Some Thoughts on Kierkegaard and Aleppo

Søren Kierkegaard, a 19th century Danish philosopher, writer and theologian, who lived in Copenhagen, is one of the most influential thinkers of the world. He came from a very wealthy and large family, but was unfortunate enough to lose all but one of his six siblings, by the age of twenty two.   Death was constantly around him, as his surname (Kierkegaard=Churchyard) conveniently implies. Kierkegaard is known as the father of the Existentialistic philosophy and the concept of Angst, and has inspired other well known existentialists as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus.

Kierkegaard talks about the meaninglessness of having choices or making choices, that there is no such thing as the right choice.  In his work Either-Or, he shows us this, in his dark and gloomy way. Let’s say you have two choices A and B: You will regret if you choose A. You will regret, if you choose B also. Whether you choose A or B, you will regret both. You will regret it, if you do not choose either. In his circular, pseudo-logical way, he is telling us about the futility of always trying to make the right choice. Because ultimately, you will never be entirely happy, whichever way you choose to go.

But Kierkegaard does not leave it there. He gives some hope, nevertheless. The only way you can make the right choice is, if you choose to be yourself. Choosing to be oneself is accepting who you are, with all your strengths and weaknesses. Once you have chosen yourself, and accepted to be instead of to become, you can go on to make choices that can make you happy.

The current situation in Syria is heartbreaking. The suffering and torments of the people of Aleppo seem almost inconceivable, while I am sitting helplessly next to my beautiful Christmas tree and watching the news. I feel shame on behalf of humanity, that this is where we are today..

What would Kierkegaard say about this situation, if he lived today? I think it is relevant to apply the dilemma of the choices here, which is ultimately a moral / ethical dilemma. Should the rest of the world have opened their doors more to the Syrian refugees? If they had, they would probably have regretted it, because the large flux of refugees would create many more problems for these societies later on. If not, they would still regret it, because they would feel morally and ethically inferior, without compassion for the sufferings of other human beings. So either way, we will not be happy with ourselves. Kierkegaard would probably say, the ethical human being will acknowledge his/her limitations, which in this case, is the innate selfishness of the mankind, which forces him protect himself and the ones closest to him first. Once we have accepted this and created a secure existence for ourselves, will we be able to look beyond ourselves and try to help others in need. The problem with this reasoning is that in our global world, there is no such thing as a secure zone or a secure existence anymore. Terror can find us anywhere nowadays.

Of course, this is a very simplistic exercise in applying some old philosophical theory on a current political/ethical issue. The issues at hand are far more complex than this. But Søren Kierkegaard’s thoughts on existentialistism and the ethical man seem to me very relevant even this day.

On the Road

I‘ve just finished reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac, which I had bought, when in San Francisco this summer. I wanted to bring something back, which was San Franciscan and truly American. Something iconic. Jack Kerouac is known as the author, who created the term Beat Generation. On the Road is considered a classic, a must for anyone with a genuine interest in literature. The novel evolves mainly around two themes: The pursuit of desires and friendship.

I enjoyed following the protagonist Sal Paradise through his adventurous journeys zigzagging between the East and West Coasts, and his amazing depictions of the heart and soul of the American (and Mexican) land. It is the essence of the book that the characters live by the moment and are driven by their spontaneous desires or kicks. For them, what matters is now, and they do not worry about tomorrow, before it is tomorrow.

Sal, who is an aspiring writer, is an amiable person, though he is a completely different type than I am. But aren’t we all, one way or another, in pursuit of our own kicks? Don’t we all follow our desires to a certain degree? We want love, money, power, prestige, security, beauty, adventure…  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in achieving our goals that we forget the present moment.  In this particular novel, the pursuit for kicks takes an extreme form, where the characters seem reckless and self-destructive.

I am not going to dispute the Iiterary value of this novel. Though, I do confess that I struggled reading it. I did not choose this book because I expected to be able to identify myself with the characters. Nevertheless, I felt quite frustrated with their recklessness. They are not really likeable, either.  Especially Dean Moriarty, Sal’s closest friend, frankly, is a conman, a womanizer and a drug addict. Ultimately he betrayed his friend Sal, when he most needed help, while they were travelling in Mexico.

Regardless, I did enjoy Kerouac’s use of the language, the vivacious descriptions of his travels and the insights he has given me into a generation called Beat.

A Christmas Carol

My son, who is a six grader, has an English assignment for the Christmas holidays: Reading Charles Dickens’ famous novella A Christmas Carol.  This has given me a good excuse to read Charles Dickens again, the creator of some of my favorite childhood characters: Pip, David Copperfield and Oliver Twist.

Now that Christmas is only a few days away, reading A Christmas Carol with my son gives me an opportunity to reflect upon this tradition and the role it plays in my life.

Being born and raised in the non-Christian part of the world, Christmas has not really been a part of my childhood. Except for a one-year stay in New York, when I was six years old, I was not really exposed to this tradition. What I knew about Christmas, I had gained through films and cartoons, I watched and the books I read. It was in my early teens, when my family moved to Copenhagen, I had my first real Christmas experience.

My family participated in the Christmas parties and celebrations we were invited by school, work, our Danish friends and neighbors, but we did not celebrate it at our home. And the Christmas day was just another holiday for us. Being in an international community and studying in an international school, I did not feel, there was anything strange about not celebrating Christmas; I knew quite a few who did not. I remember, once at school, we were asked to talk to a couple of Danish students, who were writing a project about different Christmas traditions. They wanted to know, how we celebrated Christmas in our home country. I told them, of course, that we did not celebrate it in Turkey. The Danish students looked at me with incredulous eyes with pity in them, as if to say, How is that possible? Poor you. I remember clearly the embarrassment, I felt on that day. That was in 1989.

Since then, I have celebrated Christmas the authentic “Danish way” many times and am very enthusiastic about it, too. Even my family and friends lovingly tease me about my engagement. What I like most about Christmas is that it brings people together. As Danes say, Christmas is the Celebration of Hearts. I admit, I do sometimes feel the same way as grumpy old Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Christmas? Humbug! Spending tons of money on things, we do not need; eating and drinking far more than our bodies can bear; slaughtering trees and throwing them away a few days later.

Though, I don’t think I need a ghost to convince me that despite all that, Christmas brings a lot of joy, especially to children. Seeing the glee in my sons’ eyes on Christmas Eve is enough for me.

I will continue enjoying this great tradition, hopefully, many years to come.

 

Merry Christmas!

 

 

Terror

The voice of the speaker, as monotonous as ever,
Was the morose opposite of the uncanny screams
And the disowned body parts of the unprepared people.
Unprepared for the blast bursting in the bosom of a 20-year old,
Tearing open the gut of a city, in the tired evening hours.
Hatred has become the weed growing in our backyards
Where lives are cheaper than the explosives putting them out.
The pure face of a youth victim illuminates my screen.
With him hope dies and is forever buried
Under meaningless fatalism.
And religion is once again exploited
While man does evil to other man for the love of God.