Bathroom Reading with Digidave

Hello friends.

As some know I was a pseudo-intellectual in college double majoring in rhetoric and philosophy. In my current situation I am against being too heady or academic. I have a bias towards action. As Matt Waite has put it, I believe in “demos not memos.”

That said, it’s my blog and I can be as hypocritical as I want and the following is a passage I’ve been reading and re-reading because it blows my mind.

So lean back in your armchair. Grab your tobacco pipe and put on your fez hat for a segment I will call: “Bathroom Reading with Digidave.”

Today’s reading comes to us from Jurgen Habermas. It is incredibly related to journalism and begs for rethinking since the advent of the internet. It is just the first section in a larger essay. Perhaps future Bathroom Readings will walk us through the whole essay. It is titled…

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The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article

The concept: By “the public sphere” we mean first of all a realm of our social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed. Access is guaranteed to all citizens. A portion of the public sphere comes into being in every conversation in which private individuals attempt to form a public body. They then behave neither like business or professional people transacting private affairs, nor like members of a constitutional order subject to the legal constraints of a state bureaucracy. Citizens behave as a public body when they confer in an unrestricted fashion — that is, with the guarantee of freedom of assembly and association and the freedom to express and publish their opinions about matters of general interest. In a large public body, this kind of communication requires specific means for transmitting information and influences those who receive it. Today, newspapers and magazines, radio and television are the media of the public sphere [note from Digidave: What does the Internet change about all of this?].

We speak of the political public sphere in contrast, for instance, to the literary one, when public discussion deals with objects connected to the activity of the state. Although state authority is, so to speak, the executor of the political public sphere, it is not a part of it. To be sure, state authority is usually considered “public” authority but it derives its task of caring for the well-being of all citizens primarily from this aspect of the public sphere. Only when the exercise of political control is effectively subordinated to the democratic demand that information be accessible to the public, does the political public sphere win an institutionalized influence over the government through the instrument of law-making bodies. The expression “public opinion” refers to the tasks of criticism and control which a public body of citizens informally¬† — and in periodic elections — formally, as well practices vs-a-vs the ruling structure organized in the form of a state. Regulations demanding that certain proceedings be public for example, those providing for open court hearings – are also related to this function of public opinion.

The public sphere as a sphere which mediates between society and state, in which the public organizes itself as the bearer of public opinion, accords with the principle of the public sphere — that principle of public information which once had to be fought for against the arcane policies of monarchies and which since that time has made possible the democratic control of state activities.

It is no coincidence that these concepts of the public sphere and public opinion arose for the first time only in the eighteenth century [Note from Digidave: Being radically re-thought in how they are organized today]. They acquire their specific meaning from a concrete historical situation. It was at that time that the distinction of opinion from opinion publique and public opinion came about. Though mere opinion (cultural assumptions, normative attitudes, collective prejudices and values) seem to persist unchanged in their natural form as a kind sediment of historically public opinion can by definition come into existence only when a reasoning public is presupposed. Public discussion about the exercise of political power which are both critical in intent and institutionally guaranteed have not always existed — they grew out of specific phase of bourgeois society and could enter into the order of the bourgeois constitutional state only as a result of particular constellation of interests.

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