2. The Question Concerning Money

2. The Question Concerning Money


بسم اللَّه الرحمن الرحيم وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد وعلى ءاله وصحبه أجمعين وسلّم


Title: The Question Concerning Money

Author: Ibrahim Lawson FFAS

Publication date: 18/10/2014

Assalamu alaykum. Welcome to the Civilisation and Society Programme of the MFAS. This is the second of 12 sessions which make up the Question concerning Economics module. The lecture will last approximately 40 minutes during which time you should make a written note of any questions that may occur to you for clarification after the lecture. 


Preface

In 1987, we in Norwich gave a series of talks on the topic of usury, riba in Arabic, at a conference entitled ‘Usury: the root cause of the injustices of our time’. The reason for putting on this conference was that no one at that time was talking about usury/riba in the public arena, or even seemed to know what it meant, which we found strange given that it is condemned in the core Islamic texts in the strongest possible terms. As well as being forbidden in the Qur’an and described as a form of diabolical madness, in one of the six authentic collections of hadith, traditions, of the Prophet Muhammad we find:

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) cursed the one who accepted usury, the one who paid it, the witness to it, and the one who recorded it. (Sunan of Abu-Dawood Hadith 3327 Narrated by Abdullah ibn Mas'ud),

Why was this? Why has usury been similarly condemned throughout European history until relatively recently and why was it now apparently a subject that had become invisible? At the same time, it has been becoming more and more widespread in practice, to the extent that the world’s economy is now completely based on an ever developing range of usurious practices. Again we find that the Prophet predicted this:

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “A time is certainly coming to mankind when only the receiver of usury will remain, and if he does not receive it, some of its vapour will reach him.” Ibn Isa said: “Some of its dust will reach him.” (Sunan of Abu-Dawood Hadith 3325 Narrated by Abu Hurayrah).

Since the 1986 conference, usury, the essence of banking, has become one of the most controversial issues of the day and the original talks were republished by Diwan Press in 2009 under the revised title ‘Banking: the root cause of the injustices of our time’. Of all the aspects of usury/banking addressed in this book, including its history, legality, practices and devastating effects, the underlying philosophy of a society which permits, condones and even encourages and promotes usury is of central importance. Why was usury condemned for centuries and irrational and immoral only to be embraced by European modernity with such disastrous consequences for the individual, society, local and global economies and the environment? If we can understand this, we may be able to do something about it.

In the original conference, I gave a paper which essentially laid the blame on the loss of any understanding of morality of the kind that Kant was concerned to defend in the early stages of what became known as the Enlightenment – a period in European history which owes much to him for its philosophical support. I drew a parallel between the abandoning of the gold standard for money and the loss of any ‘gold standard’ in ethics, such as Kant’s categorical imperative to act rightly for its own sake. It seemed to me at the time that the concept of 'intrinsic value' needed to be recovered in the face of the relativism emerging from modernity.

Since then, I have come to understand better this process of nihilism as it has unfolded throughout European history and Kant’s place in this. Today, I would prefer to locate a philosophical understanding of usury within a wider perspective which includes the global slide into technik1 (or ‘technology’ in the broadest sense) as informing a proposed metanarrative encompassing every aspect of human existence. Once the essence of technik (which is nothing technical, as we will see) is revealed, we begin to realise how every part of life is now a product of the grasp it has on our cultures and civilisation, on our hearts and minds. It would not be inaccurate to say that technik has covered the world – nowhere are we free from it – it is the spirit of the age, the Zeitgeist. 

Usury is in one sense only a part of this larger picture, and yet usury is technik in essence as I will argue below. This means that if, as Heidegger says, this is the age of technik, then this is the age of riba. If technik is the greatest possible danger to human being – and not just in the sense of the dangerous products of technik such as weapons of mass destruction, genetic modification, anthropogenic climate change and so on – then riba too is that danger. What this danger is and how we might hope to overcome it is the concern of this paper.

What follows is closely based on Heidegger's well-known essay ‘The Question Concerning Technology’ whose argument it repeats. In this sense, the paper may be read as a commentary on Heidegger's work. However, another aim is to uncover the parallels between technik and usury/riba and to show that they are essentially the same. In this way, I hope to bring out a connection between Heidegger's work and Islam by showing that Heidegger's concern is also the concern of Islam and that both seek to discover how we have arrived in the position we find ourselves today. Furthermore, I will begin to answer the question as to what relevance Heidegger’s philosophy of Europe is to Islam and, crucially, what is the true relevance of Islam to the future of Europe.

While we will eventually be questioning concerning riba, this is not the point at which I wish to start. It is not at all clear yet what usury comprises, and it is very far from being merely a matter of charging interest on a loan. Today, our entire financial system is usurious, including the very the money we use, and for this reason I will begin by considering what money is. Once we have arrived at some idea of this we will be able to see riba in a clearer light.

Tools, Technology and Technik

Tools have always been with us and we can be defined as a genus and a species2 by technology, beginning with homo habilis approximately 2.3 million years ago. While Heidegger's question concerning technology finds a qualitative difference between traditional hand-work technology and modern machines, money, on the other hand, is not something we have always used and so it can perhaps be thought of as a specific kind of tool. However, money, and its modern form as riba, is a secondary development of something that we have perhaps always done and which distinguishes us as much from our nearest evolutionary cousins as any tool use (the very minor exceptions proving the rule that technology is distinctively human). 

It may be that we have always had an understanding of the relative value of things, of what goods and services are worth. It is not difficult to imagine an early human making a couple of extra hand axes – the first stone tool – and trading one for something else, or for some kind of favour. Perhaps some people were better at making hand axes and others at finding edible plants, creating the possibility of simple commercial exchanges. The ability to conceive of the possibility of barter requires the ability not only to evaluate but also, what may amount to the same thing, to conceive of hypothetical futures: if I give you this, what will you give me and will that be an equal exchange? I am not aware that the higher apes are able to do this, even if they do cooperate and share in sophisticated ways, and so barter, as much as technology, seems to be a way to explore the roots of human being itself3, an important task if we are to understand riba as an end product of a certain kind of cultural (d)evolutionary process.

Evaluating for the purpose of a possible exchange or cooperation, i.e. barter, is the basis of money which, in turn, gives rise to riba as the distinctive characteristic of money in the modern age of technik. By understanding how we have arrived at the point of ‘the greatest danger’ we can hope to find our way beyond it to something more fully human and sustainable.

In doing so, we touch on themes that are intrinsic to human existence, as revealed in the very language we use. The word 'commerce' is simply derived from the Latin merx/mercis meaning 'a good', and commerce is the exchange of goods. Whatever the archaeology of the Latin word, the term 'good' is very interesting and can be traced back through Old English and Old High German to a Proto-Indo-European root meaning to unite, be associated, and suitable. On its way down to us the word has also meant fit, adequate and belonging together, and having the right or desirable quality. 

These meanings all relate to the kind of value judgement that assigns to things their proper place relative to others and this becomes the principle of balance or equity in commerce. This principle is so fundamental to the well-being of human societies that it is mentioned in the Qur'an in the story of the Prophet Salih, whose people were destroyed because they had allowed corruption to creep into their commercial exchanges. Elsewhere, Allah talks about giving the correct measure and respecting the principle of balance and equity.

If human social existence, and human existence is nothing other than social, is maintained by the principle of equity in exchange, the word 'community' gives us another clue to the existentially foundational nature of exchanging value with one another. 'Community' is not derived from the word unus meaning 'one' but from munus meaning 'gift' or 'service' and from which the word 'munificent' is also derived. The mutual exchange of goods and services is therefore at the heart of what it means to live in a community.

Probing more deeply, we can see that both historically and today the word 'mean', which is also derived from the same root which gives us the Latin munus, signifies at least two kinds of thing: one is the idea of thinking and representing thoughts as meanings set up in forms, usually but not always linguistic. The other, seemingly quite separate set of connotations refers to what is held to be common to all or average.

What possible connection is there between these two sets of usage? Historically, they stem from the same PIE root and so show a connection in the way ideas are revealed. To live in a community is to exchange not only commercial goods but all forms of value, including semantic value, i.e. language. What makes a community a community is not only these exchanges but the very sharing of the process of evaluation itself: moral, linguistic, commercial and so on.

If this sharing of the process of meaning and evaluation is the essence of human community and social and individual identity, where does it originate and how is it that we are able to participate in it? In other words, in what domain does the essence of evaluation dwell and how is it revealed to us and in us?

By following the path created by the question of money we will arrive at a deeper understanding of these issues. We will follow money back to the source of its being as a meaning, discovering how it has become corrupted by metaphysics and then technik in just the same way as everything else today. At the same time, we will pay attention to the process of questioning itself as a way of knowing and understanding which is very different from the ways we have become used to and have accepted as normal and normative today. Technik has produced or brought forward into the world a way of being which has had the effect of covering over and concealing a more essential and essentially human way of being. This essential human way is described in the Qur'an and the transmission of revealed knowledge from the Messenger and the friends of Allah down to our day, but it is so radically and startlingly different from anything we have become used to over the last few centuries that it has become all but impossible to understand using the means we now have at our disposal. This has left us in an extremely dangerous situation where we risk losing sight altogether of the essence of what makes us human. Heidegger's work is visionary in this respect and his analysis of modern technology is an indispensible element in understanding the place and time into which we have been born and with which we must inevitably deal.

Today, we will have time to only scratch the surface of these matters. Inshallah, we will have further opportunities to go more deeply into the essence of what needs to be understood.

The Question Concerning Money.

In what follows we shall be questioning concerning money. ‘Questioning builds a way’ says Heidegger at the beginning of QCT and he ends the essay by defining questioning as the ‘piety’ (Fromm, promos) of thought. In his ‘Introduction to Metaphysics’, he notes that a question is not merely an interrogative sentence (p20) but, in its fullest sense, the will to know, the resolve to ‘stand in the truth’ rather than just to seek information. To will to know is the enduring basis of all action in the sense that it is the ability to stand in the presence of the unveiling of being and in some way participate in its coming true. This participation is more of a ‘letting be’ than a ‘doing’ and is, as Heidegger says, an offence to our current understanding.

With these considerations in mind, the proposed question concerning money is not a quest for information or even conceptual clarification, it is not a logical or scientific inquiry but rather a way to somewhere as yet unknown where we may eventually be able to ‘stand in the truth’ about money and perhaps much more besides.

Because we are not now engaged in constructing an argument, we should pay attention more to what we are doing as questioning rather than to what the questioning reveals in the form of answers. We are going on a way, if you are with me and not only observing these words, which is a way of thinking and so weaves its way through language. Every time we weave a way through language, we are doing something new, and, in fact, something extraordinary. We are so familiar with thinking, many of us take it so completely for granted that we are not even aware of doing it, that we almost always fail to notice just how extraordinary a process it is. Yet where is thought? What is it made of? Where does it come from? What does it do, and how? What is it for? These questions will remain with us.

In questioning concerning money, the aim is to arrive at a free relationship to it, that is to say, so that we can open ourselves existentially to the essence of what money is. In this way we can hope to be able to respond consciously to the essence of what money is and understand it objectively as it is in itself. At the moment, we only have a vague and quite superficial idea of what money is and so we are not free towards it any more than we are free towards ourselves. This freedom arises only at the essence level and so this is the aim of our questioning – to stand freely in the essence of what is, in that it is and such as it is.

Money is not equivalent to the essence of money. When we are seeking the essence of a tree, for example, we become aware that this essence is not itself a tree that we can find among other trees. The essence of a tree, as of anything, is what makes a tree a tree. But we should be careful how we imagine the essence of something, especially if we are tempted to think of it as a kind of metaphysical blueprint. Rather, the essence of something is what ‘holds sway’ or ‘endures’, what grounds a continuity of identity. What kind of thing is an essence is also a question we will return to later.

However, for the moment it will help to remember that the essence of money is nothing financial. As long as we think of money as tokens, coins or notes, or even numbers, we will remain imprisoned by it, whether we approve of it, disapprove of it or are indifferent to it. The question as to the difference between fiat money, which has an arbitrarily assigned value, and tokens of exchange which are held to have ‘intrinsic’ value, such as gold coins, does not itself help us to discover the essence of money. If paper notes, for example, can be called money, then a gold coin is not money in the same sense but rather a commodity in its own right. Conversely, if a gold coin is ‘real’ money, then a paper note is not real money but rather some kind of substitute. However, in both cases, the question as to the essence of money has yet to show itself. Only once the question of the essence of money can begin to be asked do we begin to find ourselves standing in a free relationship to it. The worst way to be captivated by money is to regard it as something neutral, as merely a tool to be used to facilitate the exchange of goods and services. To do so is to blind ourselves to the essence of what money is and the effect it has on us, while we remain unfree towards it – however much we have or do not have of it, however much we regard it as something desirable or not and whatever form it takes.

If we begin to ask the question concerning what the essence of money is, two answers present themselves immediately: as a store of value, it is a means of exchange and that itself is a human activity. Human beings seek to achieve aims and goals and to acquire the means to this achievement. In particular, we seek to satisfy our natural appetites in their many and diverse forms. We seek to eat, to build shelter, to clothe ourselves, to keep warm (or cool) and dry. We take pleasure in producing useful artefacts and beautiful things as well as in enjoying the beauty of nature. All of these things we can do for and by ourselves to some limited extent but much more effectively if we share with others the work of production. In the discovery and development of technology, beginning with the simple hand axe and the basic use of fire, we found a way to enrich our lives in every respect, not only materially but culturally. As we found more and more effective ways of collaborating in contriving ever newer means to developing tools and processes to enable us to meet a greater and greater variety of aims and objectives, human culture expanded exponentially. The invention of writing and then the alphabet can both be considered technological achievements in that they are tools which allow us to achieve our ends. Similarly, the development of money, in whatever form, was an improvement on simple barter as a facilitator of commerce, in other words as the technology of social economy, as an instrument of wealth.

In this way, we can see that our initial conception of money is instrumental, it is a means to an end, and anthropological, it is a human activity. This it shares with technology in general and so we may see that money is itself a form of technology, a tool for human use in achieving specific ends.

That money is a means to the end of exchanging goods and services holds true for simple tokens of barter as much as it does for modern instruments of finance even though there is a huge difference between the two, just as the same definition holds true for technology whether it be simple hand craft or modern machine-based.

And just as with technology in general, our idea that it is about ‘means to ends’ is an instrumental way of thinking, it looks primarily at the use of things. 

The instrumental and anthropological definition of money is surely correct, but it is not yet true. Here we make an important distinction. Correctness is only a step on the way to something more profound and of an entirely different quality. Unfortunately, instrumental thinking has reduced the idea of truth to mere correctness of fit4 and in doing so has obscured the possibility that we can go further in our thinking, albeit in a way which has become strange since instrumentality took over as the dominant and then exclusive way of thought.

The problem with instrumental thinking is that, if it becomes our sole way of interpreting our relation to things, then we try to use it, reflexively, to regulate and control instrumental thinking itself. Thus we imagine that technology is controlled by technological thinking and that any problems caused by technology will be solved by more technology. Similarly, for the same reason, when money goes wrong, when financial systems fail, we think the solution lies in better or perhaps alternative financial systems and/or more control. (We may find even ourselves relying on financiers to solve financial problems.) The more things slip out of control, the more we struggle to master them instrumentally, without realising that the struggle to mastery is the cause of the problem in the first place.

More than that, if technology, including money, is not simply only a means developed by us to achieve our ends, then it is perhaps something not under our control at all. Although it is correct to say that we invented money and developed its use as a means to achieve our various ends, this is not yet true; we have not arrived at the essence of money where its truth, and also our freedom towards it, occurs or originally comes to pass. The fact that our definition of money is correct depends upon it being true and so we can seek to uncover the truth by way of its correctness in order to free ourselves to the essence of money rather than be trapped by it in an inauthentic and disempowered way of being. In this latter condition, everything we may try to do will fail to escape the fatal grip of technik and become merely another example of it.

What, then, is it for something like money to be instrumental? In what domain of being do means and ends belong together? As a means to an end, money causes an effect, as does all technology. But a cause is not just that which effects; the desired end, or purpose, is also a cause of the means. We are now at the point where we realise that to understand the essence of money, we must investigate instrumentality and therefore also causation as something which grounds instrumentality, though, as we will see, causation is larger than just the effecting of results. This will mean that money is much more than a simple, neutral means of facilitating economic transactions or storing up wealth.

This is an important step along the path we have taken where we leave behind any simple concept of money as a store of value or a representation of that. By identifying money as an expression of instrumentality we have moved the focus on towards the larger question of causation and causality itself. Causality is ultimately the domain within which Being is, though not causality as we currently understand it. Also, what is the being of Being? How does it come about? In what follows, we will begin to shift our questioning away from any simple scientific view of causation as effecting, as a mechanical pushing forward of events along a line of time stretching from the past into the future. What emerges is a more holistic perspective on Being which enables us to see that space and time are not the fixed, linear dimensions of extension and duration which instrumental reasoning requires.

In Heidegger’s essay on the question concerning technology, he, at this point, begins an analysis or deconstruction, in the positive sense of uncovering the origins of our understanding of causation. For a fuller discussion the reader is advised to turn to Heidegger’s work which is readily available in translation. For the purposes of the current question concerning money a summary will have to suffice.

In later Greek thought, as it has come down to us in Latin, the word 'cause' was thought to apply to four different things which jointly came together to bring something into existence. These were the material or substance from which something is made, the effecting or efficient cause which did the job of making or assembling whatever it was, the form which the matter or substance was made into, and the final or end cause which was what the thing was for or why it was made. All these together made something what it was.

Today, in our scientifically minded world, we tend to only see the efficient or effecting cause as a cause. This is because it is this kind of cause that physical science specialises in and sets up for us as the laws of nature which science aims to discover. Since nature has no purposes as far as science is concerned, it has no aims and intentions, science does not occupy itself with questions as to why things happen in that sense; the ‘why?’ question is only a ‘how?’ question for the empirical sciences. People are often confused by this matter because they fail to see that the question ‘why?’ is ambiguous between ‘what effected this?’ and what was the aim or purpose of this?’ Hence the efficient cause is taken to be the standard measure of causation and instrumentality is seen in terms of making things happen. The fact that the term cause is based on the Latin verb cadere, to fall, also inclines us towards thinking of causation as that which pushes things into motion or brings things about. We no longer even notice that the purpose for which something is made is also a cause, in some sense, of its being, both as such and such as it is specifically. Also, from a scientific point of view, there is no sense in imagining that matter and form could have a causal effect either; matter is something which is 'just there' or 'present at hand' as Heidegger says and a form is a purely abstract entity that can have no interaction with the matter and energy which constitute the whole of what is as far as science is concerned.

The earlier Greek understanding of causation reveals that while substance, form and purpose are still thought of as being responsible for the presencing of beings, the efficient or effecting cause was not identified as such. Rather, the human being, far from being merely a mechanism for assembling or effecting things, just another cog in the manufacturing machine as it were, is now seen as the one who has overall responsibility for gathering the other three together in his or her careful concern for the work that is being done and the whole of the future being of what is coming into existence through the possibility of there being beings in the world which did not spring into existence directly from within themselves but by this special process of revealing which has been given to human beings. All coming to presence the Greeks called poiesis; when this happened by itself it was referred to as physis and when human agency was involved it was called techne. All of the products of human activity were techne, including not only objects and equipment but also the arts, poetry and knowledge itself.

To put this more concretely, imagine the goldsmith who is making a dinar, an Islamic gold coin. Scientifically speaking, we see only the organism that is the man, a biological machine, operating the forge, pouring the gold, stamping the die and so on. The coin itself is just an object, present at hand, lying there on the workbench. As we gaze at it looking for its 'intrinsic value' we will be disappointed. It's just a metal shape, even if it is beautiful. What is it worth? We are more likely to ask its price.

But think of it in another way. The smith did not randomly happen to produce this coin, there was a complex set of interacting elements before and during the event of its making which were all responsible for the coming into being of the coin and to which the coin is indebted for its presence. Not only that, the being of the coin extends into what we think of as the future and the smith has only started it on its way into becoming everything that it is. And what is it? It is money; it will be used, stored, given, received, lost, found, treasured, neglected, hoped for, scorned. It will enter into a vast and complex multitude of ways of being as something not merely present at hand but ready to hand as part of the equipmental totality of the worlds of human being and concern, meaning and purpose.

For it to be seen as a mere object it must be stripped of this existential richness of being and reduced to a theoretical entity such as can never truly be encountered in the world without pretending to ignore almost everything about it, and ourselves, that makes it what it is and us what we are.

The problem is, that is precisely what we today do to everything, including ourselves and each other; we imagine that everything is essentially a physical object to which meaning and purpose remain to be added.

In our scientific, instrumental way of thinking, we believe that we experience the world as an object made of objects all of which are meaningless until we come along and give them meaning, somehow.

Since we can only sustain such 'objectivity' theoretically, we also fall back into the idea that while some things seem to be clearly meaningless until assigned a signification, the signs of an unknown language for example, other things come with their meaning already installed as it were, they have 'intrinsic meaning' quite apart from whether we can detect it or not.

But now we must come back to what was said earlier about community and meaning.

If we make the decision to separate meaning and form, and that means we can also put them back together or even find them sometimes already joined, then we have set up an insurmountable problem for ourselves which may well end up with us denying that there is any such thing as meaning at all except as some kind of romantic fantasy which we are free to make up as we go along.

Reacting against this nihilism, some of us are tempted to try to rejoin what is supposed to have been separated, put meaning back into the world and intrinsic value back into our money. We might go as far as to try to put the real meanings back into our words.

Whichever branch of the fork we take, either blithely accepting a radical relativism or else nostalgically longing for the recovery of what has been lost, we have already fallen into the illusion that meaning and form are two different things which can be separated and joined. This is the opposite of freedom.

Alternatively, we can see meaning and form as arising within a community of shared practice in the exchanges of meaning and value of all kinds. Meaning and form are now both seamlessly grounded in 'what everyone does', or what is held in common. When instrumental reasoning comes along later and begins to theorise about this practice, binary opposites are set up for the purpose of theorisation which then get taken as things that actually exist, so to speak. Once we have internalised this dualism we begin to believe that we can actually experience it objectively. The conviction, for example, that 'I' exist somewhere in my head behind my eyes and between my ears can be quite difficult to shake.

We should stop for a moment and reflect on where we are and how we have arrived at this point. We began by saying that money is not just the physical representation of value in coins, notes and other forms. The essence of money is something obscured by this correct but not yet true characterisation and we are not free towards money until we have uncovered its essence. As a means to an end, money is something we have invented for a purpose, yet when we look at inventing or making things we see that it is not such a simple matter as we might think. When something is made by someone, a smith for example, the smith is responsible for a lot more than just hammering out the metal in a certain form.  In addition, we barely understand today the way in which the purpose (telos) works to make something what it is. We think of cause as effecting and so do not see what the influence (responsibility) of the telos is, imagining it could only be some kind of physical force or energy. Thus while we might see the smith at work, hammering the metal into shape to make money we miss completely the nature of the telos and its connection to the real responsibility of the smith, who is not just some kind of carbon-based coin making mechanism. This way of seeing is quite one-sided and partial; it can provide us with correct statements about what is going on but not any true encounter with the essence of the matter, leaving us floating on the surface of things wondering why it is all going wrong despite our best efforts to control events.

Money, from this perspective, is not the coins or notes or numbers, nor is it the theoretical or abstract concepts we use to understand economic exchanges and ground our understanding of value. This is an important point because we often find a discussion taking place between defenders of ‘intrinsic value’, such as in the case of gold and silver money, and those who say there is no such thing and that the value of money is equivalent to what you can exchange it for. While the second argument clearly leaves the door open for third party manipulation of peoples’ wealth represented as fiat money, the first position, as normally understood, also falls into the intrinsic nihilism of Greek metaphysics. That is to say that while there is a clear and essential difference between gold and silver money and fiat money in all its forms, it is not that gold and silver possess some inner, hidden and abstract quality that can be called ‘intrinsic value’. Since Descartes, the division of mind and matter has led to innumerable problems in thinking and the quality/quantity distinction is one of them. Once the world is viewed essentially as value-free matter and energy it becomes impossible to see how values can be added back in, as it were. Another way of saying this is that once matter and the material world were separated from the spiritual realities, both became problematic. What is needed is not some way to glue them back together but to overcome the error that led us to imagine that there were two separate domains in the first place. What we are looking for is something that can be identified neither as material nor as spiritual and grounding our understanding of being there. By following the question of money we aim to arrive somewhere in this area, and at the same time complete our understanding of money, of technology and of ourselves and our possibility of freedom from or at least towards both.

We now have to go back and consider how the smith goes about carefully considering and gathering together the telos with the form and matter of the coin. This will help us to see what the process of causation involves at a deeper level and so how money comes into being. In this way we may hope to prepare the way for a free relation with its essence.

When the smith carefully considers, this is what the Greeks called logos. Logos has been interpreted in different ways – as reason, judgment, concept and so on – but its core meaning is discourse and it works by revealing things to us (see the introduction to Being and Time, section 7, for a fuller discussion). This revealing of things through discourse has the structure of apophainesthai or bringing forward something into appearance from out of itself.

What this means, very briefly, and an explanation will have to wait for another time, is that there is an essential and intimate connection between being and language. Instead of thinking of reality as a series of physical events following a big bang about 13 billion years ago, we should think of reality as meanings and meanings as linguistic events.

If being is revealed through language, who or what controls this? Not us; it comes to us. We are destined to reveal being in different ways in different epochs. Plato was destined to reveal being as idea and form, for example; Descartes to conceive of reality as composed of two kinds of being - mind and matter.

Today's destining is technik, it has grown out of science, which grew out of the medieval worldview, from the Greeks both late and early.

Technik has certain characteristics, specifically controlling and regulating and revealing being as something to be controlled and regulated. In order to control and regulate, beings must be ordered, stripped of their autonomy and levelled down to the status of just lying there in the world waiting to be affected by something. Technik also is a demand on nature that it produce more and more for less and less, which is quite unreasonable. Furthermore, this demanding out of being has no specific goal in mind; it goes on and on without any end just for its own sake, because it can. This endlessness is implicit in the reflexivity of technik because it can never judge that enough is enough, that the regulation and securing of production for further use has come to an end. Everything is now seen in these terms; everything is revealed in these terms. Everything IS like this.

Armed with this understanding we now know what to look out for, and we find it everywhere. Not only is technology expanding exponentially, getting bigger and bigger (or smaller and smaller), faster and faster, cheaper and cheaper, more and more desirable (so sometimes more and more expensive), every domain of human existence becomes technik. At the same time as growth and production accelerate, quality becomes less and less distinctive. The Heideggerian scholar, Hubert Dreyfus, illustrates this by comparing an ancient Japanese tea bowl with a polystyrene coffee beaker. The very being of these two objects is different, at least at first glance and before the tea bowl becomes technik as a 'valuable old artefact'.

This example also shows that we cannot today be in the same relationship to being as we once were. Whatever the tea bowl was for previous users centuries ago, it cannot be for us today. I will leave you to digest the implications of this.

Very briefly, then, technik reveals beings as what Heidegger calls a standing-reserve; all beings. ‘Human resources’ for example are humans as standing-reserve. Money today is a standing-reserve, without any quality of its own, merely a utility. It doesn't matter what it's made of, it has no reality, it's what you think it is, and what you think is what everyone thinks because we all watch the same screens. We don't interact as authentically free individuals in control of the means of evaluation; we react to the same stimuli in the same kinds of ways as everyone else. It is 'they' who are in control, and they are everyone and no one is himself or herself as the case may be.

This is some of what the question concerning money reveals, though we have not had enough time to properly consider this.

Finally, the question of riba/usury. Only technik could have produced this kind of money system where the algorithm is god. Faster than the speed of thought, computers create and destroy vast fortunes and no one is in control, though some inevitably benefit more than others. 

In our next meeting we will have to go more deeply into the question of technik as a form of poiesis and begin to understand what freedom to act has been destined for us.

That brings us to the end of today’s lecture. Thank you for your attention. Assalamu alaykum.



1 I use the word 'technik' (pronounced: tekneek) in place of the more conventional 'technique' or 'technology'. It refers to what Heidegger calls Gestell, which is normally translated as 'enframing' However, both of these alternatives have their drawbacks, the German is too unfamiliar and the English neologism, while more technically correct, does not have the same immediate resonance as 'technik', in which we hear something more of the original Greek techne while at the same time seeing it somehow twisted into a strange and ugly new expression. Technik is the essence of modern technology; it is neither a piece of equipment nor a procedure but a way of Being which has grown out of the European tradition and become effectively global.

2 Not that we necessarily should be so defined.

3 Alternatively, we might say that the higher apes share something of our humanity as Dasein. It doesn’t matter either way in this context.

4 That is, the fit between language, understood as a labelling system, and the world, understood as an ‘objectively existing’ reality external to the human mind.