Sins absolved by money

Billions of liras whirling around our TV screens can’t erase the misery.

Enes Köse

When social crises erupt, people start to evaluate the dynamics that caused the crisis as much as its outcomes. These are the times when collective memory is at its strongest. Because there has been a breach in the blinding ordinariness of daily life, and the ordinary flow of events has been replaced by exposure of a series of errors and sins. These are also times of relentless attempts to confront the receipts of the crisis with a fait accompli.

We witnessed a charity broadcast on national TV channels. In this program, celebrities and people from various communities came to the fore with their faces, voices and mostly their names, and the state made an exhibition of its institutions as if to say "we are helping the most". This happened on television in a country where, just a week ago, people had to rent their own cranes to pull their relatives out from under the rubble. 

Philanthropy has always been quickly deployed to hide the cracks in the system as it has functioned as a strategy to manage social change. It is used by elites or those in power to conceal the power dynamics and integrate the powerless into the very order that exploits them. It is utilized quite effectively in times of crisis.

This strategy has its roots in the twentieth century. As Edward Berman points out, philanthropy, which makes an appearance during critical periods, acts on the understanding that social reconciliation can only be achieved by somehow abating the extremes of poverty and wealth. In times of crisis, this strategy is put forth through a crude discourse of togetherness. In other words, we are talking about a false reconciliation that is achieved by artificially trying to close the gap between the misery in the earthquake zone and the millions of liras on TV. Moreover, this reconciliation effort, which is usually a one-off, does not offer permanent solutions to the loneliness in the midst of all the misery.

During this showcase of charity, where the money that was taken from us was being donated by others, another exchange was also taking place: the exchange of symbolic capital. Institutions, companies, and infamous individuals were announcing unimaginable sums for symbolic gains such as reputation, recognition, and absolution. We were witnessing an intense effort to hide past sins by creating a noisy distraction.

French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu defines symbolic power as a legitimizing power that ensures consent from both the dominator and the dominated. In other words, with this symbolic capital, legitimacy is guaranteed as the order of the rulers continues on, unharmed. In fact, the dominant group gives a kind of advance payment to the subordinate group, and in return, it gains a "collective belief" and "capital of trust".

The loss of trust following the failure to manage the crisis after the earthquake was attempted to be remedied through the aid program - with our money. Contractors, politicians, and state institutions appeared before us to pay "fees" that meant very little to them to be able to atone for their sins. The people, who had nothing left but solidarity, would be willing to retreat in the face of this advance, they thought. But we know from Eduardo Galeano that "Charity, vertical, humiliates. Solidarity, horizontal, helps.”

In the scenario written by those who failed to manage the disaster and tried to manage the consequences, we were invited to erase the traces of misery as mournful consumers. A décor supposedly uniting contractors whose tax debts were repeatedly written off, and the thousands of people trapped under the rubble on some common ground, artificially fusing these two realities together as sharing “one heart”. But no, we haven't even buried our dead yet.

In such a period when human rights are packaged as "charity", we need to prevent “everything that is solid” from being melted in all the showiness, and we need to remember the misery behind the décor. We are not partners in the guilt of those who make vows for legitimacy at the sacrificial altar of the age of appearances.

The money is not enough to cover our funerals. And again, we know that "the dead who are not buried properly, come back.”

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Edward Berman

Pierre Bourdieu




Sins absolved by money

Billions of liras whirling around our TV screens can’t erase the misery.

22 Şub 2023

The. 6th floor collective



Weekly politics publication focusing on Turkey, city agendas, and international policy.