Humans are historical beings “in this world.” Their nature, culture, genetic heritage, language, and social existence are historical, and as such they are finite and temporary beings. In other words, humans emerge and exist only for a certain period in the history of the world.
Humans are children of nature, but are also children of history or time. The biological aspect of humans represents a possibility. They are equipped with certain capabilities that are to be realized. Humans lack the advanced instincts found in other animals; as instead, nature has equipped us with intelligence. Dealing with life requires the acquisition and development of abilities, more so than those that are present at birth, and it is intelligence that allows people to do this.
When we are born, we are born into a society. Consequently, we do not belong to ourselves, but to the society into which we are born and to the culture of that society. Our identities are shaped by family and school, making us educational beings, and through education we become part of our society.
In biological terms, humans are much weaker than other creatures in nature. It is almost impossible for individual human beings to survive on their own, and so we rely on society for survival. Every new member of a society is infused into its culture, and is imbued with that society’s information, skills, experiences and accumulated knowledge. Culture, on the other hand, is created through a historical process.
Humans both make, and are made by history. History defines the stage of production, accumulation, transfer and development of the world. What makes the Earth into the world is human activity. In material terms, the natural environment precedes the world, although its reason for existence is inherent within the world. Thus, everything gains meaning in the world and in the history of the world.
Until the point at which they develop self-consciousness, people are simply beings – they have no “face”. Their identities are not chosen, but given, and these given identities are a composite of the common feelings, customs and habits of society. If, on the other hand, a person realizes himself/herself through free choice and action, he/she becomes “somebody”; in other words, he/she becomes an individual. Humans are the only beings that can transform nature and their own nature, and their fate is to be free: they change what they find, and make it theirs. Human action, therefore, can be found at the center of history, just as history is the stage at which humans exercise their duties, rights and freedoms.
The more freedom we gain, the more we separate ourselves from our nature and given identity. We grow more distant from the one-way influence of nature and society and become individuals. Individuals are like the fruits of a society. The larger the number of free and active individuals produced by a society, the more successful the society. Every society has their own level of individualism, and normal individuals cannot go beyond this limit.
Freedom is the most basic existential essence of human beings, being a requirement that cannot be met from the outside, and at the beginning, it exists only as a possibility. No one can be free on behalf of others; every person becomes free through their own actions in social relationships. The act of liberating oneself requires one to overcome some obstacle, or to attain freedom for something or for some ideal. History is the story of humanity – an adventure describing the efforts to become free.
Liberation makes people lonely, because it involves differentiating oneself from society. If individual freedom is not supported by economic, social or political conditions, freedom becomes an unbearable burden on ordinary individuals. However, once the reassuring ties are lost, freedom is equated with “doubt” from the perspective of the individual, and life becomes devoid of meaning. The result is excessive indulgence in alcohol, drugs and sex, and in extreme case, violence and suicide.
People perceive themselves in the world, or in other words, as the sum total of their relationships. Belonging to a community entails sharing common feelings, common behaviors, common interests and common ideals. The perception and internalization –or the adoption– of characteristics that are manifested in social relationships shape the common character of the members of a society.
Throughout history, individuals and societies have repeatedly acted towards each other with malice due to their selfish desires, and even towards themselves. People “objectify” others for their own goals and interests, and have even enslaved themselves by treating themselves as “objects of utility”.
Enslaved people yearn for authoritarian personalities, and thus tend toward obedience. The authoritarian personality is a commanding one, perceiving love, mercy and altruism as weaknesses. He/she worships the past ideals of sovereignty, and in authority as long as the authority is powerful and dominant. The authoritarian personality bases his/her actions on belief in a superior power. To him/her, there are only two kinds of people: the powerful and the weak. This “power” is assumed to be part of nature, or a specific race, culture, person or God. People are classified as good and bad depending on their willingness to show loyalty and obedience to power, which is claimed to be the basis of authority.
Those who refuse to obey are either excommunicated or exterminated. Sovereignty is reinforced by the creation of a “sadomasochist” union with those who obey. Wealth, in its entirety, belongs to the sovereign, with followers rewarded to the extent of their loyalty, and others punished with poverty. The sovereignty of the authoritarian person is a kingdom of fear, and this fear is kept alive through various propaganda tools. If authoritarian rule were to be overthrown through an authoritarian uprising, the result would be the same, even if the government changed hands.
Repressive regimes try to prevent the advance of freedom by limiting human rights and freedoms, but in doing so, they add momentum to the liberation movement. Accordingly, the history of humanity is a history of struggles for freedom and individuality.
Freedom is at the essence of every human, and they are obliged to be free. The more repression and obstruction there is, the stronger the desire to be free.
Being aware of history requires more than a knowledge of past events, requiring also an understanding of the meaning of human relationships (feelings, ideas and tendencies) that are implicit in these events.
* First published in Us Düşün ve Ötesi (Reason, Thought, and Beyond), no.8, 2003. Translated by Dr. Emre Eren Korkmaz, and revised by the editorial board.