When I first started to apply to university, the spark of my undergraduate dreams was illuminated with the tints of idealism. I chose my majors according to this higher purpose and wrote my supplements for the application essays with a cursive slant which creatively inscribed my individual objectives that were deemed possible by my strong will accompanied by advanced education. All of my entry essays shared a sentiment: I expressed my frustrating encounters with ignorance on the various levels of human nature –individual, family, local, society, international society– and how my goal was to better the human experience on each of these levels. Seemingly ideal, but I am a person of action as well as a socio-political realist so I expressed further in my writing that my hypothesis to accomplish this was that I wanted to study in a foreign context (different to my native culture) and translate its culture, ideology, political life, traditions, social construction and national identity back to my own cultural context. In regards to journalism (a program I initially applied for at various American universities but decided against), I recognised the framing of media and its consequent biases and spread of ignorance. This annoyance combined with my desire and tendency to be as objective as possible led me to run through the storm of clouded, dense, biased research and data collection.
It began as I prepared to study abroad. I began university in the United Kingdom, but I conducted my research separately by taking advantage of all of the educational, political, historical, and social resources in this context as possible. One could call this a “hobby” but, to me, it became (and still is) a full time job/obsession. I want to learn but, more so, I want to further my comprehension and expand both my growth and knowledge. I liked my coursework, but it was too simple and straightforward. I wanted a challenge. As both an obsessed seeker of knowledge and a perfectionist, I read and wrote so much, especially during my first year at university, that I believe that I could have finished my degree already and passed all my exams (seriously). I became so obsessed; I wanted to learn everything and absorb all the information I could get my hands on. I am a highly energetic individual and, when I get hooked on an idea, I dedicate my entire self to the cause and I want to accomplish my objectives with precision and speed. A lesson that is most precious, and is best learned early, is the value of patience. For I am go, go, go all the time, this is a virtue that I am accepting and learning. Sure, I could recite entire passages of my favourite theorists and philosophers (including Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Marx) but using them in political life is a different story (Reality: I am a 19 year old woman and a nobody- who the hell would listen to my voice or even deem it as meaningful or credible?). In this regard, I am slowly learning to “enjoy the ride” and, this year, I am enjoying (or trying to) social life in Istanbul by seeing various cultural trends as opposed to being lost in theories, abstractions, and books (don’t worry, I am still quite the avid reader with my stress-induced insomnia).
I do recognize that there are some shortcomings to my approaches during my first year abroad that limited my progress of “translating a culture back to my own.” After only being in a context for one year, I believe that I successfully achieved a summarised snapshot of the objective above. I was granted the opportunity to observe the culture and political structure at various levels (which was extremely fascinating and informative), but it wasn’t detailed and I would never consider myself to be an expert on affairs (social or political). I got to see the historical implications up close and see how events shaped the people and national identity seen today (Awesome: one initial dream realised).
Accompanying my intentions, I was presented with more interesting realisations. I was so focused on learning about a new context that I did not so much anticipate what I would learn about my former context. I got to see my own country from afar, from an outside perspective. I saw the news unravel back west from a different context –without the loudness of being so close to ground zero, one could think in the quiet and observe the greater picture. It was really interesting for me to see how the U.S. was truly interpreted abroad (truly or realistically in the sense of relatively to different contexts). Despite many sentiments of hate and disgust, American culture and ideology was everywhere and, too an extent, was greatly envied.
This year, as I have moved farther east, I can now see the U.S. as well as the western world from a different angle. Turkey, especially Istanbul, has been westernised and has evolved greatly, even more so within the past decade, but the deep influences of the past still reveal embedded implications of eastern conservatism in their ideology. This counters the more recent liberal sentiments behind Kemalism of the past ninety years, but they lay hidden beneath the modern mask of “liberalism.”
As I stated prior, I have granted myself the opportunity to partake in social life. This may sound silly or, perhaps, strange but, as one who studies humans, I am an introvert and prefer to observe at a distance. I prefer humans in the abstract and I like to observe but not participate in social life. One thing that I go out of my way to do everyday is to do something that scares me; to live outside of my comfort zone, for here is where I believe that life truly begins. With my new induction to social life, I have observed trends, especially in the youth, the “generation of the future.” I like to be as objective as possible but I will not deny any biases (unintentional) of being an introvert in an emotionally-charged, extroverted society and culture. Here, my introverted behaviours (which I have had to suppress and is actually really draining and difficult for me) would be seen as stigma– it is against the norm and I would be labelled as “strange” and, due to the nature process of judgements and stereotyping, I would be perceived, on a primal level, as a threat because I was different. This doesn’t just apply to social differences, but all differences whether they be physical, psychological, social, cultural, ideological, etc. My objective: to blend. Seemingly strange due to my heritage, I look Turkish so it makes this goal a little more obtainable, but my true self would be immediately rejected.
Let me explain this more, on the primal level in regards to the foundations of human nature where logos is the basic building block. Logos is the power to know or recognise those of the same polis (city, society, state, nation) through the ability of speech and the basic sense of communication with others of our kind that we share. This concept goes beyond for it does not just describe the capacity for language (in terms that a linguist might) but, more importantly, it explains that, as human beings, we share a common moral language and means of communication. With a mutual conception of the just and the unjust, this can make up the political structure of a city (or regime). An added feature, especially in regards to the Aristotelian conception of logos, is the embedded idea of love (in terms of eros). We love those whom we are most intimately related and closest to. Social and political commonality is not the result of calculation (as seen by Hobbes and other social contract theorists), but such things as love, affection, friendship, and sympathy are the grounds of political life and take root in our logos for it is speech that allows us to share these qualities that make us fully human in the contexts of both the social institutions of a family and a polis.
The polis is seen as a natural entity in the sense that it has grown out of smaller, lesser forms of human association: first comes the family, then an association of families in a tribe, then a further association in a village, and then an association of villages that make up a polis. The polis is natural in the sense that it is an outgrowth: the most developed form of human association relating similarly to those of biological charts of human development from these lesser forms of life that evolve all the way up to civilization in some way. There is a second sense for, in some ways, it can be seen as a more important sense in which the polis is by nature; it is natural.
The city is natural in that it allows human beings to achieve and perfect their telos (their purpose). A human is a zôion politikòn (political animal according to Aristotle) for participation in the life of the city is necessary for the achievement of human excellence, for the achievement of well-being.To say that humans are political by nature is not to say that we become human by participating in social life of a polis– it means more than this. The form of association that leads to our perfection (the telos being that of “the good life”) is necessarily something that is particularistic, meaning that the city is always a particular city (this or that particular city).The polis is a small society or, in today’s terms, a closed society. The telos (or purpose) of the individual is to achieve “the good life;” as human beings are social by nature, this must be communally obtained therefore the purpose of the polis is to provide the conditions for the good life of the individual. A society that leads to the perfection and realisation of our telos must be held together by bonds of trust.
Trust is in terms of friendship– of camaraderie. We cannot trust all people. Trust can only be extended to a fairly small circle of friends and fellow citizens. Only a city that is small enough to be governed by relations of trust can be soundly politically secure. The antithesis of the city (the empire) can only be ruled despotically in which there can be no relations of trust in large imperial despotism. In one sense, what follows is the reiterated sentiment that the human being is political in nature and the polis, accepted as existing naturally, cannot be a universal governing state– it can never be something that incorporates all of humankind for it is such a diverse entity. A one state system does not allow for a universal type of self-perfection (perhaps like a multi-state system or cosmopolis) that a small, self-governing polis would have. The city, from an Aristotelian perspective, will always have to coexist with other city states (cities that encompass different beliefs, cultures, ideologies, politics, governments, etc.) based upon different foundational principles and values. This is to say that not even the best city (even a Utopian ideal city comparable to Plato’s Kallipolis) can afford to go about without an adequate foreign policy or system of relations that calls for diplomacy to either defend existing bonds of trust and establish new ones.
Relating to this conception of the city, in terms of trust relationships, is a projected sense of citizenship. A good citizen of a democracy will not be the good citizen of another kind of regime. Partisanship and loyalty to one’s own way of life are required to maintain a healthy city. To put the argument in terms of Polemarchus (from Plato’s Republic), a friend and enemy are natural and ineradicable categories of political life; just as we cannot be friends with all persons (evoking the basic principle of trust), the city cannot be friends with all other cities,and, similarly, the state with all other states. War and the virtues necessary for war are as natural to the city as are the virtues of friendship, trust, and camaraderie. In summary, the opposing vice of trust, such negative sentiments that produce insecurities and fear, is equally natural to the virtues of trust. Trust is the focal point in which connects people on the basis of basic values that are deeply embedded in a anthropological history that transcend into the developed political and social structures of entire societies, cultures, and nations.
With my encounters with social life, political systems, popular culture, et cetera in Turkey, I have made careful observations from both psychological and sociological perspectives. With regards to the image of the mask I presented earlier, I have noticed this especially with the youth. Most (of the individuals that I have encountered) are blatantly, yet obliviously, two-faced and ignorant of their behaviour. Most young Turks are outwardly liberal in appearance, yet they reflect and act in conservative and, often, judgmental ways. This is because they unknowingly stick to what they know– their values. Most young people have not been exposed to anything outside their norm and, when they see something or someone different, they subconsciously perceive it as stigma (and consequently as threatening) and become mildly hostile and aggressive (even for something as seemingly silly as meeting an introvert, or someone that suffers from depression, or seeing a homosexual person). Many students from small towns go to the big city (Istanbul) to study and their entire worlds change– they are shocked by the drastic differences, so they cling to the safety of their small-town conservative lessons and values.
Turkish cultural and family life are very emotional and deep. The primary focus of life here is not of monetary gain or whims of fame and materialistic bases, but of love and relationships. Family life and blood bonds are the most prized trifles in life, according to Turkish culture. In the telos of an individual is to obtain the good life, then in Turkey is to focused on obtaining the flourishing and mutual happiness of a family unit. Turks are proud and are emotionally tied by their heritage as well as blood lines (of the past, present, and future). With this stated, one can imagine how the values indirectly make sheltered lives in isolated Turkish villages with small populations. Values and traditions become life and the senses of protection, security, and shelter become heightened. Affairs are all local and the window of the world is a narrow crack that only sheds enough light to one, small context. In this regard, it is, in general, comparable to small towns anywhere (Cough! Cough! Hebron, ME, U.S.A.– their biased, small-town mindset is a story for a different day). Add the deep cultural and traditional implications, one can only imagine the contrast when they hit the “big city,” also referred to as Istanbul.
Istanbul is huge. It is home to a quarter of Turkey’s population. Twenty million people– that’s twenty million individuals, twenty million backgrounds, and twenty million different walks of life. It is “where east meets west.” It is westernised in the sense of organisation (the black and white outline), it’s shaded (the grey that adds dimensions are depth) by means of communication and media systems, and it is coloured by the amazing elements and complexities of culture. Istanbul is a city of contrast, of culture, of contradictions; it is where ideologies both clash and unite; it is absolutely beautiful.
Now, let’s apply this into context: The small-town ideologies (whether they be of Anatolian traditions, traditions of the Black Sea region, values of the Mediterranean Sea area, of the northeastern contexts, etc.) existing together (also among a noteworthy population of foreigners) in a westernized, European, liberal polis that is Istanbul. With deeply embedded roots in conservative traditions combined with the desired images of modernity of the western world (but seen at a distance) –two opposing ideals– how does one decide? A good citizen can only be seen as “good” to a particular regime, one can only be truly loyal to one theory of thought. The current system in power in Turkey emphasizes conservative values and is threatened by trends of liberalism and responds in aggressive jerks, responsive attacks, to attempt to counter the damage. This became clear with the Gezi Park protests. The liberals were upset about the elimination of the few green spaces left in Istanbul and protested. The AKP tried to contain their actions and sentiment in a, what they thought to be, seemingly harmless counter-action. In reality, the aggressive police action and violence triggered a much larger upset that had lain dormant in many Turks. The New Ottoman identity, I believe, has great intentions and desires of liberalism, but there are many factors that are currently keeping it from realising them. For one, the use of hard power (propaganda, threats, cohesion, force, hysteria) of the current system of control are strong and have a deep influence in the society for it is responsible for the exponential growth and development of Turkey (especially within the last ten years) and sees a common ground with a lot of the views of the older generations regarding deeper values and traditions. Another factor is that the modern conception of liberalism has not been seen by most Turks (unless they have lived, studied, worked, or travelled abroad). Due to this fact, a lot of the subsequent realities and traits associated with liberal ideals are not understood and are actually quite shocking to most and are interpreted as threatening (more on a subconscious level because of its foreignness and peculiarity). For example, correlating with liberal movements in the western world were: civil rights, women’s rights, the sexual revolution, the acceptance of homosexuality, and the acceptance of differences and call for equality. There are a lot of deeply embedded stereotypes and prejudices which make some sentiments of western culture shocking. In terms of women, a young, nineteen year old, female student would be seen in a completely different light if it were known that she was not a virgin. One of the most degrading insults you can tell a young, unmarried girl is that she will “probably give away here virginity before she is married” (I heard my friend’s ex boyfriend yell this to her after she broke up with him and she cried for days). There is not a universal sentiment (I have indeed met some modern, more westernized Turkish students –who lived abroad at one point– but they are harshly judged by small-town, highly conservative ignorants), but it is the most popular. So it is not just the political structure in which the ideology is divided, but the confusion of undecided individuals as well. In this context in which trust is seen as mutual interests and where the state and citizens are divided, which sentiment rings the victory bell and how can a citizen properly develop their telos in a contrasting, nearly oppressive society and political environment?
Liberalism and Westernism are perceived to be cool here. Paradoxically, many young Turkish girls that wear short shorts, put on thick, black eyeliner, and actively preserve and attempt to maintain their outward liberal appearance are conservative and judgemental at heart. When people wear masks, an entire society can be veiled. The basic Turkish values (that which all young Turks have known for eighteen years) encompass tradition yet, when they come to the big city, they are repulsed by the extremes of their beliefs when they see them standing beside modern liberal sentiments (e.g. a woman fully covered in a black burka in a shopping mall). Yet they are also appalled by the idea of casual sex and homosexuality. They are shocked, by both extremes, and are consequently judgmental and confused. Of course they want to express their individuality (liberalism calls for the securing of individual’s freedom) but they do not want to betray their beliefs, values, traditions that are deeply associated within their individual identity. Which theory of thought wins?
This is a very interesting period for Turkish society and politics. As it goes for the context of Istanbul, it is a polis that inhabits two continents; it contains two ideologies: one of the eastern world and one of the west. As Istanbul occupies both Asia and Europe, it is divided by a strong river – a current of roaring tension. There is hope: a common bridge that allows for the worlds to connect. This can be, at times, rather shaky when the forces fight for control rather than for balance. There is see-saw effect in which counter-acting forces (polarised political ideologies) that push against each other, creating profound tension. As time unfolds, will we soon see greater balance or a victor? Tradition versus progress– which set of values will prevail?