In the face of history

One day I found myself in Gaziantep, a city that got wrapped in many layers of history. Hittites, Romas, Selçuks, Ottomans, French and Turks imprinted their marks on this place in the sout-east of Turkey. And while visiting some ruines and historical buildings I felt confronted by the immense wave of history and I realised how many kingdoms, empires and states have come and gone. Languages were lost forever, cultures faded away and great pieces of art were meaninglessly left behind. Sometimes they were swallowed by invasions, migration or conversion but sometimes they simply disappeared in the regular change of ideas, habits and relations.

And I wondered: does it it actually matter why exactly cultures and habits often faded away in history? Whether it was the economy of buying and selling, wether it was the politics of war and peace, or whether it was nature with its resources and calamities… in the face of history it seems of little importance what exactly eroded or erased the remnants of societies and cultures.

The one who looks at the past with a broader view therefore sees how the change of history can neither be grasped nor escaped. Our lives are tiny atoms in the waves of history and the time in which we live is less than a second in the year of existence.

We can perhaps sometimes be disgruntled over the dissapearence of art pieces, over the fading of certain habits or the changes in our surrounding. But should we in fact weep for the death of a culture or the dissapearence of a society? Not more or less than for the death of a man. One day all will be forgotten. Kingdoms, tempels, cities and states… everything either dissapeared or will one day dissapear.

Is it meaningless then, all the things we build? Is their no value in all our efforts?Are we left with only a sigh of fatalism?

Most certainly not. For we can transcend the meaninglessness of our historic existence by continuously seeking for beauty.

The endless change of history merely implies that our efforts are temporary. It does not mean they are meaningless. Even if a beautiful masterpiece gets burned, its beauty remained of value. Even if a language dissappears, it still offered many people the opportunity to express love and gratitude.

It is the task of history to blow beauty away, yet it remains our task to create it. Both as individuals and as a society.

Perhaps to many this might sound like a rather evident spiritual insight. Such it is. But for once I do not whish to point out a spiritual principle that would be applicable in the individual life of a seeking person. But I’m interested in the importance of these considerations for society as a whole. Even though I do not explicitely mention it, what I said above is in fact a denunciation of many forms of contemporary political ideology.

All over the world these days, one can find a growing mindset that focusses on ‘culture’ and ‘identity’. Various politicians build their succes and voter base on the idea that they will defend the culture and identity of their group or country – which results in all sorts of nationalism and seperatism.

But they have lost the battle even before they started to fight since their ideology does not last one second in the face of history. There simply isn’t any culture that has to be preserved no matter what. Their simply isn’t any identity that should survive forever. Even if all of us truly wanted an everlasting culture and a changeless identity, we still woudn’t be able to let such things exist. Nonetheless they continue their struggle. Nonetheless they convince themselves they have to stubbornly attach themselves to ‘culture’ and ‘idenitity’.

I can of course understand that the culturally suppressed fight for justice. I can but support that the culturally ignored strife for equality. And I will always approve that the culturally discriminated aspire for peace. For all of that is a part of the search for divine beauty. But for a person who seeks deeper spirituality, it is startling to see how politics implode on feelings of ‘selfness’ and ‘otherness’ and to see how ideology narrows down to ‘affirming differences’.

‘Culture’ and ‘identity’ are as transient as a human life. Culture and identity are therefore not the cause but the consequence of an honest search for beauty, equality, justice and peace. So when contemporary politics are blinded by culture and identity and consider them as starting points for the societal debate, everything is turned upside down. It does not have to wonder then, that this only leads to further dichotomy, conflict and suffering.

Politicians would thus do well to look history a bit more in the face and to realise how small they are. Too often they furiously try to convince instead of gently trying to understand.