15 out of the 19 hijackers of planes that attacked U.S. targets on September 11, 2001 were Saudi Arabian Sunni Muslims, 2 from the United Arab Emirates, 1 from Lebanon and 1 from Egypt. None were Shia Muslims, none were from Iraq or Iran. After U.S. troops exited Iraq in 2011 after deposing the Sunni government of Saddam Hussein and not abiding by promises made to Sunnis after a Shia majority government was installed led to the power vacuum filled by fundamentalist Sunnis called ISIS. ISIS then moves into Syria opening a second front for the Syrian Free Army to fight against as well as Assad’s government forces. The U.S. at this time is suppling arms to the Syrian Free Army (Sunnis) and Assad (Shia) is being backed by Russian and Iran (Shia). Saudi Arabia, a Sunni dominated kingdom governed by Sharia law is the enemy of Iran. There has never been reprisals against Saudi Arabia after 9/11, the Khashoggi killing, or numerous civil rights abuses and killings/executions carried out against their citizens by the Saudi government. General Qasem Soleimani is the one largely responsible for stopping ISIS in both Syria and Iraq. ISIS that attempted to overran the current U.S. Ayn al Asad airbase in Iraq in 2014 after U.S. advisors and Marines were back in Iraq. My main point here is why the disproportionate attention towards Iran a Shia country and not Saudi Arabia a Sunni country? This past Monday Saudi officials were meeting at the White House with Donald Trump. This is a complicated situation with many moving parts and simple answers are not helpful nor are ignorant comments without any context. Questions need to be continually asked and the desire for one dimensional reactions held in suspicion.
Is God on “our side”? What does this even mean and from what vantage point is this true? God apparently is on everyone’s side – waging war against himself from all sides. There are grave consequences for claiming God is on your side. For using God as justification for killing. This has been done for centuries as eye for an eye retributive violence. It seems as if God wants everyone to be blind. How you read 1Samuel 15:2-3 is instructive in how you understand reality. Is God commanding this slaughter or is Samuel using God as justification for this slaughter? Given the words of Jesus, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also…” (Matthew 5:38-39) it is difficult to make sense of God and not Samuel ordering the slaughter. This is important because there are so many claiming God for their side, their cause, their actions. Last Friday in Miami at an evangelical mega church Donald Trump claimed, “God is on our side” and the crowd of evangelical Christians cheered about the assassination of Qassem Soleiman. Perhaps, more words from Jesus are apt, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” If you claim Jesus is God then the only side God can be on is the side of peace.
Narrative and Epistemic Injustice
Based on observable epistemic injustices throughout society there is a strong/urgent case to be made for improving epistemological awareness for the betterment of humanity.
What happens when humanity finds itself awash in a sea of information? Engulfed by prolific social media that collect personal artifacts, social media that knows individuals better than they know themselves. What does it mean to be uniquely human in a setting like that? And what does it mean to critically assess competing narratives in all aspects of life; politics, religion, capitalism, communism, news, advertising, to name a few. When competing narratives are vying for power, is injustice in the distribution and understanding of those narratives not the inevitable result? Are there unwitting participants? Both willing or unwillingly ignorant and capable of being manipulated to the advantage of political, economic or religious power brokers? Are people who lack the requisite context, language and means to understand not necessarily and largely defenselessly exposed to cleverly designed narratives? In a world where the many find themselves living in various replicas of Plato’s cave, can epistemological justice be evoked to remove the scales from their eyes?
It is my contention that such epistemological and hermeneutical justice is imperative to enable fully human existence and that, consequently, a disruption of the epistemological status quo is needed. Little by little, awareness of context, the power of language and clarity of what it means to interpret increasingly need to be made available to all people, thereby promoting well lived lives. What is needed is nothing less than the recovery of narrative as part of the art of knowing and understanding.
I am going to build off the work of Miranda Fricker in her book Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. She defines epistemological and hermeneutical injustice as follows, “Testimonial injustice occurs when prejudice causes a hearer to give a deflated level of credibility to a speaker’s word; hermeneutical injustice occurs at a prior stage, when a gap in collective interpretive resources puts someone at an unfair disadvantage when it comes to making sense of their social experiences.” It is no secret that the dissemination of stories and claims that fundamentally lack credibility have only become possible through the prevalence of social platforms such as Facebook. When such platforms approach the task of fact checking political adds, for instance anemically, that important responsibility is simply passed on to the end user. Regrettably, those users appear to be increasingly less able to be able to live up to that task. Consequently, so called alternative facts and narratives are now able to take on the mantle of credibility. Their destructive power, at this point, is exponentially increased.
For epistemologically and hermeneutically justice to be instated, just and authentically human paradigms of knowing and pedagogy need to be imagined creatively and innovatively. An epistemological and existential crisis has to be sparked by a disruption in knowing, in how to know. The “knower” needs to be empowered to question, to look for context, to deploy language meaningfully and to comprehend reality credibly.
Prominent examples of where epistemological injustice has occurred in recent history include, the use of mis-information to justify the U.S. led invasion of Iraq; the torture of suspected Al-Quada leadership with a few to creating alternative narratives of truth for the end consumer, the 2016 U.S. election that involved both, domestic campaigns of mis-information and foreign interference, the U.S. embargo against Cuba ostensibly for purposes of pressuring and helping the private citizens of Cuba, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth; and the willful confusion of biblical theology and conservative or right wing politics in the context of evangelical churches in the U.S.. All of the above have their genesis in competing narratives for dominance, with little regard for truth. Truth, apparently, is no longer the issue. Instead the focus has shifted to realpolitik and the pragmatism of power. Gustave Le Bon impressively discusses what happens when polarized crowds are at odds with each other, “The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduces them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.” 
What would the process of dissecting any given narrative look like? What tools would be needed to make sense of reality?
I propose to use the tools visual ethnography. By asking a wide range of individuals a series of epistemologically motivated questions, I hope to construct a meaningful snapshot of epistemological and hermeneutical awareness. I plan to do so in Duluth, Minnesota at a Starbucks, the UMD Campus, Curly’s Bar, the street, Cuban exiles in Miami, Florida as well as Cuban citizens in Havana, Cuba. My visual ethnography tool, besides interviews, is photography. In this manner, the verbal discourse that emerges from the interviews will properly localized visually.
I also propose to use speech act theory as a tool for interpreting narratives, thereby examining how locutionary acts, illocutionary acts, and/or perlocutionary acts are able to shed light on cultural meaning and understanding. The importance of this endeavor is powerfully illustrated by Anthony C. Thiselton in New Horizons in Hermeneutics, specifically when he quotes Emilio Betti, “For humankind, nothing lies so close to the heart as understanding one’s fellow human being.” Thiselton goes on to write, “This process entails a recognition of the limits of my own understanding, and learning to listen, with patience and respect, not only to what the other person says, but also to why the other person says it.” Paul Ricoeur in Hermeneutics and Human Sciences writes, “Here I should like to propose that hermeneutics has to appeal not only to linguistics…. but also to the theory of the speech-act such as we find it in Austin and Searle. The act of speaking, according to these authors, is constituted by a hierarchy of subordinate acts which are distributed on three levels: (1) the level of the locutionary or propositional act, the act of saying; (2) the level of the illocutionary act or force, that which we do in saying; and (3) the level of perlocutionary act, that which we do by saying.”
I will also use critical realism to attempt to bridge the gap between positivism and phenomenology. Critical realism is located both, between those two ends of the spectrum, as well as being offset from the axis that connects them. It is “realism” to the extent that it expresses sympathy with a view that reality exists externally to the mind, while at the same time not succumbing to what has become known as naïve realism. Having said that, it is also indebted to phenomenalism at least to a degree, in that it insists that reality can only ever be understood subjectively. Such understanding can never be proven. On the plus side, and as a celebration of true humanity, the necessity of subjectivity in understanding enables change and transformation in human beings. To that extent it is fundamentally human. Positivism, on the other hand is neither interested in or capable of understanding this. In Critical Realism: An Introduction to Roy Baskar’s Philosophy Andrew Collier writes, “Bhaskar’s work offers us the possibility of a new beginning. This is so, in the first place, because it avoids the alternatives of irrationalism and a positivistic conception of rationality, which dilemma has beset modern philosophy. On the one hand, it is committed to unfettered reasoning, to a belief that science can give us real insights into the nature of things, and to an interest in the potential of reason and science for human emancipation….On the other hand, Bhaskar avoids ‘foundationalism’ of most of the thought stemming from the Enlightenment, the belief that reason and/or sense experience could provide out of their own resources, abstracted from any historical and social context, foundations for the edifice of knowledge – and indubitable foundations at that.”
Critical realism attempts to break out of the very epistemological paradigm that has created gridlock in the conversations between the liberal left and conservative right. Ironically, they are both arguing from the same basic epistemological framework, while, on the other hand, reaching opposite conclusions of content. Effectively, they are dancing to the same tune, but they are certainly dancing differently. This dichotomy goes to the very heart of our inability to make sense of cultural realities and to distinguish truth in competing narratives. Nothing less than our shared humanity is in peril. Bhaskar writes about societies, “I shall concentrate first on the ontological question of the properties that societies possess, before shifting to the epistemological question of how these properties make them possible objects of knowledge for us. This is not an arbitrary order of development. It reflects the condition that, for transcendental realism, it is the nature of objects that determines their cognitive possibilities for us; that, in nature, it is humanity that is contingent and knowledge, so to speak, accidental.”
In light of the above, how can we succeed in creating an innovative challenge in knowing differently and in knowing better? For now, I am pursuing this conversation on my blog. I have also been asked by my friend and public speaker Maria French, the director of Hatchery & Co. to teach an online class on this very matter in January/February 2020. Also, as Warehouse Theology progresses under the leadership of Dr. Moritz, I am looking forward to teaching further classes that pursue the ideas foreshadowed here. Meanwhile, my visual ethnographic project will be extended to include more people and more locations.
Appendix A: Interview Questions
Can I take your photo:
- Who is the President of the United States of America?
- Who is the President of Russia?
- Who is Billie Ellish?
- Who won the Super Bowl in 2019?
- Do you have:
- YouTube Channel
- Who is Mark Zuckerberg?
- How many books have you read in the last year?
- 10 or more
- Is there a God?
- What tv news shows do you watch?
- How do you identify politically?
- Did you vote in the last election 2018?
- Did you vote in last Presidential election 2016?
- Do you think truth is fixed or fluid?
- Do you go to church?
- Are most issues black, white or gray?
- How do you know what you know?
- How do you interpret life?
- What is truer – a fiction or non-fiction book?
- How many foreign countries have you visited?
- Do you have a passport?
- Does education help or hinder one’s understanding of his/her experiences?
- What is most real/true for you?
- What do you most value?
- What are you grateful for?
- What does epistemology mean?
- What does hermeneutics mean?
- Are you interested in thinking about why you know what you know?
- Are you interested in thinking about how you interpret what you experience?
- In your opinion are there more than two genders?
- Is gender fixed or fluid?
 Fricker, Miranda, Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). p.1.
 LeBon, Gustave, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2002).
 See proposed question in Appendix A
 Thiselton, Anthony C., New Horizons in Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992). p.33.
 Ricoeur, Paul, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, ed. & trans. by Thompson B. John (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2016). p.161.
 Collier, Andrew, Critical Realism: An Introduction to Roy Bhaskar’s Philosophy (London, New York: Verso, 1994). p. ix.
 Collier, Andrew. p.137.
Humanity and AI Script
What does it mean to human in an age of artificial intelligence (AI)? What differentiates humans from machines? Fundamentally, the answer is epistemological and hermeneutical. How do we know what we know, and would any machine know in the same way? For example, be able to pass the Turing test? And, how do we interpret what we know? In the age of AI it is vitally important to explore the question of being human. To not do so renders humanity open to manipulation by algorithms or worse susceptible to a surveillance state. And, as technology and AI continue to invade the workplace the concept of labor continues to mutate, and the wealth disparity widens. Just as the industrial revolution brought freedom of human brawn the AI/tech revolution is transforming intellectual and routine tasks away from humans and onto machines.
Capital no longer thought of in terms of labor but data. Our digital dust is practically everywhere as social media is omniscient and handheld machines are ubiquitous. How is our digital fingerprint being used with and without our knowledge when we “the people” are the product? Here again how we know and how we interpret are vital when being bombarded with a plethora of competing ideas from all perspectives. How we distinguish what is a fact or an alternative fact or what is true and what is not. Especially when AI is used in promulgating confusion with social media.
Nietzsche pronounced that god was dead and we (humanity) had killed him. However dead god may be our human desire for a god has not diminished. The omnipresence of the digital world is the water we live in and epistemological awareness and interpretive shrewdness are uniquely human tools needed to navigate our world.
It is my intention is to explore the question – what does it mean to be human in the age of AI by fusing the horizons of theology, philosophy, anthropology, photography, hermeneutics and computer science on a singular platform (my blog) to produce a representation of the answers I discover and the new questions they generate.
 “Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the branch of computer sciences that emphasizes the development of intelligence machines, thinking and working like humans. For example, speech recognition, problem-solving, learning and planning.”
~ Farhan Saeed, IQVIS Blog https://www.iqvis.com/blog/9-powerful-examples-of-artificial-intelligence-in-use-today/
 “The phrase “The Turing Test” is sometimes used more generally to refer to some kinds of behavioural tests for the presence of mind, or thought, or intelligence in putatively minded entities.”
~ Oppy, Graham and Dowe, David, “The Turing Test”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2019/entries/turing-test/>.
 “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
~ Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125, Tr. Walter Kaufmann
This is America
Elected rulers vulgar or smooth
The holy dove still falls to the ground
As the olive branch withers
Insouciance to love
As the hypocrite and Pharisee look for signs
Jonah slips into a whale’s belly
Not wanting forgiveness for Nineveh
Have we forgotten
Who is without sin must cast the first stone
Judas resisting forgiveness
Kissing love on the cheek
This is America
“There’s a beautiful Inuit word ‘qarrtsiluni.’ It means, ‘sitting together in the dark, waiting for something to happen.’”
~ Teju Cole
Hold space for darkness
Lingering in liminal chaos
Staggering within ambiguity
Tasting salty tears mingled with blood
Fashioning angst out of fear
As death machinery moves across the faces of the dislocated
Resist the machinations of the wheel of violence
Dare to ask, “how do you still love in spite of everything?”
Even if no answer comes to the question
Sit in silence and in waiting
Breathe and hope for justice