Japan and the search for a measure of things

Category: Asia, Nature & Science Topics: Technology Views: 6272

There are three fundamental events that have shaped the way people think in this still-young century: the attacks of 11 September 2001, the Financial Crisis, and the Fukushima nuclear incident. It is these occurrences that have captured our attention and brought starkly to the fore not only the globalized nature of our society but also our own human vulnerability. But it is the conclusion one draws from these events which lays bare the actual debate: that between belief and non-belief.

Anxiously we watch the images of awesome devastation triggered by the earthquake off the coast of Japan. The human solidarity innate to us all allows us to empathize with the extraordinary suffering now endured by millions. The world's third biggest economy's hunger for energy led them to abandon age-old wisdom, submit unconditionally to technology, and build dozens of nuclear power stations in the world's most dangerous earthquake region.

I couldn't help noticing the way the Japanese earthquake disaster was reported in our local newspaper. On page 1 were the dramatic and spectacular pictures of the earthquake, on page 2 a sober scientific analysis of the "causes" and "effects", and on page 3 was the stark reckoning - in other words, the predicted effects on the economic system. But as the philosophers have said, science itself cannot think, which is why page 2 is especially unsatisfactory. Isn't there a philosophy which strives to indicate events as a whole - and even a set of inner connections or a deeper meaning?

It could be said that all three of the aforementioned, epoch-shaping phenomena represent a certain boundlessness. And with every ideological escalation in man's attitude comes an increase in his potential for destruction. The murdering Muslim, the greedy manager, the unscrupulous scientist (and the political actor who pretends to have everything "under control") have stepped spectacularly onto the world's stage. The old Law, with its religious references, is no longer capable of tempering ideologues, no matter what their leaning. But that does not mean we should believe these players have events in their hands.

There is no doubt that the question of technology emerged in the past century as one of the fundamental challenges facing mankind. In his later work, Martin Heidegger, reflecting on the unparalleled disaster brought about by National Socialist ideology with its hollow will to power, in the end raised the issue of Technik. The nature of modern technology, according to Heidegger, is not in itself something technological, but rather at its core stands nothing other than a "challenge to creation". Heidegger did not recommend a particular political partisanship, instead he advised, with provocative simplicity, to adopt what the Germans call Gelassenheit - composure - vis-a-vis technology. However, this Gelassenheit, which has been central to Asian life for hundreds of years, is no longer possible under the new dynamics of unfettered capitalism. The idea of simply replacing "bad" apparatus (like nuclear power plants) with "good" apparatus (such as wind power) without considering the inner relationships with the financial technology that drives us, is, in the Heideggarian understanding, basically a superficial misconception.

Heidegger may have been right. Look at the inconsequentiality of Germany's Green Party's accession to power, and the powerlessness of modern politics to confront the vortex of the global financial system. The Islamic world is similarly caught up in seeing technology as a fascinating means to acquire power. The fact that many Muslims are willing to accept atomic bombs and banks just because they think they are "Islamic" shows just how devastatingly widespread this misunderstanding has become.

In the unitary doctrine of Islam, the world is not a vale or tears, nor is "nature" and all its uncertainties separable from the governing of the Creator. "Heaven and Hell," teaches Ibn Al-'Arabi, "are the same place, but experienced differently." The message is simple: the Qur'an warns against challenging the creation by means of boundless financial technology. In the end it is only the endless production of money which enables the escalating technological project and drives people to accept irrational risks as "God-given".

The Muslim does not simply remain a passive or disabled observer, he is someone who possesses a revealed measure of things and who brings that measure into society. It is an alternative posture which could one day be very modern indeed. And if not then the "Condition humaine" is left with nothing but the old platitude that life itself is life-threatening. Enriching this perilous condition with meaning is the actual task of every religion.

Source: Globalia Magazine

  Category: Asia, Nature & Science
  Topics: Technology
Views: 6272

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