Z. Soner Dinç
Felsefe Yüksek Lisans

Geography, Human and Change

Each and every one of us is born within the borders of a specific geographical region, we grow up, live and eventually, like all living beings, we die in a different place than the one we were born in. In conversations of different levels regarding the issue of geography, outbursts such as the aphorism “geography is destiny” are pessimistically present especially during some pessimistic periods of time; the divine invincibility of the concept “destiny”, on the other hand, signifies its constancy. Nevertheless, this is nothing more than a common misconception.  Why? Let’s try to explain.

We are living in an epoch, which is a product of the sharpest transformations of the history of civilizations, and under the social conditions it determines.  This new world we live in is not shaped by the geographical area-oriented constancy theories or by specific constant aspects, but by a structure that is just the opposite of those, and we are living in it.  We are not living in a social order which is petrified and became stone-like both in an individual and a social order.  This situation is an undisputed fact for the past two hundred years where at least today’s social principles have taken their final forms.  Even at the most daily level, it can be said that the modern societies are formed through relocation because of several reasons, principally because of education, work, better life conditions.  For instance, the rate of people, who are born or live in the same place as their parents, let alone being born or living in the same place as their grandparents, is very low as a common datum in many countries.  This common situation is a main indicator of the fact that social movement and change of living spaces are the most characteristic aspect of the past two centuries.  Modern history shows us that geography is not petrified, which is seen equal to “destiny”, and that people change and transform both their geography and their inner and outer worlds.  Ups and downs of the past two centuries actually say “geography is not destiny”.

Within this context, Nazım Hikmet Ran, who is one of the most effective poets of the 20th century and who, luckily for us, writes in Turkish, makes the following description to emphasize the issue of geographic largeness and its opposite sensual-intellectual largeness:

“From China to Spain, Cape of Good Hope to Alaska,
I have friends and enemies at every nautical mile, at every kilometer.
We have never greeted each other with the friends,
we can die for the same bread, same freedom and same longing.”

In this poem of his, which fully harbors strong expressions, Nazım Hikmet grays distances and geographical separations and emphasizes a common point over the commonality of the people in that they are the members of the same kind despite the differences of their geographies, and a part of similar social orders despite various minor differences.  As a species, humans always harbor a commonality that goes beyond differences.

Is geography really the most determinant fundamental characteristic for humans? There is an answer given on this matter by Hegel, a German philosopher of the 19th century.  According to Hegel, it is wrong to say that the climate, thus the geographical aspect, of the place the Greek poet Homer lived are the backgrounds of his effective sentences.  Therefore, according to Hegel, geography or climate is not the most important thing that puts people in a specific form.  The most determinant characteristic for humans is not caused by things, such as geography, which are “natural” and beyond their control.  The set of actions done by a person within the borders of their control and upon their freewill is more decisive and more important for them.  Humans were able to create civilizations as we know today thanks to their ability to push and exceed their natural limits, along with the horizon and power of their intellectual capacities.  People transforming their surroundings and being able to adapt themselves to new conditions that appear during the transformation have a more significant place for people than several “natural” characteristics, while enabling them to sustain their lives.  Humans are able to create a transforming system thanks to their intelligence, which is their most important characteristic, and do this by leaving some of their “natural” characteristics behind, particularly geography.

Right at this point, both the definition and field of study of the domain called “environmental psychology” appear.  The entire set of actions, which is carried out by humans in their efforts to put forward a new life in the new and extremely complicated relationships they establish, as a social being, with new humans and their natural surroundings by living in a different geography than their previous generations, is a completely new field for humans.  This new field takes a form that is shaped by the intellectual power of humans.  During this process, the efforts made to adapt to each new field, along with the ability to adapt, improve the intellectual capacity of the person, while pushing them to run a simulation of alternative situations that would offer a solution for new kinds of problems that they have never seen, which would eventually make them stronger.

As a consequence, it is beneficial to remember that humans have the power and potential to overcome the artificiality of geographical borders by always keeping in mind that the common ground is “human”, and without giving an opportunity to any geography fetishism or any geographical stereotypical opinions, as it is frequently done.  Because an opposite situation considers human a “thing” that is passively affected, and not an active subject, by associating humans with the birth-life geography, while linking the change with the destiny in their relationship with the constancy, and the destiny with constancy in a direct manner.  In this case, it eliminates the effectiveness of the people, and removes them from the position of being a subject.  However, humans establishing themselves as subjects within the historical process is a product of a long effort and historical heritage. Going backwards from this point does not seem to be an auspicious development for humanity.

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