Seeing them was proof enough; they did not say, “So-and-so from so-and-so.”
Look at it this way. Life can often seem to be an endless series of cups of tea in this neck of the woods. I’m not alone in that. A good portion of humanity is strung out on caffeine, if not on something stronger. And I reckon that it’s more than an acre or two that’s put aside to grow it. Now what motivates all those Indian and African hill peoples to satisfy our whims for pick-me-ups when most of them can’t get enough beans and vegetables to eat? Seems mighty peculiar, all of them third world folks getting thin and bony growing cotton, tobacco, sugar, tea and coffee let alone all those crops destined for the brewery. They should be planting food for themselves. The traditional African never ate this year’s crop – it was stored. He was eating the crop from three years ago so that when endemic drought and famine struck he had his reserves to fall back on. Now? Africa only has reserves of sugar and much as everybody likes the stuff I am sure that a diet of it might pall after a time. Maybe it’s that generic term – cash crops – that explains it. As I understand it, they’re growing those crops to raise the money to pay the interest on the loan taken to build the roads to get the cash crops to the markets of the people who made the loans. Of course even the guys who got the contract for the roads were West Germans so the money didn’t stay in Oogoobooga long. True, they employed local labour but they were men who’d lost farm to famine, moved to the city, lost a family they couldn’t support and took to working for beer and a bed, and in order to pay the taxes needed to service the interest on the loan etc., etc. Circular kind of situation?
Far away a filofaxed yuppie sits, eyes-fixed on a monitor displaying the rapid variations of commodity prices. The phone constantly in his hand he buys and sells crops he will never see, sometimes before they ripen, sometimes before they are planted. Nor does money have to change hands, at least not right away. But when it does it has been well worth it, for him at least.
Sir Isaac Newton, in 1717, set the price of gold at £4 4s 111/2d per troy ounce and it remained at that level until the First World War, and even briefly returned to that price in 1925, finally going off the Gold Standard in 19312. The price is now over $400 per ounce. If a ship’s captain had such a change of reading on his barometer, or a Sellafield worker registered it on his Geiger counter they would be seriously alarmed. Either gold has suddenly and inexplicably become very valuable or the money worthless. Before you decide that scarcity of the precious stuff has forced up its value, know that the entire history of humanity never saw amounts to equal the quantities of gold which were mined and panned in the U.S.A., South Africa, Australia and Russia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Perhaps then our experience of constantly rising prices can only be explained by understanding that the value of money is plummeting. Something is wrong!
At the Citizens’ Advice Bureau Joe has a problem. A self-employed house-painter and interior decorator Joe had contracted to buy a house through his Friendly Building Society. Suffering some back-trouble last year and unable to work he fell a few months behind on the payments for the house. He was amazed that after a few reminders and a final demand from the building society he received notice to quit the house. The Society was going to re-possess it. On examination of his contract he found that, after six years of payments, he owned nothing of his house at all and had, in fact, been paying interest on his mortgage all the time. The financial strain and worry had told on his family life and, what with his unemployment and all, Molly had moved out and taken the kids with her. It was one of his mates who told him to go to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. They were trying bravely to persuade the Society to see the money paid as being towards the house and hoped to get them to accept some small weekly amount to repay the principal only. That wouldn’t necessarily bring Molly back though.
A very ugly picture is emerging of what’s going on, earthwise. Generally seems to have something to do with money. I don’t want to say it’s the root of all evil but even a cursory glance would seem to confirm this traditional wisdom. Perhaps it’s the nature of the stuff, unhygienic bits of paper (handled by all sorts of people in the course of its life) of no real value. Would that explain the unseemly haste that modern man appears to be in to turn it into something of substance? No-one seems to think anymore about the meaning of what they buy, whose land was stolen to grow it, or who was paid a bowl of rice a day to assemble it. Governments are the same. Give them a few World Bank credits and off they go, bull-dozing, constructing, arming, polluting as much as they can, even if all the evidence seems to point to the wisdom in a certain amount of hesitation or thought. Thought? Appears to be a redundant term. What’s interesting is that money looks as if it is really the root of all evil! On every level – personal, business, industrial, national, ecological and global. Of course the government and the media whip out, on every conceivable occasion, some expert (who pays him?) who uses science and numbers to show that it’s all really way above the average man’s head. They can even produce two different teams who argue furiously about matters which seem remote to the rest of us. Nevertheless we do notice how similar the two sides are and the ease with which they borrow each other’s ideas and policies.
What can I suggest? First of all, in any exchange from now on, if I give something of value (even if it is only my labour, it is my life and it is of value to me) I’d like to get something of equivalent value back. It doesn’t particularly bother me what. Gold, silver, land, a house – whatever – but I’m not happy anymore with those flimsy bits of paper which are always going down, down, down as the prices go up, up and up. If you tell me that there isn’t enough of the gold and silver, and that you’re this clever guy with the calculator, you’ve worked it all out, then I’d say, “What on earth did they do with it all? Where have they put it? I know enough to say that somebody somewhere has salted away tons and tons of it.”
Your philosophical one will laugh at the credulity of simple humanity imagining that the precious metals have intrinsic value and regale you with tales of the use of salt and sea-shells etc as currency, meanwhile the mines in South Africa mine extraordinary tonnages of rock everyday and process it just to extract the few ounces of gold which make it all worthwhile. If it is just an illusion that it has value let them give it to the poor, even let them give 21/2% of their stash to the poor. Suggest such a thing and you’d soon hear the yowls of pain.
Another thing. I don’t want any more loan sharks living off me and I don’t care if they are called President of the World Bank or what. Nor do I care if it is 1%, 4%, 18%, 72% or 242%. It all stinks! As far as I’m concerned they should all go out and get honest jobs and stop squeezing it out of the likes of me. Making money from money is not fair. All that stuff about how lending money at interest is just like renting land. Guff, I call it. Land grows stuff, crops, food, you can graze cattle on it, you can dig minerals from it – money (even gold and silver) just sits there until someone does something with it. There is a difference.
While we’re at it let us cancel the National Debt (perfectly honest – it’s all been paid many times over in interest), house-owners must stop paying once the principal is done with. We can’t take the gold and silver back, that would be stealing, but let’s put a tax on all that stuff which people and governments have locked away in dark cellar vaults and give the proceeds to the needy. That way it will be circulated and there might be a few less hungry people as well. There are many benefits in such a programme, firstly that they will have to ease taxes on the ordinary man (including the small businessman, house-owner and shop-keeper) because, at present, most of that is going to service interest on the National Debt.
Nor are we talking revolution because no matter how you change the faces at the so-called top the same debts keep mounting up and you and I end up footing the bill (coup d’états, elections and revolutions always end up with that result). I’d even go so far as to suggest that we keep exactly the same lot – whether old money, Margaret Thatcher or Glasnost doesn’t really matter to me. But let’s get rid of loan sharks, the small and the big, World Bankers et al, and let us pay and be paid in real value not in plastic and paper. That’d stop people (Central Bankers and forgers) just printing themselves a pile of money when they feel like it.
We want to put PAID to their little game (we don’t want to do them physical damage, just let them taste a year or two of unemployment) because we are PAID:-
PEOPLE AGAINST INTEREST DEBT.
1 First published in “Common Ground”, Ireland, December 1988.
2 “The World of Gold Today” – Timothy Green. Arrow Books 1973.
For people who don’t know it, Tomdispath.com is often worth keeping an eye on, and the articles of Chalmers Johnson are usually interesting.http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174852/chalmers_johnson_12_books_in_search_of_a_policy
Atheists are all cock-a-hoop these days and conceited about their self-proclaimed rationality, and yet clearly atheism is equally as religious as any other religion, and perhaps more so, since it depends on belief in an unseen matter: the belief that there is no god. And anyone who believes that the universe exists without a cause or that the big bang just happened in the emptiness of nothingness or that our universe is just one out of an infinite number of totally random universes is certainly a Believer with a very capital B. As Liebnitz said, the first question of philosophy is why is there something rather than nothing at all? Not many people want to ask that question today, let alone try to answer it.
In conversation tonight, someone raised Richard Dawkins and his ‘crusade’, and I use the word deliberately, and it made me reflect on some deeper issues of science in general.
Many people mistakenly believe that science is based on dispassionate and objective observations of the physical world, and deductions from those observations of some general rules of how that world works. This is very far from the truth. On the contrary, the scientific method is based on positing a thesis about how the world works and then going to find the evidence for that thesis, or evidence that would refute it. In the most extreme case occurring towards the historical end of science, two absolutely contrary theses were proved right: that light is both a particle and a wave form, as are indeed other entities such as electrons.
Now, Dawkins’ vulgar populist atheism is merely the most evident abuse of the process of stating a thesis and then seeking evidence in support of it. For example, in his dismal documentary on religion, The Root of All Evil, Dawkins went to Cairo, a city of millions of people the great majority of whom are humorous and kindly people, in order to fit Islam into his framework. However, rather than finding an average intelligent Egyptian or indeed a graduate of the Azhar trained in the traditional sciences, he sought out an American man from New York of Jewish background who had converted to Islam, embraced the most extreme possible manifestation of it, and who spouted rhetoric that most Cairenes would find abhorrent but which would have been very acceptable to the late Mr BL and his cohorts in the mountains. And unfortunately this sorry specimen was certainly not of a very sophisticated level of intellect, so that, predictably, Mr Dawkins dispatched his angry rhetoric without much difficulty, at least from the relative safety of the narrator’s perspective.
The point here is that he set out with a thesis in mind and then very selectively picked the evidence to back it up. Presumably then this is also how he proceeds in his scientific work, for the implicit and sometimes explicit claim he makes in his documentary and his writings is that he is extending his scientific outlook into other realms. But for me this is the most damning blow to his particularly ‘missionary’ and ‘evangelical’ take on evolution; for if his populist writings are a genuine reflection of how Dawkins works as a scientist then his evolutionary thinking can have no serious foundations whatsoever.
A curious and not particularly pleasant story: a people who have just killed more than a million Iraqi men, women and children, and whose history is based on the genocide of its land’s native peoples, is now calling the Turks genocidal:Â http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/10/washington/10cnd-armenia.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin Â Â Genocide is an evil without doubt, but why is it that hypocrisy and lies are even more repellant?Â
An essential element of the emerging new religion that binds modern people is the new piety: ecological concern. It is not wrong, but it is framed in such a way as to paralyse. For example, the auto manufacturers have produced new cars with drastically smaller carbon footprints, and naturally motorists want to own one, because it will ease his conscience about climate change. But he rarely asks about all the processes that bring that car to us: the sweeping away of inconveniently placed rain-forests, the mining of the minerals, and all the technological and industrial processes that converge to produce that car with a small carbon footprint. All those processes amount to a huge carbon footprint, and yet the private person has been taught to worry about his very own personal and much smaller footprint.Â
More alarming is the fact that we cannot distance those corporations as the work of wicked capitalists, for by and large modern man and woman work for those corporations, especially if we realistically count the state as merely another corporation in a corporate world. The state trains people in the institutions laughingly called education to take their place unquestioningly in the corporate world, the garages which claim to dispense something called medicine repair the mis-functioning and return them to the job, and the army dutifully defends corporate interests wherever they are threatened.
So that really significant carbon footprint of what we might call the titans is ours, but we have no control over it. Our voice is not heard, and is not going to be heard. Indeed, so accustomed are we to the idea that we are not going to be heard that we carry out our orders unhesitatingly and keep ecology as a hobby.Â
Thus Adolf Eichmann is the symbol for our age. When accused of sending uncountable numbers of Jews to their deaths through his arrangement of the transport to the concentration camps, his defence was that he was only obeying orders; he was simply doing his job. That is the condition of modern man: he is doing his job; the army in Iraq and Afghanistan has a job to do. They need to get on with the job. It is treachery to undermine them in the job they have to do, etc.
But what drives all of this, apart from modern man’s not-inconsiderable passive acquiescence in the crime? State and corporation all are dependent on finance and its mysterious operations. But that is the subject for another day.
Religion is from the Latin word ligareÂ ‘to bind’. It was what bound people to worship of God and His teachings. But those bonds are much looser today or entirely non-existent, and in their place we have other bonds that are powerful indeed: the bonds to the employer, the state and the bank. The new trinity of the new religion.
If we don’t understand slavery and slavehood, then we don’t understand freedom. Once the distinction is abolished and the slaves become free, by the same token the free become slaves.
There is something prior to technology without which it cannot be understood, and that is a method that analyses and breaks things down into what it regards as logical component pieces. The process that exemplifies this best is the search for the atom. The Greeks, notably Leucippus and Democritus, proposed that if one breaks something in half, and then breaks the half in half, that one can proceed only so far until one comes to something that is not divisible, which they call the â€œnot divisibleâ€ or atom. For â€œaâ€ means â€œnotâ€ and â€œtomâ€ means â€œdivisible. Of course, we all know that what has been called the atom was itself divisible further into the sub-atomic particles, but the basic idea still stands. The inheritors of this thinking called the atom, â€œthe basic building block of matterâ€ for they thought that matter and thus the universe is essentially something that has been built, and by calling the atom a building block they of course implied that once one understands this process we too can build.
Now one person most eloquently expressed anxiety at this process, and that was Mary Shelley, for in her novel Frankinstein, and remember that Frankinstein is the doctor and not his monster although arguably it is the doctor who is the real monster, she embodied this process in the doctor who, having anaylsed the human being into his consituent organs, limbs and bones, then decides that he too can build a human. Tellingly, although what he builds is hideous, it is nevertheless human. Frankinstein is unable to return its natural need for love, and it is this that drives the creature over the edge.
So this building activity of technology derives from this prior process of analysing and breaking down into the simplest elements.
So what does technology do? We ask this in the most general sense in order to get beyond the very specific picture of particular technologies. But let us take a specific in order to understand these general processes better: a Hi-Fi system. In it we have, for example, an amplifier. The amplifier does exactly what its name implies: it takes a weak input, a weak signal, and makes it stronger. If we step back from this example, we realise that technology does this throughout its realm. It takes a weak signal and amplifies it, whether it is a sound or a force or an idea. The media take weak signals, such as silly ideas, or poor analyses of situations, but through the power of the technology, it is transmitted into thousands and often millions of homes; it is amplified. We see instantly that this process is intimately connected to power, both in the physical sense and the political.
So having derived a general from a specific, let us now list a few more general features of technology.
Technology telescopes: i.e. it brings that which is distant much closer, and this derives from the Greek root â€œteleâ€ for distance. Obviously we have the telescope, telephone and television. Equally it brings that which is close to distant parts: the telephone is two-way. We can now blog and our writings can be read instantly in China or Borneo. All of us assume such a reality. We spend time in virtual communities.
Paradoxically, we see that it drives that which is closer further away, as most people have experienced with the mobile phone interrupting a conversation. The caller is brought closer but the people in the conversation are made distant.
It also microscopes: it enables one to see what is ordinarily too small to see. The detail. To do this it has to put a frame around the object excluding other things. This is an inescapable activity of science and technology. Focus in and exclude extraneous signals.
It accelerates. Things are speeded up, by planes, cars, and by processes. In general things are going faster today than they ever did, and will evidently go even faster tomorrow.
Technology reproduces, repeats, replicates, duplicates and multiplies, e.g. in factories. A simple movement is repeated endlessly. Industry analyses the manufacture of the shoe into minute processes which are then individually expedited by robots, or people behaving like robots, and then assembled. The shoe is no longer in the hands of a person but in the hands of a system, whether of machines or people or both. An unanticipated side-effect of this process is the utter boredom and tedium of peopleâ€™s lives since the part of the process or the product over which they have control is in itself meaningless. People are creatures of meaning.
Although the above list certainly does not cover everything that technology does, it gives an indication of some very key things that it does do. However, the above are not necessarily technological or machine driven. For example, our outline of the factory could equally well be applied to schooling or the state. The school has become a kind of factory for manufacturing citizens. It is an industrial process. Similarly, the state is an industry for processing citizens from birth until death. Machines are used, but the essence of these two examples is that people submit themselves, whether actively or passively, to being parts of a great machine. Thus, the word technology is not going to do for what we are trying to describe, and for that reason some people, such as the French writer Jacques Ellul, suggested that really we are dealing with technique.
So here we have a technique or set of techniques or sets of techniques and technologies which accelerate, amplify, reproduce, and telescope. Programmers have a maxim of computing which is â€œrubbish in, rubbish outâ€. Any such system or set of techniques behaves much like a computer programme, so that it basically amplifies, accelerates and reproduces the input. If it is the technical society that is destroying the planet, then it is this facet of it that is to blame. Before technique culture, mistakes were limited in scale. With technique culture, the mistakes are amplified and accelerated tremendously. What is perhaps more distressing is that the reach of mediocrity is extended greatly.
But where does this culture come from? The people of the planet asked themselves this question in different places and in different epochs and they said: it comes from Europe. Both Europeans and non-Europeans gave this answer.
As this technique culture grew, there was a broad spectrum of responses to it, whose two extremes were infatuation and repulsion. This was both in Europe and elsewhere. The first response was because of the control and the power it appeared to give, and men are prone to love control and power. However, they neglected to reflect on Dr Frankinstein’s case, for he was incapable of love. The people of technique culture are incapable of love.
The opposite response, repulsion and rejection, was to be found both in Europe and elsewhere. In its most extreme case it is to be seen in people who decided that no technology from later than the seventeenth century should be used, and they dedicated themselves to live in communities based on that principle.
Now these two responses were possible when technique culture was still growing, when there were still places it had not reached.
In the seventies, a New York painter called Tobias Schneebaum made a journey up the Amazon river. He was, probably deeply instinctively trying to get away from the all-enveloping technique culture. He went as far up the river as anyone would think to go and arrived at a missionary settlement. He asked them what lay further up the river? They told him that there were really terrible cannibal peoples. He immediately proceeded further up the river. Seeing a beach with some curious boulders on it, he disembarked to inspect them, but was astonished to find them to be the heads of people who were squatting there staring at him. After a moment in which they contemplated each other, they lept to their feet and embraced him wildly and happily. They were completely naked. He was taken in to their society, made welcome, and lived happily with them for a year without seeing anything untoward. At the end of that period, the young men, among whom he was included, primed themselves for some martial escapade, and he and they went to another village where there was a fight, with them killing a number of people there. Then they ate parts of the dead people, and he ate with them. This was the beginning of his disengaging from them and he ultimately returned to New York and wrote a book called, “Keep the River on Your Right”. However, the reprise of the story is that in the nineties he returned there with a documentary film crew. The missionaries had got there before him along with the Coca Cola. The erstwhile savages were now in tee-shirts and were suffering from various ailments such as unemployment, something for which they probably had no word in their language.
Thus, the reality is that the technique culture has penetrated everywhere on the planet. There is nowhere outside of it, and so the option of wanting it in that infatuated way or of rejecting it is no longer open to us. Whatever we think of it, we are stuck with it.
But now we have to ask the question again: where does the culture of technique and technology come from? We have inherited a crude theology from Rome which basically sees the world in terms of nature and civilisation. In the Christianised version, God is seen as the Creator of nature and man the maker of civilisation. The reality is that this is how people really do see things, no matter what philosophers and theologians say. And of course because man’s civilisation has grown so much, people no longer believe in God.
Early scientists such as Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Kepler and Copernicus were undoubtedly believers in the Christian sense, but what they discovered was so powerful and it produced so many results that as night follows day the next generation were basically atheists, such as Laplace who on being asked by Napoleon why his book on celestial mechanics had no mention of the Creator replied, “Monsieur, I had no need of that hypothesis.” This was from arrogant pride at the sheer extent of new information and in the power of the new technical scientific man.
But what was forgotten is that man is natural; he is a part of nature. What man creates is a part of the natural order, even when it seems un-natural. Thus it is a part of God’s creation. Everything comes from Allah. He is the Creator of everything because if this were not the case, we would be dealing with a plurality of gods, which is a very primitive idea. However, the natural order contains both fruit and poison, it contains both health and cancer. Thus, we are in need of a discrimination. Clearly something in our culture is cancerous. But we are not taking the stance of the rejectionists that sees rejection of technique culture in toto as the only way forward. Thus we are in serious need of some kind of discrimination.
Let us return to our shoe factory. The ability of the shoe factory process to turn out copious amounts of shoes is undisputed. However, the shoes suffer from one flaw: like most industrially manufactured things they are mediocre; they are neither superlatively well made and designed nor on the other hand unusable. The truth is that all things being equal and price being no consideration, anyone who had the choice of a handmade shoe or an industrially manufactured one, would choose the former. So why did the craft tradition go down before industry? Price. The industrial product was cheaper. Very often it was not cheaper because it was genuinely less expensive to make, but because the owners practised undercutting; they looked at the price of shoes and then decided that their shoes would be cheaper, often dramatically so. They knew that by this means they would drive their craft competitors out of business, at which point the price could be whatever they wished it to be. Now this is where our wished-for discrimination might come in useful. Undercutting used to be considered illegal in many societies.
In many traditional markets, a shoe of a known description had a known price. It was not acceptable to go below it. Thus, tradesmen had to compete with each other in terms of making the very best shoes rather than fighting each other by means of price.
So here we are up against a very different type of technique, which has little to do with machines or technology. We are up against financial and commercial technique and it has proved more decisive than the machine. We also see the difference between technique and law. Law is the idea, whether in society or in nature, that things work in a certain way. Technique finds ways to circumvent law. In our acknowledgement that the technique culture ultimately comes from Allah and our awareness that we are in need of a discrimination, it is clear that it is only Allah Who can give us the discrimination we need for that which comes from Him. It is Islam that contains that discrimination until the end of time. The task of future Islam is to recover law, Divine law, and to make it dominant over technique, both in terms of technology but particularly in terms of financial and commercial technique.