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The Public Sphere…

Dialectic

Plateia or Platia (πλατεία)

plaˈtɛja

is the Greek word for Town Square. The majority of Greek and Cypriot cities have town squares. In traditional societies like villages and provincial communities, plateies are the central places for feasts, celebrations, events and meetings.

In ancient Greece, the Sophists[1] played an important role in educating and teaching the skills necessary for the practice of a functioning Democracy [2] by providing a mechanism for a community to reach a consensus on Collective Truths[3].

In a complex, dynamic and uncertain world, Truth was not always readily apparent.

The practices of rhetoric [4] — the art of persuasionperception/narratives (geometric)), grammar (semantic) and logic (algorithmic) — collectively comprised the three ancient arts of discourse [5] — providing a framework to arrive at shared meanings shaped by narratives, analogies, morals and values.

A form of Collective Sensemaking[7] to assist us to navigate the complexity of Reality.

Greek Philosopher Plato[8] was sceptical of the Sophists [1] and their teachings of rhetoric on building stronger arguments through narratives and persuasion.

Sophists viewed Truth as a relative concept — a subjective dialectic.

Phronesis[9] saw “Practical Truth” derived through whatever a Community with a range of opinions convinced each other was True.

According to Plato, Sophists were self-proclaimed “wise men” ( Sophia meaning wisdom) that charged fees to educate the aristocracy about morality, speechcraft and the art of persuasion.

In contrast, Plato pursued a quest for an objective Philosophical Truth[10] that was based on a universal set of moral values that were outside of any individual’s subjective truths, beliefs or perception.

“Strange times are these in which we live when old and young are taught falsehoods. And the one man that dares, to tell the Truth, is called at once a lunatic and fool”…

— Plato

In Plato’s Republic[11], the allegory of the cave[12] illustrated the limits of the Human Condition in navigating our world.

Objective moral values such as good, beauty, justice and virtue provided clear knowledge and a “north star” [13] to navigate the complexity of Reality.

Plato’s perspective highlighted the importance of the discipline of Philosophy as a form of inner development and critical investigation — an effort to improve one’s life and to know what was good and true.

More recently, 20th Century German Philosopher Jurgen Habermas [14] has undertaken significant work across areas of social philosophy (a critique of society, culture and power structures), communicative reasoning and the public sphere.

He was associated with the Frankfurt School[15] of social theory and critical philosophy that surfaced during the Weimar Republic in Germany during the interwar period.

Their theories emerged from the inability of the prevailing establishment to explain the increasing political factionalism and reactionary politics occurring in apparent liberal capitalist societies of the early 20th Century.

It represented a return to the philosophy of Hegel[16], which emphasised a dialectic and contradictions as intellectual properties inherent in Humans attempts to grasp the complexity of Reality.

The Public Sphere[17] was a term coined by Habermas:

“The Public Sphere is an area in social life where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through discussion influence political action. Such a discussion is called public debate and is defined as the expression of views on matters that are a concern to the public — often, but not always, with opposing or diverging views being expressed by participants in the discussion”…

Habermas described the emergence of the Public Sphere in the 18th Century that spanned both the Public (State & Ruling Class) and Private (World of Letters) realms.

It was distinct from the real Economy.

A theatre for deliberating & debating instead of buying & selling.

A core component of an Open Society and a Liberal Democracy, alongside the State and the Economy.

It informs and shapes government laws & policies and is the basis of legitimate Governments.

Democracy rests on the capacity and opportunity for citizens to engage in debate.

But what has happened to the Public Sphere in the Knowledge Age?

“Thought will be spread abroad in the world with the rapidity of light: instantly conceived, instantly written, instantly understood at the extremities of the earth — it will spread from pole to pole. Sudden, instant, burning with the fervour of soul which made it burst forth, it will be the reign of the human soul in all its plenitude”… — Alphonse de Lamartine, 1831 [18]

As outlined in Collective Sensemaking[7] — Trust — a confident relationship into the unknown — has undergone a profound shift from Institutions to Individuals.

A return to localism in an increasingly interconnected digital Mesh[19] that has seen a collapse in context and the elimination of friction[20] despite increasing complexity, interdependencies and interconnections.

A War on Sensemaking[21] has emerged where politics has become increasingly ideological and fractured.

A world where various Groups (some with vested interests) shape public narratives.

A world where traditional mainstream media business models have broken down, media has become highly concentrated & politically polarised, News Deserts[22] have emerged and where “attention” has become the new Economy.

A world where Algorithms[23] shape our perception of Reality for “People like us”.

A world where certainty & knowing[24] rather than listening & learning prevails.

A world of up to 280 characters and glyphs.

A world of fake news[25] and deep fakes[26].

A world of tribes — progressives & conservatives [27] — rather than Communities.

A classical simple world of binary truths rather than a quantum world of complexity[28] and an eternal search for Truth.

A world of classical clocks rather than a quantum world of clocks and clouds.

A recent example of this was US opinion writer and editor Bari Weiss’s [29] resignation from The New York Times.

A quote from her Resignation Letter [30] posted on her website:

“But the lessons that ought to have followed the election — lessons about the importance of understanding other Americans, the necessity of resisting tribalism, and the centrality of the free exchange of ideas to a democratic society — have not been learned. Instead, a new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that Truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else”…

Our Society is undergoing a seismic transition as social norms are being upended.

The Gutenburg Printing Press[31] changed the world resulting in an explosion of available information with its price collapsing.

Similarly, the Internet has had a Quantum impact (N²) with the cost of communication, collaboration, computation and storing information accelerating towards zero.

Can the Internet still become the Public Sphere of the 21st Century [32] [33]?

A return to diverse Communities and Collective Sensemaking [7].

A Society that integrates Practical Truths (Phronesis and Practical Wisdom ) with Philosphical Truths that collectively equips our Communities for a Quantum World of complexity.

Footnotes:

[1] Sophists — https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sophists/

[2] Democracy — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy

[3] In search for Truth: Personal vs. collective vs. absolute truth — https://www.themindfulword.org/2012/in-search-of-truth

[4] Rhetoric — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhetoric

[5] Aristotle’s Rhetoric — aristotle-rhetoric

[6] The Life of the Mind — https://www.giffordlectures.org/lectures/life-mind

[7] Collective Sensemaking — https://medium.com/@rlschutte/collective-sensemaking-90826d1cb007

[8] Plato — https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato/

[9] Phronesis — https://www.oxford-review.com/oxford-review-encyclopaedia-terms/phronesis-definition-meaning/

[10]Truth — https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth/

[11]Republic — https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-ethics-politics/

[12]The Allegory of the Cave — https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/hide-and-seek/201906/platos-allegory-the-cave

[13]In the age of disruption what is your North Star?… — https://medium.com/datadriveninvestor/in-the-age-of-disruption-what-is-your-north-star-f27c86683938

[14]Habermas — https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/habermas/

[15] Frankfurt School — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankfurt_School

[16] Hegel’s Dialectics— https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hegel-dialectics/

[17]Habermas: The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1K46oK3xTU

[18] Alphonse de Lamartine — Alphonse-de-Lamartine

[19] Mesh — https://medium.com/@rlschutte/the-mesh-5db1311fd139

[20] The collapse of context and the elimination of friction… — https://medium.com/@rlschutte/the-collapse-of-context-and-the-elimination-of-friction-eb1780e50d65

[21] Community Sensemaking — https://youtu.be/GGtWwln491U

[22] News Deserts — News_desert

[23] Tristan Harris: Tech Is ‘Downgrading Humans.’ It’s Time to Fight Back — https://www.wired.com/story/tristan-harris-tech-is-downgrading-humans-time-to-fight-back/

[24] HyperNormalisation — https://medium.com/@rlschutte/hypernormalisation-6f0bbadb5333

[25]Fake News — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fake_news

[26] Deep Fakes — In Event of Moon Disaster — https://moondisaster.org

[27] Political Polarisation — https://www.pewresearch.org/topics/political-polarization/

[28] The Age of Entanglement… — https://medium.com/@rlschutte/the-age-of-entanglement-556de9318378 — and — If you don’t become the ocean you’ll be seasick every day[8]… — https://medium.com/@rlschutte/if-you-dont-become-the-ocean-you-ll-be-seasick-every-day-25034bfa44ac

[29] Bari Weiss — https://www.bariweiss.com/bio

[30] Resignation Letter — https://www.bariweiss.com/resignation-letter

[31] No Organisation is an island… — https://medium.com/@rlschutte/no-organisation-is-an-island-bc0475039af6

[32] Stewardship of Global Collective Behaviour – https://www.pnas.org/content/118/27/e2025764118

[33] Revolt of the Public – https://pca.st/episode/4f3cb6c9-f4cf-4c6f-a1df-87d5e690bfd7

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Richard Schutte

Innovation, Intrapreneurship, Entrepreneurship, Complexity, Leadership & Community Twitter: @complexityvoid