"BLACK BOXES' the overt manifestation of the covert


Dr. Ariella Atzmon


Copyright © Ariella Atzmon, â¤*2003

All Rights Reserved


One can own a mirror; does one then own the reflection that can be seen in

Zettel: 670





The relevance of this Wittgenstein remark (Zettel sec:717), hints at the
rhetorical language of propaganda used in the course of contemporary
democracy and its links to false images of science implanted in the public
consciousness in the course of contemporary science education.

With reference to recent political events following the September 11th
disaster, let me examine the use and abuse of the â¤"Black Box⤙ terminology.
The expression â¤"Black Box⤙ crops-up whenever it is necessary to elucidate an
enigmatic event by transforming the covert into an overt clear-cut
exposition. As related to the airplane crash in Queens NY on the 12th of
November 2001, the report of that event might reveal a device for the
subversion of people⤙s minds. We should ask: how is it possible that the
people of NY were so easily convinced in just two hours, that the event was
an accident and not another terrorist attack? The fact is that the moment
the announcement on finding the 'magic' Black Box (claimed to consist of
ultra- digital information technology) was made, all the news channels
suddenly replaced this news item with reports of the invasion of Kabul by US

What is meant by a Black Box? Does it signify the urge to decipher
something in order to achieve transparency, or does it specify an opaque
entity, its content doomed to remain unknown?

The maneuvering of the notions imposed on the 'Black Box' metaphor,
originates in philosophical behaviorism representing a locked, opaque
object - impenetrable to any snooping, inquisitive investigation. All the
in-put/out-put (stimuli/response) conditioning that triggered the
sophistication of Nazi propaganda brain-washing is grounded in this
behaviorist notion of Black Boxes.

The â¤"Black Box⤙ terminology entered the philosophic vocabulary in relation
to the Carnap Skinner debate around the status of theoretical terms[1]. The
behaviorist argument asserts that since theoretical terms links initial
input observable entities with output factual data, it is possible to skip
the theoretical framework, as represented by a â¤"Black Box.⤙ Hence, reality
is supervised as an efficient summation of evidential reports, as long as it
meets the requirement for predictions and explanations. This view enables to
keep up with a descriptive methodology, releasing the reporter from
referring to the contextual meanings in use.

Thus, cynically, the same â¤"Black Box⤙ nowadays simultaneously portrays an
opaque entity beside a transparent key for unveiling information. This
covert/overt ambiguity provides a rhetorical mechanism for the disclosure of
something that might be lost and is aimed at enhancing peoples⤙ trust that
things are firmly under control.

Rhetoric in the course of Liberal democracy manifests a
positivist-behaviorist approach that complies with the truth theory of
correspondence, i.e. associating a name to a thing. It links a term to sense
data in order to ratify meanings by using a rule of correspondence.

An alternative mode for validation of statements is to distance ourselves
from observable attributes, interpreting a term by coherence criteria -
where a meaning is understood in the terminology of relationship and

Education can be seen as a key for implanting the correspondence theory of
truth as all-inclusive. Most recent educational programs are lacking a
serious engagement with an abstract theoretical terminology. Contemporary
education is a bizarre blend of two rival philosophical movements namely;
positivism and phenomenological constructivism. The efforts invested in
instructing students to construct reality in terms of their own experience
are blurred between Husserelian phenomenology and Positivist- behaviorism.
While the first stresses genuine expression alongside the experiencing of
pure phenomena, the second view advocates rigorous methodological conduct
for the articulation of descriptive reports. The uncontrolled zealous
devotion to the experiencing of solid factual data reveals the educationist⤙
s ignorance. Educational programs can be seen as a â¤"Hailing process⤙ where
the student is told â¤follow me, I am about to teach you how to construct
your own reality.â¤*

Confidence in factual data is rooted in the Lockian Ideational Theory of
Meaning referring to language as representation. Representational thinking
treats reality as if it were a picture "placed before" the subject.
Fallacious images of scientific thought describe language as a 'vocabulary
of things.⤙ According to this view, communication is enabled since words
signify ideas in a perceptible way. Consequently language is essentially a
tool for the interaction between human minds. Hence, our thoughts are
viewed as an amplification of sequential ideas that associate a vocal sound,
giving it the same meaning. The link between our minds and the objects
which are perceived by our senses, is mediated by the process of name

The ideal of sharing a similar interpretation of the same linguistic sign
concurs with techno-scientific language. This language authorizes the use of
linguistic signs as clear-cut signals, narrowing the multiplicity of
expressive utterances, making way for the most determined communicative
descriptions or reports. The techno-scientific language gains its power due
to education systems governed by scientism[2]. Education, that operates as a
selective membrane for the meaning in use protects the social order by
signalizing the linguistic sign.

The Freudian-Lacanian idea that what has not acquired meaning can never be
known reveals a vicious circle, where the rhetorical game signalizes
meanings. The scientific cover-up allocated to findings, grasped as clusters
of factual data formulating a suitable basis for rational reasoning, is
connected to the citizen⤙s self-image in democratic, liberal society.
Consequently the rhetorical representation of signalized, scientific
language becomes part of an ideological illusion of freedom of choice.
Thus, the liberal promise of emancipation is related to human beings as
individuals whose rational abilities grant them the ability to judge, choose
and plan their life-style competently in the framework of democratic life.
Planting positive attitudes in favor of a system where given data serve as
the basis for legal, moral and ethical judgments raises individual illusion
regarding freedom of choice. In the western, liberal democratic milieus it
is agreed that calculative thought, based upon well-established punctuated
evidence, is preferential upon personal impressive verbalization. The weight
bestowed in advance on digital descriptions considered to be legitimized
reports is based on an arbitrary linguistic contract. Hence, the more the
scientific façade of a statement is enhanced, the more its authorization is
recognized. A hegemonic approach to language as correspondence (i.e.;
representation) defines MEANINGS in terms of what should be included or
excluded under a specific term. The political conclusion is that the promise
of modernity for self-realization, including some postmodernist hopes for
emancipation, are mediated by an a-priori tendency to signalize the sign.

The prestigious status of scientific thought, spurred an obsessive drive in
the philosophy of science to demarcate between the scientific and the
non-scientific (Popper). The necessity for demarcation preserves the
criteria for what is considered valid and what should be thrown-out as
meaningless. â¤"Credible⤙ information amasses its authority via science images
that proliferate in liberal societies, namely: referring science exclusively
to organized factual knowledge. The compulsive occupation with the problem
of demarcation reflects a struggle for control over the legitimization of
specific modes of information. Popular acceptance of the positivist images
of science is reflected in the media, in the courts, in achievement
assessments, in I.Q. testometry and so on.

Science is self-maintained via narrow definitions of rationality which
relate judgments to a link between a concept and its experiential
attributes. But in order to examine whether something can be considered
â¤"rational,⤙ one must utilize the concept of rationality invented by the
selfsame designers of the same widespread science images. This may be
compared to a situation where the police investigate itself. I would say
that the same approach that plants the illusion of free choice,
simultaneously blocks the possibility for emancipation.

My argument can be clarified by the illustration of a final pre-election TV.
confrontation between the main rival candidates. That style of interview
with the trickery rhetorical sound bites in a ping-pong game, dictates a
race where the opponents⤙ statements are restricted to no more than ten
seconds at the most. The question is: â¤how is the process of rhetoric
designed, so that what a politician is unable to say on TV in a sound bite
of three minutes, he will never get a second chance to speak about at large?

One may describe pre-second world war rhetoric as a deductive Euclidean
inference relying upon axiomatic assumptions, keeping within the bounds of
coherence. In contrast to those styles, postwar western rhetoric presents us
with a sort of T.V. â¤espressoâ¤* style, defined by Arthur Koestler as â¤"short,⤙
â¤"instant⤙ and â¤"concentrated.⤙ The politician, with the aid of P.R.
companies, will succeed as long as he blends, briefly in one gulp, the
proper ingredients in the right dose, so that he may be simultaneously
convincing, pleasant, and sufficiently vague to cover as many people as
possible under the same umbrella. So, information is not just what is coming
out of the T.V. screen, but those corresponding algorithmic modes of
reasoning which pave the way to how we listen to the news.

By choosing a substantial word (such as evil, or terror) and charging it
with a univocal meaning, optimal obscurity is achieved

Identification of the indicators of a successful rhetorical blend presents
to us the subtle role of education that disappears from view precisely
because of its importance. It is education that fixates the false images of
science, which support the rules for how science should be presented to the

By using Lyotard⤙s terminology of the â¤"Differend⤙ I argue that the victims
of science images are unable to make a claim against scientism, because
there is a latent web of rules which imposes shared agreement about â¤"what
science means.⤙ I propose that not only is education itself safeguarded
within the patterns of scientism, but also that education fortifies
scientism, establishing a self-maintaining system by the dissemination of
its power.

The distinctiveness of western propaganda is founded upon the fact that both
liberalism and the scientific revolution came into the world arm-in-arm. The
main characterization of western propaganda is that latent commitment to
support pervasive statements by well-established, evidential proof.
Actually, all those I-philosophies (from Descartes to Husserl) that stress
that human rational ability can facilitate a close correspondence between
the realm of abstract meanings and the realm of reality as perceived by the
senses, have supported and protected liberal democracy ever since.

Taking the Heideggerian stance regarding the human subject as being shaped
by language rather than by his mind and his personal experience, undermines
the human self-image as an individual empowered with the capability of
rational free choice. Since the concept of individuality is the cornerstone
of liberal democracy, Heideggerian philosophy endangers the whole texture of
the western rhetorical machine. Heidegger⤙s view of language as the â¤"home of
being⤙ affords us an innovative gaze into the route taken by propaganda for
trapping peoples⤙ minds in the webs of the hegemonic discourse.

In the name of â¤scientific neutralityâ¤*, scientism confuses science with
technology, and thereby the definitions for â¤rationality,â¤* and â¤objectivityâ¤*
are narrowed. This is how liberal democracy becomes entangled with scientism
by virtue of the praise given to human, calculative, sovereign reasoning.
But this reasoning illusion is manipulated by the behaviorist approach that
treats the human mind as a Black Box, conditioned by the stimuli/response
procedure. In other words, in this way kidnapped meanings, which correspond
with overt, evidential reports, replace scary covert warning alerts. I
assert that this subversive manipulation of human minds is an unethical act.
It is another version of brain washing in the framework of liberal
democracy, which even more intensifies the gap between calculative reasoning
and ethical judgment.

Lyotard titled â¤"the Differend⤙ as â¤the case of conflict between two parties
that cannot be equitably resolved for lack of a rule of judgment applicable
to both arguments.â¤* The â¤" Differend⤙ illustrates precisely the logic of the
dominance of discourses that are relied upon, and at the same time support
experiential evidence. As such, it marks a point of incommensurability.
Scientism is typical of genres which attempt to increase harmonious
consonance by ignoring alternative discourses that confront us with an
absence of rules for a clear-cut judgment. The legal system, in the course
of liberal democracies, relates to harm assessments and evidential proof in
order to validate statements. But, there is no simple viable route for moral
or ethical proof. Even if there are rules for what should be described as
judgment, they are inaccessible because of their ethical nature. When the
issue at stake is justice, legality, which has to do with the complications
of statutes, belongs to a calculative culture, so it needs proofs, supported
by factual evidence, but for moral judgment there are no simple proofs.

In the course of the liberal paradigm, the variety of interests and
traditions necessitates a state apparatus accepted by all. Secular
liberalism established the civil legal system as an all-embracing means for
stabilization, the resolution of conflicts and the legitimization of its
rule. Thus, in liberal regimes, rhetoric turned from being concerned with
how politics is supposed to cope with ethics, into trickery, an instrumental
maneuver attempting to find the means by which to adjust the law to
politics. According to the utilitarian approach, ethics became a calculative
apparatus for the assessment of harm caused by the â¤"evil other.⤙ Liberal
democracy put a barrier between morality and ethics on the one side and
legality on the other. Even the notion of the word innocence as related to
terror(ized) victims is weighed in accordance with the ideological
affiliation of the victims. In reference to Israeli spokesmen, democratic
civilian victims are innocent compared with Palestinian kids (always killed
by mistake).

Liberal democracy⤙s obsession with evidential proof in pursuit of the
validation of statements ends with disregard for ethical judgment. Contrary
to the doctrines of legality, the ethical judgment cannot be learned,
neither cannot it be taught. The ethical judgment must be exercised, â¤for
more we judge the better we judgeâ¤* However escape from the rhetoric of the
referent involves misery, agitation, and insomnia. (Lyotard). To endorse the
proofs provided by â¤"smoking guns⤙ in favor of insomnia becomes the turning
point where people start to behave like restless night watchmen, who stay
alert to the vicious abuse of language.

There is relief in the act of philosophizing â¤even though one is not a
philosopher. The populist current view referring to reality as a â¤"vocabulary
of things,⤙ i.e.: representation, prevents an encounter with the sublime.
The â¤"Black Box⤙ propaganda style blocks the ability to contemplate vague
positions that entail doubts and uncertainties. Thus, the citizens of
liberal democratic countries are left defenseless as an easy prey in the
hands of a subversive- persuasive rhetoric.

Faith in clusters of data presented by â¤"Black Boxes⤙ expertise leads to
civic irresponsibility and alienation. I would say that despite the song of
praise to â¤"democracy⤙ we are likely to find ourselves withdrawing to the
pre-democratic era!






[1] The behaviorist argument which was pointed out by B. F. Skinner in
Science and Human Behavior (1953), was elaborated by Carl Hempel as the
Theoretician⤙s Dilemma.⤙



[2] By â¤"scientism⤙ I mean an excessive belief in the power of scientific
knowledge and techniques, as well as a belief in the applicability of the
methods of the physical sciences to other fields, especially human behavior
and the social sciences.