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by Sinan Ozbay

Sophistry that the State repackages, renames, and shoves down our throats as “argument grounded in rationality” is, nevertheless, sophistry. So-called intellectuals, experts, and technocrats function as a hidden edifice of the State and masquerade behind the Socratic tradition of inquiry to establish the hierarchy of our truth. Yet, all the more tragic are the skill and identity of their greatest accomplice–us. Our willingness to cast aside the basic facts of the persuasion and logic in our deference to the great men of Society forfeits our very nature as people. Ironically, a brief intellectualization of intellectualization exposes it for the sham it really is. The inherent subjectivity of persuasion, the requirement that negotiations be representative, and the power dynamics between conflicted parties together entail a grim reality for intellectualization.

The idea that we can rationally put aside our subjective notions of the world to come to some resolution or truth is romanticism at best, and a dangerous legitimization of equivocation at worst.

First, I’ll speak of language and subjectivity. We know that language allows us to communicate our ideas from one person to another, but more fundamentally, language structures our individual experience. Language is a particular mode of constructing meaning out of facets of our own experiences. This implies firstly that the ‘particular’ issue on which two parties disagree isn’t particular at all. Each party sees her own issue from her own experience, informed by her own language or understanding. The incompleteness of language as an expressive mechanism entails a necessary semantic ambiguity between two subjects. Rationality is a useful tool because its rules of inference are constant and objective, but it is only useful if the assumptions on which the two parties rest their understanding are the same. But language and cultural discrepancies prevent two parties from coming to true consensus. Worse than the inadvertent misunderstandings that stem from these differences in language and experience is the nature of discourse. How do we structure arguments and intentional discourse? We always aim to be compelling. By definition, discourse and communication cannot lack the aim of persuading the intended recipient of the discourse. Is the State always consistent in who it accuses of being “terrorists” and those it lauds as “freedom fighters?” Surely not. Truth thus evades the recipient of such discourse.

Furthermore, the very actors in such conflicts contribute to their intractability. The dominance of the state, from its material advantage to operate anywhere within its jurisdiction, to its legitimacy, makes the propaganda machine strong, the truth ungraspable, and resolution precarious. But the State is not limited to choosing its words wisely, to merely crafting the narrative that pleases it. It has other tools that make conflict entirely contingent on its will. For two groups to come together and to solve a conflict, they must communicate through the State, at least in part. Can the Kurdish and Turkish peoples negotiate directly with one another? Of course not. The necessary representational aspect of conflict resolution and the dependence of media on the state for reliable facts means that a government apparatus dedicated to propaganda makes the determination of how the negotiations go, and not the affected parties.

Finally, the fact that the government must be involved in any conflict in proximity to its jurisdiction means that its coercive nature manifests itself in the facets of its persuasion. There is a physicality to persuasion. Men often use it against women and other men during arguments to come out victorious. Not the use of violence, but the imbuing of one’s discourse with the same violent will that accompanies an act of physically harming another. This is a sad fact of persuasion, that it depends in part on the ability to depart from meaning and indulge threat. The state, that entity we must grant a monopoly of force in its jurisdiction, can imbue its discourse with a physicality and a will that no individual could match. Its strength molds its discursive efficacy and hones it. On such an unequal basis, and in circumstances so certainly under the control of an outside party (the State), it seems that intellectualization suffers from a structural inability to achieve an end goal of understanding.

Commentary by Bernice Arricale

Intellectualization, as Sinan demonstrates here can offer little defense against governments and groups bent on domination. Do you think it’s possible, or even desirable, to have a purely “intellectual”discussion with someone on an area of disagreement? In our messy, subjective, inarticulate way can humans ever reach beyond obfuscation and violence and build bridges across divides?