Researchers know that there’s a reciprocal relationship between participating in public deliberation and trusting the outcomes of the decisions made.This means that we need to learn skills in public deliberation.Every single one of us has more propaganda power in our pockets than any government had at its disposal between the world wars.
Our addiction to propaganda has left us vulnerable.
Look again at the 2016 Russian propaganda efforts and you’ll see that their strategy was to take advantage of our already hyper-polarized public sphere to get us all to spread their messages of distrust and resentment. Like Dewey said in 1931, we need to be educated to think, judge, and be critical about the news that we post and consume.
We communicate cynically and gullibly—we believe nothing the other side says and everything our side says.
Communicating cynically and gullibly has broken our public sphere.
Our current age of catastrophe is characterized by a fundamental breakdown of the nation’s public sphere—as evidenced by widespread distrust, political polarization, and frustration.
On October 25, 1931—during the previous age of catastrophe—philosopher John Dewey gave a radio lecture on the relationship between education and democracy. There are two important differences between then and now.And, what’s worse, our media, government institutions, and elected officials seem to prefer us to be partisans.Without hyperbole, we might describe our moment as another “age of catastrophe,” similar to the one that saw the collapse of many economies and democracies between the two world wars.Unfortunately, most of us don’t know how to do this.We might consider encouraging social media users to take a training course in journalism skills so that when they produce media content they know how to do so responsibly.These issues are headline grabbing, but they aren’t central to what is broken in our public sphere.Rather, issues of civility and free speech are symptoms of larger, systemic problems.Our failure to participate also made us less trusting of the decisions that are being made on our behalf.Eventually, we began to distrust the democratic process itself.“Democracy will be a farce,” explained Dewey, “unless individuals are trained to think for themselves, to judge independently, to be critical, to be able to detect subtle propaganda and the motives which inspire it.” Does Dewey’s edict still apply? First, in the 1930s, government propaganda contributed to the age of catastrophe.Today, we citizens are the propagandists behind the catastrophe.