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- Public Opinion - 1/54 -


PUBLIC OPINION

BY

WALTER LIPPMANN

TO FAYE LIPPMANN

Wading River, Long Island. 1921.

_"Behold! human beings living in a sort of underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all across the den; they have been here from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them; for the chains are arranged in such a manner as to prevent them from turning round their heads. At a distance above and behind them the light of a fire is blazing, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have before them, over which they show the puppets.

I see, he said.

And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying vessels, which appear over the wall; also figures of men and animals, made of wood and stone and various materials; and some of the prisoners, as you would expect, are talking, and some of them are silent?

This is a strange image, he said, and they are strange prisoners.

Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

True, he said: how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would see only the shadows?

Yes, he said.

And if they were able to talk with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?"_ --The Republic of Plato, Book Seven. (Jowett Translation.)

CONTENTS

PART I. INTRODUCTION

I. The World Outside and the Pictures in Our Heads

PART II. APPROACHES TO THE WORLD OUTSIDE

II. Censorship and Privacy

III. Contact and Opportunity

IV. Time and Attention

V. Speed, Words, and Clearness

PART III. STEREOTYPES

VI. Stereotypes

VII. Stereotypes as Defense

VIII. Blind Spots and Their Value

IX. Codes and Their Enemies

X. The Detection of Stereotypes

PART IV. INTERESTS

XI. The Enlisting of Interest

XII. Self-Interest Reconsidered

PART V. THE MAKING OF A COMMON WILL

XIII. The Transfer of Interest

XIV. Yes or No

XV. Leaders and the Rank and File

PART VI. THE IMAGE OF DEMOCRACY

XVI. The Self-Centered Man

XVII. The Self-Contained Community

XVIII. The Role of Force, Patronage, and Privilege

XIX. The Old Image in a New Form: Guild Socialism

XX. A New Image

PART VII. NEWSPAPERS

XXI. The Buying Public

XXII. The Constant Reader

XXIII. The Nature of News

XXIV. News, Truth, and a Conclusion

PART VIII. ORGANIZED INTELLIGENCE

XXV. The Entering Wedge

XXVI. Intelligence Work

XXVII. The Appeal to the Public

XXVIII. The Appeal to Reason

PART I

INTRODUCTION

CHAPTER I

THE WORLD OUTSIDE AND THE PICTURES IN OUR HEADS

CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION

THE WORLD OUTSIDE AND THE PICTURES IN OUR HEADS

There is an island in the ocean where in 1914 a few Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Germans lived. No cable reaches that island, and the British mail steamer comes but once in sixty days. In September it had not yet come, and the islanders were still talking about the latest newspaper which told about the approaching trial of Madame Caillaux for the shooting of Gaston Calmette. It was, therefore, with more than usual eagerness that the whole colony assembled at the quay on a day in mid-September to hear from the captain what the verdict had been. They learned that for over six weeks now those of them who were English and those of them who were French had been fighting in behalf of the sanctity of treaties against those of them who were Germans. For six strange weeks they had acted as if they were friends, when in fact they were enemies.

But their plight was not so different from that of most of the population of Europe. They had been mistaken for six weeks, on the continent the interval may have been only six days or six hours. There was an interval. There was a moment when the picture of Europe on which men were conducting their business as usual, did not in any way correspond to the Europe which was about to make a jumble of their lives. There was a time for each man when he was still adjusted to an environment that no longer existed. All over the world as late as July 25th men were making goods that they would not be able to ship, buying goods they would not be able to import, careers were being planned, enterprises contemplated, hopes and expectations entertained, all in the belief that the world as known was the world as it was. Men were writing books describing that world. They trusted the picture in their heads. And then over four years later, on a Thursday morning, came the news of an armistice, and people gave vent to their unutterable relief that the slaughter was over. Yet in the five days before the real armistice came, though the end of the war had been celebrated, several thousand young men died on the battlefields.

Looking back we can see how indirectly we know the environment in which nevertheless we live. We can see that the news of it comes to us now fast, now slowly; but that whatever we believe to be a true picture, we treat as if it were the environment itself. It is harder to remember that about the beliefs upon which we are now acting, but in respect to other peoples and other ages we flatter ourselves that it is easy to see when they were in deadly earnest about ludicrous pictures of the world. We insist, because of our superior hindsight, that the world as they needed to know it, and the world as they did know it, were often two quite contradictory things. We can see, too, that while they governed and fought, traded and reformed in the world as they imagined it to be, they produced results, or failed to produce any, in the world as it was. They started for the Indies and found America. They diagnosed evil and hanged old women. They thought they could grow rich by always selling and never buying. A caliph, obeying what he conceived to be the Will of Allah, burned the library at


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