Kultur, Zoologi og metafysisk spekulasjon

The place of Lippmann in life

In Filosofi, Litteratur on desember 12, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Have you ever considered the fact that the concept of ‘cold war’ was actually coined, that it was made up one day? Well the guy who did it was a journalist born in 1889 in the city of New York, who (among many achievements) won the Pulitzer Prize twice (1958 and 1962) and founded the magazine The New Republic in 1914 (which is still going strong). His name was Walter Lippmann.


In 1925 he published the book The Phantom Public. It is considered among many as representing a deeply pessimistic look on the modern democracy – a system that has not changed much since the times of the publication of the book, and which makes it relevant even today. In it he describes a realistic picture of the relationship between state and public, and with realistic I mean ‘what the nature of this relationship actually is in practice’. So it is not inherently pessimistic. It is the system we live in that ‘strikes us’ as pessimistic, that which is being portrayed in the book. Lippmann never hit me as a moralist, nor a critic for criticisms sake.

Approaching the book as a realistic outlook on ‘the modern system’, because it is a system – bureaucracy is not characterized by agency, but by specifically defined roles played out by people and machines, we can use this book to our own advantage. We can let Lippmann show us our place in the state, and what chances we have of making a change.


Insiders and outsiders

According to Lippmann we are all bystanders. He actually defines the public as a “random collection of bystanders”. We are all just persons living together based on various associations to other actors flowing around us, actors of which we have interests in – any social entity bigger than the individual is a mythical creature. The mythos of the modern world is Society, the Nation and The Community. (Can you hear the whispers of Thomas Hobbes and his monstrous Leviathan?) They do not have any materiality accept as persons acting according to a network of associations. These people are the bureaucrats. They are the insiders, while we on the other hand are the outsiders.



What is so important with this distinction between outsiders and insiders? Because, Lippmann answers, “their relations to a problem are radically different”. Bureaucrats have no personal relation to a problem – impartiality is a central ingredient of state organization, and is sometimes protected by law. So, “being external, his point of view is indirect”. When a problem is dealt with inside ‘the State’, it is being taken care of by people who do not care (because they are not allowed to). Of course, we all know this does not hold for the ‘professional’ politician, who will even manipulate truth “to what he considers the necessities of action, of bargaining, morale and prestige”.


Public opinion

The public has opinions, obviously. But what is the nature of this? As Lippmann says, “I have conceived public opinion to be not the voice of God, nor the voice of society, but the voice of the interested spectators of action”. So how does public opinion perform itself if it is not the voice of the society? Again we must look at what is actually happening in front of us. “When men take a position in respect to the purposes of others they are acting as a public”, Lippmann says. The public opinion is always acted out by representatives. If we want to be the public opinion we have to find individuals with similar interests and allow ourselves to represent them. In other words, we have to make a mythical creature out of our selves. We must attend to, and exploit the modernist indoctrinated notion of union based upon identity, and become something bigger than ourselves.

Society is nothing more than “the adjustments between individuals and their things”. By changing society, it follows that we have to affect the adjustments, to change them. So how do we go forward in this procedure, what should be our modus operandi? Stick to the truth you say? I think not, because, as Lippmann again answers, “however deep the personal interest of the statesman is favor of the truth as a method, he is almost certainly forced to treat truth as an element of policy”. Actually, Lippmann outlines only one possible method for influencing the public affairs: go directly to the individual(s) in the affair. People influence public affairs “only if they influence an actor in the affair”. (The actor can be anything; the concept is not necessarily connected to biological humans; just looks at the case of WikiLeaks, was it not the documents that created the controversy?)


A Lippmannian road to change

  1. Define properly what the problem is.
  2. Do your research and find your allies! (More associated connections means more existence.)
  3. Create controversy by appearing publicly. (Find the best suitable way in your society.)
  4. Remember to ‘represent’ the public! (Make yourself a spokesman for the masses.)
  5. Go directly to the persons involved – preferably, I guess, without telling anyone else. (You won’t get through the mouse hole with the rabble on your tail!)

(And remember: “sincerity is no index of intelligence”.)

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