The public sphere

I got into a fierce conversation this evening with a very intelligent and thoughtful person about Julian Assange, the main spokesperson for Wikileaks. My conversant’s contention was, in essence, that Assange doesn’t pass the smell test. She felt that he is not motivated by a desire to make the world a better place for all, but rather by a kind of self-focused aggrandizement, a need for ego gratification.

My argument, which I suspect got lost in the heat of the rhetorical moment, was not that she was wrong, but rather that there is no way for us to know. The sheer noise, I claim, of the publicly received version of events has become so loud that the hype of media tropes drowns out niceties such as who any public figure really is and whether he is truth-teller or charlatan.

And that brings us around to a question: Is it even possible for the citizen, no matter how informed, educated, thoughtful, or outward looking, to evaluate the events and players in the public sphere? After all, we are, for the most part, dealing with consummate professionals in the business of spin, of polishing images, of crafting just the right sound byte to dominate the conversation.

Is it even possible for you or me to deploy a b.s. detector that will let us know whether what a public figure has just told us is sincere — or is merely highly crafted hokum?

2 thoughts on “The public sphere”

  1. My question is, what is wrong about the need for “ego gratification” or even the “lust for power”. If you want to make the world a better place you need some ego, since it means that you think, that your ideas actually make the world a better place.
    Frankly I never believe in persons who tell me they are good in the sense of morality, maybe that is some kind of b.s. detector.

  2. Yes, I see your point. I think there is some middle ground, where desire to help the world and personal ambition can work best together. Like most things, when take to an extreme altruism can end up being more bad than good, and an appearance of selflessness can be a mask for dysfunction.

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