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HE bedchamber of the king, vast and shadowy. On heaped-up cushions and covers of yellow and blue, under a pearl-sewn, creamy, velvet baldachin, embroidered with peacocks, lies Meng Beng, mortally stricken; his face bears the ashen pallor that only dark skins show. The ministers, the servants, the courtiers, the countless motley gathering of an Eastern court, are scattered in anxious groups, watching, waiting, murmuring. Only the space near the couch is clear. Without, the dawn breaks over the sea, and, stealing through the openings, makes the great chamber flush till it looks like porphyry.
The tolling of a deep gong and the voices of a myriad birds invade the throbbing silence of the palace. "He passes, murmurs the physicians. Every one's gaze turns to the dying man.
"Yet his star is in the ascendant," say the astrologers. The rising sun touches him with its light like a caress. He opens his eyes. His sons advance. They raise him on his cushions and give a restorative. Suddenly he rallies slightly.
The doors at the far end are rudely opened A woman, young and lovely, advances, thrusting aside the many hands stretched out to bar her path.
She reaches the King.
"I bring you Life, Star of my Soul," she cried. "I bring you life," and, so saying, falls dead at his feet. The courtiers rush forward.
The King rises. He stands erect.
The sun lies like a golden benediction over all. The Curtain Jewels glisten, corruscate. The whole world of birds
The Habits of Our Eyes'
Toward a Critique of Public Opinion
By WALTER LIPPMANN, Author of "A PREFACE TO POLITICS," etc.
AST month, in the first paper of this series, it was pointed out that many barriers stand between us and the facts of contemporary life. Censorship, propaganda, personal and professional areas of privacy, the little time most of us give to the study of public affairs, the physical difficulty of reaching the vast American public, the limitations of interest imposed upon us by our social circles, and the chance of distortion and inaccuracy involved in our methods of news transmission-all these barriers were discussed. Now comes a further step in the study-the subtle chemistry of our own minds that colors and transfigures information after we get it.]
Each of us lives and works on a small part of the earth's surface, moves in a small circle, and of these acquaintances knows only a few intimately. Of any public event that has wide effects we see at best only a phase and an aspect. This is as true of the eminent insiders who draft treaties, make laws, and issue orders as it is of those who have treaties framed for them, laws promulgated to them, orders given at them. Inevitably, our opinions cover a bigger space, a longer reach of time, a greater number of things, than we can directly observe. They have, therefore, to be pieced together out of what others
have reported and what we can imagine.
Yet even the eye-witness does not bring back a naïve picture of the scene. For experience seems to show that he himself brings something to the scene which later he takes away from it; that oftener than not what he imagines to be the account of an event is really a transfiguration of it. A report is the joint product of the knower and known, in which the rôle of the observer is always selective and usually creative. The facts we see depend on where we are placed and the habits of our eyes.
There is economy in this. For the attempt to see all things freshly and in detail, rather than as types and generalities, is exhausting, and among busy affairs virtually out of the question. Modern life is hurried and multifarious; above all, physical distance separates men who are often in vital contact with each other, such as employer and employee, official and voter. There is neither time nor opportunity for intimate acquaintance. Instead we notice a trait which marks a well-known type, and fill in the rest of the picture by means of the stereotypes, or preconceived images, we carry about in our heads. He is an agitator. That much we notice or are told. Well, an agitator is this sort of
This is the second of a series of papers on public opinion, culled from Mr. Lippmann's forthcoming book on "Public Opinion." The occasional transition paragraphs in brackets are not Mr. Lippmann's, but are inserted by the editor.-THE EDITOR.
person, and so he is this sort of person. He is an intellectual. He is a plutocrat. He is a foreigner. He is a "South European." He is from the Back Bay. He is a Harvard man. How different from the statement, he is a Yale man! He is a regular fellow. He is a WestPointer. He is an old army sergeant. He is a Greenwich Villager: what don't we know about him then? And about her? He is an international banker. He is from Main Street.
We are told about the world before we see it. We imagine most things before we experience them. And those perconceptions, unless education has made us acutely aware, govern deeply the whole process of perception. They mark out certain objects as familiar or strange, emphasizing the difference, so that the slightly familiar is seen as very familiar, and the somewhat strange as sharply alien. They are aroused by small signs, which may vary from a true index to a vague analogy. Aroused, they flood fresh vision with older images, and project into the world what has been resurrected in memory. Were there no virtual uniformities in the environment, there would be no economy and only error in the human habit of accepting foresight for sight. But there are uniformities sufficiently accurate, and the need of economizing attention is so inevitable that the abandonment of all stereotypes for a wholly innocent approach to experience would impoverish human life.
What matters is the character of the stereotypes, and the gullibility with which we employ them. And these in the end depend upon those inclusive patterns which constitute our philosophy of life. If in that philosophy we assume that the world is codified ac
cording to a code which we possess, we will make our reports of what is going on describe a world run by our code. But if our philosophy tells us that each man is only a small part of the world, that his intelligence catches at best only phases and aspects in a coarse net of ideas, then, when we use our stereotypes, we tend to know that they are only stereotypes, to hold them lightly, to modify them gladly. We tend, also, to realize more and more clearly when our ideas started, where they started, how they came to us, why we accepted them. All useful history is antiseptic in this fashion. It enables us to know what fairytale, what school-book, what tradition, what novel, play, picture, phrase, planted one preconception in this mind, another in that mind.
Skilled diplomatists, compelled to talk out loud to the warring peoples, learned how to use a large repertoire of stereotypes. They were dealing with a precarious alliance of powers, each of which was maintaining its war unity only by the most careful leadership. The ordinary soldier and his wife, heroic and selfless beyond anything in the chronicles of courage, were still not heroic enough to face death gladly for all the ideas which were said by the foreign offices of foreign powers to be essential to the future of civilization. There were ports, mines, rocky mountain-passes, and villages that many soldiers would not willingly have crossed no-man's-land to obtain for their allies.
Now, it happened in one nation that the war party which was in control of the foreign office, the high command, and most of the press, had claims on
the territory of several of its neighbors. These claims were called the Greater Ruritania by the cultivated classes who regarded Kipling, Treitschke, and Maurice Barrès as one hundred per cent. Ruritanian. But the grandiose idea aroused no enthusiasm abroad. So holding this finest flower of the Ruritanian genius, as their poet laureate said, to their hearts, Ruritania's statesmen went forth to divide and conquer. They divided the claim into sectors. For each piece they invoked that stereotype which some one or more of their allies found it difficult to resist, because that ally had claims for which it hoped to find approval by the use of this same stereotype.
The first sector happened to be a mountainous region inhabited by alien peasants. Ruritania demanded it to complete her natural geographical frontier. By fixing the attention long enough on the ineffable value of what is natural, those alien peasants just dissolved into fog, and only the slope of the mountains was visible. The next sector was inhabited by Ruritanians, and on the principle that no people ought to live under alien rule, they were reannexed. Then came a city of considerable commercial importance not inhabited by Ruritanians. But until the eighteenth century it had been part of Ruritania, and on the principle of historic right it was annexed. Farther on there was a splendid mineral deposit owned by aliens and worked by aliens. On the principle of reparation for damage it was annexed. Beyond this there was a territory inhabited ninety-seven per cent. by aliens constituting the natural geographical frontier of another nation, never historically a part of Ruritania. But one of the provinces
which had been federated into Ruritania had formerly traded in those markets, and the upper-class culture was Ruritanian. On the principle of cultural superiority and the necessity of defending civilization, the lands were claimed. Finally, there was a port wholly disconnected from Ruritania geographically, ethnically, economically, historically, traditionally. It was demanded on the grounds that it was needed for national defense.
In the treaties that concluded the Great War you can multiply examples of this kind. Now, I do not wish to imply that I think it was possible to resettle Europe consistently on any one of these principles. I am certain that it was not. The very use of these principles, so pretentious and so absolute, meant that the spirit of accommodation did not prevail, and that, therefore, the substance of peace was not there. For the moment you start to discuss factories, mines, mountains, or even political authority as perfect examples of some eternal principle or other, you are not arguing; you are fighting. That eternal principle censors out all the objections, isolates the issue from its background and its context, and sets going in you some strong emotion, appropriate enough to the principle, highly inappropriate to the docks, warehouses, and real estate. And having started on that line, yourself and your opponents now a stormcloud, you cannot stop. A real danger exists. To meet it you have to invoke more absolute principles in order to defend what he can attack. Then you have to defend the defenses, erect buffers, and buffers for the buffer, until the whole affair is so scrambled that it seems less dangerous to fight than to keep on talking.