Together: A Manifesto Against the Heartless World, by Ece Temelkuran, Fourth Estate, 208 pp, £12.99, ISBN: 978-0008393847
A deeply moral writer, Ece Temelkuran is one of the most important political voices today in Europe and beyond. She has the gift of clarity, both in terms of how she perceives global problems and how she expresses her ideas. Her latest book, Together: A Manifesto Against the Heartless World, is “a talisman” for the comfortable classes with a troubled conscience who are feeling overwhelmed by the problems of the world. Don’t be afraid, don’t be fatalistic, she says, but you’ll have to give up being comfortable.
Together is a follow-up to Temelkuran’s 2019 bestseller, How to Lose a Country: Seven Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship, in which she did a fine job of stripping down the political change she witnessed in Turkey under Erdogan and identifying parallels in right-wing populist movements in other countries.
After How to Lose a Country, the author was plagued by readers wanting guidance. “But what do we do?” they asked. Now she has taken the trouble to answer the question. In her own words: “I wrote this one to propose a new vocabulary for the progressives, a lexicon that might help to gather the scattered political actions so that we can push the world towards a just and dignified future.”
Temelkuran observes that the economic and political system we have built has reached it limits and threatens to drag us all down with it as it falls. This has produced a merry-go-round of fear, she says, and “imbues our times with a particular zeitgeist: that our lives have coincided with the most damned period of history”. However, her message is to take a step back, see beyond the system, and remember that: “All the insanity of our time is a consequence of the collapse of the system, not the collapse of humankind.”
Not surprisingly given the title, there is great emphasis on “we” and “us” in the book. Temelkuran empathises with her readers as people who are stumbling through a political and moral maze. “No country is spared, so we must hold onto to each other as we look for the exit.” The original subtitle of the book was “10 Choices for a Better Now” and each of the ten chapters make the case for a life choice. Readers are implored to frame their thoughts and actions in a more positive, useful way – choose the whole reality, choose strength over power, dignity over pride, attention over anger.
Reading Temelkuran invites reflection. The other thing that makes her book so readable and engrossing is the storytelling from Temelkuran’s professional and personal life. On the one hand, she has lived a life very much outside the ordinary; on the other hand, she finds the extraordinary in the ordinary. These life moments shared by the author are the treasures of the book, a formula that worked just as successfully in How to Lose a Country. It is fascinating to see how she interacts with the world, gains insight, humility and faith in humankind. The novelist is never far away in these pages.
We discover her family and friendships, her experiences as a journalist in Turkey, the difficult and interesting places she visited, her times with the urban poor, refugees, Kurds, activists. This is one of her messages, to choose the whole reality, in other words, get involved.
The world’s reality had begun to look like an incurable disease that only the poor and the unfortunate had to suffer.
Temelkuran condemns the widely seen behaviour of people with resources fleeing “the dirty burden of the world” and building “our own untainted individual realities, proportionate to our purchasing power”. This immoral choice is weighed down with shame and Temelkuran is convincing on the rewards of not just peeking out at the world but getting close enough to touch reality and each other. It is the distance from reality that deepens our fears, she says.
If this sounds a bit like a self-help book, it is. As the author says, the peoples of the world are deeply hurt. So much so, that we have begun to doubt whether our species deserves to survive, amid all the harm humans have caused.
But Together is also an act of resistance to the “new type of fascism waging a global war against basic human reasoning”. Its weapons are deliberately gentle words, calmness and clarity. Anger, she argues, is not the solution. In an age where anger is a basic currency exchanged by all, especially on social media, Temelkuran proposes something more useful and constructive – attention. She points out the futility of being stuck in “anger communities”.
Such a sweet thing is anger. A deliciously sharp state of mind that cuts through the jungle of today’s complications.
But this constant expression of anger, she insists, only offers the illusion of political and social engagement. Much more important is to pay attention to what is being done at the level of power.
Only by directing our unblinking gaze at the workings of the political machine can we avoid being dazed by the mesmerising yet insignificant representations of it that we are offered every day.
In the chapter “Choosing strength over power”, Temelkuran identifies the phenomenon of “the Radical-male”, which arises from the dark matter at the heart of masculinity. The Radical-male, sucking the earth dry, “can only interact with the world around it through wanting and seizing yet more power”. Its motto is: “power means breaking; ruling means controlling; existing means possessing.” Temelkuran calls for the advent of the collective-female – including men – which must come together to build a better world. And that means not just a simple reversal of the power relations between the oppressed and the oppressor but something completely different – something benign and collaborative. We have brilliant economic models, for example, buried in our history if we care to look for them, she says.
Temelkuran does not claim to know what form a new political order might take but she sees the current “wreck” as being beyond redemption because democracy without social justice is just an empty shell. The Turkish thinker finds inspiration in the new “political behaviour with a vibrant soul” seen in the many recent global movements for the greater good.
Particularly, she sees the warm regard of friendship – the only human connection free of duty, dominance or competition – as being the ideal basis for creating a better future. How that justice-based connection between people can be broadened to the scale of humanity is another day’s work, or maybe another book.
Clare O’Dea lives in Switzerland and is the author of Voting Day (Fairlight Books, 2022) and The Naked Irish: Portrait of a Nation Beyond the Clichés (Red Stag Books, 2019).