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<eyebeam><blast> Public sphere

On March 5 Craig Brozefsky asked:
"What makes you call the internet an arena of democratic exchange?  What
specifically about it is democratic?  Who is making the decisions behind
its policies, who is setting the parameters for participation within
this arena?"
"What happens when we group together a multitude of different people
under the guise of lack?... Let's all at least make a honest attempt at
assesing just what happens when you do something as basic as globalize a
concept of human, let alone citizen."

I guess those questions move us from CHEAP DESIRE to PUBLIC SPHERE - and
in hopes of furthering the debate, I'll say that the internet, precisely
when it's used for debate, functions as a disjunctive extension of the
bourgeois public sphere:

PUBLIC in the sense of Arendt and Habermas, because here, people appear
before others, express their opinion, and meet criticism leading to
debate,  resulting in the evolution of opinions all around;
SPHERE and not space, because the mode of appearance is abstract and
symbolic, not physical;
EXTENDED, because the net multiplies tremendously the number of virtual
"fora" in which the clash of opinions and the procedures of debate can
DISJUNCTIVE, because the geographic distance separating the debators
tends to downplay the individual's accountability with respect to the
opinions expressed, to weaken the link with representative institutions,
and generally to blur the connection between words and deeds;
And BOURGEOIS in both a negative and a positive way:
- NEGATIVE because the whole apparatus depends structurally on certain
forms of domination: it was originally launched by the military, and is
now largely used by the corporate hierarchy; its very technology, as Tim
Jordan has pointed out, favors the dominant language, and as we're all
aware, it is increasingly exploited as a vehicle for manipulative
advertising and commercial schemes;
- but also POSITIVE, because capitalism's structural need for
self-regulation through the free circulation of information has always
permitted and been accompanied by the bourgeois ideals of individual
freedom, collective decision-making, objective justive, and substantial

The new transnational public sphere that the net contributes to is still
not as strong as the old national ones. But it can have a lot of effect,
when the individuals whose opinions evolve through public debate use
their influence on institutions which wield some power. And the internet
is already being used to that end, as Pedro Meyer and Ricardo Dominguez
have pointed out. (I reckon that information and debate is so far a lot
more influential than hacker sabotage - though a little guerilla
activity can be great for debate!)

This isn't to say there aren't all kinds of problems. A big one is the
weakness and rarity of the international institutions, and their lack of
accountability to the public when they do exist. Another is the
depolitization and cynicism that all the disjunctive situations of
globalization seem to encourage. And another one is inherent to the
bourgeois notion of the public sphere, its supposed universality, which
practically becomes a set of criteria for inclusion and exclusion, for
rights to vote or to speak or to be listened to. The globalization of
"human" and "citizen" can be a real problem. A big effect of
communication media in general has been to homogenize, to channel people
down the same paths. Economic globalization standardizes; it doesn't
impose a single model, but sets unitary parameters.

That's exactly why I think the issues of access and  diversity are so
important, to extend the public sphere not just geographically and
disjunctively, but philosophically and emotionally, to open it up beyond
the old bourgeois prejudices, and beyond the new corporate parameters of
competition/ consumption. I think the debate over Brazilian culture
going on in this forum over the last few days has been fascinating and
rich, with a really brilliant post from Ricardo Basbaum on March 6,
showing how questions like marginal/ central, national/ international,
particular/ universal, are always double-edged and two-sided,
dialectically dynamic and valuable as such. But the whole debate has
been brilliant. I've said how important I believe it is not to forget
all the people who are lacking a bare minimum for survival, but now I'd
like to add that the wealthiest societies of today seem to me
impoverished by a lack of attention to cultural diversity in the modern
world. I think that inattention impoverishes us all. But it's not a
destiny, it's a human affair, everyone can set about changing it.

Brian Holmes

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