Tales of Travel: Istanbul (I): Fearless discourse on freedom and equality

I’ve been traveling again, this time to a place that I can safely now cross off my bucket list: Istanbul. Former Constantinople, Constantinya, the Golden Horn and many other names this city had over the centuries.

There’s undoubtedly a sort of energy here, something deep, old and pounding, like a heart under your feet that gives you strength to move forward. No wonder it’s been crossroads of the world, which this city is, to this day, filled with so many people and cultures that you get a sense Babel has been recently destroyed and it all came down crashing right here, between Europe and Asia.

Seeing such a vibrant, international city gave me food for thought though – and in a very non-travel, non-holiday direction: rise of nationalism and what’s the point of it.

I’ve come to think that nationalism is not only a counter movement to globalism, but also a more personal challenge of being free. Taken at its core, the liberal ideas of freedom are simple: one is free to take any action, as long as they are willing to bear the consequence. There are, of course, more nuanced cases of criminal and anarchical behaviour (social contract and all that), but, in essence: a person is free as much as he/she is able to take responsibility for themselves.

To illustrate my thoughts better, I will turn to Rousseau’s school of thought: before Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite (which in my opinion was a gross misinterpretation of historic proportions) was the Equality, Liberty, Safety and Property, the safety being the ability to protect said property, freedom and equality. This trail of thought, inherently more free, but with much higher responsibilities placed on individual’s shoulders, is what everyone thinks when they think of freedom, but no one stops to think who will protect the personal freedom – why it’s you. And I’m not talking about physical property, which we have long ago agreed as people will be protected by the government, but of the property of the mind. Of the skill and knowledge. No one but you can protect that and it is of the highest commodity and value, yet, has no border, and nationalist will brand it under a single flag and demand it be told how to work.

Global society that is able to move around and work and live without borders or with little hindrances require highly free individuals that are able to take care of themselves and in some cases their immediate property in most locations and situations without frequent interruption of government and that scares the living daylights out of any nationalist. Usually because their own government (which represents the nation in this example AND as it is intended in government’s function) also adheres to these principles of freedom and equal opportunity to everyone, leaving the nationalist to the harsh world of equality they preach, a world where their actions will always have an effect on society or themselves and they may not always like it. A lot of people forget that equality includes everyone, which is to say no one is special, but a nationalist makes him or herself special. Ironic.

There are multiple sources this thinking of “my government should provide me work and shield me from my mistakes (otherwise known as “tell me what to think”, but both sound bad, so no one is saying it in this way)” stems from, these sources ranging from personal issues like self-doubt and jealousy, to actual global issues like the financial disasters, terror and automation. But one can always choose to not be afraid, to try again, to educate themselves in new ways. An old man in India makes a 6 hour journey over the mountain every day to learn reading and writing to improve himself, but a nationalist in Europe with more education than an Indian man can cram in his remaining lifetime will say that his job is being taken away by Indian men like him.

But what’s the point of nationalism then? Could it be so simple as an expression of longing for security? Confusion as to how to protect oneself from irrelevance? For someone to care? Yes, it can and it’s very understandable, however, much like praying for good health instead of going to the doctor for that sore foot doesn’t help, so doesn’t accusing others for doing bad onto you, when the real issue is your inability to take action OR live with the consequences of inaction.

Istanbul is a strangely magical place: it inspires thought and wondering I haven’t considered since university days. I thought before writing this that is might be too politically incorrect or insult or generalize and polarize others, but you know, dear reader, that is the point of discourses: you write your thoughts down, some are general, some more specific, but you have them in front of you and you see them reaffirmed or changed years later. The difference is, I shared them before they were affected.

I since wondered how sharing of ideas has become so difficult when discussion used to be the only way to build one’s worldview and to get to know other people. I’m sure Rousseau did not arrive to his conclusions about the state of being a free person by constantly being offended, rather, I would like to imagine him eloquent in his discussions with his equals and since we’re all living in the world of liberte et egalite of opportunity, I will take it, dear reader, wherever I can, to wonder at the world with open mind and share my discourses fearlessly.


Picture credit: Mystery Bogdan of Fabula Nox (ihadenoughofthebs) at Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Instagram for like and follow: https://www.instagram.com/tales.fabulanox/ 

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