The (Un)bearable Whiteness of Informationalist Religion

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Dr Syed Mustafa Ali at OURS2018Dr Syed Mustafa Ali, Lecturer in the School of Computing and Communications at The Open University (UK), delivered the following presentation at the OURS2018 Conference Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspective: Publics and Performances which was held at The Open University, Kents Hill, Milton Keynes, February 19-21, 2018:

The (Un)bearable Whiteness of Informationalist Religion

ABSTRACT

Against the backdrop of earlier work exploring ‘entanglements’ of race and information (Ali 2013), information, race, religion and Orientalism (Ali 2015), and the sedimented anti-Islamic historically-constitutive ‘essence’ of European cum ‘Western’ socio-political formation (Ali 2017a), I have recently argued that late techno-capitalist developments such as Transhumanism and technological Posthumanism are usefully interpreted as ‘iterations’ of the phenomenon of whiteness within a long durée modern/colonial ‘Western’ historical onto-logics that might be characterized as ‘algorithmic racism’ – more specifically, as a response to perceived ‘White Crisis’ or whiteness under increasing non-white contestation (Ali 2017b). Drawing on the insights of Noble (1997), Davis (1998) and others, I have also argued that Transhumanism / technological Posthumanism might – should – also be understood as a techno-apocalyptic (millennial) ‘religious’ phenomenon, iterative within the same algorithmically-racist ontological ‘horizon’ (Ali 2016) (Ali 2017c).

In this paper, I continue the exploration of the entanglement of race, religion and information by situating Transhumanism and technological Posthumanism in the context of broader ‘informationalist’ currents that include ‘New Religious Movements’ (NRMs) emerging within ‘Western’ societies such as Anthony Levandowski’s ‘Way of the Future’ and ‘Syntheism’ as proposed by Alexander Bard and Jan Söderqvist (2014). My concern is to subject such developments to critical race theoretical and decolonial interrogation along body-political, geo-political and theo-political lines with a view to disclosing the hegemonic yet masked operation of whiteness, Orientalism and post-Christianity against the backdrop of an ‘algorithmically racist’ techno-apocalyptic/utopian ontological horizon.

REFERENCES

  • Ali, S.M. (2017a) Islam between Inclusion and Exclusion: A (Decolonial) Frame Problem. In The Future Information Society: Social and Technological Problems. Edited by Wolfgang Hofkirchner and Mark Burgin. Singapore, World Scientific, pp.287-305.
  • Ali, S.M. (2017b) Transhumanism and/as Whiteness. Transhumanism – The Proper Guide to a Posthuman Condition or a Dangerous Idea? Workshop. In: IS4IS Summit Gothenburg 2017 – Digitalisation for a Sustainable Society, 12-16 June, Gothenburg, Sweden. Proceedings 2017, 1(3), 244; doi:10.3390/IS4SI-2017-03985
  • Ali, S.M. (2017c) Decolonizing Information Narratives: Entangled Apocalyptics, Algorithmic Racism and the Myths of History. DTMD 2017: 6th International Conference. In: IS4IS Summit Gothenburg 2017 – Digitalisation for a Sustainable Society, 12-16 June, Gothenburg, Sweden. Proceedings 2017, 1, 50; doi:10.3390/IS4SI-2017-03910
  • Ali, S.M. (2016) Algorithmic Racism: A Decolonial Critique. 10th International Society for the Study of religion, Nature and Culture Conference: Religion, Science and The Future. University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, January 14-17.
  • Ali, S.M. (2015) Orientalism and/as Information: The Indifference That Makes a Difference. DTMD 2015: 3rd International Conference. In: IS4IS Summit Vienna 2015 – The Information Society at the Crossroads, 3 – 7 June, Vienna, Austria. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/isis-summit-vienna-2015-S1005.
  • Ali, S.M. (2013) Race: The Difference That Makes a Difference. tripleC 11 (1): 93-106.
  • Bard, A. and Söderqvist, J. (2014) Syntheism: Creating God in the Internet Age. Stockholm: Stockholm Text.
  • Davis, E. (1998) Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information. New York: Harmony Books.
  • Noble, D. (1997) The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention. New York: Penguin Books.

Peace

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Islamic Counter-Racist Thought Food #69

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Consider this:

Because of the accessibility and durability of digital memory, information power not only shifts from the individual to some known transactional party, but to unknown others as well. This solidifies and deepens existing power differentials between the information rich and the information poor, and may even deny the latter their own conception of their past. Equally problematic, it creates a climate of self-censorship through the perception of panoptic control that constrains robust and open debate … not simply in the present but long into the future [emphasis added]. (p.112)

Extract taken from Mayer-Schönberger, V. (2009) delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

In this connection, see the following earlier blog post:

ECONOMICS: Colonising The Future – Refinement of WS/R

Peace

Islamic Decisionism (?)

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

According to Norman O. Brown (1983), the Islamic worldview is non-linear and mythic (ahistorical, archetypal) rather than historical:

The Koran is not like the Bible, historical; running from Genesis to Apocalypse. The Koran is altogether apocalyptic. The Koran backs off from that linear organization of time, revelation, and history which became the backbone of orthodox Christianity, and remains the backbone of the Western culture after the death of God. Islam is wholly apocalyptic or eschatological, and its eschatology is not teleology. The moment of decision, the Hour of Judgment, is not reached at the end of a line; nor by a predestined cycle of cosmic recurrence; eschatology can break out at any moment [emphasis added]. (p.166)

Extract taken from Brown, N.O. (1983) The Apocalypse of Islam. Social Text 8: 155-171.

On his view, Islam’s history is:

a series of decisions; it doesn’t see its own story, or world history, as inevitable in its chapters and its conclusion, certainly triumphal in the establishment of a world civilization … For Islam there is never a certainty of triumph at any particular moment in history, and no singular apocalypse, only a series of decisive (requiring decision) apocalyptic moments, moments that will recur throughout a history that has no set end-point. These moments must (through the action, the cooperation with God’s call by the believer’s response) break through the crust of the familiar way of doing business (whether globalized or traditional), and lead one to an action that will necessarily be historical and personal (towards purification) because the drive of God’s will is always towards unity, both within and without. But then, however the decision is made, darkness may later descend again [emphasis added]. (p.xxv)

Extract taken from Brown, N.O. (2009) The Challenge of Islam: The Prophetic Tradition. Berkeley, CA: New Pacific Press.

In the near future, I hope to put the above ideas into ‘conversation’ with the occasionalist metaphysics of Shaykh Mohiyuddin ibn ‘Arabi and the political (theological) thought of German legal scholar Carl Schmitt with a view to exploring the contours of a possible ‘Islamic decisionism‘, God-willing (insha’Allah).

Peace

Islamic Counter-Racist Thought Food #68

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Consider this:

[The normative hierarchical binary associated with the Westphalian conception of the world] has been used to justify the notion that Western states should follow different norms and principles toward non-Western societies as these societies have different norms, principles, and institutions. While non-Western societies were gradually admitted into international society, international society continues to expand its normative scope, reaching higher levels of religious and political tolerance. Paradoxically, the Westphalian international society has deepened more rapidly than it has widened: the normative gap in the origins of the emergence of international society between Western and non-Western societies and the disparities of progress between them means that non-Western societies must perpetually chase the progress of Western states and the European order.The normative divergence will persist because Western societies continuously evolve  faster than the non-Western states are socialized by adopting the existing norms, principles, and institutions. Perpetual progress of the Western normative order will continue to sustain a normative hierarchy in which the non-Western tortoise will never catch the European hare. (p.196)

Extract taken from Kayaoglu, T. (2010) Westphalian Eurocentrism in International Relations Theory. International Studies Review 12: 193–217.

Peace

Islamic Counter-Racist Thought Food #67

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Consider this:

Futurity is a register of freedom, while The Future is another prison-house built to confine it. I describe as futurity the openness in the present arising out of the ineradicable diversity of calculating, contending, and collaborating stakeholders who struggle to make and remake the shared world, peer to peer. Futurity cannot be delineated but only lived, in serial presents attesting always unpredictably to struggle, collaboration, and expression. The Future, to the contrary, brandishing the shackle of its definite article, is always described from a parochial present and is always a funhouse mirror reflecting a parochial present back to itself, amplifying its desires and fears, confirming its prejudices, reassuring its True Believers that the Key to History is in their hands. (p.62)

Extract taken from Carrico, Dale (2013) Futurological Discourses and Posthuman Terrains. Existenz 8(2): 47-63.

Peace

Islamic Counter-Racist Thought Food #66

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Consider this:

God can only be found in the absence of things upon which we depend.

Extract taken from Ibn al-‘Arabī, Fuṭuḥāt Al-Makkiya (The Makkan Openings) I, page 193.

In this connection, see also Islamic Counter-Racist Thought Food #40.

Peace

Islamic Counter-Racist Thought Food #65

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Consider this:

There are all sorts of limits that liberalism imposes and all sorts of exclusions it secures. Modern liberal society does claim to value multiplicity and variety of experiences, which seems attractive until you look carefully at what this means. Indeed, it justifies certain kinds of arrangement as being more open and tolerant when it isn’t. The mere fact that there is supposed to be a multiplicity of views and preferences in modern society is given as the reason for the moral and political superiority of the market: because the market is the mediator among people who have very different preferences, it is the best possible arrangement for our egalitarian, plural world; that is what the market is—a way of responding equitably (neutrally) to the fact that people want different things, physical, intellectual, spiritual. So the market comes to be seen as the supreme value rather than merely a dispenser of multiple values. It creates a particular kind of society in which wants are generated and increasingly monetized, and so only certain kinds of social relations can flourish. The liberal-secular prescription is that one must accommodate every sort of experiences and belief, and one must value them all, but it ends up encouraging a specific kind of experience typified in the consumption of commodities. The market is not a neutral mediator of multiple values; it is an active constructor, a re-former of specific values [emphasis added]. (p.79)

Extract taken from “Interview with Talal Asad” by Ovamir Anjum. The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 35(1), 2018, pp.55-90.

Peace