Calling out on everyone who is trying to understand Turkey through sociology, dialectics, the principle of natural rights, liberal legalism, or conservative politics: You are on the wrong track...
Turkey is an actual country. The people of Turkey are real-life people. The political disputes and fights that take this country by the storm are so tangible that sometimes, sadly, they even end up in murder.
But even amid this fight, I, the traitor whose academic career was castrated through a statutory decree [KHK] because I signed [a declaration demanding peace], must confess to sometimes seeing giant bunnies running towards me on the streets.
And yet at other times for example, I catch a cheshire cat staring at me on a tree outside my window with that grin of his. I cannot remember how many times I caught [my dogs] Toprak and Kocabaş arguing over Herakletios and Parmenides; over whether everything is changing or nothing is changing. I’m not even mentioning Humpty Dumpty who sits next to me every night on the metro train.
No, I’m not on antidepressants or drugs, nor am I an alcoholic. I just started seeing the social reality surrounding me exactly the way it is -- that’s all. And for this reason, I’m calling upon those who are trying to make sense of Turkey through sociology, dialectics, the principle of natural rights, liberal legalism, or theories of conservative politics: You’re on the wrong track!
The reality out there is not one of a Baconian, Descartian, Comtian kind. We are rather part of a social reality that is Erasmusian, Rabelaisian, Borgesian. The Speech Act Theories of Austin and Searle do not apply here. The only ones capable of understanding us are, well, us. And to do that, one has to go through the looking glass. In this piece of writing, I will be recounting how things look from behind the looking glass. And I am definitely not lying!
According to experts, infants that do not stop breastfeeding at the right time develop a perception of reality later in life that is different from others; one that is unique; that is usually disconnected with the truth. I am not trying to argue that each of us should be subjected to psychoanalysis sessions just like Freud tried to psychoanalyse the entire Jewish community in his Moses and Monotheism (Musa ve Tektanrıcılık).
However, what emerges out of the combination of the trauma of having lost an empire and the lack of abstract thought in what is chiefly an oral culture is something that resembles the implausibility of grown-up babies still crawling towards their mothers’ breasts.
The lack of abstract thought in a chiefly oral culture is of particular importance considering the fact that the verbal part of the brain is not involved in definitions.
Concepts such as the state, the law, human rights, etc., being abstract notions, do not signify a meaning for members of societies based chiefly on an oral culture. Therefore, they remain undefined. A circle is a plate; a rectangle is a door; democracy is “the will of the nation,” “the law applies differently for patriots and for ‘traitors’”; the Koreans are Chinese; Dutch are oranges; dialogue means monologue; free expression is merely being able to say “Exactly!” This is not a matter of intellect, but one of mentality. Therefore, the concept of “stealing from state” does not stand for a definition, because according to this mentality, “the state” boasts an intangible, endless reserve of funds that is strictly apart from the tangible amounts owned by the members of a society. Accordingly, as an incorporeal entity, “the state’s capital is as endless as the sea” and he who does not take advantage of it is considered a nitwit, as a well-known Turkish saying goes. Therefore, our “local and national” moral code is built on the extremely unethical -- and again a very well-known -- tagline: “They serve as much as they steal.”
The body of words an oral culture possesses is not one that is capable of bearing the weight of social values of historical significance. Instead, words and definitions in an oral culture are often derived from the present time. Therefore, words such as “the state” or “law” turn into concepts that signify whatever those in power mean when they speak of these concepts. It is only then that democracy can function through statutory decrees; the Ottoman Empire is but a soap opera; furthermore, even a person named “İbiş” [a disparaging word in Turkish meaning “dimwitted,” derived from a sly, quick-witted servant character in traditional Turkish theatre] can become a university president -- for as in the well-known Nasreddin Hodja tale, once you’ve believed that a cauldron can give birth, then you must also believe it when it dies.
It was exactly for this reason that the undefinable, abstract “Justice March” by the hapless chairman of the country’s main opposition political party did not serve any good other than the man tormenting his own body.
Because in the face of the extreme tangibleness of airports, bridges, highways, hospitals, subsea tunnels and fast trains, the universal values of humanity are doomed to lose for they are abstract concepts.
But since torture and oppression by the state have “democratically” become available for everyone in Turkey, we need to stop and think about what rule of law is.
From the self-described gourmet contestants of Yemekteyiz, a TV cooking contest, who believe their awful sense of taste is highly sophisticated, to the president of the country who tells his counterpart, a professor of international law, that he himself “may not be a professor of law but knows a huge deal about political law,” and from the academic who believes he is preparing a doctoral thesis by merely citing dubious information page after page without forming even one decent sentence of his own, to inconvertible local heroes in every field, we as a nation are dazzled by our mediocrity. But in the meantime, each of us firmly believes that this is by no means mediocrity. And we sincerely believe that. None of us is lying.
For instance, a major towering figure of Turkey claims during one of his televised speeches: “Racism does not exist on this territory; it has never existed in the history of this society.” And people watching this speech on TV repeat after him in approval. Neither the towering figure of Turkey, nor the common man is lying. Furthermore, they even believe in this in all sincerity.
But when the towering figure of Turkey gets angry after a while, he swears, “Armenian seeds,” or, while recounting the severity of smear campaigns against him, he politely utters a phrase such as “pardon my language, Rum [Greek]” and sincerely believes at the same time that he is by no means a racist. Just like an ordinary citizen who sincerely believes he is not racist at all while applauding the rubbish slogan “we will be one, we will be big, we will be strong” but the next day breaks his deal with a potential tenant who wanted to hire his apartment after finding out that the tenant-to-be was from Dersim. Oh, the childish creativity of thinking through concrete concepts... So long as we believe we are not racists, we are simply not racists.
None of us is lying and certainly, ninety percent of us are not idiots.
Just as we are not racists, we, the people of Turkey, are by no means lowlifes, liars, without a moral compass, or so stupid as to not be able to understand the consequences of our actions and words.
It’s just that our relationship with reality is problematic.
Otherwise, who would believe a country ruled through statutory decrees is a democratic state? Or, that a doctoral thesis that gained notoriety when it became viral on social media is truly a doctoral thesis? But we do
We are so inclined to believe, that when someone calls a group that constitutes the vast majority of the country’s intellectual wealth “a bunch of pseudo-intellectuals,” we believe him. When someone says he will “not cancel this class but will soon introduce a professor capable of teaching that class the way it ought to be,” we believe him.
Had we tried to think, instead of believing, we could figure out that a doctor, an associate professor, a professor or an intellectual is not something one can simply “create” through statutory decrees. However, bliss comes through accepting this and many other pieces of garbage as true.
Even though we are aware that the present-day Istanbul is a disfigured former beauty pageant who retired a long time ago when compared to the Istanbul in Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar’s novel Huzur (A Mind at Peace), we still keep strolling through the streets of Istanbul with Tanpınar’s book in our hands, believing we can still find some peace in it.
Even though apartment blocks built by the Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKİ) have long rendered the city of Bursa devoid of its identity described in Tanpınar’s Beş Şehir (Five Cities), we still believe that if we keep shouting “Green Bursa, Ottoman Bursa,” that too will somehow be true.
In present-day Bursa which is still an Ottoman city only because we believe it is, there’s not even one store where one can enjoy a decent glass of the traditional janissary drink boza, or a boza maker capable of making good boza, for that matter. So be it. We can still drink that liquid offered in plastic bottles that is the shadow of the shadow of boza believing it is genuine boza, and be thankful for that. Boza in a plastic bottle as a metaphor for the surreal reality of the local and national Turkey!
The relationship our language has with reality is very different from the one between natural languages and reality. The link between the signifier and the signified is so weak, the gap between the two so big, that no one is actually lying, but this is not enough to make everything that is told true either. This is how speakers of this language believe that something that is not true to be true, or that something that is obviously a lie is not a lie. There is no need for consistency between the signifier and the signified. Now, I would not want to call the people of Turkey “eggs” just because they speak in a manner akin to Humpty Dumpty. But there are Humpty Dumptys everywhere these days -- from politics to media and from literature to academia.
Furthermore, each Humpty Dumpty risks eventually falling down from the edge of the cliff of inconsistency between their words and their actions. Since every single person takes his/her own tangible reality as the baseline in a place where no criteria is available, those who embark on cursing and lynching the other, no matter what the subject, find themselves the victims of similar smear campaigns a while later. The only thing that does not change in Turkey is that each of the sides in any discussion is always sure that they are without a doubt correct, or at least not wrong -- for each firmly believes that they are telling the truth; that their intentions are good; that they are honest and straightforward; and, that this is what “dialogue” is about. But we are each like a “monad” that has no relation to one another.
The only ones who threaten this childish but secure link we establish with the reality are LGBTI organizations, which indeed follow the rules of reciprocity between words and what they signify. They go out and chant, “We are all faggots!” Thankfully, our administrative units with a high sense of responsibility ban this kind of language that threatens the social consensus so that we don’t encounter this kind of immorality on our city’s squares. And when we don’t hear it or see it, we believe that we can forever protect the heterosexuality of the noble Turkish nation from getting infected with the homosexuality virus -- just like our unbroken faith in our strong and solid economy which is impossible not to take pride in, although we can barely make it to the end of each month with our hilariously low salaries.
Sadly, sociology is ineffective in interpreting our way of connecting with reality. And neither literature -- heavily festooned with tea, simit, the ice cubes in rakı, sorrow, bohemianism and fantasies of harassment, with honesty as its only strong suit -- nor its promising, pretty writers will be of help.
For quite some time now, the road to understanding this particular society has been going not through reading Tanpınar, but watching the TV cooking show Yemekteyiz -- which, by the way, could be the single truthful reality TV show out there.
We need genuine, honest writers and a literature that is ready to understand our reality that has no allure but is cyclical, resembling the curse of Sisyphus; a literature that is ready to turn us inside out and show us that what we believe to be true is a lie; that what we believe to be real is an illusion; that what we believe in, is false. For each of us is a Don Quixote fighting against the entire world surrounding us in our very own surreal realities. And sadly, we have been unable up until now to come across a Sancho Panza who can mediate between our surreal reality and the true reality.
Perhaps, if we screamed out loud that our literature is strong, loud enough so that the entire world and the traitors amongst us would hear it, we could overcome this problem too -- so long as we believe it.