Dewey's famous debate with fellow communications scholar Walter Lippman, author of several books including Public Opinion (1922), helps us draw out the larger and lasting humanism and appeal of Dewey's thought
From Walter Lippman, Chapter 1, "The World Outside and the Pictures in Our Heads". Public Opinion. New York: Penguin, 1922.
a. introduction to Lippman
. Lippman was arguably the most famous and powerful journalist in the U.S. in the 1920s, and he wrote a book in which he testified to his view of the public, Public Opinion
. technically, Lippman was a liberal insofar as he favoured market capitalism and was a staunch defender of individual rights and freedoms
. however, his famous essay "The World Outside and the Pictures in Our Heads" can today be read as a conservative document for its opinion as to the mass public and the role of the media thereby
. to Lippman, we owe the original use of the phrase "the manufacture of consent", from which Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman's book of the same name is drawn
. on the "manufacture of consent" idea, here's Lippman in his own words: (p. 187-8, in another section of the book from which this essay we read comes, Public Opinion)
"The manufacture of consent is not a new art. It is a very old one which was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy. But it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technic, because it is now based on analysis rather than on the rule of thumb. And so, as a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner."
. we can locate Lippmann for our purposes in a line of technocratic thinkers, i.e., technocracy being the position that technology and the scientists who manage it are the people best suited to running society
b. Lippman's article, "The World Outside and the Pictures in Our Heads"
. Lippman, writing not long after WWI, argued that there was a crisis in liberal democracy
. that is, though liberal democratic theory argued that democracy was best sustained through the spontaneous combination of individual interests--in the clash of party, interest, public participation, etc--the theory was wrong and the theory was dangerous
. the reason for this error and danger was that people operated according to their individual views of the world and how it worked; take x number of people with x number of "pictures in their heads" (or world views), and you had a recipe for incredible confusion and societal paralysis
. our immediate experience is very limited; and thus we rely on media in order to make sense of the vast world outside that immediate experience
. the media thus create a "pseudo-environment" that intervenes between self and world in order to allow people to make sense of the world
. however, since this media "pseudo-environment" moves people to take certain actions and not others, it is crucial that this mediation is done properly
"... the insertion between man and his environment of a pseudo-environment. To that pseudo-environment his behaviour is a response. But because it is behaviour, the consequences, if they are acts, operate not in the pseudo-environment where the behaviour is stimulated, but in the real environment where action operates." (p. 10)
. the way we lived in the world looked something like this:
(i) the world of our direct experience
(ii) the pictures we have of the world outside our experience
(iii) the thoughts, feelings and (to him), most importantly, actions that we take in response to the pictures in our heads
. these "pictures in our heads" of the world "outside", he argued, had enormous influence over how we saw the world, and what action we took in it
. that is, our direct experience of the world was highly limited; and we received most of our information about the world, such as formed the "pictures in our heads", from media of all sorts, other people's opinions, education (e.g. social science and communication studies), ideologies and beliefs we obtained from various places, etc.
. i.e. there are people in society who believe that the earth is flat, or that UFOs regularly visit us, or that all people of a certain skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic class or even horoscope sign ought to be banished from society, or worse
. while Lippman admits that it's necessary that we form pictures of the world, given the world's overwhelming complexity, something needs to be done
. that something, as he recommended, was the establishment of what he believed would be an objective, "scientific" and elite body of experts whose job it would be to take data from the world outside, reflect upon and synthesize it, and then produce "accurate" pictures of the world; in other words, government by "technocracy"
"I argue that representative government, either in what is ordinarily called politics, or in industry, cannot be worked successfully, no matter what the basis of election, unless there is an independent, expert organization for making the unseen facts intelligible to decisions. I attempt, therefore, to argue that the serious acceptance of the principle that personal representation must be supplemented by representation of the unseen facts would alone permit a satisfactory decentralization, and allow us to escape from the intolerable and unworkable fiction that each of us must acquire a competent opinion about all public affairs." (p. 22)
. the end result of this would be the "manufacture of consent" for the good of all
. therefore we have a form of democracy not concerned with finding its source in spontaneous action of ordinary people, but one concerned with efficient outcomes