The Gülen Movement in Turkey: The Politics of Islam and Modernity

The Gülen Movement’s growing power and influence, followed by its public criticism of the AKP government in 2010 and 2013, and finally the coup attempt in July 2016, has led to an unprecedented crackdown on the Gülen Movement in Turkey. The purge has ousted thousands of employees from major state and civil society institutions, including the military, judiciary, and education institutions, as well as the mass media. The rise and fall of the Gülen Movement has been one of the defining issues in Turkish politics in the twenty-first century.

Book Review

Caroline Tee

The Gülen Movement in Turkey: The Politics of Islam and Modernity

(London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2016) 227pp

ISBN: 978-1-78453-588-9


The turmoil following the gradual dissolution of the Ottoman Empire during the late nineteenth century led to the sharp rise of Turkish nationalism. During this period, the Young Turks (Jöntürkler) attempted to define the ‘nation’ and what it meant to be ‘Turkish’. Following international and domestic chaos during the Great War and the Balkan War, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk established the Turkish Republic and transformed the remnants of the Ottoman Empire into a modern, secular nation-state. The state abolished the caliphate, controlled the appointments of imams, rescinded religious courts and schools, and created new laws that further limited the power of religion in Turkish public life. These political and cultural reforms were intended to transform civic culture by strengthening loyalty to the new Turkish Republic. Nevertheless, winning popular acceptance for this new secular nationalism was an uneven and complex process that was not fully embraced by all sectors of Turkish society.

Accordingly, leading religious intellectuals such as Bediuzzaman Said Nursî sought to challenge the new nationalist ideology or Kemalism, which was influenced by the work of Ziya Gölkalp who strongly suggested suppressing any connections to the former Ottoman regime. Nursî believed that reinforcing Islam would establish a balance with secularism in all areas of Turkish society, particularly in education and intercultural dialogue. When the Turkish political system moved from a one-party authoritarian regime to a multi-party system in the middle of the twentieth century, discussions of Islam that had long laid dormant began to emerge and the scale of this divide between Kemalist secularists and religious Turks became clear. Beginning in the 1960s, these cultural and religious tensions during a period of economic turmoil gradually prompted civil violence and led the military to government interventions. This phenomenon continued in the 1970s, leading to a series of demonstrations, violence between the secular and Islamist factions and political assassinations. It was only with the 1980 coup d’état and the sweeping reforms that were initiated following the deaths of thousands that the Turkish-Islam Synthesis (Türk-İslam Sentezi) was introduced, in an attempt to establish a political balance between Kemalism and Sunni Islam (Hanafi). Political parties – like the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) and the Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi) – were shut down both in 1998 and 2001 respectively, leading to a cycle of socio-political tension.It was in this atmosphere that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) emerged.

Its initial success was due to support from influential religious and social institutions, like the peculiar and autonomous Gülen Movement. Strengthened by this significant and influential alliance during the first decade of the twentieth-century – particularly with leading figures in the judiciary loyal to the Islamic movement’s leader, Fethullah Gülen – tensions surfaced between the ruling AKP and Gülen, after Gülen criticized the government for its anti-Israel rhetoric following the May 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla crisis in Gaza and additionally for its use of excessive force during Gezi Park Protests in May 2013. The political alliance was ruptured when notable AKP figures were arrested or questioned for corruption, money laundering and bribery charges in what became one of the largest and most controversial legal cases in Turkey, leading Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to brand the Gülen Movement a ‘parallel structure’ [Paralel Devlet Yapılanması] or a state-like organisation without democratic legitimacy. While it is important to distinguish between the enigmatic figure of Fethullah Gülen who leads an ascetic lifestyle in the remote Pennsylvania countryside of the U.S., and the contemplative Sufi cleric who vis-à-vis the movement holds identifiable wealth and influence in Turkey and across the globe, it is undeniable that political polarization and the AK Party’s use of pro-government discourses has served as a platform to promote an authoritarian legitimacy, thus deepening the confusion.

Gülen’ Hizmet Movement

Caroline Tee’s The Gülen Movement in Turkey: The Politics of Islam and Modernity is an essential introduction to the topic, which addresses the Gülen Movement’s intentions, networks, and its broad influence in Turkish society. The book begins with Fethullah Gülen himself and the influence of Islamic theologian Bediuzzaman Said Nursî – particularly the effect his seminal work Risale-i Nur –on Gülen’s own spiritual framework. Raised in Erzurum, which is socially and religiously conservative, Gülen gained his traditional religious education at a Sufi tekke (lodge), which were the religious institutions of both the Naqshbandi and Qadiri Sufi Orders. He continued his formal education in Islamic jurisprudence and by the age of eighteen became a state-qualified Imam. Several years later, Gülen was posted to the center of Izmir as the director of the Qur’anic school in Kestanepazan Mosque, and though he desired to move to a more conservative environment, and away from the liberal atmosphere of the western provinces of Turkey, he remained in Izmir and developed his vision of spiritual reform with the intent of reinvigorating Islam and bringing it to a wider audience. He gained a small following both at the mosque and through regular meetings at coffee houses, creating the Hizmet or ‘Service’ movement during the rigid secular posture of the state in the 1960s.

The movement began to grow when his vision for an altın nesil, or ‘golden generation’ was implemented through organized summer camps that aimed to educate the next generation of Turks in both Islam and the modern sciences. This illustrates the influence of Said Nursî who also envisioned the revitalization of Turkish religious culture, which had been vastly transformed by modern secularism by calling for positive action (müspet hareket) from pious individuals to engage in all areas of the public sphere. Said Nursî also emphasized the importance of education in both Islam and the sciences, with Gülen’ pedagogy following Nursî’s attempt to change the impression that religion is inimical to science. Eventually, the summer camps became after-school centers (dershane) that gradually began to expand into other cities across Turkey, despite the growing social and political tensions between leftists and right-wing factions during the 1970s.

A complete overhaul of the constitution following the 1980 military coup d’état, ushered in a period of economic liberalization led by Turgut Özal. And the new Turkish-Islam synthesis (Türk-İslam Sentezi) that emerged removed some of the restrictions on religious life in Turkey. Tee explains how the Gülenists began investing in business and media interests and taking advantage of new international opportunities particularly in the Central Asia, which provided the movement with fertile ground for geographic expansion.

The Gülen Network

The second part of the book contains the core of Caroline Tee’s research into Gülen Movement’s membership and its approach to scientific education. Tee uses anthropological fieldwork to explain how Gülen’s Islamic creationist movement teaches science within an Islamic framework. Tee describes her experiences with the Gülenist educational system, which is characterized by strong academic achievement. Gülenist schools are preferred by conservative religious families for their moral and religious commitment and secular curriculum. Nevertheless, Gülenist schools are not explicitly linked to Gülen and are not promoted as such, instead the connection to Gülen is a matter of local knowledge illustrating the decentralized and low key nature of the Gülen Movement. “Both he and his followers prefer to speak of a loose connection of initiatives that are all ‘inspired’ by his teachings, but do not constitute a single coordinated entity” (p.57). Any organized efforts to coordinate initiatives are usually through local affiliations between several schools in a given region or city, while well known and prestigious schools established by Gülen followers such as Yamanlar Koleji in Izmir and Fatih Okulu in Istanbul have franchised a number of schools directly.

One intriguing element of the Gülen network that Tee brings to light is the concept of “service” (hizmet) in Gülen-run institutions, such as assigning a chemistry teacher Irem, “against her personal wishes” to a particular school far away from her home in northwest Turkey (p.54). Referred to as fedakarlik or self-sacrifice, they consider themselves as educators rather than mere teachers, thus functioning as a representative or role model to guide or inspire the ethical and personal education of the students. Such dedication lacks financial rewards but is motivated by a spiritual eschatology and the belief in sevap (good deeds) that will be rewarded on Judgement Day. This clearly suggests a formal membership structure within the movement that transcends mere professional networking. Tee conducted her fieldwork in two Gülen schools in order to ascertain how science is taught within a secular curriculum yet framed by Islamic theology and the philosophy of Said-Nursî. Tee also exposes the considerable influence of religious ontology in science classes at the Gülen schools. For example, an educator in a middle-school science class, who was teaching students about a skin disease, claimed that the disease was given to a person as part of a divine test (sinav) and that the students should give thanks for not having such a skin disease. While remaining within the required boundaries of scientific education, the staff attached an Islamic ethic to the content, educating students through religious inferences in an attempt to establish coherence between science and religion.

Tee discusses Islamic creationism as an essential belief within the Gülenist framework (Chapter Four), the Gülen Movement’s argument being that science has become secularized, particularly through the theory of biological evolution that has created an unnecessary rift between science and an Islamic education. Gülen has written about evolution in his book Yaratılış Gerçeği ve Evrim among other sources and not only rejects the theory of evolution but views it as an attempt to justify atheistic materialism. Tee shows that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk advocated evolutionary biology and the secular policies of his time enforced the addition of evolution in the school curriculum at the founding of the Turkish Republic. Said Nursî opposed this change, which radically changed the fabric of Turkish society through what Nursî saw as the coercive disassociation with Islamic values. Accordingly, Gülen opposes the inclusion of evolutionary theory in the curriculum, and an anti-evolutionary agenda has allowed the movement to reconcile modern science with Islam and harmonize what were once two mutually exclusive categories.

Overall, the Gülenist target is to combat atheism through education. Gülenists belief that failing to adapt to the social requirements of modernity by refusing a scientific education merely favors Darwinian adherents; thus Gülenists battle atheism by teaching science through an Islamic lens. Tee explains that from the outset the movement has prioritized spreading Islamic values through local recruiting and international networking, particularly engaging students in Gülenist schools in foreign countries. The schools provide scholarships, educational and employment opportunities and other opportunities for self-improvement. This emphasis on competitive achievement is one reason why Gülenist schools emphasize participating in the Science Olympiads, a prestigious international competition that provides students with the opportunity to compete for financial rewards, as well as improve their chances of getting admitted to prestigious universities. These competitions also play a vital role in changing the status quo, by allowing “Islamic actors to engage successfully with a critical aspect of modernity” (p.77). Higher education institutions, such as Irfan University – which is economically supported by a group of investors sympathetic to the movement, some of whom are extremely wealthy Turkish businessmen – is described by Tee as unfinished, but nevertheless lavish and impressive, hosting a number of high-achieving students and staffed by academics with strong credentials and research excellence. Higher education offers the movement a way to increase its global influence.

The exact number of Gülen-run educational institutions remains unknown as they do not “publically affiliate with one another” (p.55) and they do not identify with Gülen or even share a common name or logo as institutions often do. Tee tackles – albeit briefly – some important questions that lie at the heart of the movement’s ambiguous status. For example, is there an Islamist agenda at the core of its endeavors? Skeptics label the movement a cemaat (religious community), implying its interests do not lie solely in the principle of positive action in civil society, which is what the movement emphasizes. These concerns have been exacerbated by Gülen’s public sermons reminding his followers to be responsive to the dangers of materialism. However, the movement’s economic interests allow it to continue to project its influence and demonstrate the strength of Islam by building international institutions of higher education. In a similar vein, staff working at Gülen-run institutions straddle an ambiguous personal and professional position, where spiritual goals are integrated into their curricula. While this educational homogeneity strengthens the quality of teaching and increases overall academic achievement, its lack of clarity has led to several legal cases against Gülenist schools in the United States, for mismanagement of funds and failing to clearly outline its affiliation with the Gülen Movement. Other contradictions include Gülen’s statements that he supports secularism and seeks only to change the nature of Turkish secularism, which actively opposes Islam. Yet in other statements, either directly or indirectly, Gülen encourages the complete collapse of Turkish secularism and replacing it with an Islamic state.


Gülenists and Politics

Caroline Tee focuses much of her work on the structure of the organization and its ambiguous position in Turkish political, judicial and civil society. She argues that while there is no official criteria for joining the movement, it consists of a multi-tiered level of commitment that includes not only the core followers such as teachers at Gülen-led schools, but also those on the periphery of the movement including sympathizers (onaylayanlar) and consumers. Consumers are those who use the movement’s products and services, whether consciously or unconsciously, and play a vital role in strengthening the success of the movement. Tee’s analysis slightly differs from Joshua Hendrick, author of Gulen: The Ambiguous Politics of Market Islam in Turkey and the World who argues that the movement consists of four – rather than three – groups of affiliates that engage with the movement. Hendrick divides the core group of Gülenists into two: the ‘aristocracy’ who are surrounded by ‘friends.’ In the third part of the book, The Wider Context (chapters six, seven, and eight) provides an overview of the Gülen Movement’s place in Turkish politics, vis-à-vis their impaired relationship with the AK Party, as well as its global status, particularly with respect to the United States.

The Gülen Movement’s intercultural dialogue initiative through The Journalists and Writers Foundation (Gazeteciler ve Yazarlar Vakfi), where Gülen himself serves as honorary chairman, promotes dialogue between Muslims and other religions and cultures. The Gülen Movement’s emphasis on intercultural dialogue stems from Said Nursî, who also promoted interfaith communication. The movement attempts to find common ground between the major religions of the “People of the Book” (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) as a strategy for peaceful engagement and effective networking, promoting Islam as well as Turkey and the movement as a whole. Since 1999, Gülen has lived in Pennsylvania and is often referred to by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as Pennsylvania’daki adam (the man from Pennsylvania). Gülen’s move to the U.S. has been subject to allegations that he has relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Indeed, it is interesting to note that a former CIA agent and senior staff at the National Intelligence Council supported Gülen’s application for a green card. Nevertheless, the move to the United States established the global presence of the movement and the rapid expansion that followed. The movement now has a presence in over 120 countries globally, though membership overwhelmingly rests with Muslim and Turkish adherents despite its transnational scope. It is not clear, however, what led to Gülen’s decision to immigrate to the United States, but his residency there has certainly allowed the movement to thrive on an international scale.

For most of the past decade, the movement has avoided politically or religiously sensitive discourse, instead engaging in debates that build and cultivate relationships, which allowed the Gülen Movement and Erdoğan’s AKP to coexist. According to Tee, the movement has not embraced political activism, despite the fact that loyal Gülenists were the leading figures in the corruption investigations against senior AKP officials. The 2013 corruption probes led Erdoğan to declare war on the movement, arresting or dismissing loyal Gülenist sympathizers, and claiming the movement was a serious threat to national security by attempting to destabilize the government. Tee attempts to clarify whether the Gülen Movement is indeed an exclusively civil-society institution or something more. “By going public with a raft of toxic allegations, it is clear that the Gülenist’ intention was to unseat now-President Erdoğan and precipitate a change in the Turkish administration” (pp. 163-164). By the end of 2015, the AKP had taken numerous steps to extradite Gülen from the United States to stand trial prior to formally declaring the Gülen Movement as a terrorist organization [Fethullahçı Terör Örgütü or FETÖ]– which occurred just after Tee’s book was published.

While Tee states that her research intends to explain the movement as an Islamic group using “the burgeoning field of the sociology of science and Islam” (p. 5) as part of her research, yet she nevertheless attempts to analyze the political dynamics between the 2013 Erdoğan-Gülen split utilizing a historical approach in the context of political Islam. They were initially united by their common Islamic roots in the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam and the shared goal of reducing the power of the military elite. The collapse of the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) in 1998 led by Necmettin Erbakan and the Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi) in 2001 led to the establishment of the AKP [2001], which held the belief that Islamic conservatism would remain unsuccessful as long as a strong secular, military presence continued to play a central role in Turkish politics. The AKP has maneuvered to reduce the constitutional powers given to the military through the infamous Ergenekon, Balyoz and Poyrazköy trials, which portrayed the military elite as operating a ‘deep state’ that was intent on overthrowing the government. These trials were only possible with support from senior judicial and executive staff loyal to Gülen. Many prominent figures were arrested and eventually given life sentences, all of whom have now been released since the Erdoğan-Gülen rift began in late 2013, although Gülen has denied any involvement in the cases. Nevertheless, Tee makes it clear that Gülen is guilty of numerous contradictions and inconsistencies, and even his previous teachings of an anti-Christian and Jewish nature raise doubts as to his genuine acceptance of secularism and of intercultural dialogue.

As a detailed study of the Gülen Movement, which unlike other Islamic groups places a strong emphasis on science education, Caroline Tee provides an excellent – albeit brief – overview of the subject and certainly whets your appetite for more. Without probing deeply into the political or social terrain of the subject, which can be found in other sources, she explains the history and root causes of the Erdoğan-Gülen feud, providing details about the sweeping attacks made against Gülen schools and dershane, the various businesses including Bank Asya, and the public vitriol directly against the movement. She also provided a clearer picture about the movement’s schools by engaging with students and teachers at various levels within these institutions in several cities around Turkey. Tee’s fieldwork is a vital contribution to the scholarship on the Gülen Movement, because it shed lights on some of the opaque aspects of the movement and its global success. She also exposes some of the movement’s contradictions, such as the requirement to preserve public order and stability as part of one’s membership, yet there are no formal initiation rites or any clearly defined criterion for membership itself. However, since positive action with the goal of integrating Islam into modern society is a key part of the Gülenist agenda, the difficulty to ascertain – particularly in light of its ambiguous position – whether followers adhere to this agenda would have been a valuable contribution in Tee’s research. This is what Joshua Hendrick has argued is the movement’s deliberate ‘strategic ambiguity’ which is due to the repressive political and social climate in Turkey.[1] Indeed, as Tee herself states, “the Gülen Movement functions today as an ostensibly apolitical community, but one which has managed to accrue significant power and influence”(p. 3) The use of social anthropology as a theoretical framework to understand the internal hierarchy and structure of the movement using interviews to supplement fieldwork is a valuable approach that contributes to our understanding of the movement’ social influence, which has become the basis for its success and power.

[1] Joshua D. Hendrick, Gülen: The Ambiguous Politics of Market Islam in Turkey and the World, NYU Press (2014) pp 206-232

Wise Men Never Fall In Love

I am sure we have all encountered someone who is convinced that omens speak in secret by sending messages through numbers [22:22 on a digital clock is an apparent premonition] or that the day one is born has some celestial significance that it can predict future events. There are those who associate human qualities to animals – their cat represents a woman – or even worse that there is some prophetic significance when a crow squawks and other forms of eclectic gobbledegook that these illusory concepts and highly imaginative impressions verify the depth of the human capacity to be self-deceptive. The sophistication of these regrettably tolerated superstitions amongst many other forms of entertainment – all encapsulated by globalisation and capitalist marketing – has become so stylishly refined that its persuasive techniques used to influence people to distance themselves from their own personhood is barely recognisable. In fact, though people are blindly following in masses, they ingeniously consider themselves to be an ‘individual’ and unique. How can we ascertain the necessary requisites that truly make an individual authentic and genuine? Following on my previous post, I finalised the blog with where are you O wise man capable of love??? to which a reader quoted “wise men never fall in love”. I intend to dispute this since I believe that it is only wise men who are capable of loving and as wisdom itself implies one who has reached a harmony applicable to those who are authentically aware of themselves, it is only in wisdom that one can attain moral consciousness and thus become capable of understanding what genuine love is.

Phenomenology attempts to understand consciousness and takes perceptions seriously and whilst historical insofar as its approach is descriptive, the person or individual is something concrete in a world where everything is interconnected through time and space. The mind is not isolated; every mental act is directed outwardly to the world and toward something or what is referred to as intentionality[1], and the first person experience or the way that we see and perceive the world plays a critical role in understanding the fundamental structure of consciousness and our shared social history. Many various problems in phenomenology are raised such as our awareness of death and an end we are unable to conceptualise since existence is not fixed, or further still existential themes such as whether we are radically free and that existence precedes essence, but I am particularly interested in authenticity, whether we are capable of separating subject from object – that is ourselves or our consciousness from the preconditioned structure of a shared social history – to begin articulating a discourse independently and authentically. Heidegger questioned what is ‘being’ Sein and he believed that people are living unauthentically; our understanding of the exterior world and ourselves may appear deceptively close to us but the actuality is that an authentic consciousness of ourselves and of our perceptions is incredibly distant from our reach. The primary focus is on intention and I do not want to ascertain our relationship with objects such as the magnificent and incredibly comfortable armchair I recently purchased for my bedroom but rather a descriptive analysis of human nature and of being itself; Dasein or the very experiences of a person as the way or direction toward understanding Sein or ‘being’ itself and our existence.

According to Heidegger, humanity contains a paradoxical schism of being both free and enslaved. We are geworfenheit[2] or thrown into the world, the facticity of human existence such as our family or our genetic makeup is not a choice but a given and something we have no control over. That is, while we are geworfenheit into this world and have no control over the initial and permanent conditions set for us – thus determined – there is another feature to consciousness that allows us to transcend this determinism, the faculty to be consciously free. He separates dasein into several temporal modes; the past or facticity, the present or forfeiture and the future or existentiality.[3] Our existence or ‘being’ in the present utilises the world as an instrument that unlocks this capacity to be conscious where we can control or dominate our environment, since the world of objects and things is vibrant, active and constant in its motivation and movement. However, humanity becomes inauthentic to their true nature when they are unable to successfully separate themselves and thus forfeit their nature by becoming subordinate to the world. They themselves absorb the same qualities of the objects of the world that they become an object or a thing. “Humans feel they are subjects and all other things are their objects… [l]imiting our perceptions to such distinctions causes us to become blind to Being and forfeit our chance to become Dasein and nurture beings into unconcealment.”[4] Humanity has become slaves to the tools of the world that were supposed to be used as instruments to facilitate our capacity to freely distinguish between the real and the non-real. Heidegger refers to this as das man or an inauthentic person who has conformed to the morality as dictated by an inauthentic world and thus escaped his own conscience and the emergent free will to commit the ‘original sin’ [Adam eating the apple because he followed the likes of Eve rather than independently choosing or understanding the difference between right and wrong]. We stop questioning and conform to the masses, losing our selfhood to enable the possession of what we desire.

What exactly is this desire that we seek to possess? It is to overcome the anxiety of our separateness, the ‘split’ or halving of our nature that Aristophanes deliberates in the Symposium. Aristophanes purports that there exists an emptiness within us and the search for wholeness – the yearning for love – is the remedy that by intimately joining with our counterpart we find completeness. “Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.”[5] Plato’ approach to this yearning or search for our other half is not through the senses but through the motivation to attain love, love being the desire for ‘good’ or the beautiful. That is, preceding the desire for completeness is the motivation to attain what is “the perpetual possession of the good”[6] and therefore what is beautiful. Beauty is not limited to nature as in fleeting physical beauty or other objects of the material world as we currently observe – reality to Plato is not what our senses perceive – but rather beauty is harmony and it is achieving harmony that results in the attainment of the Good as it becomes the eternal form that perpetually directs the person toward the best possible end. Since all things strive for this harmony, it is eternal and thus singular or ‘higher’ in that the Good or Beautiful is the ultimate form. Platonic forms is only available in the transcendent world where, unlike the material world, consists of a reality that contains perfect ideas; there is a court, a judge and a jury, which is a part of our physical world, but Justice itself is a form. “Platonic form is thus an abstraction from a world reality from the perspective of those within that world and a ‘descended idea’ from the perspective of those outside of it.”[7]

We are in the world, an essential part of it and our relations with the world and others are fundamental to our existence, but the harmony – the authentic possession or consciousness of love – is attainable when we have overcome the Das Man and begin to think freely. Heidegger would agree that those who dedicate themselves to the question of their own being and to live a life studying themselves will be enabled with the faculty to live an authentic life and his final temporal ecstases, namely that to be authentic, the ‘future’ or existentiality is the frame of mind that has evolved beyond what objects do. This ‘supreme possibility’[8] begins when we reflect on the nature of our existence through death. The premise is that our freedom produces a subjective anxiety since we become aware of ourselves and our separateness – please note that when I personally say separateness, it is not the Cartesian ‘separate’ but rather the experience of our capacity to dominate and control our environment and therefore to become conscious of our free will – and it is at that point that the individual reaches a choice between embracing this angst-laden freedom or to conform to the masses. This ‘mood’ of angst or dread is an emotional anxiety caused by the realisation that one is drawing away from everything that they assumed was real and where their sense of significance becomes thoroughly unfamiliar or unheimlich. Fear in the material world is usually directed to something in particular, however this angst produces a feeling directed to something that the person is not aware of and thus an express encounter with ‘nothingness’ or that very emptiness that we feel being a genuine individual and having real freedom. To overcome this is only possible when we confront our own death or the finitude of our existence and by acknowledging our individual death, we realise our individuality. Embracing anxiety seems contradictory to reaching a harmonious state but it is quite the reverse; conformity to the masses is accessible and appealing though at the expense of our own independence and becomes a trick to escape the angst since it merely preoccupies the individual away from the authentic position of his humanity with false distractions. By confronting our own death, we become conscious of our individuality and our independence and overcome this very angst since the awareness of death – the ‘white horse’ – is not necessarily confronting the violence of death, but rather the death of this subjective and elusive fear. Since this inner anxiety is the causal factor that encourages humanity to submit or conform, eliminating the anxiety and in turn the fear solidifies the subjective harmony to enable a person to begin living authentically and to be motivated by a moral consciousness. To attain moral consciousness is the only way to correctly understand love.

However, if it is our desire to possess or yearn for love that is eternal in its completeness or perpetual possession of the good, reflectively would that mean our desire is for the immortal and unchanging? If humanity is motivated by the attainment of love being the eternal Form of Good or the Beautiful, singular in nature and harmonious, humanity must therefore ultimately be seeking God since God stands as the absolute perpetuity, the ultimate reality and though by our very nature our limited senses restrict the facility to perceive the magnitude of this singular [that we falsely interpret as a figure of a man on a cloud], our motivation for the eternal attainment of Good is to strive to get closer to God within ourselves and thus bringing us closer to immortality. The futility of this motivation is clear since we are in a physical world, we are being in time and space. When I was young, I said that I will never be with a man unless he loves God more than he loves me and I have yet to meet such a man, but being non-religious and completely independent, what I asked was for a man who attained the motivation to strive toward God as it stood as the motivation to continuously and consistently better himself. Confronting our death thus provides two benefits; the benefit of overcoming the angst that compels us to conform to the masses and thus avoid leading an authentic life, and the other is the futility of our own existence and that we can never ourselves become God, thus becoming humbled in a manner that would epitomise the requisite for wisdom.

As we are – being in the world – incapable of ever attaining the senses necessary to reach a perception of ultimate reality, we reconstruct it in our limited capacity; romantic love and procreation satisfy our desire to attain a material sense of this immortality and wholeness. What that means is that romantic love must present the same qualities required of the authentic individual. If wisdom implies a man who has overcome the angst and attained the independent motivation to think with moral consciousness and thus lead a life continuously seeking Good, a woman must equally have the same motivation since Aristophanes’ eulogy on love is seeking out our other half to find ultimate wholeness. This is continued Biblically with “[t]hat is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” thus having attained this wisdom we choose our partner who like ourselves must be authentic and morally conscious. As the masses are motivated by sex and appearances, money or social position, one must transcend the material world and choose a partner that they admire for the qualities that they possess and in doing so will share in the same agenda of perfecting Harmony.

This is not an easy find, hence the where are you of wise man capable of love??? But only a wise man – that is an authentic man – is capable of loving.

[1] Hubert L. Dreyfus, Mark A. Wrathall, A Companion to Phenomenology and Existentialism, John Wiley & Sons (2011) 73
[2] Peter Eli Gordon, Continental Divide, Harvard University Press (2010) 33
[3] Paul Roubiczek, Existentialism For and Against, CUP Archive (2009) 134
[4] Christopher A. Sims, Tech Anxiety: Artificial Intelligence and Ontological Awakening in Four Science Fiction Novels, McFarland (2013) 31
[5] Plato, The Symposium
[6] Gregory Vlastos, Platonic Studies, Princeton University Press (1973) 20
[7] David A. Ross, The Poetics of Philosophy [A Reading of Plato], Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2008) 40
[8] Michel Haar, Heidegger and the Essence of Man, SUNY Press (1993) 12

An Uncertain Will

“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.” George Orwell

I am disturbed by the fact that people have turned animal rights into a fashion statement, telling the world around them to ‘be yourself, be an individual’ while pouting their lips and taking selfies, where advertising ploys utilised by the globalised marketing industry to entice people to purchase products has subliminally replicated to define the identity of the masses that they are no longer able to distinguish between what is morally and ethically genuine and what is a mere superficial display of appearances. This pervasive youth culture of buying and selling themselves has now firmly solidified into an inescapable cycle where taste, thought and opinions, even the mode of expression has become virally duplicated that it has diminished the opportunity for people to reach a genuine state of moral well-being. People are becoming the same ‘thing’ as though the sanctity of their existence is nothing more than a mere product with no substance and where there is quite a lot of talking but no one is really saying anything. And how are we able to ascertain that line where the boundary between subtle conformity transmogrifies to a society that demands conformity hidden behind the agenda of a falsified ‘good’ – that injecting your lips or getting other forms of cosmetic surgery is justifiable as long as you like animals, since if you like animals than you must be a ‘good’ person and since you are a ‘good’ person then cosmetic surgery must be a ‘good’ thing and the more people approve of it, the more ‘good’ it becomes.

It is clear that a capitalist is solely driven by profit and ultimately power since it is power that strengthens capital gain. Whether we would like to admit it or not, our world contains a profoundly dark reality where capital gain has through the expense of people, the environment and a number of species that are now extinct, fuelled civil wars by supplying weapons, enslaved children for clothing, poisoned our seas and clear-cut our forests that has – I dare say despite the wilful ignorance of our O so delightful conservative morons – permanently damaged our ecosphere. History has shown to us that power through domination and the exertion of force fails to be sustainable for long enough to influence the longevity necessary to stimulate capital growth, necessitating the strategic process of finding the imbalances and vulnerabilities of a given society and exercising the conditions necessary that use these divisions against them as a matter of control. It is an unintelligible power because unlike coercion where resistance follows, our adversary appears to be our friend and we appear to be making our own decisions since what ‘I’ buy is ‘mine’ that negates the reasons for the complicity and desire for the object in the first place. True power, therefore, is not something acquired, it is an ideal that speaks without a voice and whispers invented beliefs that people conform to, when vulnerabilities cause people to trick themselves to think that they are making the choice as a free individual and to avoid ever confronting their own deception they will defend their ignorance tooth and nail especially when at risk of being exposed. “That’s the power of fear… and you always fear what you don’t understand.”[1] When the Master imperceptibly manipulates and convinces a slave to gradually and willingly choose to be his slave through enticements of pleasure – the pleasure being the avoidance of pain that the Master is causally responsible for giving in the first place – it gives the Master the sustainable permanence required to attain maximum capital, particularly since the willingness additionally amounts to a more productive slave.

The Master – i.e. marketing strategies – constructs the perceptions of what is unattractive and what is attractive, utilising the vulnerabilities of people against them and strategically exercising the conditions necessary to falsify a sense of independence in the decisions that compel people to purchase in order to feel beautiful. It employs the strategy that alienates the person from reality and develops within them an insatiable ressentiment[2] that the Master actually makes you feel ugly and you in turn are compelled to purchase as a way to feel beautiful. Over time, this conformity enlarges and as each person submits, they defend their ignorance so as to never confront their self-deception by treating those who fail to adhere to the customs as outsiders as though forcing them to either comply or be ostracized and thus in turn subjectively justify their submission. Think of it like this; in the Sudan, women who are circumcised are considered ‘attractive’ to men and despite the sheer immorality of female circumcision, if it is a custom and the majority are performing their duty, the practice itself must therefore make it ‘beautiful’ – the submission to the custom that is – and those who choose not to participate are ostracized from the community. Nietzsche’ theory of ethics purports that conventionalism, namely that value is created by the will of the greatest number of individuals, weakens the independence or power of our own individual will. “The moral ideal is a person who is not great, but a ‘herd animal’, who seeks security and comfort and wishes to avoid danger and suffering.”[3]

Marx defined this as a type of alienation from our own nature or free will and our capacity to explore activities of our own choosing.[4] Just as Rousseau believed that the state of human nature is good but corrupted by civilization[5], Marx believed that this alienation is formed as part of a historical development – though I myself have the preferable opinion that it is more a subjective alienation to our own consciousness – and that a class war develops between the alienated and the forces of capitalism.[6] The individual is thus presented with a choice to either become a nihilist – a signal of the despair in the soul of the individual[7] incapable of breaking away from the herd – or the new philosopher,[8] the nonconformist who has the strength of will to challenge the blind submission. If we strip down the nature of the individual, what exactly is slave morality? Is it a mere mindlessness such as being told what to do and how to think, further still being convinced that happiness can only be found in truths that are – whether moral in nature or not – popular in its conventionalism and that value in our own existence is therefore dependent solely on the approval of the majority, or is there a subjective agenda, perhaps the intensity of our fear of aloneness – anxiety being a form of subjective pain – that we sacrificially choose to abandon our will to exercise independent rational thought to allow others to think for us. From a cultural perspective, some groups illustrate the strategy of ostracising ‘dissidents’ or those members of the community who refuse to adhere to the regulations required of them, thus leaving them isolated and unaided with the threat of poverty, violence and other angst-inducing potentialities; those who submit enjoy the pleasures that come with such obedience including the welcome approval, the economic satisfactions and social warmth that communal environs enjoy. So then why exactly is this submission wrong since the desire for the latter pleasures is only natural in its normative structure? “The formation of a herd is a significant victory and advance in the struggle against depression.”[9]

Let us assume that morality is universally inherited yet its properties are merely interpreted differently relative to social circumstances [including the cognitive constitution of the individual etc &c.,] if moral judgements are motivated not by an independent, self-reflective consciousness but merely the photocopying of the requirements as dictated by the social environment, self-knowledge and awareness becomes limited. With such limitations, a person is unable to feel empathy as moral judgements have not properly formed and as – instinctually – fear is imbedded in our nature, they become susceptible to conformity to anything, including evil. If advertising and marketing is capable of influences mass opinion, Propaganda is by extension the next phase of advertising, that the fascist man is a ‘strong’ man and with the right appearance, including the clothing worn and other ritual behaviour? What is the difference between wearing the swastika armband to prove your social position and wearing the Nike tick to prove your social position? What is the difference between wanting to be Aryan and wanting to be a Kardashian? As the current social conditions necessitate an element of ‘good’ in its advertising, it is no wonder neo-Nazi’s themselves are now beginning to design a promotion of hate utilising the globalisation of this type of perfunctory culture, making hate to appear cool and attractive. “Experts have noted that the German neo-Nazi presence on Tumblr and other social networking sites has become sleeker and more sophisticated. Neo-Nazi clothing has become more stylish and difficult to recognize. There’s even a vegan Nazi cooking show.”[10]

I remember seeing the dismay of a man who seemed to believe it unfathomable that I own a $50 Microsoft phone that I purchased from Woolworths several years ago and despite that it consistently causes technical issues when browsing online that appears to make decisions on my behalf, I am nevertheless content in its utility. “Why don’t you have an iPhone?” he said, looking at me as though I were an unknown species. “Why an iPhone?” I replied to which he stared out blankly into space, whilst speechless his expression appeared to be saying ‘whoa’ as though my question instigated a deep philosophical and spiritual awakening. Conversely, there have been several instances where I have met people who contain within them an ingenious form of hatred, a type of spiritual hate[11] as though conscious of having conformed to the social conditions but troubled with their capacity to take an independent command of their own existence. This powerlessness substantiates the presence of a subjective weakness that emasculates him and he slowly begins to hate himself and again, if ever confronting this reality – the truth that he merely follows others and therefore has no identity of his own – he begins to confront an unbearable anxiety that to prevent this from happening develops ‘games’ that he essentially is playing with himself to trick his conscious mind from ever facing this emasculation. Eventually, he begins to inject himself with hormones to build muscle as though the larger the physical attributes the easier it is to hide the smallness he feels within, office politics and the conquest for power, even being ultra-nationalist, fascist or right-wing politically that supplants an opportunity for aggression against the Other and thus projecting the hate he has for himself onto something else. Personal identity becomes a given rather than a developed and the genuine properties that make him who he is are concealed, crushed, silenced as though his heart were a creature attempting to find safe ground and the owner seeking to murder it with his own feet, depriving himself of his own natural and inherent qualities and irrevocably changing his human nature from a living organism to a heartless machine. It is why Confucius believed that a ‘superior’ man is one who ceases to emulate others. “What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the ordinary man seeks is in others… The mind of the superior man is conversant with righteousness; the mind of the ordinary man is conversant with gain.”[12]  It challenges the notions of what we consider to be masculine and feminine as the moral properties and intrinsic conditions are challenged by subjective contradictions; that is, how is a ‘man’ someone who actively exercises his rational capacities rather than his physical? How is a ‘man’ who turns the other cheek stronger than a soldier?

If societal views are continuously in a state of flux, renewal is also possible but the frightful reality is that this renewal is potentially cyclic, thus historically repetitive in its continuity. That is, would it be honest of me to accept that much of society fails to adequately think with independence and thus requires direction, that the only fight necessary is hidden one, that sweet and gently voice that whispers all the wrong things and compels people to conform to immorality? If a man is incapable of being morally independent since “[t]hey who know virtue are few”[13] then would it be wise to promote what the sages have over the centuries, namely that it is better for him to cleave to what is ‘good’ by guiding him toward a system of ethics that structure a society which regulates general motives and wills toward conditions that compel independent thinking and thus moral well-being? “The aim to excel, if respected of all, approved and accepted by common consent, would appeal to every child and, logically presented to its mind and enforced by universal recognition of its validity, would become a conviction and a scheme for the art of living, of transforming power and compelling vigour.”[14] When one abandons their will out of the fear that the result in thinking independently may mean the experience of aloneness and separateness, that following their heart may mean losing their identity and place in the world, no falsification of being ‘good’ by pretending to ethics and morality can change the fact that they have conformed to something aside from themselves. It is undeniable that whilst all people with functional cognitive faculties are capable of thinking for themselves, our social and cultural environs dictate our value-beliefs and that what the majority deem to consider happiness must therefore be happiness. Aldous Huxley’ Brave New World exemplifies this thesis: “One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.”[15]

Or perhaps I should just go off to my own Island and in solitude and silence live out my days wishing that the clones of the earth – or even just one clone – had the wisdom to understand what it felt like having true passion, feeling love, experiencing danger, committing a sin, being aesthetically swept away  through the creative arts and sensing what it is to be truly free? Where are you, O wise man capable of love????

[1] Quote from Batman Begins (2005) when Carmine Falcone explains to Bruce Wayne the meaning of power.
[2] Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, A&C Black (2006) 107
[3] Michael Lacewing, Nietzsche on morality and human nature, Routledge:
[4] David Leopold, The Young Karl Marx: German Philosophy, Modern Politics, and Human Flourishing, Cambridge University Press (2007)  231
[5] Kenneth L. Campbell, Western Civilization: A Global and Comparative Approach, Since 1600, M.E. Sharpe (2012) 70
[6] Nicholas Churchich, Marxism and Alienation, Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press (1990) 47
[7] Op. cit., Lacewing.
[8] Laurence D. Cooper, Eros in Plato, Rousseau, and Nietzsche: The Politics of Infinity, Penn State Press (2010) 230
[9] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, III.18
[11] See Nietzsche
[12] Analects, bk. xv., c. iii and bk. iv., c. xxi.
[13] Analects, bk. xv., c. iii.
[14] The Ethics of Confucius, by Miles Menander Dawson, [1915]
[15] Aldous Huxley, Brave New World