You can’t read I Will Never See The World Again without being affected by it. I challenge you to read what Ahmet Altan has written especially if you worry that you have become desensitised by the descending spirals of ever worsening news. Perhaps you are inured, worrying that you have a heart of stone. He writes with such elegance and equanimity that I am certain your heart will flutter several times.
Even those of us who are empathy-challenged will be troubled by many aspects of this book.
‘My great-grandfather was sentenced to death for helping rebels to defect to Anatolia during the War of Liberation. He escaped being hanged at the last minute.
My father was put on trial hundreds of times for his writing; he was in prison for years.
My brother is sentenced to life in prison …
… I find bravery disgraceful in a writer.’
The rest of us will enjoy the subtle but keen observation of people. ‘Who is more naïve – old ladies from the long-gone mansion or the Anti-Terrorism Branch?’ The existence of this question tells you the answer is the cops.
Turkey is becoming a hell on earth. With pride, it seems, they march to an ever louder despotic drum. ‘Turkish’ is becoming a by-word for mendacity and intolerance. The families of increasingly dehumanised Armenians and Kurds know this to their cost.
I met a taxi driver in Salt Lake City whose accent caused me to ask how long he’d lived in Utah. I’m ashamed to recall fifteen years later that when he asked me to guess his homeland, giving me a clue that his nation’s genocide had been between the Jews and the American Indians, I couldn’t remember the name of Armenia. I would have said I’d never forget a genocide so I’m blaming jet lag. He turned and said to me and my colleague ‘No one remembers Armenia’. I have worked with enough people whose name ended -ian that I should have remembered.
I have written several times in these journals of a journalist, Nurcan Baysal, in Diyarbakir. She once told me of the wanton destruction, likening it to televisual imagery of Syria. ‘Can you imagine …’ she says when talking of the bad behaviour of both sides, Kurds and Turks. Can you imagine that a tweet would see her accused of ‘inciting hatred and enmity among the public’?
‘Send a card to the ones in prison, show solidarity with their families left behind,
Sur, Cizre, Şırnak… be with the ones whose houses are destroyed’
You can read more of Nurcan Baysal and others on the PEN International website.
You could understand why someone, anyone, might voice dissenting opinions to the subversion of a secular society, the denial of equality via the supression of language and culture. Democratic regime change can happen via the ballot box but in Turkey, an aspirant on the borders of the EU, a part of NATO, democracy is fantasy.
This fantasy is not the only fantasy. Fantasists at the top of the government can jail you for life without parole for a crime they imagine specially for you. This is not the thought crime of other countries where you may have done the thinking. This is their thinking up a crime for you, an authoritarian version of the American and Chinese pre-crime detection algorithms that have jailed many beyond the appeals for justice.
In America, pre-crime statistics are being used to predict if a convict is likely to re-offend. Parole management bureaucrats pay companies to provide the service of probabilistic assessments because it absolves them from both the decisions and their consequences. The measure of such algorithms is the probability of recidivism. Every inmate will want to score low on an index of recidivism probability. By this I mean that in effect, to gain parole, the statistics have to indicate that an inmate eligible for parole is unlikely to re-offend. Which means every criminal remains guilty until proven innocent of crimes that have never happened.
In China, Beijing mandarins see the detection of pre-crime is seen as a big opportunity in the maintenance of public order. There are those that claim that all they need is a photograph. People’s faces in China have been found to display criminal traits that are detectable by computer algorithms. Criminals and those not yet convicted of crimes can be monitored by the state. Only a criminal might argue against the state looking out for everyone’s best interests.
What matters is not the details in the foregoing. What matters is the trend to increasing authoritarianism, the rise of ignobility. That matters because authoritarian regimes pick fights because that’s what bullies do. Once they have taken power there is a tendency to secure it by diversion and division. The ideal enemies are those outside the national borders because this minimises internal civil strife and helps unify a nation’s hate. These squabbles become skirmishes, headline fodder for the media. The media in turn, controlled or free, helps normalise the brutalities of the partisan violence and before you know it, defence spending rises dramatically. Defence spending is among the most profitable consumer industries on the planet because the products need continual replenishment. Every product is expended or deprecated. It either explodes, gets exploded or becomes obsolete.
Here in Ireland, the state made a semantic error in creating an app for public health issues around Covid-19. They commissioned an app that monitors peoples’ exposures and they called it a tracker. Tracking is their interest, contact tracing is their goal. Unless risky herd immunity is our goal, we carry the app for our primary interest, contact avoidance. The adoption rate for the tracker is not as good, in my opinion, as it might have been had they called it an exposure meter. A second oversight is the absence of R-factor data.
Just for clarity, Rt is commonly called the R factor. Rt for Covid-19 represents the effective reproduction rate of the virus calculated in a region. Think of this as the average number of people who become infected from an infectious person. If Rt is above 1.0, the virus will spread quickly. When Rt is below 1.0, the virus will stop spreading.
The R-factor is the one thing that alerts us to the need to monitor or modify our behaviour. An opening page on the app with the trend of the R-factor would inform everyone if the virus is being suppressed or not. I would like to know when a three day running average for R was increasing. That would tell me that the virus was not being effectively suppressed. I think an exposure meter should have used this as the core information.
I think people would pay more attention to a personal exposure meter than a government app seeking to trace contacts. I suggest that rebranding Covid Tracker as a personal exposure meter would raise the participation quite significantly.
I don’t think it’s too late to change.