Choosing evil

Recent moves by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration to subsidise basic foods in Turkey has reanimated debate over why a large faction within the country continues to vote for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), despite the hardships they face due to government policies. Heated discussions and squabbles in grocery queues have given way to a nationwide portrait of victimisation, and equally widespread confusion

We are faced with a situation that cannot be explained solely through the social determinism put forth by some analysts. The determinism is so expansive that it begins in the genes, and shapes people through family, school, military, nation, enemies, television, the media, and even the stars in the sky. This range of contexts is so constitutive that it leaves no autonomy for the individual. Fate is articulated through social imprint. No question is left unanswered in the dissection of societal events. 

Of course, it is impossible to deny that that human existence is shaped by external factors. The question is, what is the agentive space left for people, how broad is this space, and in what ways does it determine people’s actions?

For some time, Turkish opposition voices have been sharing flabbergasted posts on social media about “the national epidemic of malice”. Indeed, there truly exists a sizeable population that lives with and feeds off malice. Politically it may translate as extra-legality. This chunk of society is comfortable with malice, belittles the “other”, and categorically refuses to recognise its rights. But critically these people act by choice, not by compulsion.

Looking past their decision to vote continually for the AKP, or their support for the food subsidies, or their crazy celebration of the regime’s every deed, this chunk comprises simultaneously the ones who suffer from the malice, impose the malice, and turn a blind eye to the malice. The country is swept with the murders of women, children, workers, and animals, with hunger, poverty, and every type of evil. How can class determinism sufficiently explain this voluntary servitude? 

It is better to look for an answer to this rot beyond social class, victimhood, poverty, the lack of guidance and role models.

Turkey no longer has a social contract, and in fact lost it some time ago. The social contract that was forced upon the population when the Turkish Republic created in 1923 went bankrupt without any replacement. We are in a liminal period. This liminal period is characterised by regime-supported extrajudiciality, rot, malice, and heartlessness. There is a large chunk of the population willing to accept this, that is aware of everything and has made a lifestyle of it. They are ready with justifications: the mistakes of past single party governments, supposedly destroyed mosques, godlessness, imperialism, Jewry, the United States, the European Union, infidels, terrorism…

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hands out gifts to supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) during a rally in Istanbul, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hands out gifts to supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) during a rally in Istanbul, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

The educated anti-government opposition has just as close a relationship with extra-legality and malice as the uneducated masses. The people who celebrated the invasion of Kurdish-inhabited Afrin in northern Syria, who prayed for martyrs, who now cavort around for the safety of the homeland are not uneducated. The educated are ready, if it aligns with their interests, to act with malice, to go beyond the law, and trample on the rights of the other. There are millions of examples of this. Consequently, the issue at hand is not a lack of education.

Some will argue it is a matter of mis-education. I find this explanation lazy, even patronising. Let us consider the delicate topic of the Armenian Genocide. Let us excuse the uneducated. But the educated have at their disposal tens of thousands of books, articles, and documents in every language. They cannot use lack of access to information as justification. Although the world has reached a large consensus on the Armenian Genocide, somehow people within this country still do not question the history they were taught. The malformation must lie in the depths of another realm… And perhaps what lies in those depths is the determinant of the evil poisoning these lands.

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Those who rely on deterministic explanations harbour a fanatical optimism. They assume that once external factors are ameliorated, when mis-education is replaced with the right education, evil will give way to goodness.

Similarly, just as they assume that masses have been duped, political concepts only work in one direction. For example, the concept of authoritarianism largely points to the leader; it denotes an asymmetric ruler-ruled divide. Malicious leaders exploit the otherwise good people they rule. The political extension of such an assumption is that once the malicious authoritarian leader leaves, everything will be sunshine and roses. There are nearly no historical examples of this assumption panning out. The example of today’s Poland struggling with non-democratic ghosts after failing to reckon with its share in the Holocaust demonstrates what might have happened in the “best model Germany” had the victors of World War Two not imposed the de-nazification. 

As noted by Wilhelm Reich, the astute observer of the totalitarianism sweeping across Europe in the first half of the 20th century, neither the class-based economic explications of Marxism, nor the cult of personality embodied in Hitler and Stalin, nor the claim that wide-eyed masses were deceived by nefarious politicians, nor the chicanery of people’s cluelessness suffices to explain fascism. According to Reich, people actively desire fascism. At a certain historical phase, once conditions permit it, the masses find a way to live the fascism that they desire. 

Let us conclude with the poem of Nâzım Hikmet “The Strangest Creature on Earth”

You're like a scorpion, my brother, you live in cowardly darkness like a scorpion.

You're like a sparrow, my brother, always in a sparrow's flutter.

You're like a clam, my brother, closed like a clam, content,

And you're frightening, my brother, like the mouth of an extinct volcano.

Not one, not five- unfortunately, you number millions.

You're like a sheep, my brother: when the cloaked drover raises his stick, you quickly join the flock and run, almost proudly, to the slaughterhouse.

I mean you're the strangest creature on earth, even stranger than the fish that couldn't see the ocean for the water.

And the oppression in this world is thanks to you.

And if we're hungry, tired, covered with blood,

and still being crushed like grapes for our wine,

the fault is yours - I can hardly bring myself to say it,

but most of the fault, my dear brother, is yours.

 

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.