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Together Dialogue: Perceptions of Self in a Complex World
Jay Saltik, NYU Florence student
La Pietra Dialogues
May 2, 2014


Smoke descended instantly, enveloping the clusters of tents, the momentary sanctuaries that we had built for ourselves amidst horrifying chaos and the ceaseless violence. Smoke descended from the sky and sudden blindness followed, a burn from within and dry heaving for hours like the purging of dreams, of all that is good from one’s body. I was working in a food tent at the site of the protests, a park that had been under the attack of riot police for over two weeks. The fight started so unexpectedly. In June 2013 the Turkish government, religious ‘democrats’ as they tend to call themselves, had decided to tear down this park in the midst of Taksim square, the only green space left amongst the towering, chaotic concrete of central Istanbul. The decision was singlehandedly made by the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and was a sequel to a series of unwelcome intrusions into citizens’ private lives, along with several violations of human rights. Predictably, the citizens’ defiance of the decree was not taken lightly. The peaceful public movement during which people read poetry and sang and shared the park in protest was crushed down by the government. All that was left on the streets was a bitter silence, the leftover of empty teargas cans and plastic bullet shells on the ground.

 

3584 arrested, 8041 wounded, 6 dead. All we had left were the statistics, all that we had gained by over a month of bloody resistance. All in vain. The park will be torn down and the government will continue to attack its own people for any form of opposition to its commandment-like policies. On the day when I first walked in to the student workshops for the Together Dialogue I was a sworn pessimist. I had committed to change. I had strived for a humane and democratic cause, a righteous cause, and one concerning a crucial matter: the state of my home country and the lives of my own people. I had failed, ultimately and miserably so. I was looking for a different perspective to redeem my previous efforts. I did not see how I could positively contribute myself, but perhaps others could alter my conviction that the world, in the myriad of ways in which it’s corrupted, was a hopeless case.

 

In the beginning it was a challenge to identify the worldwide crises, as young students attempting to analyze problems much older and more complex than what could be resolved by our limited life experience. However, in our eagerness to perhaps also rationalize our personal apprehensions, our discussions were rigorous, daring and spirited. It began easily. Each one of us put on paper what we considered to be the most crucial issues, personal reflections that often carried the reminiscence of private grief or frustration. As the meetings progressed our discussions seemed to become increasingly more focused; to the degree that we were able to better picture worldwide crises through a rational discussion of cause and effect. Thus, one by one, we rediscovered the true extent of our individual problems, defined in a universal scale.

 

My pessimism for the future was deep-rooted in a lack of change that I had come to repeatedly observe in my immediate environment. However, recognizing my concerns in others and sharing in a collective courage to question the world brought about the realization that I was not alone in my concern. The discussion group served a practical purpose by identifying and presenting what we perceived to be our generation’s obstacles, in order to sustain our end of what we wanted to be a true dialogue. What we achieved was far greater. We had created a sprouting awareness of each other, along with a profound consciousness of our actual potential for change. The world is not an empty canvas to materialize our vision for a better future. But it beckons, in the aching absence of change, to be delivered out of its stagnant conventions. After all we are young, and hold all the promise of possibilities in our hands today.

 

Participating in the dialogue after such a personal exploration was a truly distinctive experience. In the student workshops my peers and I had searched within ourselves to identify our generation’s challenges, and now we were confronting scholarly approaches to the dynamics of today’s society. The final event of the dialogue represented a threshold, marking a movement from the cramped space of my personal thoughts into a wide plane of worldly realities. The thoughtful contribution of prominent intellectuals Edgar Morin, Alessandro Pizzorno, Richard Sennett, and Nadia Urbinati provided us with insight into each of their specific fields of expertise, Their analysis of our contemporary crisis was interdisciplinary and complex, stemming from history and illuminating lost mosaics of past wisdom through the interplay of their ideas.

 

There is a crisis of thought in modern society that, according to Professor Morin, originates from old-fashioned institutions of education that narrow the individual’s perception of current issues, whereas contemporary global problems are often interconnected and complex. I am well accustomed to this particular crisis, having observed its paralyzing effects to various degrees both within my immediate environment and myself. Ignorance is a disease, its symptoms incorporeal but fatal like white smoke. An ignorance of underlying dynamics within our increasingly more withdrawn, self-involved modern societies causes a crisis of the soul defined by a crushing swarm of inadequacy, and isolation. The truth is that we are all intentionally isolated from the most crucial issues of our societies, conditioned to primarily focus on selfish needs and burdened by economic responsibilities under the dominion of ever-demanding capitalism. Some of us are comfortably numb to the myriad corruption within our communities, blissfully wrapped up in the safety of a privileged existence. The more unfortunate who suffer the consequences of corruption directly are facing problems much larger than themselves.

 

Incompetent educational systems incapacitate the individual, who in turn, remains passive in the face of profound issues that in fact concern all citizens of the world. Yet even if we were to act in the traditional methods of protest against the government, our efforts would most often remain futile unless we were able to channel them through institutions. It is a crisis of thought that we are facing that manifests itself in the form of a crisis of the soul. I have continuously observed the widespread crisis of communication with an alienating, repressive government in my home country, but the suppression of the individual is a global problem that exceeds cultural boundaries. We are simply swimming against the current attempting to communicate with those who do not listen to the sound of reason, of need and suffering but rather are only interested in heeding the tempting call of power, a call that, in its ceaselessness, drives out one’s humanity.

 

As professor Sennett states, “All crisis can be traced back to a failure of complex cooperation.” In today’s harsh realities the vision of a global democracy is a mere candle light at the end of a seemingly endless tunnel. Yet, as hard as it is to believe, it is possible to overcome our crisis of thought, to restrict and diminish the shared ignorance that is starving us of a righteous, peaceful coexistence. With a more in depth understanding of how the modern world functions, it is possible to restore power back to the public civically and politically through fostering dialogue. However, a dialogue is only the start of a long journey of swimming against the current. It is our responsibility as conscious individuals to spread the candle flame and start a fire, to raise awareness of complex issues as well as competent approaches to solutions, and to persist on what matters with a global moral perspective.

And swimming against the current, one should be prepared to be beat down by waves of crude ignorance, and the frustrations of inevitable failures that await in drowning miscommunications. No matter. I realize and accept all repercussions. I, a mere individual, alone and overpowered as ever, swear that I will not be dragged out by the undercurrent, will not let those in power purge my dreams so easily like teargas that scatters thousands, or a candle to be snuffed out at night in dead silence, like the nameless, faceless victims of my government who fall dead in prison cells silently in all engulfing darkness. I’ll prevail. And I ‘ll keep swimming against the current, pushing through wave after wave to preserve my identity, and spread knowledge to the very best of my ability, until the whole night sky is lit up like it’s on fire.

 
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