Our changing idea of home

Ece Temelkuran

“Very happy with election results. But the truth is it may take decades to get back the country we belonged to – if we ever may.”

“Very happy with election results. But the truth is it may take decades to get back the country we belonged to – if we ever may.”

On the 23rd of June, on the night of the Istanbul mayoral elections, a close friend and a younger colleague, Çağıl, sent me this text. After years of struggle, the opposition’s “in-your-face” kind of win against the authoritarian regime was finally there; the city was a massive carnival showing its natural self, her colorful face with no fear. A crack was opened in the wall of the long-standing oppressive regime and the overnight change of political climate was more than visible. During the night “Everything’s gonna be alright” was no longer just the opposition’s election slogan; tens of thousands in the city squares were feeling the immense joy of restoring their faith in themselves, in life, in their fellow citizens. One knows what I mean only after being subjected to years of political insanity that maddens the opposing masses as well. At the end, one’s faith in humankind is damaged altogether and makes one suspect that humans are evil at heart, essentially banal and irremediably ignoble. And it takes enormous determination to resist against the temptation to go with the flow.

Çağıl, like those who left the country only to visit now and then, was talking about the general roughness of the people, the vulgarity of the life on streets and the unprecedented lack of kindness. Many who didn’t experience it themselves yet might picture rising authoritarianism as solely a political phenomenon whereas in fact the lasting damage happens in the capillary vessels of life to destroy the most basic consensuses of human interactions. Once the country visits such lows there is no coming back from it unaffected. The land still stands intact on the maps but the essence that makes the land a country is carved out.

I couldn’t tell Çağıl that there is no such thing as “getting back a country”. There is a new political and moral normal and time – until we are able to bend it for time travels- can only proceed towards future, to the unknown. I couldn’t bring myself to voice the truth; the current normal will not let people like us in, unless we as political subjects are determined enough to shape it otherwise to forcefully make space for ourselves.

***

If only there was a country built with the memories of exiles; the recollections that are stripped off the banalities by each passing year only to keep the simple yet indestructible joy of “being back at home”…

Once the country visits such lows there is no coming back from it unaffected. The land still stands intact on the maps but the essence that makes the land a country is carved out.

“Nobody has a country anymore.”

Tatiana is 28 years old, from Lithuania. She is as depressed as anyone who works for a London family, staying in their house with no one to talk to in her mother tongue, would be. That is why she keeps her cellphone in her back pocket during the day and on her pillow during the night. Nobody asks her how she feels because she is hired through the best agency to work in the best possible conditions; the expected gratefulness exhausts her. She bakes cakes whenever her boredom becomes unbearable and she never eats them herself. Her sisters are in different countries; one in Ireland, the other in Belgium and her brother is in Canada. That is why as she whips up the egg yokes and the sugar, she stops and tells me “Nobody has a country anymore.” She is not aware of the fact that she in fact is voicing one of the most central challenges of current times. After putting the cake in the oven she helps me to pick a proper outfit for my talk in the House of Lords that would happen in a few hours.

“But everybody needs a country” says Lord Maurice Glassman and that therefore he is supporting Brexit. As a response I refer to Spinoza, to his concept of friendship, “Since the nation states are falling apart for one reason or another aren’t we supposed to find new ways to bind ourselves not to the land necessarily but certainly to others? Can the concept of friendship serve us as a new way to invent a new political connection between people as the concept of citizenship once did?” It is not that I know the answer, so we genuinely think together with Lord Glassman. After the event he takes me through the most complicated hidden passages of Westminster (“Don’t forget that this is a palace, it is full of secret ways.”) to end up on the big balcony of the palace to smoke a cigarette while enjoying the lights of Thames. The question is still there; what to do with the need of belonging when the ground is shaking in the 21st Century. It is February 2019 and half of the Brits as well as other people in other European countries are hoping that they will get back their country-or whatever they dreamt of as their country, once this confusing dust of the new Zeitgeist settles. Millions in Europe try to heal the anxiety caused by the crumbling establishments by fortifying the collapsing institutions through politicized nostalgia. The motto is the same everywhere, “to get back our country.”

She is not aware of the fact that she in fact is voicing one of the most central challenges of current times.

Tatiana asked me how it all went, just out of politeness. She in fact couldn’t wait to tell own story, which now is uncontrollably widening her smile. She just got a marriage proposal on Facetime from a fellow citizen living in Ireland, a long awaited happiness. After she finishes with the girly and juicy bits of the story with both of us nibbling the cake I ask, “Wow, Ireland ah? So you are not going back home?” “There is no home to go back to” she says, almost surprised that I have asked about such a simple fact.

The simple fact that the House of Lords wouldn’t know because the real taste of the era is always tried first by those who do not have walls to protect themselves from the transforming storms of the present time. By those people who are obliged to move between the borders as fast as money does to catch at least a bit of it, the falling crumbles of the cake. First by those countries those are not in the fortress of Europa. But then with time the dust of time prevails over every land, even the ones with the highest bastions.

The time is near; the part of the human history, which we ironically call post-human, is about to start.

If only Paris could be as long lasting as she was in the flashbacks of the movie Casablanca. As indestructible as in the sentence “We will always have Paris.” But we won’t have Paris anymore, not in the way we know it. There is no such thing as getting back the Europe we once belonged to; unless of course, we as the decisive political subjects elbow ourselves into, forcefully make ourselves some space.

***

The time is near; the part of the human history, which we ironically call post-human, is about to start. The human body is too fragile for the challenges of the near future. We need to fortify our bodies to explore the space to find a new shelter for humankind. It will happen sooner than we’d like to think and we will be obliged to be able to produce android replicas of ourselves. One of the challenges will be transferring the human experience to our brand-new bodies. A time will come for humankind to decide what to or what not to back-up from our experiences in our android selves. The unnecessary files will be deleted during the transfer. This will be the biggest question of the human history; to select what is good and indispensable in humankind and what is not worth dragging to the new planet.

Even if we agree upon who the decision maker will be, we will have to decide; is it only love, compassion and all those values preached in every religion that make us human? What are we going to do with the lusty taste of violence, sweet flames of jealousy, the voluptuous grudge, and the cascading hatred?

If only the beautiful recollections of human kind could build the post-human. It would be the best of the civilizations where there would be no place for us; unless we, reluctantly or willingly, transform our own selves.

***

There is no such thing as getting back the time, the country once we had, the humans that we were. So the question will be what in our recollection of the time, the country and the human worth saving for the coming times. What is indispensable in the idea of home? Although it sounds very “homely” this question calls us to remember that we are political subjects who are supposed to make the decision. Each one of us.

ece temelkuran