Alienated from being a society in Turkey

Alienated from being a society in Turkey

On the night when ISIL attacked Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport, taxi drivers there drew condemnation for charging stranded passengers between three and five times higher. Although they later denied this, many witnesses have confirmed it. Indeed, nobody was surprised because turning a crisis into an opportunity is not unusual for our people. 

After one earthquake that hit our country, when mothers could not find diapers for their babies and had to use newspapers, others grabbed baby diapers and used them on the floor of their tents. There were also many people who sold fake life-jackets to refugees when they were dying in their dozens every day. 

So why were we surprised that taxi drivers tried to rip people off at a moment of tragedy? While people were dying just meters away, while survivors were striving for their lives, how could taxi drivers only think of their own pockets? 

According to social psychologist Professor Melek Göregenli, we have an unrealistic, romantic ideal of human beings. We expect people to be born with a conscience and we expect this feature to surface, particularly at troubled times. However, conscience and empathy are features that people only acquire as they gain knowledge and transform themselves.  

Göregenli has said conscience is not about our own selves; rather it is about recognizing the existence of others in our daily lives: “Note the behavior of people when a handkerchief-selling or window-wiping child approaches them in traffic. Everybody wants to get rid of this unpleasant moment as quickly as possible; they either shut their windows or move away quickly. They justify this by saying ‘The more we give money to them, the more they will keep working on the streets.’ They even add a virtue to it by saying, ‘We are actually doing them’ a favor. But as a matter of fact, they know that as long as capitalism is there, there will always be some people on the streets.” 

The taxi driver issue is just another form of “not noticing the other.” The taxi driver does not see any common features between himself and the customer he is trying to rip off. He does not empathize, or see that they are both people, or recognize that he could have been in their place. 

This is a typical middle class characteristic, according to Göregenli: “This kind of behavior is generally attributed to the poor, but what the poor does is mostly for survival. In this case, the aim is to make a profit under these circumstances. There is a tremendous inverted individualism in here.” 

She also suggested that as conditions toughen and as the system does not provide enough insurance and opportunity, the number of such incidents only increases.  

The fact that taxi drivers in Brussels acted just the opposite is not because Europeans are born as good people, Göregenli has stated. Rather, their living standards are already above a certain level, while recognizing the other and doing them a favor is seen as a social value. On the other hand, when there is no democracy or justice and when there are systematic protection mechanisms, everybody can easily justify what they are doing. “Am I the only cheater here?” they ask themselves. “I have to look after my own income.” Everybody realizes that no state or outside actor will facilitate life for them. So they try to survive with their own methods, even if these are extremely immoral. Everyone interprets the law of the jungle in line with their own interests. 

The issue is both economic and social. “The idea of ‘we’ is no longer an enhanced value in this society,” Göregenli has said. There is a constant discrimination between those who are like me those who are not like me: “This is a thing that prevents one from seeing that the other is equal to them. This causes them to justify all kinds of abuses. To be a society, there should be a common belief, defended by all. But we are distanced from that. People sometimes cite the national football team’s games, but even there we are no longer united. When we are so divided, everybody justifies all kinds of evil to protect the group identity. This makes them extremely insensitive to the other.”

I guess we will need to pay much heavier costs to become a society again. Only when inequality is removed in this country, only when the level of education is lifted, only when people first notice their own prejudices and become able to see the other, will we be able to become a society again.