IR & Politics

Individual Mind and Civilization

In a broad sense, identity is a complicated phenomenon and through ages, negation has been the principal and most preferred way of describing it. It does not matter how omnipresent or faint the protagonist, it refers to an opposite to describe itself. The civilizations, as do the individuals, need to describe and reinforce the identity they forge. Thus emerges the “other” figure in the mirror. Through this essay, my intention is to demonstrate the persisting nature of depending on the “other” or the mind.

Kenneth Burke’s states: “Man is the symbol-using (symbol-making, symbol-misusing) animal, inventor of the negative (or moralized by the negative), separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making, goaded by the spirit of hierarchy (or moved by the sense of order), and rotten with perfection”1. Although there are many inclusive descriptions, I think that civilization is, more than anything, is a complicated product of this symbol-creating animal who is characterized by the distance between it and perfection. This complicated structure finds its aesthetic meaning in art, religion and literature. Civilization as a human production is impressive with its imperfection.

Sigmund Freud introduced pioneering works in searching the roots of human behaviors through the different layers of human’s mind. In this context, he defines structural model of the psyche on three parts which are id, ego and super-ego. Id “is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle”2. “The ego, driven by the id, confined by the super- ego, repulsed by reality, struggles to master its economic task of bringing about harmony among the forces and influences working in and upon it”3. Ant the super-ego can be seen as a type of conscience moulded by moral from which the sense of guilt originates.

I intend to borrow and adapt this approach for digging into the idea of civilization. In this context, mind represents the impetus to know itself on a rather philosophical ground; ego refers to material conditions upon which the civilization rises and super-ego represents the aesthetic dimension of the civilization which brings us to the foothills of “absolute”. Although the largest part of this collective mind is super-ego, the main impulse originates from id. In spite of the inspiration in aesthetic and intellectual creation, civilization cannot stand without referring to the concept of “other” which is a sin qua non reference point for id.


What is common in the concepts of civilization is marginalization. When it comes to self- identification, this primitive tool becomes dominant. Although the civilization is characterized by an organic structure that is greater than the sum of its parts, in terms of self-identification it reacts in a mechanical way like its living particles: individuals.

Mostly, marginalization is based on a semi-deliberate ignorance towards the other whatever the conditions and the available communications tools are. The Rome is one of the most ancient civilization on which there is a broad literature. Roman civilization, heir of Ancient Greek, has a quite prosaic description of “barbarian” as a broad stereotype which can be reduced into “anything but roman”. However, we know that the idea of civilization is highly contagious and the barbarians are not such animals deprived of the sense of civilization. These were barbarians who wanted to imitate/adopt roman civilization. The same attitude of creating a distinguished identity, under different appearances, was also adopted by other territorial empires which inspired civilizations in the history. What I wish  to underline is that marginalization is inherent to the idea of civilization.

Civilizations create institutions and legal status. In Greco-Roman world it was conceptualized in citizenship and freedom; in Ottoman Empire, it is embodied in a religion- based structure as the imperial idea was restructured with the Christianity’s  implementation into Roman world. Subsequently, it was monotheistic motives which replaced the outer crust of former structures. Although the substance of the idea of civilization offers historical continuity, it should be noted that the European civilization substantially contributed in this heritage. Bloom of European civilization, starting from the Renaissance, introduced and forged the secular fundamental values which reached an unprecedented success in achieving universalism. Since the colonization period, imperial structure underwent a structural change which gave rise to maritime empires. In this context, from a strictly economic aspect, European civilization rose upon trade and industrialization which is quite central to the way European civilization identifies itself.

Enlightenment represents an unprecedented intellectual fertilization process when fundamental values flourished. However, European civilization also created its own “other” to reinforce its identity. This time it was science – both social and positive – which legitimized this identity. Disciplines adopted by Europeans to study non-European societies deserve some attention to understand their approach. Through the colonization period, the main discipline adopted by colonizing powers was social anthropology to study non-European societies within an ahistorical approach according to which the societies were treated as exotic entities. Europeans did not prefer to study these societies through economics or sociology by which they try to understand their own societies. Instead, they were approached as the frozen fossils remained under a huge ice-field which were first discovered by Europeans after thousands of years. This mindset is based on the a priori knowledge that these societies without historical background do not have any social prospect, either. The extent of this marginalization led to the Paris Colonial Exposition in 1931 where the colonized people brought from French colonies were exhibited in a “human zoo” to demonstrate the colonial power ofFrance.

In this context, a huge orientalist literature was created through hundreds of years and generations were “indoctrinated” with this ahistorical shred of realities. Thus, thought patterns, formed of countless clichés and stereotypes, were implemented in minds. If you want to approach the “other”, you have ready-to-consume bunch of ideas whose exotic character and superficial structure are quite inviting for minds since its substance offers an implicit black-white character. This prepares a fertile environment for id to kick in while self identification functions.

Globalization and Liberty as a Fundamental Value

 Globalization is radicalizing through a non-financial monetization which implements money as a central value surrounding the society. Today, it is not only markets which function according to supply-demand rules but also cultural and intellectual fields are under the heavy pressure of the same supply-demand mentality. In such an environment, fundamental values can barely defend their revolutionary substance. In our globalizing world, the notion of liberty is reduced into the liberty of buying what you want.

This underground counter-revolution created a re-enchantment by providing such an ecstasy that we have already forgotten the fact that we have been living in a consumption society. By revolutionizing the mentality, the order successfully replaced the content of fundamental values that it almost comes anachronistic to think that we have natural and imprescriptible rights. In the middle of a social crisis, the world has been gradually transforming into a place where metaphorical meanings replace the original ones. Although the enlightenment triggered a disenchantment (Weber, 1971) which opened the curtain of dogmas and introduced fundamental values. Today’s world cannot offer the habitat for these values to survive.

In the absence of these values, globalization gave birth to another phenomenon that I would like to present under the name: encounter. It is widely accepted that the globalization increased the opportunity to bring people closer due to the unprecedented development in communication technology. It is also crucial to understand the circumstances under which we encounter each others.

I have already mentioned the market-dominated mindset of global community. Globalization to an extreme extent increased the distance between rich and poor in terms of income; which is accompanied by a narrowing middle-class. Especially after the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, we witness that the system cannot produce enough prosperity and the outsiders have been marginalizing themselves by adopting violence as a tool. Meanwhile, Islamization of terrorism negatively contributes in the encounter of cultures in core countries (Wallerstein, 2004) which are the main encounter places.


 Today’s world in the middle of a war of tug between disintegration and enchantment. We have been to a fundamental extent witnessing the globalization of an imputed and unsaturated concept of civilization which leads the world into barbarity4. This world is supposed to be characterised by a dominant id and subordinated super-ego; where the “other” image is being reforged by encountering. 

Through the colonization period, the extent of the encounter was so limited. It was orientalism which transformed the mentality that an exotic “other” figure decorated the minds. They were physically far away from the European and to the same extent they were as close as a mirror. However, with the globalization, the content of the violence changed both in symbolic and in physical senses of the term. Anymore, the protagonists are physically encountering each other in a world where id(mind) commits enlightenment’s body to the ground.

Short Bibliography

Burke, Language as Symbolic Action, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1966.

Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis, New York, W.W Norton &. Company, 1990.

Said, Orientalism, New York, Random House, 1979.

Wallerstein, World-Systems Analysis, USA, Duke University Press, 2004.

Weber, The Sociology of Religion, Boston, Beacon Press, trans. E. Fischoff, 1993.


1 K. Burke, Language as Symbolic Action, Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1966, p. 16.

2 S. Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis, W.W Norton &. Company, New York, 1990, p.92.

3  Ibid, p.97.

4 Using the word, my intention is to refer to the point where the civilization vanishes. No alienation is intended.

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Berk Can Kozan

He achieved his BA Degree from the Eastern Mediterranean University in Cyprus and obtained his MA degree from University of Pécs in Hungary. His main research fields concern on nuclear deterrence, international security and foreign policy issues, international relations’ theories, and internal/external affairs of Turkey. Currently, he is a third year PhD student at the National University of Public Service in Hungary.
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