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February 12, 2005

public affairs

According to Lippmann, if other human beings' behavior "crosses" mine, is "dependent" upon me, or is "interesting" to me, then that's a rough definition of the boundaries of "public affairs" about which one may have "public opinions" (29).

Lippmann's summary of reasons why people wind up with disparate pictures of events, issues, etc that require some kind of decision-making seems relevant. Why do "the pictures in peopleís heads" lack correspondence with "the world outside?" We all have limited access to facts through ìartificial censorship, the limitations of social contact, the comparatively meager time available in each day for paying attention to public affairs, the distortion arising because events have to be compressed into very short messages, the difficulty of making a small vocabulary express a complicated world, and finally the fear of facing those facts which would seem to threaten the established routine of [peopleís] livesî (30).

(btw - 15 (!) people attended the comm grad stduent meeting yesterday but you'll have to wait for the minutes to find out what's what.)

Stephen has been arguing, I'm starting to think, for a blog composed of or otherwise enacting representative Public Opinions, while I have been arguing for a site for the expression of representational public opinions.

At least our debate has been carried out in public (apparently -?- generating an impression that one or both of us is "really mad"?)

Of course, he'll say, No no no! That's not what I mean! I'm not mad! Don't psychologize me! You don't know what I mean! :-) Mr. Dual Binary comes alive! What I know is my own subjective experience of this interminable "debate" in which the only meaning we have been able to co-construct is an either/or which polarizes perceptions, sensations, and sentiments. See my upcoming entry in the 'How Far...' thread (it tracks a research project on the teacher's body and the use of the body/appearance in teaching).

As to the blog issue, I must give up this fight. (ok, its an embarassingly sic association, what can I say? %-/

tsk tsk. There I go again. OHMYGOD. Feelings! Nonrational behavior! GASP! How can we have a public sphere if that kind of behavior is going to occur?! What might she do if we gave her permission?? Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, don't tell her! She might put it on the blog!

Posted by Steph at February 12, 2005 9:47 AM

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If the ìinterminable debateî is winding down, I am glad to see it is doing so with reference to Lippman, because I think a more productive way of envisioning the issues of this contest is the Lippman-Dewey debates of the 1920s rather than, say, Habermas. Your closing salvoóìNonrational behavior! How can we have a public sphere if that kind of behavior is going to occur?!îóis understandable, but certainly not the issue I have been arguing about. Nowhere to my knowledge have I made a claim against sentiment, emotion, or irrationality in the constitution of a public, nor would any rhetorician worth her or his salt make one. I have, of course, made a claim against private sphere concerns entering into the public sphere at the expense of the work of a public. Let us also remember that this debate heated up only when you pronounced ex cathedra as a challenge to others (the DRP class especially) that the time had come to create an alternative blog.

To summarize my arguments:

(1) A public is more than a kind of group (and more than a gathering of individuals).
(2) A divide between public and private affairs is important for public judgments; some issues matter more to private life than they do to public life and vice versa. What matters is worthy of public debateósay, for example, concepts of love and marriageóbut an individual's private experiences (such as being disappointed) do not in and of themselves compel others to act upon them.
(3) A rich emotional ground is important for public judgment, but psychologizing (which presumes an expert who may ìknowî the motives of others) is not.
(4) Participation in democracy cannot be coerced.

I am not entirely sure how one might have a healthy debate without resorting to an ìeither / or.î Both / and is always nice to achieve, and the fetish of any hollow postmodernism, but I do not see the problem with engaging in either / or for the sake of a sparring match. If witnesses to our debate mistake a heated exchange for being angry, then it is only telling to me of the problem of people who mistake private concerns for public ones, or psychologize private states of affair as more important than public judgments.

And while I appreciate your turn to Lippman, let us also remember that he is not exactly the champion of participatory democracyóindeed, even his notion of democratic realism seems to offer little in response to his prediction of an inevitable technocratic society of elites who set the rules for others to follow. For Dewey, however, participatory democracy and the constitution of a public was indeed possible through rigorous deliberation, although public debate was not just about any damn thing that someone wanted to chat about, but rather sentiments, facts, and common issues and meanings that helped those citizens negotiating a public have something to keep them together.

In short, Lippman and Dewey are a nice place to end, at least for now.

Posted by: Stephen at February 12, 2005 2:57 PM

I don't know about Lippman-Dewey, but let's move on to Laswell: the section on "Sentiment Groups and Publics" (p. 128-129) stirred me up.

"Demands made regarding public policy must be debatable." We've been debating "demands" about "public policy" concerning blog posting parameters. This has me on decision-making procedures. Re the blog, one thing that's evident is that I have made independent decisions (decision-by-one) about what to post and when. (see separate post, upcoming)

Laswell's comments are in a context of war. I'm trying to narrow the scope to a field of application that we participate in (since we don't make decisions about when and against whom to go to war). In a "war", Laswell says "there is no public", only "sentiment groups....[that] tolerate no dissent."

We do have dissent, expressed publicly and privately, so that's an important step toward a public sphere. Laswell suggests that the degree of "integration" can be deduced by analysing the "attention structure." Now, by integration I thik he means consensus, or at least cohesion around a course of action between the "ruling classes" and the "masses" - am I on track?

By "attention structure", I understand Laswell to mean the kinds of things people talk and write about, what issues they represent in whatever media. (We can't know what people are thinking about unless there is an external expression of it.) These topics of discourse, then, become the means for tracking the dissemination of information - be it propaganda or fact - and serve as "an index" for what is considered important (in need of, or deserving, one's attention) and what is not.

This bond of agreement can be manipulated (and is) when the ruling class fears disagreement or resistance from the masses, and thus distorts "reality" in presenting arguments to the public. The more "discrepancy" there is between what is presented and what is experienced "shows the extent to which the ruling groups assume that their power depends on distortion."

It seems there is another possibility, at least on the smaller scale, which is simply that lack of communication (non-, or under-utilization of media) produces its own distortions, which are not necessarily predicated upon fear or any other base emotion. The "innocence" of such breakdown can conceivably be argued (but probaby pointlessly, as a diversion); however the need for transparency, and re-establishing it when its been lost, comes up against (so I speculate) "expectation[s of] internal conflict."

These expectations, which must be historically formed and informed by the vagaries of memory, influence approaches to handling potentially conflictual situations...I think this is an intrapersonal incursion (a strong word, I know) into the practice of democracy that needs to be acknowledged openly as a factor in decision-making. This, Stephen, is what I perceive you to be arguing against - that somehow there is a way to draw a distinction between motives, and that this distinction demarcates what can be discussed as part of a decision-making process and what cannot.

Posted by: steph at February 13, 2005 10:50 AM

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