Home Philosophy The Onlife Manifesto
New Medias and Blurring of Private—Public
Since long the distinction between private and public has existed in the literature, in particular in debates between liberals and communitarians on multi-ethnic topics, e.g. in the debate on group rights (see e.g. Rawl 1985; Taylor 1994, and numerous other publications). One purpose of the divide has been to clarify questions of legitimate intervention in the private sphere. On a liberal account the private sphere has been identified with comprehensive goods such as religion and world outlook (Rawls), whereas the political domain is seen as possible to separate from the private, domestic life and keep it neutral in the sense of treating everyone equally. Susan Moller Okin has argued that this liberal separation between the spheres is insufficient to avoid suppression in the private, domestic areas of life. She has described this as a tension between multiculturalism and feminism (Okin 1999). Others, like Taylor, have discussed the problem of multiculturalism and recognition, i.e. of how to recognize everyone equally while at the same time respecting differences (Taylor 1994). On the one hand everyone should be given an equal right to exercise comprehensive goods. However, if a member of e.g. an ethnic or religious group disapproves of the comprehensive goods of that particular group she could be deprived of the same right that is admitted at the political level. Thus, we could no longer speak of equal recognition. The contradictory result would be that equal recognition at the political level is internally linked to disrespect of the individual group members. Thus, we can see how the public-private divide raises serious problems in the multicultural debate on toleration. Should conflicts in the private domain be exempted from public scrutiny in cases where individual are being deprived of their basic legal rights? What about cases of indoctrination, censorship and the like? In the context of this paper it is particularly the rights and duties connected with being well informed that is at stake. My bold claim is that the problem of the public prevails as long as citizens are deprived of the possibility of being well informed. A key question is of course whether a corresponding duty exists, i.e. whether we could reasonably speak of a responsibility to be informed about opinions diverging from one's own.
At his point we need to make a distinction between two understandings of 'well informed'. One relates to knowledge of e.g. others' opinions. The other concerns capability of reflection, of making well informed judgments. It goes without saying that these are related. For our context it is, however, the latter understanding we shall keep in focus. The main reason why is because it is possible to be well informed of the “facts” of a case without necessarily knowing better in the sense of judging better. The point of being better informed within deliberative democracy debates is about the latter (see e.g. Dryzek 2000).
Within the digital environments of today it is a trivial fact that most people are well informed simply because they have more information about a more extended range of issues compared to pre-digital times. But this epistemic point also contains a further question whether people thereby also have more knowledge. Rather than dwelling with this epistemic issue my point is rather a moral one: does more information indicate better knowledge? The case of Breivik rather proves the opposite. In his Manifesto he proves that he has a lot of information about historical “facts” and also of other viewpoints. The “dialogical” reflection carried out in the Manifesto is, however, no dialogue between himself and his opponents. What is obviously lacking is a capability of incorporating opposing and diverging opinions in developing his own ideology put forth in his document. Still, most people would agree that he has a lot of information, and even knowledge of many historical events, while he is still insisting on an interpretation that is at odds with dominant liberal and democratic viewpoints. In describing the state of the arts, i.e. the threat from Muslims and others who do not fit into his race hygienic public, he describes a reality that strongly diverges from other people's descriptions. The fact that the surrounding society strongly disapproves of his understanding seems to have no impact on a possible revision on his part. This is a serious flaw because it undermines a necessary criterion of a real public, namely recognition of the possibility of being mistaken. Unless a connection is established to other viewpoints there is no genuine public reasoning. This gives us a criterion for distinguishing between real and fictitious publics. Breivik's alleged public belongs to the latter.
The well-established private-public distinction is no longer adequate in dealing with cases like Breivik's. As Sunstein correctly claims there exists a threat to public reason due to filtering, the point being that opinions that ought to be brought into the public remain concealed to the public, in the private domain of the comprehensive. Even if we accepted Rawls' distinction between the political and the comprehensive, or public and private, this would not help much in cases like this one. Rather, we need to question whether to approve of opinions presented in the public unless they convey publicizable opinions. My claim here is that we should not.
What I want to establish is a criterion for the possibility of misconstrued conceptions of public reasoning, and to confuse real with fictitious public reasoning. What seems to be lacking in Breivik's Manifesto is the viewpoint of opponents, and to meet with the claim on universalizability. Below we shall have a brief look at Kant's 'reflective judgments'.
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