requiem for certainty

Posts Tagged ‘public/private

Dewey’s Problems of Publics (1927)

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“There are too many publics and too much of public concern for our existing resources to cope with” (Dewey 1927, 126).

The starting point of Dewey’s argument in The Public and Its Problems is Walter Lippmann’s thesis, expounded in his 1922 Public Opinion and 1925 The Phantom Public, that the public is today, in Dewey’s phrase, “lost” and “bewildered” (116).  The public finds itself midst multiple gluts of misinformation.  It cannot cope.  Inquiry and deliberation are hardly capable of being intelligent.  This can be seen as a serious insult to democracy.

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Written by Colin Koopman

May 3, 2011 at 12:00 am

Dewey on Society (from 1888 to 1916)

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Contemporary political theory is haunted by a pair of interwoven ambiguities between pluralism and monism on the one hand and proceduralism and moralism on the other.  I find a valuable early example of these ambiguities in the work of democratic theorist and pragmatist philosopher John Dewey.  What follows is a historical redescription of this ambiguity in Dewey as we chart the chronology of his democratic theory from his early Hegelian phase (in 1888) to his later explicitly pragmatist (but still ambiguous) philosophy (in 1916).

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Written by Colin Koopman

April 19, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Dewey on Publics and States (in 1920)

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One of John Dewey’s lifelong obsessions with respect to political theory concerned issues of the democratic qualities in virtue of which some publics become capable of self-regulation or, to put it differently, become capable of growth (which for Dewey is always a self-directed process).  This theme emerges most clearly in his 1927 The Public and Its Problems, a text that has obsessed many commentators.  Another location where we find anticipations of that discussion is in chapter 8 of his 1920 Reconstruction In Philosophy.  One can follow the thread of that text through three themes in order to shed some light on Dewey’s conception of the democratic organization of publics, a conception which arguably is the very center of his entire philosophic vision.

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Written by Colin Koopman

April 11, 2011 at 11:39 pm

Assange’s Secrets and Ours

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The British courts are holding WikiLeaks maestro Julian Assange on charges related to sexual misconduct, or sexual molestation, or sexual something-or-other.  The confusion over just what Assange did wrong when he had sex with two Swedish women is, or perhaps should be, an object of concern.  The charges in Sweden were filed, dropped, then filed again.

The WikiLeaks example is growing richer every minute.  It is a perfect little capsule of contemporary culture, in its obsessions with truthfulness, both at the political level of international diplomacy (where we have for so long demanded state secrecy) and at the personal level of the sexual confessional (where we so fervently demand of ourselves, and especially of those ‘in power’ in some form, that they give up all their secrets).

Assange told our secrets and now we are forcing him to tell his.

Our secrets reveal acts of violence, hatred, intrigue, and all the other harsh realities one might expect from the diplomacy of the hegemon.  Assange’s secrets, for which he is now being held in a jail cell in Britain without bail, have it that, at least according to the charges, he would not consent to using a condom when he had sex.  Interestingly the coverage of just what the charges of ‘sexual misconduct’ amount to is all over the map.  The coverage on NPR this morning made no mention of the nature of the charges and only used vague terms that suggested, to me, nonconcensual sex, perhaps sexual assault or rape (definitely gaspable material, that).  The coverage in the Times buries the nature of the charge, saying that the sexual acts “became nonconsensual after he was no longer using a condom” (this sounds problematic but is very unclear to my untrained non-lawyer ears).  The coverage in the Sydney Morning Herald is fuller.  But things are all over the map.

All this suggests that it is, once again, these mega-states that are dirty, not Assange.  (Correction: it just may be that Assange is dirty, too, at least in one way.) It is one of the oldest plays in the book to make life a living hell for those who challenge the state by trotting out charges of sexual misconduct.  There is a sad and long history of this in the United States.  Martin Luther King, Jr. is just one of the favorite examples.  Assange is no King.  King was a hero.  Assange is a humble technician of a new way of ideas.  Both challenged prevailing wisdom.  And both were sent to the sexual slammer.

Update (756pm PST): Thanks to Jeremy for the comments.  You are right that the language above is too brash and vague. It is not my aim to trivialize the content of the allegations, but only to encourage reflectiveness about the procedure.

Written by Colin Koopman

December 7, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Our New Age of Information Transparency: The WikiLeaks Cables

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So here we are: CableGate, WikiLeaks, etc., and whatever else it will come to be called.  I propose that we hyperbolically refer to all this as the First Major Event in the New Epoch of Information Transparency.  The story over at the Times offers pretty good reporting (says this amateur reader): http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/29/world/29cables.html?hp.

But there are (at least) two stories here.  There is the ‘regular’ story about diplomacy, espionage, and political intrigue.  Exciting!  But there is another story, one composed of more humble and quotidian details, which is much harder to tell, but which in this instance is painfully bright for all to see.  This is a story about information transparency, and how the internet is, once again, changing everything.

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Written by Colin Koopman

November 29, 2010 at 4:39 am

(Preliminary) Response to Lessig

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A number of political theorists have concluded that the new set of technologies and practices known as the internet undermines some of the core epistemic, civic, and moral conditions for democratic culture.  See, for instance, my post on Cass Sunstein’s Republic.com 2.o.  I disagree with Sunstein et. al. but I find their arguments worth addressing.

One way of addressing these arguments is to take them seriously but to offer some kind of response, perhaps provisional, as to how the challenges contained therein might be met.  This is how I have been reading the work of cultural critic and Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig (at least this is how I have been reading it this week).  Lessig’s work is probably the most important of that which tries to respond to the problems laid out by Sunstein and others.  It is the most important not only because the most influential, but also because the most radical. Lessig’s work is also usefully representative insofar as it aims to respond to the problems posed by seeking to restore the familiar equilibria of liberal democracy as we have known it for quite some time now.

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Written by Colin Koopman

February 27, 2009 at 8:33 pm

Pragmatism in Obama’s Inaugural

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We saw more pragmatism this week in Obama’s inaugural address (following up on earlier posts).  It was not quite the masterful literary piece that one might have expected given all that we have been hearing about how Obama wishes to position himself as the next Lincoln.  Lincoln was not only a president but also a poet: recall his “mystic chords of memory”.  Obama is not quite a poet, at least not yet.  But then again, I find the comparisons to Lincoln somewhat overstrained.  Obama is a pragmatist.  Lincoln was not (but perhaps the persident could not have been a pragmatist in those tumultuous years.)

In Obama’s inaugural address this Tuesday we heard his pragmatism once again.  It was forceful and proud, yet also humble and friendly.  This is as pragmatism should be: at once confident and inviting.

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Written by Colin Koopman

January 24, 2009 at 8:58 pm