Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 15, No. 9, September 2019
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Cultural Reweaving for an Integral Ecology


From Democracy to Dictatorship, by Keith Zeff

Peak Resources and the Preservation of Knowledge, by Alice Friedemann

Tacit Knowing, Personal Knowledge, and Cultural Trends, by Giorgio Baruchello

The Earth's Carrying Capacity for Human Life Is Not Fixed, by Ted Nordhaus

Trial by Fire: Experimenting with Sustainability, by João Abegão

Responding with Love to a Civilization in Crisis, by Brooke Lavelle and Zack Walsh

Solidarity Economy Roads ~ Chapter 3 - The Road of Social Development and Solidarity with the Poor, by Luis Razeto Migliaro

Lies, Damned Lies, and Sustainable Development, by Bill Willers

Fossil Rebellion, by George Monbiot

Basic Income and a Global Commons, by Laura Bannister and Paul Harnett

Cultural Preservation and Climate Justice, by Nick Lunch

Why Are We So Anxious?, by Erik Assadourian

Have We Reached a Planetary Tipping Point?, by Geoffrey Holland, Elizabeth Hadly, and Anthony Barnosky

Think Globally, Act Locally?, by Brian Tokar

The Great Green Illusion: Business as Usual for African Capitalism, by Simone Claar

From the Royal to the Prophetic to the Apocalyptic: The Case for a Saving Remnant, by Robert Jensen

Four Economic Rights and Responsibilities ~ Tools to Make the Corporation—and Governments—Serve the Needs of Human Beings, by Carmine Gorga

Living in Two Worlds: Capitalism Pretends All Is Well While the World Is Burning, by Dahr Jamail and Barbara Cecil

Climate Change, Dinosaurs, and the State of the Environmental Movement, by Joe Liesman

Climate Emergency Declarations Guarantee Nothing ~ We Need Total System Transformation for Climate Mitigation and Adaptation, by Sandra Lindberg

Rethinking Renewable Mandates, by Gail Tverberg

Managing the Impact of Climate Change: First International Standard for Adaptation Published, by Clare Naden

A Biblical Account of Toxic Masculinity and Toxic Femininity, by Melinda Selmys

Seeking New Paths for Humanity and for an Integral Ecology, by Luis Gutiérrez

From Democracy to Dictatorship

Keith Zeff

This article was originally published in
Fifty Year Perspective, 28 July 2019

Ece Temelkuran, a Turkish journalist, writes in How to Lose a Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship, that democracy’s decline is following a similar course in several countries. Her own country’s offensive against media professionals, one of the prototypical characteristics of authoritarian governments, drove her from her country. Temelkuran’s journalistic reporting has covered populist movements in Venezuela, Argentina, Egypt and Britain, as well as Turkey, in some cases actively protesting in these movements. Her writings document populist trends in Germany, Italy, Greece, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Poland, Hungary and the United States.

Temelkuran sees the neoliberalism of the 1980s as laying the groundwork for a changing moral order. Following the lead of Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in the United States, smaller government and market-friendly regulatory practices took hold in many countries. Over following decades, rising inequality created a fertile field for populism. The seven steps of the book’s subtitle comprise the book’s seven chapters: Create a movement; Disrupt rationale/terrorize language; Remove the shame; Dismantle judicial and political mechanisms; Design your own citizen; Let them laugh at the horror; Build your own country.

Turkey’s populist movement began with the new Justice and Development Party, the AKP, in 2002. It was formed to oppose the “corrupt system,” and to restore “respect” to the “real people,” against the “despised elites,” promising to “bring back human dignity.” Those words were later heard from Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the Fidesz party in Hungary, Brexiteers in Britain and Trump supporters in the US.

By using coarse language, populist leaders prove that they are in tune with the man on the street. Thus, Beppe Grillo of the Five Star movement in Italy and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, along with Erdogan and Trump endear themselves to their followers. Logic and facts become casualties of populist movements; British Conservative Party politician Michael Gove famously supported Brexit by insisting that “people in this country have had enough of experts.” A Turkish Twitter user described trying to have a political discussion with Erdogan supporters as “making a milkshake without the lid on.”

Temelkuran asserts a “serious transformation of morality” has taken place in politics. She attributes the change in part to reality TV, wherein programs such as Survivor display suffering and immorality as entertainment. Live TV coverage of war dulled empathy. Truth is disregarded. In Road to Unfreedom, Timothy Snyder described Vladimir Putin’s attitude as “I am lying to you openly, and we both know it.” Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson share this attitude with Putin. Temelkuran warns that the “horrifying ethics that have risen to the upper echelons of politics will trickle down and multiply.”

Turkey holds the record for jailing more journalists than any other country. Turkey’s judiciary has lost its independence. State-owned institutions have been sold to Erdogan’s allies. Services for the poor are dispensed in return for votes for the AKP. Temelkuran writes, “As long as the state is profitable, the leader can rely on a political climate in which fewer and fewer people question the dismantling of the legal system.” Opponents are exposed to unrestricted violence, labeled as terrorists and jailed.

Temelkuran contends that women are first to experience pressure to conform to a movement’s version of an ideal citizen. Acceptable dress, acceptable role and behavior, and moral standards defining acceptable marital relationships and childbearing are all under the purview of the populist movement. The politicized legal system leaves opponents with no reprieve. The space created by new forms of communication are filled by leaders who “systematically manipulated the grudges and the anger of the neglected masses, turning them into a xenophobic and hostile political narrative.”

When people protested in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, they experienced joy, exhilaration and laughter. Temelkuran describes the spirit as carnivalesque. She wrote in the Washington Post, “we perfected our political humor skills to calm our anxieties by making fun of the leader, just as the Americans have been doing for the past two and a half years.” [Insert Link] Turkey’s opposition used humor to revive a sense of community when they were faced with defeat.

At some point people realize the country they had no longer exists; it has been transformed. The process starts “after severe damage has been wreaked to the fundamental concept of justice, and once the minimal morality you didn’t know you depended on has been destroyed.” Protestors are mocked and threatened and dismissed as traitors, who, in response, ask, “Is this still my country?” The same question is heard in Hungary, Poland, Germany, Britain and the United States.

Temelkuran writes that Turkey’s “mistake wasn’t that we didn’t do what we could have done, rather that we didn’t know that we should have done it earlier.” She wrote with the aim of showing readers “how to spot the recurring patterns of populism, so that maybe they can be better prepared for it than we were in Turkey.” Anger and fear without political action leaves space for the “real people” to “become more invasive, and energized with more hostility and manipulativeness.” Understanding, she says, requires action.


Keith Zeff has been a city planner and a commercial real estate researcher for many years. His education includes undergraduate degrees in architecture and a graduate degree in political science. Fifty Year Perspective is designed to address the longer-term concerns. The perspective of 50 years was chosen to respond to those in business, government, and private life who may have said: "I am doing this for my children and grandchildren." Two generations – fifty years.


"Put not your trust in princes..."

Psalm 146:3


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