18 July 2016


Public Opinion by Walter Lippmann, 1921, Excerpts

In the great confusion of the outer world, we tend to pick out what our culture has already stereotyped for us by our culture. Whatever we recognize as familiar we tend to visualize with the aid of images already in our mind. We notice a trait which marks a well-known type, and fill in the rest of the picture by means of the stereotypes we carry about in our heads. Consequently the stereotype not only saves time in a busy life and is a defense of our position in society, but tends to preserve us from all the bewildering effect of trying to see the world steadily and see it whole. It is the guarantee of our self-respect; it is the projection upon the world of our own sense of our own value, our own position and our own rights.

The stereotypes are highly charged with the feelings that are attached to them. Stereotypes are loaded with preference, suffused with affection or dislike, attached to fears, lusts, strong wishes, pride, and hope. They are the fortress of our tradition, and behind its defenses we can continue to feel ourselves safe in the position we occupy. Any disturbance of the stereotypes seems like an attack upon the foundations of the universe.

What matters is the character of the stereotypes, and the gullibility with which we employ them. Uncritically held, the stereotype censors out much that needs to be taken into account. It is only when we are in the habit of recognizing our opinions as a partial experience seen through our stereotypes that we become truly tolerant of an opponent. What will become accepted as true, as realistic, as good, as evil, as desirable, is not eternally fixed.

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