Christian Long

Noah Feldman: Politics and Religion are Technologies

In TED Talks on May 5, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Extra credit reflection by DARCY S.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Noah Feldman:  Politics and Religion are Technologies

In order for Feldman’s presentation to be interpreted in correct context, then the period of his speech must first be acknowledged.

Let us tweeters, Googlers and other attention-span-shortening application-using people recall a time long ago, under president Bush. It may seem like a foreign time to some, with different economic status and similar war status, but let us remember the atmosphere of 2003. After a devastating attack, our country of America was in a state of cautious awareness. We were ready to jump into something that, little did we know, would last until present day. However, the words being thrown around America’s government and state are not as relevant to Feldman’s presentation as the ideas and words being thrown around in the Muslim communities we were beginning to associate with.

Noah Feldman uses the Turkish government as an example to counter the argument being made that a democratic government cannot be housed by the Islamic religion. This argument was the fundamental idea being thrown around in Iraq at the time, from what I gathered, and Feldman spends fifteen minutes trying to prove why a dominantly Islamic country can be democratically governed. The only origin of the word “technologies” I could conjure was that somewhere in Noah Feldman’s mind stored in a specifically marked section of vocabulary, this word resided. Not that my third grade self can remember, but I’m sure it was of a time when new was replacing old and “technology” was of hype and perhaps, from this newly cultivating vernacular, Feldman snatched this term out of midair in lack of a better one and applied it to his research-supported epiphany to hold the audience’s interest but never any genuine substance. In short, his usage of the term “technologies” to define democracy and Islam is never directly explained, and for that matter he never leaves any links between the term technology and democracy/Islam, so the audience cannot deduce or figure the explanation. I believe the closet we came to the importance of the word “technologies” is when Feldman says, “Democracy, as a type of politics, is a technology for the control and employment of power. You can deploy power in a range of ways… Anarchy is a way to not deploy the power in any organized way. And democracy is a set of technologies…”

Then he begins trying to say why Islam is a technology, but gets sidetracked and talks about 9/11.

After that, the rest of his argument appears feeble.

That is his major faux pas.

However, I admire his mission (I think). In spelling out the common principles of both democracy and Islam, Feldman clearly demonstrates how if they were to exist under one nation, the similarities would support the government-citizen relationship. He then spends minutes stating that many Muslims have vocalized their beliefs that democracy and Islam are compatible and that they disagree with bin Laden’s approach. Then after minutes more of expanding and stating the obvious, his time is up and I am left with an unsatisfied feeling. The audience is left pondering what motive Noah Feldman had to get up on stage and talk about… this.

The conclusion I gathered is such: Feldman is calming the stirring fear, outrage and anguish. He approaches the potential result of the coming war with a cheerful disposition, which is bolstered by weeks of research and optimism, and intends to shed reason upon the mysterious motives behind the action stirring. In a way, Feldman is pacifying the frenzy by saying our mission is accomplishable and that we can do it. The presentation includes little to no passion at all; the only motive I can visibly locate is to motivationally brace the people of America for the prettiest, loveliest outcome the coming war could have.

Although I frankly had problems with the point, I believed the evidence that he supplied was thorough and solid. It appears that in fact a predominantly Muslim country could be democratically governed due to similarities in rights to individual political choices, basic liberty and equality. The problem however is that this theory is strictly hypothetical. The transformation in Iraq to democracy has taken place, on the spectrum that the political figures call their country democratic, and the rest of the world calls them democratic, but on the underbelly it’s still messy. In retrospect, it wasn’t an easy process; certainly not as easy as Feldman’s la-la-land makes it sound.

In short, I was confused.

As far as I know “technology” might have been the word of the day on Noah Feldman’s daily word calendar and he decided to use it in his speech. Passion wise, I found none other than a personal proclivity for talking about current events. At least I can come away with this talk with hope for the future of Iraq.

  1. Because I am also a student, I like to read the analysis of the talk rather than watch it first and so, I have not watched the actual video yet. However, I feel as though your acknowledgment of what you think he was trying to accomplish and your explanation as well, put the talk into a context that I can visualize. The idea of these “technologies” is also an interesting point. Because, if a talk utilizes a word in a connotation different to the one we are used to experiencing than how are we expected to understand it? This is similar to nowadays. Many of the lingo that we have coined would make absolutely no sense to our parent’s generation and I think that the reversal of this situation is kind of funny. Finally, your last sentence is inspiring. Hope, in our day and age, is something that is hard to come by. And so, even if it was disorienting and confusing, if this talk provided hope, than it was successful.

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