The Grand Show of Poll-Culture -
Calculative Thought Vs : Authentic Imagination

Dr. Ariella Atzmon

July 2001


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This paper identifies the underlying factors at work in the process of
negotiation between western and non-western modes of thought. A
philosophical examination, taking the Israeli political arena as a case
study, may clarify the notion of leadership responsibility practiced
under pressure of antagonism as epitomized by diverse types of
Following Heidegger's distinction between 1) calculative thought
inspired by the scientific tradition, and 2) contemplative thought
associated with authentic imagination, we can categorize democratic
regimes into two groups.
The first refers to states (such as the U.S.A, or England), where each
of the main leading groups is perceived as conforming to the ethos of
calculative thought.
The second group includes states where the political-ideological game
reflects a struggle between the two above-mentioned patterns of thought.

In calculative thinking, the human self-image is typified as an
autonomous individual, while contemplative thought is characterized by
those considering themselves 'spoken subjects.'
Calculative thought becomes possible assuming that the human being is
capable of reacting to reality in a reasonable manner, according to data
or other kinds of information bytes issuing from TV or computer screens.
Representational thinking which is privileged by most of us, treats
reality as if it were a picture "placed before" the subject. Scientific
thought is linked to representational thinking in keeping with the view
describing language as a 'vocabulary of things,' the matching of a name
to a thing.
Calculative thinking which finds its most powerful expression in modern
scientific rhetoric is motivated by the prospect of improving
measurements and assessments in order to manipulate and control. Hence,
the whole feedback machinery is directed at enlarging future
predictability. The fact is that people living in liberal, democratic
states are accustomed to assessing their state of affairs, according to
observable quantified indicators. This serves to alleviate demagogic
trends directed by propaganda and advertisement.
We should not identify calculative reasoning with scientific thought,
since the occupation of science may be seen as the learning of our
surroundings by amazement and curiosity; while calculative thought
projects upon making predictions, controlling the present order and
dominating most possible subsequent change.
Contemplative thought, on the contrary, does not seek to measure but to
uncover the meaning of things. It is linked to what Heidegger calls
authentic philosophy, and should not be confused with magic thought.
Contemplative thought is close to the hermeneutic tradition, reminiscent
of Jewish Talmudic learning which presumes seventy faces to the Tora.
Calculative thinking is inseparable from the liberal humanism that
characterizes human beings as individuals. The term 'individual'
presupposes human beings as intellectual agents, free thinkers who are
not coerced by their actual historical, cultural or socio-political
circumstances. The 'Individual' attempts to reveal the transcendental
order which lies beyond him. According to this view 'Individuals' are
fully conscious, and can experience self-knowledge.
The term 'Individual' refers to something quite different from the term
'subject', it conceives human beings to be products of metaphoric
devices and the signifying chain "The World is created by The Word."
The category of 'Subject' however questions the notion of self as
synonymous with consciousness. It is quite obvious that conceptualizing
human beings as subjects coincides with orthodox Jewish assumptions.
However, the Israeli secular Jew, is taught to ignore non-western styles
of thought as inferior. He is not familiar with other existing types of
thought such as Jewish orthodoxy, or Islamic and other oriental styles
of reasoning.
Calculative thinking according to Heidegger, manifests a human betrayal
which exemplifies the forgetfulness of Being. This forgetfulness reveals
a basic need for certainty and an urge for prescriptive, scientific
guidance, defined under the slogan that "Only what is counted counts."
The project of calculative political reasoning assumes that as more
facts or mass media information are shared, there is more knowledge to
be stored for governing better choices and reliable judgments.
According to Heidegger there is an unbridgeable "gap" between the two
forms of thought. This does not mean that contemplative thought is
better. But the problem is that calculative thought thrusts aside
other forms of thinking as inferior.
The contemplative form of thought which refers to modes of language like
free conversation, poetics, literature, music or everyday language,
includes a portrayal of occurrences without there being any determinate
rules for description. In Kant's philosophy these genres refer to the
principle of productive imagination. Contrary to calculative styles of
thought where questions are aimed at a definite response, what counts in
non-western traditions of thought, like for instance the Judaic
tradition, is to remain questioned by the text and stay responsive to it
through meditation. 'Studying' and 'learning' requires that reality be
treated as an obscure message addressed by an unnamable agency. One must
listen to the verse of the Tora, decipher and interpret it, and keep in
mind that this interpretation will itself be interpreted as a message no
less enigmatic. So, in the end, the prominent scholar's reading is what
determines the law.
In western regimes, where the political leader claims to be the
guarantor of the event, he who controls the rules, then decision making
might be authoritarian as well.
Israeli democracy, which pretends to be inspired by the common values of
the free western world, reflects an aporetic controversy between
democracy and Judaism. An aporia that originates in the two
distinguished philosophical perspectives.
Israeli society manifests a split between those two opposing views
concerning the nature of reason, knowledge, choice and judgment. This
aporia is not recognized in the Christian world, because Christianity
conceives of human beings as individuals. In Christianity, secular law
precedes religious law. The Jewish idea of the link however reflects a
total fusion between the two. Thus in Islam and Judaism secular and
religious law are united under the command of a divine authority.
Lyotard's concept of 'The Differend' marks the rift between these two
modes of thought. 'The Differend' relates to a case of conflict which
cannot be resolved due to the 'lack of a rule of judgment applicable to
two discourses.' The concept of 'The Differend' condemn calculative
thinking as a representational discourse that refers exclusively to the
correspondence between the observable and the non-observable, so that
any coherent non-observable presentation is ignored. 'The Differend' is
an awareness of unmarked communication, it stresses the idea of language
as a limitation of reality. It signals silence, and it is the moment of
silence which signifies otherness.
At this point I shall focus upon Levinas' treatise concerning the
concept of otherness and responsibility toward the other. Levinas'
ethics which proceeds from Heidegger's philosophy and is charged by
theology, is not perceived as a professional, specialized pursuit, but
rather a condition of authentic, personal life. For Levinas the
understanding of Being, is that which gives man's being its meaning of
humanity. Human self-definition defines empathy towards the other as a
virtue, which cannot be encompassed in terms of knowledge or any other
means of representational thinking. Ethics, the face to face relation
with the other, is non-representational by its very nature. Language
acts primarily as a candid means of relating to the transcendence of the
other. In Levinas' terminology the word is a 'saying' which means an
ethical event (contrary to the said which refers to the propositional
content). It means that making face to face contact precedes all
determinate communication. The act of saying means the taking of
responsibility for the conduct of communication. Responsibility on the
part of the knower precedes any relation to knowing. The human subject
ceases to be understood as the subject of his own mind and turns to
become the subject of language and ethical demands. It therefore comes
as no surprise that Levinas' ethic, built upon Jewish texts, is ignored
as a philosophical oddity in Israeli academic pigeonholes.
Heidegger precedes Levinas on the notion of otherness. While Levinas
associates the Hebrew words for 'responsibility' (??????) with
'otherness' (?????), Heidegger links the word responsibility to
'response,' as connected with 'ability.' These two aspects of the
concept of responsibility fit the active­passive interplay.
For Levinas, responsibility means an empathic ability to respond to
otherness, marking a shift from the active towards the passive side.
Eevidently, Israeli politics reveals a sharp inclination toward the
active pole in the response-ability interplay. The Israeli response to
Palestinian provocation delineates acts which oscillate between
restraint and controlled aggression. These two articulations illustrate
the distinction between an attentive response to otherness and treating
the other as an object.
The concept of 'otherness' as 'alterity' in Levinas' ethics does not
view the 'other' as an extension of my-self, but stresses the absolute
other that is above me. Heidegger, Levinas and Derrida;s diversion from
traditional humanism means that the human 'other' stops being an object
of inquiry. Levinas describes the other as somebody who is totally
unknown to my self, and it is my responsibility to secure the 'other's
urge to define his identity on his own terms. But since articulation of
a common will necessitates stratification of the population according to
predifined criteria of identity, the cancellation of the other's 'self
definition' challenges the poll culture as a whole.
I argue that most minorities' rebellions originate in that aggressive
compulsion to define the identity of 'others.' In Israel it is
exemplified by the Israeli Arabs' riots and Jewish orthodoxy's
resistance to this arrogant authoritarian policy. We can trace the
attempt to delineate other groups' essential needs for self definition,
in Israeli efforts to cause the Palestinians to replace their
In the case of Israel despite, the fact that the population is divided
between the two antagonistic discursive genres, the enlightened
authorities attempt to outline the profile of the population's common
will by utilizing polls' technology. Hence, according to the view that
language forms the socialized human being as a 'subject,' we should
admit the conclusion, that it is the manifestation of an absolute case
of a Differend.
Ruled by database reports, calculative thought is doomed to forget
ethical and moral values. So if responsibility points to what cannot be
controlled, then the polls' attempt to control prediction can be seen as
irresponsibility. An advanced culture of efficiency and control may "get
out of control" because it disregards 'otherness.'
We may say that the notion of alter(ity) as the face which is above me
is unrecognized by the calculative thinker. Public opinion polls
indisputable invasion into the public sphere exhibits immorality simply
because it blurs the individual face. Ironically, the great believer in
human individuality is led astray by the promise of a scientific method
which will safeguard objectivity and neutrality in the decision making
process. Disrespect for the voter is precisely what is displayed by
using the poll apparatus that erases his unique face. The citizen of the
liberal-democratic state is thus cynically manipulated by the
corresponding machinery of matching polls' data with candidates'
profiles, and thus falls victim to his naive belief in free choice.
By deconstructing the word person, we shall reveal that the notion of
person originates in the Latin word persona, which means a mask, a
concealment of the human face. Poll culture replaces face to face
contact with an indifferent anonymous entity. The crowd-will substitutes
paying attention to people's personal desires. It leads to a
forgetfulness of response-ability towards 'otherness.' Imposing
anonymity on the citizen's face, and compelling digital modes of
thinking on communities which their typical style of life is
characterized by analogue (non-puctuated) modes of learning, constitute
an inhuman act. To enforce techno-scientific reasoning on people
committed to be constantly inspired by intuitive, heuristic, hermeneutic
insight reveals a growing bluntness. It affects insensibility concerning
human rights and equality. In the case of Israel it eliminates empathy
for the misery of non-Jewish minorities in favor of keeping Israel as a
national home for the holocaust survivors. Israeli democracy is an odd
phenomenon. While pretending to be a civic society guided by western
law Israel, at the same time, under the guise of calculative thought,
violates human rights and equality.
Since leadership should represent all sections of the population, the
more leadership declares a calculative politics of progress, the more it
reflects opacity towards what are considered non-western forms of
thought. Leadership reacts in an irresponsible way, which ends with
dehumanization and even demonization of the non-western opponent. It
legitimizes the use of the most ultra-modern technological implements of
war from nuclear bombs to F16 missiles, as if there is more humanism in
killing with modern weapons then when using primitive methods like
stones or bullets?
Calculative thought, evident in democratic countries marks two kinds of
leadership: one is defined as rational and 'enlightened,' the 'other' is
considered reactionary or fundamentalist. Since the Israeli political
arena exemplifies the case of a Differend, it becomes an impossible
mission for an Israeli prime minister to navigate within such
antagonistic streams. The fact is that most Israeli political leaders
materialize calculative reasoning which thrusts aside all other thought
as inferior. Most of them are products of the military high command,
lacking any civic cultural experience, so they exemplify a disastrous
combination. I shall assume that only an educated leader, one blessed
with a productive imagination and able to internalize the complementary
relationship between the two modes of thought, would be the one able to
prove response-ability.
Despite the belief that the accumulation of vast amounts of information
improves the reasoning power, we learn that there is an unbridgeable
gulf between statements about a group and statements about a singular
entity. These two kinds of statements belong to different logical types,
so that projecting from one to the other is not guaranteed in principle
and is trapped in a paradoxical 'DOUBLE-BIND' message. As control of the
system is strengthened, it becomes more predictable at the expense of
diminishing perception with regard to the singular entity. Consequently,
the group which is deterministic by character, attempts to harness the
unpredictable individuality within the limits of the average.
In western countries, where respondents' reliability is taken for
granted, polls' predictions are considered valid. In Israel the young
secular generation considered 'enlightened' by science and technology,
is easily persuaded by data findings. Orthodox youngsters however,
inspired by the Talmudic tradition of scholarship, are more familiar
with deductive styles of inference and not influenced by the polls. Thus
they have no commitment to the scientific truth, and exploit the polls
as a subtle self-fulfilling prophetic mechanism against their rivals.
This matter is relevant to the fallacy of political and historical
anticipation. It stresses the fact that one person acting in an
unpredictable manner might change the path of history, it rather points
to the fact that "every vote counts."
The traditional prevailing position views responsibility as linked to
increasing the power of predictability. But since predictability is
clearly associated with the unforeseen, we may ironically conclude that
enchantment with the certainty bestowed by "scientific" predictability
can actually be taken as a refusal to confront responsibility. The
fragile state of latter-day democracies is conditioned upon keeping in
mind that predictions are forecasts, nothing more than false prophecies.