Public Opinion (book)  

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"That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough. […] [A]s a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power. […] Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart. Where we act on that theory we expose ourselves to self-deception, and to forms of persuasion that we cannot verify. It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach." --|Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Public Opinion is a book by Walter Lippmann, published in 1922, that is a critical assessment of functional democratic government, especially the irrational, and often self-serving, social perceptions that influence individual behavior, and prevent optimal societal cohesion. The descriptions of the cognitive limitations people face in comprehending their socio-political and cultural environments, proposes that people must inevitably apply an evolving catalogue of general stereotypes to a complex reality, rendered Public Opinion a seminal text in the fields of media studies, political science, and social psychology.

The world outside and pictures in our heads

The introductory first part describes man’s inability to functionally perceive and accurately interpret the world: “The real environment is altogether too big, too complex, and too fleeting for direct acquaintance”, between people and their environment (reality). That people construct a pseudo-environment that is a subjective, biased, and necessarily abridged mental image of the world; therefore, to a degree, everyone's pseudo-environment is a fiction. Hence, people “live in the same world, but think and feel in different ones”. Human behavior is stimulated by the person’s pseudo-environment and then is acted upon in the real world. The chapter highlights some of the general implications of the interactions among one’s psychology, environment, and the mass communications media




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