When reason does not work
For decades, I have been a believer in human reason. By that, I don’t mean that I have been a hardcore French rationalist who thinks that we can find all truths through reason. But still I thought that through reason we can begin to understand the world we are living in, analyze our issues, and discuss our problems. I particularly hoped that you can “reason with” people, by putting forward your arguments and listening to theirs.
In the past couple of years, however, my optimism about human nature has gone down on various aspects, including on the strength of reason. I have come to realize that for a lot of people, reason does not mean anything. Or, more precisely, what they put out as “reason” is not something I am familiar with.
How did I come to understand this? Well, through experience. (So I take off my hat to empiricism, which is apparently right to suggest that wisdom comes from experience, not rational speculation.)
The experience I am talking about took place mostly on social media, which is the only free platform left in the Turkish mediasphere - at least at times when it is not shut down by our gracious, loving, caring government. In hundreds of cases, I have written articles or short notes explaining why I disagree with a certain political or cultural trend in the country. In return, I naively expected that people who disagree with me would offer their arguments, defend their views, or at least show where I was wrong.
However, in reality, the overwhelming majority of the responses have been different in nature, with crude ad hominem lines such as the following:
- “F*ck you, son of a b*tch!”
- “You traitor! They should jail you as well!”
- “You will not be able to fool this nation anymore with your lies.”
- “You CIA mouthpiece; you crypto-FETOist, you terror-lover, you public enemy.”
Such impassioned feedback, running into the thousands over the years, have long been frustrating. I tried to reason with the people who voiced such reactions, but of course without any progress. To someone who insulted or threatened me because of my ideas, I wrote answers like: “Your reactions prove my point that there is an intolerant, aggressive political mood in our nation.” I thought my correspondent would say, “fair enough, he’s actually right on that,” but most typically he or she only doubled down on the hostile tone.
That is how my frustration gradually turned into maturation. I realized that you simply cannot reason with some people. I noticed that what drives them are their emotions. When I something I’ve said offended their emotions, they respond with other emotions such as fury, rage and lust for vengeance.
This realization saved me a lot of time and effort, because I gave up trying to convince people who cannot be convinced. That is the upside. The downside is that it made me more pessimistic about human nature, as well as the very society in which I live. It shook my sense of belonging and my sense of being able to contribute.
Eventually, I found a solution: Taking myself from the troubled waters of rationalism to the safe shore of empiricism. In other words, I decided to leave all the zealots around me to live their much-desired experience and to face the consequences themselves. In fact, if I had been “national and native” enough (as my angry enemies chided me for not being), I could have taken this lesson at the very beginning. I only had to keep in mind that famous Turkish proverb: “One disaster is better than a thousand warnings.”