One particular incidence makes up the main background for the argument to be presented below. On July 22 in 2011 Norway faced a tragedy of enormous dimensions. The right winged terrorist Anders Behring Breivik bombed the governmental building in Oslo, the capitol of Norway, and later the same day he cold-bloodedly killed 77 youth of the Norwegian Labour party who attended a summer camp on a small island outside Oslo. In the aftermath it was much debated in the medias how he could possibly be able to carry out this misdeed. We shall leave out all practical aspects here and rather concentrate on one particular moral issue, having to do with toleration. More specifically I shall frame this as a question whether we could possibly tolerate the political opinion upon which this action was based.

Breivik's opinions had been presented in a Manifesto online long before July 22. The author here laid out a conspiracy theory about the threat from inferior races against Arian and European people, and seriously discusses how to solve this problem. Much of his speech is right wing propaganda, presented in a quasi-dialogic form where Breivik interviews himself. Part of the story is his claim that he represents an Heraldic Order lead by himself. Without getting into further details I shall describe this Manifesto as employing fictitious use of reason. One of the issues in the trial was whether there had ever been others but the author himself being a member of this Order. Few believe that there are. For the sake of argument we shall assume that the whole story was fictional—there had never been any real public.

The main issue is then whether it makes a difference if the public is fictitious, as in Breivik's case, or rather a real public in the sense of consisting of a certain amount of people. I believe it is not. The most important criterion of the fictitious character is not the amount of participants, but rather the use of reason involved. Thus, the difference between the real and the fictitious is procedurally defined.

New Publics and the Old Problem of the Public?— Digital Transition

Due to the digital transition of communication medias of our time we can see how Dewey's problem of the public is going through a transition (Dewey 1927). Briefly, the problem of the public has to do with a political complexity that calls for improvement of the methods and conditions of debate, discussion and persuasion. Dewey recognised in particular a need for a better-informed public and also for legislators and policy makers to become better informed of the experiences of the public. On Dewey's account there is a risk that people do not to a sufficient degree acquire an adequate view of the public. As an example, both electors and voters lack the methods and conditions of debate to become sufficiently well informed. Raising this problem within the context of our new medias adds still another dimension to this old problem: everyone with access to the Internet is in principle able both to access all the information people may wish for, but on the other hand there is also an accelerating problem of filtering, as discussed by e.g. Cass Sunstein (2001).

Rather than conceiving of the problem of the public as one about having the most adequate methods and conditions for debate at hand the new problem is somehow the reverse: due to digital transition and the methods available today it would in principle have been possible to inform the public better. Truly, e-democracy and better communication between e.g. electors and voters have been tremendously facilitated. But the problem of the public still seems to have survived due to the same methods, despite their ability to facilitate information flows. Because people in liberal, democratic societies have freedom of speech and expression along with other democratic goods there is a possibility for everyone of accessing only the information one takes an interest in. Due to the information technologies of today it is even possible to publish one's own Daily Me, Sunstein's spooky vision of a fragmented society devoid of social glue (Sunstein, 2001). The possibility of everyone publishing their own tailor-made newspapers online is the nightmare Sunstein fears. Despite the methods at hand he envisages a society devoid of citizens taking upon societal duties towards their fellow citizens. Below I shall argue that Breivik's Manifesto is an example of a Sunsteinian Daily Me.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >