Saturday, December 27, 2008

That histrionic gift by which such men impersonate the feelings of their followers

Fyren ligner litt på Jonas Gahr Støre??
When you trace back the history of spin, PR and propaganda, the threads converge on Walter Lippmann's 1922 Public Opinion, one of the great and dangerous books of political philosophy. Lippmann argued that people are unable to gain an accurate picture of the world they live in. Pure democracy therefore doesn't work, and society needs the guidance of benevolent experts.

80 years later we know that expert rule doesn't work, but Lippmann's challenge to the fundaments of democracy remains unanswered. I sure don't know how. Everything he says is correct. The best I can do is "well it seems to work anyway".

Lippmann's analysis of how people form opinions, and how this process may be manipulated, inspired Edward Bernays to create the PR industry. Edward Bernays inspired Goebbels, but Goebbels could just have skipped the middleman: Public Opinion contains all the building blocks of a theory of mass manipulation.

I'm too hard on Lippmann. He wanted government experts to protect us from manipulation. But it was implicit in his distrust of democracy and individual judgment that, to do that, the government must itself manipulate. And Public Opinion told it exactly how.

Today the book is mostly forgotten, but its ideas permeate every aspect of our lives. They're there in every political statement, every advertisement, every press release. We live in the world Lippmann describes, and more so because only the wrong people listened to his ideas. Read Public Opinion yourself to restore the balance.

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