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.