The politics of rubble

The ethics of “doing politics” in times of crisis.

Enes Köse

To my dear friend Alaattin, who was left breathless and voiceless under the rubble for 30 hours, whom I lost,

The apocalypse has many definitions, varying envisionings, and different names. We don’t know which is the truest, but when we woke up on the morning of February 6, “Here I am,” said the apocalypse. Chaos.

Everybody tried to grasp the reality of what was happening, reached out to their relatives, witnessed the wreckage, and mobilized wherever they were. TV channels seeking bits of information, countless reports from rubbles, and cries for help. Aching loneliness soon after.

In the wake of significant social events and disasters, political elites and the people in power try to tranquilize the public, all the while lecturing people to swallow their anger by saying, “Now is not the time for politics,” In times like these, you can observe that virtues like “conscience”, “reason”, and “morality” are put into action.

Despite the fact you lived through the disaster due to negligence, you are expected to keep your voice down. Morality, conscience, and reason do not apply to them. But if you ever raise your voice, these virtues are used against you as tools of discipline. You can’t get political while a frowning face scolds people with loved ones still under the rubble for their cries for help. Because it’s not the right time.

Before asking when it is actually “legitimate” to get political, we can try to define what is politics in the first place. Is it solely a collective decision-making process where people come together to vote at designated times to choose their representatives? Why does this “weird thing” that meddles in every aspect of life suddenly evaporate into the ether during periods of social crisis? Why does politics become illegitimate when rubble is a matter of fate?

French philosopher Jacques Rancière distinguishes politics into two kinds: Politics as domination and politics as the well-being of everyone. To him, the core of the first definition is the reduction of what is political to the order of polis.

The first kind of politics takes shape in its fear of democratic understanding and its conceptualization of people as mere masses to be governed. Rancière states that those who see politics in this light fear the public. Today, this is the kind of politics that is envisioned by those telling us not to “politicize”.

In the aftermath of crises, the defects of governing powers and social formations become ubiquitously disclosed. “The sins” come to the surface one by one. Those who want to hide them employ the sedative nature of “common sense” to cover up the cold, apathetic face of politics.

In fact, crises spurred by the politics of governing powers are jammed into narratives of supernatural narratives of natural disasters. And whenever you point out any wrongdoings, you are treated as an opportunist who is trying to benefit from the agonies of others. But politics is the mind itself that tells you all this destruction is “above politics”.

Innumerable cases of negligence in areas affected by the earthquakes, taxes paid in vain, a system of rent that has become far too complicated, and the connections of contractors with petty greeds are exactly the subjects of politics.

People who have been directly affected by the decisions of the governing powers are even deprived of the right to ask “Where is the state?” As Edouard Louis states, “For the ruling class, in general, politics is a question of aesthetics [...] For us, it was life or death.”

Politics is a matter of how you die as much as how you live. It is taking away the microphone from a child for saying that her sibling is under the rubble. It is the void into which she is thrown. Politics is what is written inside the "books to be opened later", which are referred to for suppressing the uproar of earthquake victims who are completely left alone. Politics is the hesitation in the cries of a woman waiting for her family to be rescued from under the rubble, saying “If I am arrested - I am arrested.” Politics is the anonymity of refugees without death certificates.

Politics is our collective attempt to “do something”, especially when we are tested by loneliness. In times of crisis, our sense of solidarity becomes an antidote to the shock. Politics exists in the resistance of those who have to make do on their own.

The punishing tool of non-politics, which will appear as long as we cower in fear, is one that will make us, as potential victims, bow our heads to the next disaster. Every sin that is not accounted for prevents us from burying our dead, and every question that is not asked remains as our sins, adding to the burden left by those who have passed away.

Politics stands as the only bond we, potential victims, have with those whom we have lost. This bond cannot be comprehended by those who tell us when is the right time for  politics. If survival means guilt to you, you are living with the discomfort of all that is left unsettled. This is politics.

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Jacques Rancière




The politics of rubble

The ethics of “doing politics” in times of crisis.

12 Şub 2023



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