Technique as Religion

A few years ago I was asked to give the Keynote Address at the Second Islamic Countries Conference on Statistical Sciences held in Malaysia. On receiving my text the Saudis at the Conference, clearly newcomers to open discourse, categorically forbade the text from being read out. To the credit of the Conference Secretary he had it read out later to the delegates. Two matters drew my attention to this Paper which seemed to make it relevant to the current prognosis of our onrushing debacle in the human project.

Firstly, in studying Nicolas Werth’s writings I came across a key statement, written to indicate the theoretical foundations of the Great Terror in 1937 Russia.

Werth, in explaining the origins of what became the Great Terror, traces its beginnings to 1930-33 when nearly 2.5 million men, women and children, were deported in a vast political programme ordering ‘the liquidation of the koulak (small-holding) class’. This programme had two objectives: 1st. The removal of a class hostile to the collectivisation of the farms. 2nd. By prison and deportation to fill up the empty territories which were rich in mineral resources.

This social engineering was defined as ‘the culture of the statistics’. This method allowed allocating ‘quotas’ in which each zone, divided into 2 categories: 1 – deportation or Goulag and 2 – execution.

This model had been designed, ready to be applied nation-wide in the mass-murder that came in 1937.

Secondly, the rapid disintegration of the social fabric in the former democratic societies of America and Europe, made me aware that few people seemed to grasp – not our similarity with Soviet Russia, but rather, that things had got seriously worse.

Underlying the interim phase from 1930’s social engineering to the wholescale 1937 Terror lay the foundational invention of the legal (safe, theoretically) citizenship based on new passports, and in turn their validation by the Secret Police. Once everyone was recorded and observed, the mass elimination could proceed.

The presence of a solitary, stateless individual, shored up in the Transit Lounge of Moscow Airport warns us that the world bankers’ and Corporation elite who today govern – as free, no, freer than the 20th century dictators – have a greater control over us and monitor us in more detail than did the Russian secret police. The science of eliminating, isolating and simply inactivating opponents is now a massively operational system of rendition, document-stripping, droning and disappearance.

What has replaced the god-worshipping society – of the three monotheistic religions – is the godless (secular!) society that slavishly obeys the logics of the technical system. Technique and its imperatives now decree events.

The Ikhwan were a human abomination, negating Islam, yet all-too-human. Their removal was necessary. However, in their place have come the oil-Arabs with their pragmatism, funding, and obedience to the capitalist dialectic. They are not only the new atheists – they are the new Stalinists.


Thus, I warned the scientists, and even then the Saudis knew that my voice should not be heard.

II Islamic Countries Conference on Statistical Sciences 

Statistical Procedures and Human Values

By Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi

As the opening speaker it falls to me to express on behalf of my colleagues who will address this conference and, indeed, of all the delegates attending our thanks and appreciation for this important intellectual event.

Our thanks go first to Dr. Munir Ahmed, Chairman of the International Organising Committee in Saudi Arabia and to Dr. Abdulaziz Abdulghani, our conference Chairman, as well as the Conference Secretary Zuhaimi Haji Ismail. Then we note with appreciation the important contribution of our sponsors and organisers, the department of Mathematics, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, and the Saudi Arabian Islamic society of Statistical Sciences.

It is not my intention in this Keynote Speech to raise the issues of critical assessment of statistical method which would involve moral and even political choices. Nor, on the other hand, do I intend to address the serious issues of methodology and range of competence which science faces. The most useful role of the Keynote Speech is not to address the Conference subjects in themselves, but rather try to place them within the meaningful context of current discourse.

The statistical sciences, or we could more properly say, the science of statistical demonstration and analysis, that is, one science which has as its characteristic the displaying of an array of statistical information or indeed, the activation of statistical evidence into analytical framework, clearly stands between mathematics and language, having thus no presence without them. The superficial idea that language in the statistical realm plays only a descriptive role, in its service as it were, or that non-statistical language will in itself remain primitive, is simply to fail to see the important matter at issue. In other words, I am suggesting that the modern structuralist defence of scientism, which goes by the names of science of philosophy or logical empiricism, cannot come to grips with this theme since it is clearly located within the realm of both the phenomenological process and the hermeneutic method. The matter of the situation of statistical science, that is between language and mathematics must be thought through.

Since it cannot crudely be maintained that the use of language in negotiating the statistical event is purely instrumental, this implies that the posture that language is itself no more than a tool cannot be sustained. Hans-Georg Gadamer, our greatest living philosopher within the phenomenological tradition, has clearly stated: “Language is not an instrumental set-up, a tool, that we apply, but the element in which we live and which we can never objectify to the extent that it ceased to surround us.”

Gadamer, aware of this almost enclosed event, the myth that science can ‘speak’ without language declares: “…science has liberated itself from language inasmuch as it has developed its own sign systems and symbolic constructs that are not susceptible to translation into the language of everyday consciousness. Are we not heading towards a future in which languageless, wordless adaptation makes the affirmation of reason negligible?” The implication of this is salutary since in Gadamer’s view: “There is no higher principle of reason than that of freedom.”

Now, while certain sciences can take on this most extreme avoidance of language the statistical sciences cannot. So, not only can it not subsume language under its discipline as an ancillary tool, but it cannot avoid the presence of language in the act of claiming meaningfulness for the statistical display or analysis. The trap facing the fundamental procedure which is the negotiation of the statistical array or analysis is the attractive assumption that the mathematical model will validate the linguistic framing. Michel Foucault, in an attempt to save the unquestioned reign of structuralist system, offered the reformist position that the text, as it were, of the figures, was not language but rather statement. As if, by redefining that linguistic frame as a kind of parallel equation alongside the mathematics, somehow that facticity of the figures would rub off on the verbal frame.

However, it would be appropriate first to look at the state of scientific method before examining further the nature of the encasing language. It is not always appreciated outside Europe, that the technological dominance is not solely the result of its specific procedures but it is the outcome of a deeply searched philosophical tradition, Kantian in character but Greek in its beginnings. It was this on-going tradition, centred in Southern Germany, that saw an event in 1927 of the greatest importance. Martin Heidegger published his magnum opus, “Sein und Zeit”, Being and Time. In the words of Gadamer: “Martin Heidegger changed the philosophical consciousness of the time with one stroke.” He goes on: “…the brilliant scheme of Being and Time really meant a total transformation of the intellectual climate, a transformation that had lasting effects on almost all the sciences… Just as might have been the case in fifth century Athens, when the young, under the banner of the new sophistic and Socratic dialectic, vanquished all conventional forms of authority, law, and custom with radical new questions, so too the radicalism of Heidegger’s inquiry produced in the German universities an intoxicating effect that left all moderation behind… Now (this thinking)…has penetrated everywhere and works in the depths, often unrecognised, often barely provoking resistance – but nothing today is thinkable without it.”

Heidegger redefined man as Dasein, a project-oriented creature oriented towards Being. In place of Kant’s absolute subject in a world of things Heidegger outlined a dynamic embodied consciousness entramelled in the world and in body, enmeshed and enlaced in a myriad of social and private responses and signals. Dasein was a being flung into the world, precipitated by involvement in time with the urgency of onrushing death, indeed for Dasein crisis was not the feared interruption of objective observation but the necessary reality which allowed Dasein to face up to its true precipitate nature. This was not a psychologism but a closely argued and dazzlingly demonstrated phenomenological examination of the human condition.

It must be understood that Heidegger’s absolute devastation of the grounds, till then unquestioned, of scientific objectivity, did not simply emerge from private analysis. The new vision and way of Heidegger was the result of his close intellectual friendship with the other two giants of twentieth century civilisation: Heisenberg, the greatest of the high-energy physicists, and Ernst Jünger, famed author of “Der Arbeiter” which changed in its turn the thinking of modern men about the true nature of technique. His rejection of dialectic was as important to Heidegger as was Heisenberg’s admission of the non-objective nature of the observer. In one sense Heidegger’s early work is a massively thought response to Heisenberg’s renowned statement: If you measure a particle the neighbouring particle is affected. Jünger’s insight, negating Marx as a romantic, was: Given the nature of technique we are all workers. Our reality is not based on a class or an ideological position or a private disposition, but prior to all these, that we are part of the technical process. We belong to the community of electricity users, television watchers, car drivers and so on. This is our increasingly dominated self-reality. Jünger’s response was not to reject technology but to embrace it and transform it, recognising its inner ‘inevitability’: the oncoming World State.

In one observation at a Seminar held in Switzerland with a group of psychiatrists Heidegger distinguished between two words in German: Körper and Leib. Both mean body, but the former the body as thing and the latter as experiencing-body, that is the thinking, pain feeling, responsive self-conscious body. He indicated that the much discussed present observer within the experiment was not in turn the presence of thingness inside the observed event but the bursting in of the man into the mythic otherness of measured event. He said: “The problem of scientific method is identical with the LEIB problem. The Leib-problem is first of all a problem of method. The Relativity Theory of Physics has introduced the locus of the observer into the realm of science, but without, AS PHYSICS, being able to say what the locus of the observer is. It quite openly is what we touched upon with a sentence – I am contentedly here! In this being-here, experiencing-bodiness (Leiblichkeit) is always part of the game. Microphysics must accept the impact of the measurement of the instruments into the experiment when perceiving its objects. This means the experiencing-bodiness of man is encompassed within the objectivity of the physical discovery. We must ask: “Is this only applicable to scientific research, or is that only part of it, because generally the experience-embodying of the LEIB, the experience-body, constitutes the BEING-IN-THE-WORLD (in-der-Welt-Sein) of man?”

If this is the case then the phenomenon of the LEIB can only be seen in the critical overcoming of the up to now ruling of the subject/object relationship of the BEING-IN-THE-WORLD so that it is actually experienced and taken on and endured as the fundamental character of the human DASEIN.

It is necessary to see that science as such, that theoretical scientific findings (and view) as such, are a foundational mode of being-in-the-world based on the experience-body, which is HAVING-WORLD.

What Heidegger has done far from implying an invalidation of science is establishing a transvaluation of the scientific evaluation. He has taken it out of the hieroglyphics of mathematical logic where it lay enshrined and inaccessible and world-destroying and placed it firmly within the hermeneutics of a restored human discourse. Heidegger’s lifelong dismantling of the Kantian frame, and inescapable removal of the mythic subject in his pure objectivity could not have succeeded without his also redefining man. In naming man as a being oriented towards Being-itself, and in recognising Being not as the passive category either of Kant or Aristotle but as Event, he moved his phenomenological ontology to the limits of discourse. Confirming and re-appraising Nietzsche, he declared the end of metaphysics. The encounter with Being in his final years had taken on the character of what we as Muslims recognise as a confirmation of Tawhid, not at all in the modern manner of the rationalist educated egyptians who come after Abdu, who can only confirm divinity as idea, their idea, but in the manner of Shaykh Muhammad Wafa for whom this knowledge is the very matter of existence when he says:

Oh Allah! I ask You by the essence of Your non-existence and the essence of Your existence and the essence of Your essence, and by the pure essence, and by the essence described by the essence of taking-form and giving-colour, and by the active essence and by the passive essence.

Oh Allah! Make me the spring for the essence of essences and a place of sunrise for its radiant lights and a repository for its hidden secrets in its dark unseen worlds.

Oh Allah! I put You, not by the dis-connection of Your beauty above the attributes of the body and self, above the appetites of nature and the intellect and the character of nafs and heart, and I put You above all of that and its equal and its like and its opposite and other than it, with a disconnection which cannot be given form or imagined – Amin.

It is truly of immense importance that Europe’s greatest philosopher since Nietzsche should have taken the philosophical discourse to the gates of Tawhid, but he could not have done it without first the transvaluation of all values restoring the human project to encounter with al-Haqq and unmasking the fantasy nature of until then deeply revered scientific procedures.

To return to the matter of language with which we began: It must be understood that language in its nature, despite the failed attempt of linguistic theory, is not reductive. A statement that relies on a mathematical model for validation is not in itself meaningful once man is redefined as Dasein, a being oriented in mortal life to the One who does not die. Once the mythic objectivity of the measurer has been exposed it follows that what such an observer is engaged in is essentially a trick or a deception, an illusion. The process of assessing and designing the analytical model is in itself a reality more powerful than the contained thesis, just as the compulsive need of the psycho-analyst to interview patients about anal fantasies on a daily basis is itself a dangerous obsessional neurosis, that only now we can observe.

Since Heisenberg has confirmed that to measure the particle means affecting the neighbouring particle, the implications for the statistical science are immense. It must mean that the measuring procedure may itself be a serious neurosis since it functions on the assumed right to measure the other and by implication propose its future. If I measure the measurers or calculate the calculators, their community in turn may manifest all those symptoms of group aggression indicated by Lorenz in his study of the biological roots of much that passes for rational and thought-out behaviour.

This adheres in the statistical procedure whether it has as object a human situation or not. It is impossible to think of such a process taking place without the infra-structure of state power, corporate system, and other institutional centres. Equally, it cannot take place without a pre-designed, programmed person to carry out its methods. That person must by definition have accepted the rightfulness of the procedure and the right to so proceed before the statistical assessment can take place. Since the relationship between the figures and the studied object only take place on the shape of a statistical assessment by the imposition of an observational model and a critical evaluation, it must surrender its mythic authenticity before the perceptions of the new man who rejects those procedures which alter his environment, existence and being without his consent. So, a new question must be asked of the statistician: Why are you measuring? In the new society the observer knows himself observed! If man rejects his reductibility within any mathematical procedure he will by that token have rejected his subservience to the modern totalitarian state. Since this is beginning to happen, there is hope for the future of the world, mankind, and wisdom, even, indeed, for our good companion, the statistician. It is against this contemporary discourse that the themes of statistics, involving both mathematics and language should be explored. We pray Allah that the on-going discourse of this excellent gathering will be informed by intellectual clarity and originality to enhance the life of the Muslim Umma in our time.