was that you were categorising my concept of a flourishing existence where everybody wakes up and looks forward to the day as heaven on earth, and as not just a normal level of craziness, whereas I look at the world and I think, if we live in a world where some of the people have lives that they find good, and any significant number of people have lives that they don’t consider good, then that’s not a normal level of craziness. That’s oppression, and we need to change it. And I’m guessing that actually, given where you come from, you think that, too. So what sort of world do you want us to be in that counts as a normal level of craziness?
Ece: I think I don’t suffer much personally. I have an apartment in Zagreb. I’m writing books. Although I lost a country, sort of, I feel like I lost the country, I don’t suffer as much as a Syrian refugee who is trying not to drown in the Mediterranean Sea. I don’t want to feel the indignity of witnessing that there are people living in worse conditions than me. Because I feel my dignity is damaged as I see them. So a world of dignity where nobody feels their dignity is damaged, this is what I want. Yes, this is what I want. And this is more than being equal. This is even more than justice. This is what I want. I want people, I want the world that nobody feels the pain of broken dignity. This is what I can say.
Manda: Brilliant. So I just want to let that settle for a moment. And so partly because of my antecedents, I look always from the human world to the more than human world, and I’m guessing that if no human suffers the pain of broken dignity, then also everything else with which we share the planet.
Manda: Is in a similar privileged position. Everything. Because your story of the bear, I had to put your book down and stop for quite a while after the bear, which is interesting. I could handle all the people, because nobody reading this book would think that you were rainbows and unicorns, I promise you. It’s the places where it’s eye openingly real. And yet you still have that essence of what it is, what dignity is. Your Chapter Four, Dignity over Pride, is both really moving but it also opened doors for me, because you mentioned Brexit earlier, of the wounded pride that arose out of the miners’ strike. I think I was talking to somebody recently who grew up during the miners strike in Britain, and said that she can trace a direct route from the breaking of the miners strike to the anger that boiled up and that led to the Brexit vote. And it was an anger of annihilated pride. Pride that was destroyed and never allowed to return. And yet what you have done is to highlight the distinction between dignity and pride, in that what people actually want is to live in dignity. And so, I’m still, as we’re heading towards the end of our time, trying to get a handle on how does the world work where there is no damaged dignity? How do we get from here to there is one question, but we can’t get to there unless we know what a little bit about how it functions.
Ece: The words do not change the world. Even if you write Das Kapital or Little Red Book, people change the world. And people needs.. people need words. And I’m giving this word now to them. There can be a world where there is no indignity. This word is for those people who believe in this, and then they work towards that, in a world that we’re talking about. And I choose to believe in this. Faith has this lovely aspect: you cannot refute it, I believe in it, and I have to believe in it in order to survive: mentally and emotionally, and physically even. And I want people to believe in it. End of story. That’s it. This is a moral and political conviction, and I do think that we have to work towards that. Otherwise, what is the choice? What is the other choice? The other choice? OK, the world without indignity is not possible. OK, good for you. Go and die, then. Now, this thought: if you believe in this, this can change the world. Well, we can build it. You see, this is one of the things that I want to, I kind of discuss in the book. This system has imposed itself on us for so long, for such a long time, and with such force that we find it almost absurd to think that we can overcome it. Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Of course. And there are economists, there are dentists, there are teachers, there are road builders, who can who believe in this and who know how to do this. They know how to build the road without indignity. They know how to design an economy without indignity. It’s just we don’t talk enough. And we were not given the tools to realise this world. We couldn’t seize those tools yet.
Manda: And so what you’re giving us, I am parsing this as I speak. What you’re giving us is the foundational belief that a life lived with dignity is both possible and laudable, and that if enough of us work towards that, we can make it happen.
Manda: That’s pretty good, actually. That’ll do for now. I will work the rest of my life into how we make it happen, and we can cross that bridge when we get there. So we are heading very nearly towards an hour. Is there anything, any message for people listening, other than be part of a web, talk to people, create dignity? What else would you like to say to people as we close?
Ece: Maybe this: I didn’t write this book to make you feel better, but I wrote this book to make all of us better. I think there is a big difference in between. And I really hope that people get out of this book with the feeling of why not?
Manda: Yes, why not? And definitely, because your last chapter is called Choose to Be Together.
Manda: And you’re building, step by step through the 10 chapters of the book, you’re building an emotional and linguistic and conceptual construct of how humanity could be. And as I said at the start, I think it’s beautiful. And so they can come with why not? But I think they can come with more of an imperative.
Manda: I think they can come with that imperative belief.
Ece: You know what? One more thing. I actually, now I’m thinking, I want this book to be read mostly by young women. Because they’re going to change the world.
Ece: And they need some tools to do that, like words and tools and everything. So I hope a few words can be taken from this book for their coming journey and struggle.
Manda: Brilliant. Well, I will buy copies for both of my wife’s daughters, who are both young mothers. I’m not sure how much reading time they have, but they will have copies. Because the great thing about this, is you can open it and read a bit and come back later, and digest it, because the writing is so beautiful. I know I’ve said that many times, but it is actually true.
Ece: Thank you. Thank you.
Manda: And there are ideas that we can take in isolation, digest them and come back, and then knit them all together with time. So it’s a perfect book for young women actually, even when they’re getting up at 4:00 in the morning with the child that doesn’t sleep.
Manda: Very close to my idea of hell. But there we go. Some people like it. Good, I think that’s an extremely good place to end. This has been amazing and wonderful, and thank you so very much. And I hope the book does everything that you want it to do, and more. Thank you.
Ece: Thank you, Manda. This was wonderful. Thank you very much.
Manda: So that’s it for another week. Huge thanks to Ece for the perspicacity of her thinking, for the breadth and the depth of everything that underlies her ideas. It’s always inspiring recording this podcast, but talking to someone with that level of intellectual grasp of the world, that’s the best bit. So I really enjoyed today. I hope you did, too. We will be back next week with another conversation. And in the meantime, enormous thanks to Caro C for the sound production, and for the music at the hand and foot. Thank you to Faith for the website and the tech, and thank you to you for listening. If you like what you hear, give us five stars and reviews so Google News we’re there, or head over to Patreon and give us some money. That would be nice. And if you know anybody else who wants to be part of the generative dance of the world, then do send them this link. And in the meantime, that is it for now. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.
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