Ece Temelkuran is a Turkish journalist, writer, lawyer and winner of the Ayşe Zarakolu Prize for Freedom of Thought. She often times deals with controversial topics in Turkey such as Kurdish and Armenian issues, women’s movement, political prisoners and criticizes neoliberal and neo-fascist shift in modern Western societies. Her columns have also been published in international media such as The Guardian, Le Monde Diplomatique, The New Statesman and The New Left Review.
In her latest book Together: 10 Choices for a Better Now, Temelkuran takes a different approach on politics and speaks about human emotions, studying the ways the system stresses one type of emotion and brings forth another. Thus, love or faith in people have completely disappeared from public space, while fear and anger are present all around us. Can dignity cut through class differences? What is the best political strategy of modern leftist movements against neoliberal and neo-fascist turn? Is the success of Možemo! party in Zagreb significant for this fight? – Temelkuran answers for H-Alter.
Statement like “greed should be blamed, not capitalism” ignores the internal logic and fundamental problem of the system. Because of such statements the left often avoids the topic of emotions. However, your book emphasizes human emotions like rage, patience and dignity but puts them in the context of class struggle. How did you decide to take this approach and why is it important?
I have already laid out inner workings of the new form of fascism we call right-wing populism in my previous book How to lose a country. After writing it I have seen the movement growing so I decided to talk about politics in a different way, with different words. You’re right. Emotions are overrated and they are mostly utilized to distract attention from the fundamental conflict of the system. However, they are also political means and I think that progressive politics should have something to say about them. We as progressives tend to run away from emotions because we know they have a dangerous nature and a habit of getting out of hand but since they are mobilized and utilized by neoliberals or new fascists we should start talking about the politics of emotions. We live in a world where facts do not convince people, where the truth is like an open buffet – everybody has their own – so I wanted to talk about politics with the irrefutable words that are closer to the heart. This is one of the reasons why people think I wrote a self-help book (laughter).
The premise of your book is faith in humanity, in each other. I feel like today it’s popular to hate humanity because of the climate crisis and many other things. Why is it dangerous to fall in a trap of hating humanity and what can faith bring to the table?
Because ultimate hate of humanity is called fascism. However, I don’t think this has been happening because of the climate crisis or inexplicable inequality. I think the hate of human kind is inherent in neoliberal understanding of the world. My question to the dominant system is: “Who is the good man in your story?” Is it Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg? If these are the good men of the system it is obvious there is something morally and fundamentally wrong with it.
I think that in today’s world we have lost the philosophical concept of good. There has been a long time since we talked about it. What kind of people do we want to be and in what kind of world we want to live in? We are talking about bits and pieces, equality and so on, but what is the moral frame of this ideal world? When you go back to very basics of leftist ideology you find out that it is basically human love.
Is neoliberal erasure of the concept of class struggle part of this hatred of humanity? We don’t hate the system but humanity as a whole because we don’t recognize class anymore.
When you say there is no alternative which has been the main motto of neoliberal world since Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagen it means that humankind can’t create a better world than this. If you really believe that, it means you don’t have faith in humanity. Saying there is no alternative is against the logic of life – it is refuting the life itself.
I really liked the idea of friendship in fear. You criticize how humans run away from others as soon as we show fear because we don’t like to be seen as vulnerable. Can you elaborate on how this turbulent period in history with the pandemic, social inequality, climate crisis and earthquake in Zagreb can teach us of togetherness in fear?
Last year was very difficult for the entire world but in Zagreb it was almost absurd at some point. As you know we were waiting for the Godzilla (laughter). Fear is the opposite word from freedom because if you are held hostage by fear you are isolated and confined to your own limits. It is also an opposite word from joy or curiosity. It eliminates all beautiful concepts we attribute to living. Today we live in a world with too much fear. However, it allows us to experience the humbleness and gives way to sharing our fear, which is also the only remedy. I think fear in itself calls for togetherness and friendship.
This chapter asks us to imagine our political interaction as friendship because friendship is the ultimate form of justice and the most just relation human beings can have. I think that it gives us space where individuals can protect their individuality but also be part of a bigger entity. It is also a very raw thought and if you asked me more in detail I couldn’t answer. It’s just an idea that I want to talk to people about. Many ideas in the book are invitations to a conversation.
You mentioned that dignity cuts through classes and has the potential to trigger resistance against capitalism that violates it. Can you elaborate on the ways in which capitalism violates dignity and how dignity united in all of us could overthrow the system?
It is very dangerous to say that something is cutting through the class but I’m taking that risk. If we do a pain measurement, the working class will certainly win in that competition. However, if we define dignity as something which binds us all and creates oneness of humankind then we can explain how both refugees who were thrown back from Spanish border and Spanish soldiers who were doing the throwing have damaged dignity. Either willingly or non willingly, soldiers are part of this indignity. People who are sitting in front of TV and watching this are also part of it because it’s done in their name or in the name of their
nation. I think we are hurting inside. While I’m speaking about this I feel like a Christian evangelist. However, this hurt is important.
If we want to change the system we have to talk about that pain as well. I also feel like I’m talking from the land of rainbows and unicorns when I speak about love and faith but then I ask myself: “How did we come to this?” When you spoke about human love in 1970s nobody would make fun of you.
At the very basis of progressive ideology lies the fact that we love humans and that we have faith in each other. It is a moral decision to love people and believe in them no matter what. This faith created the ideology of socialism. One of the aspects of progressive politics is making people understand that even if they are privileged in the system, their dignity is broken. We’re living in the system where privilege means happiness and our job is to say to people: “You’re not actually happy and it doesn’t matter how much money and privileges you have”.
Because of the amount of damage the system in which they are privileged is producing?
Yes, but it’s not only that. I know a few very rich people who are not just unhappy but devastated on several different levels. They are not having great personal lives because money doesn’t buy happiness.
You stated that from the 70s people started to lose their sense of community and shut themselves in their worlds. Do you think that some policies such as reducing working hours, increasing the minimum wage or public housing leave more time for people to be involved in questions of the collective, while neoliberal policies impose more myopic point of view on us all?
Absolutely! I was recently on a panel with a former Green party leader in Britain Natalie Bennett and we talked about this. I was telling her that we need more poetry in progressive politics if we want to win this game and she said that when she asks women to be in politics, they answer with a simple question: “When?”
I referred to Simone Weil who said that we need more poetry in the working class. She didn’t mean poems but was speaking metaphorically. Weil also said that working class is so exhausted after working hours that they can’t do anything else but sleep. Dignity is not an abstract concept; it starts with basic equality and limited working hours. These are the real life regulations that would produce the time and the energy to live in a dignified world.
You mentioned in the book that modern leftist movements avoid rigid political forms, voting being one of them, and that young people are more likely to participate in events like protests against climate crisis. You also mentioned the importance of local politics because, as you say, “the center could collapse”. Having said that, I’m interested in your opinion on success of Možemo! party in local elections in Zagreb.
Možemo! has global importance. I wrote a piece in The Financial Times where I elaborate how local politics will make a comeback on global level and will be the front against fascism and neoliberal politics. Možemo! is important for a different reason as well. During 90s and at the beginning of 2000s civil society was present all around the world but was retreating from realpolitik so to speak. I see Možemo! as civil society finally daring to enter the arena of realpolitik. It is going to be super difficult for them because they’re coming from a completely different culture of human relations.
This is happening in Turkey as well. Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir are being run by opposition politicians. They are having a lot of difficulties as well but they are also keeping the flame alive for another future. I’m thrilled about Možemo! and for the first time since I came to Zagreb I’m learning about its politics.
You define new political movements as inclusive to the extent that their goals can’t be incorporated into existing political structures. Can you elaborate and do you consider this its strength or weakness?
It’s neither. It’s just a reality. We’re living in the 21th century with new media, culture and communication sphere. Every time communication drastically changes, the politics change. This has been the case since forever. There is a new type of politics coming and it is struggling to find a way to adapt to 19 th century political institutions. This is one of the reasons why young people do not participate in realpolitik but do participate in politics on social media.
I have seen it happening in Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and other parts of the world. It starts on social media and then becomes a real thing in protests. I’m talking about this in the book. Young people are like shoaling fish, trying to find the place for themselves. This is why local politics is becoming a thing. Young people in Turkey are approaching local politics because that’s the only place they think they can be themselves, don’t compromise and do politics.
You mentioned few times that system is coming to an end. What gives it away?
Everything. If the center was holding, if the system was intact, we wouldn’t be hearing about so much money laundering, mafia and other dark sides of power. This has always been here but it was less visible due to the fact the center was holding. That’s why when we talk about right wing populism and fascism we’re talking about mafia and other dirty relations. If institutions were intact this could not happen. System is collapsing and I’m not the only one who says that – the system itself is saying it. Rich people in Davos are making a big deal out of it and it feels like they are asking for help from progressives to sustain themselves.