Rob Riemen: If we look at our first big ques­tion, What’s the defect of our civ­i­liza­tion?” which is a quote from Freud, from a philo­soph­i­cal per­spec­tive, or the­o­log­i­cal per­spec­tive, reli­gious peo­ple will argue, Well, there’s a thing called orig­i­nal sin.” There’s also a more enlight­ened or [inaudi­ble] per­spec­tive which will assume human nature. What is it that you would argue, con­cern­ing us human beings, that we appar­ent­ly do not learn the lessons, or that we can turn back into the more dark zone of human life?

Elif Şafak: Well, we do have cer­tain dual­i­ties in front of us that will become very impor­tant in the next decades. How do we deal with iden­ti­ty, iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics, dif­fer­ences? Unfortunately in today’s world, because there’s so much fear, there’s so much anx­i­ety— And I’m not belit­tling anx­i­ety, I’m an anx­ious per­son myself; how can I belit­tle oth­er peo­ples’ anx­i­eties? But anx­i­ety’s some­thing we need to talk about. And when pol­i­tics is guid­ed by anx­i­ety, or fear, that’s very dangerous.

So one of the pri­ma­ry ques­tions, or prob­lems as I see it, is this illu­sion” that same­ness will bring safe­ty. People start to think­ing that if we are sur­round­ed by sim­i­lar peo­ple, like-minded peo­ple, if we have com­mu­ni­ties based on same­ness, that will bring us safe­ty. That’s an illu­sion. That’s not the case at all. We are far too glob­al­ized. So what is hap­pen­ing in one part of the world affects some­one in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent part of the world. The unhap­pi­ness of one indi­vid­ual in Pakistan affects the life of some­one in Canada. This is the world we’re liv­ing in. So we do have to under­stand that we’re all in this togeth­er as glob­al souls, as world cit­i­zens, and we need to revive the ener­gy of human­ism and coexistence.

How can we live togeth­er with our dif­fer­ences around shared, com­mon val­ues? For me, one of the main com­mon val­ues, one of them, is def­i­nite­ly democ­ra­cy. And def­i­nite­ly wom­en’s rights. Because how can you have har­mo­ny and peace when half of the world is being pushed back into the pri­vate space? I see this every­where in the Middle East. In Turkey as well, but all around the Middle East, par­tic­u­lar­ly. More and more women are being remind­ed of their roles as moth­ers, care­tak­ers. More and more women are being pushed from the pub­lic space into the pri­vate space, into their homes. And there’s a huge imbal­ance, you know? All the mys­tics through­out the cen­turies have talked about the impor­tance of bal­ance. We have to bal­ance ener­gies. At the moment, I think the bal­ance between mas­cu­line ener­gy and fem­i­nine ener­gy is com­plete­ly bro­ken in many parts of the world. That too is a prob­lem for me.

Riemen: But isn’t also part of this that— I’m very glad that you bring up the mys­tics. They are unknown in our day’s world, and the peo­ple who speak most like­ly are intel­lec­tu­als, who are con­fus­ing peo­ple’s minds con­cern­ing same­ness and the revival of nation­al­ism. In London, you have Mr. Boris Johnson. You can make a long list of highly-educated intel­lec­tu­als who…are liars. It’s the phe­nom­e­non of the betray­al of the intel­lec­tu­als. How to deal with that? Where does the respon­si­bil­i­ty of intel­lec­tu­als come in our soci­ety, where they are not accept­ing their respon­si­bil­i­ty, worse when they are deceiv­ing people?

Şafak: I think we need to dif­fer­en­ti­ate two things. We can crit­i­cize the intel­li­gentsia, the literati, and that’s fair enough, but at the same time have a lot of respect for the intel­lect, and try to cul­ti­vate that. And this is what I see lack­ing. We don’t have enough intel­lec­tu­al plat­forms, where we see peo­ple from com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent back­grounds, dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al, eth­nic, back­grounds but also dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines, come togeth­er, lis­ten to each oth­er. We have been far too com­part­men­tal­ized. And I see that as a prob­lem because we have things to learn from each oth­er. And I think the world right now needs more inter­dis­ci­pli­nary dia­logues, you know? 

So I do have a lot of respect for the intel­lect, and for the role of the intel­lec­tu­al, which is one of the inter­est­ing dilem­mas for me because in the UK the word intel­lec­tu­al does­n’t have very pos­i­tive con­no­ta­tions, as you know. But I think it’s impor­tant to com­ment on what’s hap­pen­ing in the world. It means that we care about it. And we need crit­i­cal minds. Societies can only move for­ward through crit­i­cal minds.

However, we should also bear in mind that there’s an amaz­ing bulk of lit­er­a­ture about neu­ro­science, the brain— We have defined the intel­lect in only one par­tic­u­lar way. That also needs to change. There are dif­fer­ent kinds of intel­lect. There’s emo­tion­al intel­li­gence as well, which we need to put into the pic­ture. And you can only cul­ti­vate that through sto­ries, sto­ry­telling, empa­thy, you know, the abil­i­ty to put your­self in the shoes of anoth­er per­son. That also needs to be in these intel­lec­tu­al plat­forms. So intel­lec­tu­al does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean one par­tic­u­lar way of look­ing at things through log­ic and rea­son. It can be done in very dif­fer­ent ways. 

Intuition is also very impor­tant. I think we have a lot to learn from ancient phi­los­o­phy. We have a lot to learn from each oth­er. Our read­ing lists need to be eclec­tic. We need to read from the East and the West, from peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent than us. And only that diver­si­ty is going to hope­ful­ly give us a new boost and a new ener­gy to move forward. 

Further Reference

Nexus Conference 2016, What Will Save the World?”