On public opinion

A camouflage net made of the word “Pseudo-environment” continues into a text in Cyrillic: Иван, что тебя скажет твоя мама!? (graffiti message to the occupying Warsaw troops in Prague, “Ivan, what will your mother say to you?” from 1968) and another one by the long-time employee of the main pro-Russian television station, Channel One, Marina Ovsyannikova, who held up a banner during a live TV broadcast stating: “NO WAR Остановите войну не верьте пропаганде здесь вам врут…” (NO WAR. Stop the war. Do not believe the propaganda. They are lying to you here. Russians against war). The term “pseudo-environment” was coined by journalist and author Walter Lippmann, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, who, in his book Public Opinion, mentions the need to insert a so-called pseudo-environment between humans and the environment. Walter Lippmann’s 1938 colloquium brought together 26 academics, economists and philosophers. Fifteen of the experts present later became members of the Montpellier Society, founded by the Austrian economist, theorist and political philosopher Friedrich Hayek. At one of the first meetings of that society, Hayek said: “Public opinion is the work of people like us who create the political situation in which politicians move.” 

Lippmann’s reflections on the pseudo-environment and the statements of Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s grey eminence, intertwine with each other like strands of neoliberal DNA in the river of tears of the most used emoji icon of February 2022, showing the structural transformation of communication by the impact of digitalization, according to Lipmann, into a simplistic “yes/no”.  

Lipmann, 1922: In all these instances we must note particularly one common factor. It is the insertion between man and his environment of a pseudo-environment. To that pseudo-environment his behavior is a response. But because it is behavior, the consequences, if they are acts, operate not in the pseudo-environment where the behavior is stimulated, but in the real environment where action eventuates. For certainly, at the level of social life, what is called the adjustment of man to his environment takes place through the medium of fictions. By fictions I do not mean lies.1 

Surkov, 2021: I am the author, or one of the authors, of the new Russian system… My portfolio at the Kremlin and in government has included ideology, media, political parties, religion, modernisation, innovation, foreign relations, and (he smiles) … modern art. You are not going to feed people with some highly intellectual discourse. Most people eat simple foods. Everyone takes advantage of such people all over the world. Most people need their heads to be filled with thoughts.2

1 Lippmann, W. (1998). Public Opinion. Transaction Publishers. https://monoskop.org/images/b/bf/Lippman_Walter_Public_Opinion.pdf

 2 Foy, H. (2021, June 18). Vladislav Surkov: ‘An overdose of freedom is lethal to a state.’ Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/1324acbb-f475-47ab-a914-4a96a9d14bac

Cover photo credit: Beata Babiaková
photo credit: Ľubomír Lužina