Who are the Public? Public Sphere, Opinions, Moods & History

who are the public when the term is used

on television and debates by pundits and

politicians what comes to mind a

nebulous mass of bodies with differing

opinions somewhere out there the public

and not who they appear to be it is

instead a concept an idea a symbol in

many ways it doesn't exist and what it

means has a history differs from person

to person and is fundamental to politics

so when were the public born around the

time of the French Revolution as

democracy slowly became more prevalent

across Europe and America the idea of

the people replaced the king as the

source of legitimate Authority the

public replaced subjects this authority

manifested itself primarily in two ways

the right to form and express a

political opinion and the right to vote

elites in positions of power and no

longer jockey to get closer to war

influence the king but instead to what

the people wanted but who knew what they

wanted the burgeoning network of

intellectuals men of letters newspaper

proprietors pamphleteers that debated

and decided gave birth to what Jurgen

Habermas called the public sphere before

polling and mass communication what the

public wanted was largely defined by

this network with reference to history

philosophy and the politics of the time

it's of course was mostly elitist

educated metropolitan white and male the

public was created largely in their

image for the philosopher Thomas Hobbes

writing in the aftermath of the English

Civil War the public were a mass with

unstoppable passions a war of all

against stool which could only be kept

an order by a strong authority Hobbes

his public is symbolized on the famous

front piece of his work Leviathan as a

body with the

King as the head a few decades later

John Locke argued that the people judged

the virtue of our actions by three

standards the divine law the civil law

and the law of opinion how we think

about what's right and wrong is dictated

by each but Locke argued that the last

the law of public opinion exerted the

most pressure on us in other words we

care what other people think

Rousseau thought that this pressure was

so strong that each citizen had a duty

to conform to the general will of the

people I'll access the tocqueville's

similarly wrote that whenever social

conditions are equal

public opinion presses with enormous

weight upon the minds of each individual

it surrounds directs and oppresses him

this circumstance is extraordinarily

favorable to the stability of opinions

in tocqueville's democracy in America

published in 1835 he noted how liberal

politics depended on a public coming

together to pursue a common good he

thought that public opinion in America

was the predominant Authority more so

than the king or the president a few

decades after this the English liberal

philosopher John Stuart Mill warned that

the public could have a stifling effect

on personal freedom he warned of the

tyranny of the majority into the 20th

century Martin heidegger's

phenomenological approach tried to

forget all of this and to conceptualize

the basic categories of human experience

or consciousness he realized that the

other when in an indiscriminate mass

became that they which isn't a group of

single distinct people nor a group with

knowable characteristics but something

else something that becomes an average

for Heidegger our job is to work out how

to stand above the day to be authentic

is to find out how you become more than

average we can start to see then that

the public is constructed by images

words ideas by thinkers elites

politicians it is then a complex idea

but around the middle of the 20th

century something started to change

the universal suffrage became the norm

in most countries around the world even

if for cermets in name only as many

commentators noticed at the time

especially those of the Frankfurt School

like Walter Benjamin the massification

of society dramatically changed almost

everything two things in particular

changed what the public meant first mass

consumer society man the business man

wanted to produce goods that appealed to

the widest possible consumer base and

the advertising wants to create adverts

that did the same second with mass

suffrage politicians simultaneously

wanted to appeal to the widest number of

voters what unites them of this change

to mass society and the need for both

businessmen and politicians to appeal to

the widest net of people they became a

need to find out who the average person

was and what they wanted suddenly

statistics became wildly profitable by

1936 advertising agencies were making

use of surveys Gallup was formed in the

u.s. in 1935 and in Britain two years

after in the 50s politicians began

taking them seriously as a way of

testing policy George Gallup stressed

the social benefits of polling but many

saw his is strictly a business venture

polling was produced on the behalf of

paying clients money influence what was

being asked and the way it was being

asked political polling was commissioned

by newspapers hoping to be able to

predict the future and increase their

bottom line George galloped partner in

Britain Henry Durant complained in his

Diaries that newspapers routinely

interfered in polling setting the

questions and influencing the outcome by

the mid 40s 70% of galip's profits in

Britain came from just six companies an

ad agency Ford and a newspaper amongst

them to what extent then is the public

produced by these elements that an ad

company a newspaper and a mammoth

industrial business make up a chunk is

telling in itself by the sixties many

were comments in the polling not only

reported opinion but shaped it not just

in the questions and methods

in reporting the average gym public

people bandwagon on to conform to

popular opinion

critics like Habermas have argued the

polling can be used as a tool not to

learn but to monitor manipulate and

channel public opinion in many ways

though polling and statistics are

inherently egalitarian hypothetically

each person counts as one in the average

but as soon as you do average the

science the result becomes no one a

mythical person a standardized

stripped-back John Doe sometimes we hear

that this mythical person also has a

mood the public mood the zeitgeist the

spirit of the times

trends and moods can come together to

illuminate this public opinion in

different ways in one s a political

scientist Eric ring Mar asks where the

public moods are similar to individual

moods which he argues differs from

emotions in that they're not directed at

anything we might be in an angry mood

not angry at anything in particular

atmospheres can also affect our moods to

be in the woods at night or at the beach

moods can to nurse or prepare us for

likely events being alert or pensive or

celebratory our public moods the same

then do they attune us prepare us point

us towards certain outcomes or

expectations the public mood during

austerity might be one of anger or

anxiety that can then be directed at

politicians putting pressure on them the

public moon after winning the World Cup

might be one of jubilation whether

you're a football fan or not at the

moment it's often said that the British

public is bored of brexit in this way

ring my point cite the public is a

double within us another person whose

moods and opinions challenge our own

something that we synchronize with or

mirror or

we're confident push against to break

away from today statistics are

everywhere in her book the averaged

American sarah ego reminds us that

before polling there were other ways of

imagining the public literature

photography painting of course in

reality all of these vie for a position

to contribute to the definition of the

public the imagined community George

Gallup himself warned us though that

history is full of examples of the

minority proving rights those who

interpret polls correctly will pay at

least as much attention to the small

percentages as to the large so the

public aren't really out there they're a

linguistic phenomena an image a symbol

of feeling all trans mutating into one

another and competing to become the

correct image of the public and like all

ideas the public can be used and misused

and are usually employed rhetorically to

forward a particular goal and finally if

the public is made up of the average

opinion does it make it just that

average as always what's most important

is to be critical whenever anyone uses

the term the public can't always who

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