Since its establishment in 2019, Daktilo1984 continues to fulfill its function of being the media of academia by delivering academic knowledge to a wide audience in more consumable forms and to draw the public debate in Turkey to a more rational ground. In line with this goal, our website, enriched with thousands of content produced by more than 500 authors, is rapidly progressing towards becoming an extensive archive of social sciences.
In the digital field, we have been sharing our 4 years of publishing experience with our website, podcast channels, YouTube channel and other social media tools with participants through different training projects. In October and November, we completed the “Media Training for Academics, Intellectuals and Experts” project consisting of four sessions, one in Ankara, two in Istanbul, and one online. Within the scope of these trainings, we shared our experiences in areas such as public intellectualism, new media, academia-media relationship, social media, podcast, newsletter and op-ed writing with 70 academics, experts and intellectuals from different disciplines and from various regions of Turkey.
As Daktilo1984, we believe that by reinforcing our goal of rationalizing and democratizing the public debate environment with these trainings, we have laid the stones for the concept of public intellectual to develop and flourish in Turkey and to exist effectively in public discussions. At this point, I think it is also necessary to seek an answer to the question of what a public intellectual is.
What is a Public Intellectual?
The concept of the public intellectual has only recently entered our language. Of course, there were intellectuals before and they shared their ideas with us on various topics. We didn’t have to invent a separate term for these people. Their colleagues or close friends would say that they were very visible or that they like the attention. But they were not identified with a distinctive adjective.
This probably had more to do with the public sphere than with intellectuals. Because, before the social media revolution the public sphere was under the influence of certain centers of power. Either publications determined by state-owned media organs, works controlled by ideological groups or content that passed through the filters of certain capital groups were presented to the public. Therefore, in fact, society was in search and far from being a subject with the right to choose. Instead, the public was dealt with people chosen by bureaucrats, editors or opinion leaders. Reaching new names required serious effort and interest. Thus, the title of intellectual did not refer to those who boldly stepped into the public sphere and spoke out, but to symbolic names discovered by important people and presented to society as a blessing.
This situation has changed over time. First, digitalization has overturned the monopolies on public broadcasting platforms. We are now in an unedited, unfiltered era, and addressing the masses is quite costless. I am describing a situation where networks, surnames, family members, friends, schools, and communities becoming unimportant and you don’t have to convince any authority to speak up.
While this state of uncontrolledness has led to a lot of unqualified content, conspiracy theories and cheap public relations campaigns, it has also paved the way for many intellectuals who in previous years could not get out into public life because they could not convince those who held the gates. Social media platforms, podcasts and YouTube channels, and web portals for opinion pieces have replaced the seemingly inaccessible ivory towers.
The second phenomenon is the global rise of populism. Leaving aside its negative characteristics of primitivizing, emotionalizing and polarizing society, the populist zeitgeist has brought about a period in which people put politics and social phenomena at the center of their lives and constantly position themselves on these issues. This has inevitably increased the interest in intellectuals speaking out in the public sphere. This increased interest has changed the jargon and style of intellectuals who have an appetite for speaking out. Many of them have discarded the prejudice that engaging with ordinary people is something to be ashamed of and have sought to articulate their analytical frameworks in understandable language.
Today’s public intellectual is the result of these processes. However, these phenomena have come with serious risks. Digital freedom has given intellectuals a platform. The editors they had to contend with have been replaced by masters of manipulation, conspiracy theorists, “boomer” men who feel entitled to bullshit by hiding behind their academic title and plan to overcome their mid-life crisis in this way, and marginalized groups who shout louder on digital platforms as their social relevance declines.
As a result, digitalization has not made it easier for the public to engage with healthy intellectual commentary. It has only saved intellectuals from a laborious editorial process. However, this has led to tougher competition. Moreover, this time their rivals were people whose credo was logical fallacy, psychological cases who mistook their moral crises for ideology, and opinion leaders with a penchant for lynching and lynching who poured marginal discourses into the public sphere.
However, many intellectuals who wanted to protect themselves in this mess discovered that they had to act strategically. A strategic reticence, a strategic superficiality, a strategic moralism, a tendency to take a strategic stance emerged. The intellectual deviated from the purpose of displaying his ideas in the public sphere, he became striving for the continuity of the persona he had created. He became afraid of expressing any idea that contradicted this persona, and at the end of the day he aimed to achieve perfect harmony with the average level of intelligence and culture of his followers. It is not easy to face lynchings, backlash, sometimes threatening, sometimes sarcastic comments, irrelevant criticism from the most unexpected places while expecting to be appreciated, and the risk of being labeled in the public sphere. This is why the public intellectual has become susceptible to being captured by the spirit of populism.
All these dangers tell us something about what happens when the public intellectual plays his or her role wrong. There may be no intellectual left, and this is a bigger issue than the intellectual’s personal problem. At the end of the day, society’s faith in the intellectual may be shaken and intellectualism may become meaningless. On the other hand, if the public intellectual plays their role correctly, it may lead to the rise of a profile of an intellectual that society looks up to in times of crisis, one that frees the public sphere from propaganda and political manipulation, thus making it more difficult for macro and micro powers to establish domination, which is a good and necessary object.
In fact, more needs to be said and written on this subject. The nature of the public sphere and the character of the intellectual deserve to be discussed more. I am aware of how difficult it is to make clear distinctions and definitions on this subject, and to form judgments that can be agreed upon, but we must do it and not give up. We have to accept that the era of gatekeepers, ivory towers, content that is assumed to be valuable unless it is not understood, and content that is constantly looking for miracles in its writers is about to end. Proper communication is more important than ever. It will take time to establish these new norms.