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Ethos, Emotions, and Emoticons

The Scope and Prospects of the Internet as a Political Deliberative Space

The internet is a very new phenomenon, and one that is still undergoing rapid evolution and whose institutions, trends and ideas arise, wax and wane in real-time. The world-wide web is younger (at the time of writing) than the youngest class of undergraduates; eight years ago, neither Facebook nor Twitter even existed, which is remarkable considering their huge impact on social interaction and information-sharing. Political parties and politicians have tried to use the internet to their advantage with results ranging from great success to humiliating failure, while some political events have gone viral and either made or broken political careers. The use of new social media in the Arab Spring and in the waves of European protest against austerity and the alleged political mishandling of the economic crisis of 2008 provided a sharp lesson for many that the internet had become not just a conduit for culture, social interaction, and commerce, but for politics and political discourse as well. The internet enables the use of virtual spaces for deliberation and discourse, which have no precedent in human history. Prior telecommunication technologies were able to connect two or more points in physical space, but the dialogues thus created were inherently private spaces, open to a limited number of participants (e.g. call conferencing) and could not open a virtual forum that could function as a public space which any person could access and participate in. Can these virtual spaces be truly political, and what capacities can they offer to politics? What benefits and drawbacks might they have when compared to traditional political spaces, and what possibilities exist for political discourse in them? Perhaps most importantly, do they present an opportunity for the enrichment of deliberation and democratic politics, or a threat? This paper considers two paradigms of deliberative, public political spaces those envisioned by Aristotle and Hannah Arendt, and, by way of a contrast, the understanding of such spaces in the 1

enlightenment tradition, primarily as interpreted by Jrgen Habermas. After an examination of the nature of deliberative spaces such as they might be found on the internet, their fit into these competing analyses can be assessed. In these descriptions of deliberative space, the internet qua political space becomes either a great step towards reason and rationality, or a terrible blunder that serves to facilitate deceit and endangers the democratic polity.

Aristotle on Rhetoric and Public Deliberation

The innateness and the importance of politics to humankind is one of the very first points made in Aristotles Politics: man is a political animal.1 Humankind naturally tends to form political communities, and thus to engage in politics and political discourse; politics is an aspect of human uniqueness. Since politics is innate to man in this tradition, political community will necessarily arise wherever man is found, and the polity is therefore a natural occurrence rather than a synthetic construct that counters or contradicts our natural humanity, contra Hobbes or Rousseau. Speech is the other aspect of human uniqueness. For Aristotle, this is a natural synergy, for one could not exist without the other. Engagement in politics requires speech, for politics is an activity in which we must engage other humans in something non-violent; violence itself is pre-political, and thus necessarily apolitical.2 Speech leads to deliberation, for a person with reason and speech can make and defend a position, and the ability to deliberate over power is a most political ability. Speech and politics as two elements of a whole can produce concord, and according to Aristotle, the real difference between man and other animals is that humans alone have perception of good and evil, just and unjust, etc. It is the sharing of a common view in these

1 2

Aristotle, Politics 1253a1. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 26.

matters that makes a household and a state.3 Concord leads to the formation of communal bodies and, ultimately, to the creation of the polis. The sharing of common views requires interaction by speech as, even discounting the possibility of persuasion, discourse is a requirement if only for the mere identification of people who share the same views of justice and goodness and with whom one can build a community. The existence of speech, and not mere voice, distinguishes humans as deliberative beings. Many animals have voices, and this distinction is still valid today, although the terminology may have changed. Animals can and do build societies of their own without the capabilities of human language, but Aristotle does not call them political. This is an important distinction, and the social and the political should not to be confused in Aristotelian thought. The juxtaposition of the importance of true, human speech with human politics points to an identification of politics as deliberative, since politics requires abstraction and discussion above and beyond the simple gatherings of merely animal societies if it is to discover or create a communal consensus on abstract and philosophical concepts that can give rise to political community. Aristotle dismisses all simple animal societies based on strength and force as apolitical. In order for any creatures to be political, they must deliberate; only humankind has speech, only humankind can deliberate, and therefore, only humans are political since only humankind may deliberate politically. The essentiality of deliberation and speech to politics means that some deliberative space is essential for any political regime. Its precise nature or form may vary between states and regimes, but it must exist in order that citizens can deliberate and arrive at policy.4 The better deliberative space would be more inclusive and democratic, in Aristotles estimation, for the

3 4

Arist. Pol. 1253a7-17; emphasis in original. Arist. Pol. 1298a11-33.

judgement of the masses is generally superior and better conclusions can be reached when more minds are added to the discourse. Aristotle counters the Socratic notion that matters in which expertise exists are best left to experts with the response that, taken as a whole, the judgement of the people tends to be more correct than that of experts, even in their fields of expertise, but this would therefore require as inclusive a deliberative space as possible, so as to include as many minds as possible.5 In fact, a democracy should open the deliberative space to everyone so that all can be a part of the deliberative process that produces policy, and the common people will seek this level of equality in any event.6 This, then, is the extent of the deliberative space in Aristotelian democracy. Like Arendt and Habermas, Aristotle believes that all citizens of democratic communities are entitled to participate in the political, deliberative process.7 The specific sites of deliberation are not welldefined in the Aristotelian conception, perhaps because he feels they are variable between regimes, but in a democracy, the simplest definition is that a deliberative space comes into existence wherever two or more citizens are gathered and engaged in discourse. 8 This would generally coincide with the Habermasian definition of the public sphere, which comes into existence whenever and wherever all affected by general social and political norms of action engage in a practical discourse.9 The fine and just thing is for citizens to take turns in order to satisfy the demands of equality and similarity, so the deliberative space need not be one in which

5 6

Arist. Pol. 1281a39-1282a14. Arist. Pol. 1298a8. 7 Triadafilos Triadafilopoulos, Politics, Speech, and the Art of Persuasion: Toward an Aristotelian Conception of the Public Sphere. Journal of Politics 61, no. 3 (1999): 748. 8 Ibid., 751. 9 Seyla Benhabib, "Models of Public Space: Hannah Arendt, the Liberal Tradition, and Jurgen Habermas," in Habermas and the Public Sphere, ed. Craig Calhoun (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992), 87.

all citizens participate all of the time, but something universally accessible and through which citizens may cycle.10 The nature of the discursive space is dealt with more thoroughly in the Rhetoric. The deliberative space is one in which rhetoric is performed in one of three possible forms: the political, the forensic and the epideictic.11 Rhetoric itself is the counterpart of dialectic; while dialectic allows us to discover truths, rhetoric can communicate claims to truth.12 Aristotle remarks that, in a democracy, the procedures by which judgement and moral knowledge are arrived at are ideally collective, and that competing truth claims can be contested and settled in the public sphere, in a foreshadowing of deliberative democratic principles.13 Yet he does not hold political discourse in the same esteem as Arendt or Habermas, and maintains that philosophical contemplation still remains superior. Unlike Habermas, Aristotle does not believe that universalizable norms can be apprehended intersubjectively through rational discourse.14 Rhetoric is the device by which we can persuade others of the truths we have arrived at through contemplation, but unlike the discourse found in the ideals of the enlightenment, that persuasion cannot come as a simple delivery of reasoned, rational, logical argument and cold evidence. Rhetoric admits of persuasion, and persuasion can be used to deceive. The persuasive capacity of rhetoric has three elements: the character of the speaker, or the ethos, which ideally means an image of credibility or trustworthiness created through the speech rather than that the audience believes to exist before the speech has begun; the appeal to emotion, or pathos, allowing emotional content in speech to appeal to the mood of an audience and requiring an

10 11

Arist. Pol. 1325a34. Aristotle Rhetoric 1358b, 1359a. 12 Arist. Rh. 1354a/1354a5. 13 Arist. Rh. 1364b11-15 14 Triadafilopoulos, 746-747.

understanding of human character; and the rationality of the speakers arguments, or logos, which is what in the scientific or Kantian view would be the main or the only element, consisting of sound logic and credible evidence.15 Aristotle rejects the arguments of some of his contemporaries, who contend that the character of a speaker has no bearing on his powers of persuasion. Ceteris paribus, the speaker who is either of a more upstanding, truthful, honourable nature the more virtuous speaker, in Aristotelian terms or the speaker who can create such a persona through speech will be the more persuasive, because humans lend support to an argument not just because of its merits, but because of the merits of the speaker. Pathos refers to what might almost be an act of selfpersuasion by the audience via a strong emotional identification with the argument of the speaker. Appeals to emotion may often win an audience over, and one need not necessarily look to totalitarian demagogues to find examples of how persuasive arguments based on appeals to (and the exploitation of) anger, pride, fear, or hatred.16 Finally, there is logos, the reason and logic of the speakers argument itself. In fairness to enlightenment thinkers, logos is the only component of a logically sound argument, which forbids appeal to emotion or authority as logical fallacies, but Aristotle reminds us that logic and sound evidence alone do not necessarily make an argument convincing. Socrates discovered the truth of this, as his arguments were logically sound but often unpersuasive all the same; since all claims made in public discourse

15 16

Arist. Rh. 1356a10-20, 25. For instance, modern political discourses in the United States often seem like a race to see which speaker can make the first and most persuasive claim to patriotism, while simultaneously calling the patriotism of an interlocutor into question. Patriotism may not necessarily be a virtue, but an audience suffused with patriotic feeling will find the appeal convincing.

may be treated as opinions regardless of their internal logic, he was never able to satisfactorily demonstrate that it was better to suffer than to do wrong.17 The wise orator would not only ensure that his argument was demonstrative, but should also perform a non-rational, emotive display to convince others of the rightness of his character, to put his audience in a receptive mood, and to accurately gauge and then play to their emotions.18 The persuasiveness of emotional display in rhetoric ought to seem obvious to an actual observer of politics, which it did to Aristotle, yet many subsequent thinkers seem to have forgotten this or at least to have dismissed it to advocate an idealized form of discourse devoid of emotional content. The superior speaker would not just make a logical argument, but aim that argument at the specific audience and bear pathos in mind. For example, Mark Antonys oration at Caesars funeral puts logos in a distinctly tertiary position beside his performance of ethos and his manipulation of the pathos of the Roman mob. I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke, But here I am to speak what I do know. You all did love [Caesar] once, not without cause: What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him? My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar, And I must pause till it come back to me. I come not, friends, to steal away your hearts: I am no orator, as Brutus is; But, as you know me all, a plain blunt man19 Antony admits from the beginning that this will not be a speech of any significant logos. He will not present any substantial logic or evidence; the only evidence he introduces plays on emotion: Caesars will and his bloodied toga, evidence of his cruel murder and of his love for the


Leah Bradshaw, Acting and Thinking: The Political Thought of Hannah Arendt (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989),71. 18 Arist. Rh. 1378a. 19 William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2.

people whom Antony now addresses. His display of passion and his eyes red as fire with weeping turn the focus of the crowds anger from Antony to Brutus and the assassins.20 His speech does not attempt to repudiate Brutuss claim to have acted for the good of Rome; instead, he chooses the grief and anger of the crowd rather than their reason and logic as the target of his rhetoric, and portrays Caesar as a generous paterfamilias who loved the people of Rome and was cruelly torn from them. Had Antony presented a list of logical arguments for the Roman mob to upon the conspirators, one suspects they would not have heeded him, predisposed towards Brutus and against Antony as they were. By the end of his appeal to their pathos, they suffer and feel what he apparently suffers and feels, they share his rage, and they are howling for Brutuss blood. Further, Antony successfully builds an appealing ethos; knowing that the people of Rome perceive Brutus perhaps not so much as an aristocrat and a skilled orator but as a fop and a sophist, Antony appeals to them as nothing more than a plain blunt man like any of them. As any attentive student of the Rhetoric should, he whips up the anger of the crowd, brings them to share his passion, and gives them an Aristotelian pleasure from the expectation of revenge.21 Aristotelian rhetoric is not overly concerned with dialectical deliberation, with truth, or with sound argument. Philosophy ought to be based in truth, but Aristotle recognizes that truth, logic and evidence alone may not be enough either to win arguments with others in the deliberative space or to win over crowds. Emotion and character play a significant role, but Aristotle believes that they can be manipulated, and a skilled orator could create a persona of credibility and trustworthiness ex nihilo, then proceed to ascertain and play to the passions of his audience; having done so, the logical soundness of his argument and the strength of his evidence
20 21

Ibid. Arist. Rh. 1378b.

would seem almost irrelevant. Regrettably, rhetoric can therefore be a tool for deceit and manipulation, since the non-rational components of it can be crafted consciously.

Emotion, Intuition, and the Daimon of Public Speech

In the classical period, there was really no option for discourse but face-to-face. The agora was no mere metaphor but the actual site of political deliberation and discussion, where people would be gathered together for interaction in a public yet also in a personal way. Each person would be exposed to the others, who could hear not only what he had to say, but see the manner in which he said it and the sort of character he was; in turn, the speaker was able to assess pathos in those he spoke to. Any consideration of what might be lost in deliberation without face-to-face contact was of no practical purpose, an academic exercise which would suppose technology that would not exist for thousands of years, but in our age, that is no longer moot. Hannah Arendt discerned a fourth identifying, revelatory component in speech, an unconscious and truthful counterpart to the cultivated, manipulated and manipulative ethos. In acting and speaking, men show who they are, reveal actively their unique personal identities and thus make their appearance in the human world This disclosure of who in contradistinction to what somebody is is implicit in everything somebody says and does. It can be hidden only in complete silence and perfect passivity, but its disclosure can almost never be achieved as a wilful purpose, as though one possessed and could dispose of this who in the same manner he has and can dispose of his qualities. On the contrary, it is more than likely that the who, which appears so clearly and unmistakably to others, remains hidden from the person himself, like the daimon in Greek religion which accompanies each man throughout his life, always looking over his shoulder from behind and thus visible only to those he encounters. This revelatory quality of speech and action comes to the fore where people are with others that is, in sheer human togetherness. Although nobody knows whom he reveals when he discloses himself in deed or word, he must be willing to risk the disclosure In these instances [where human togetherness is lost] speech becomes indeed mere talk, simply one more means toward the end and [its] achievement, like

all other achievements, cannot disclose the who, the unique and distinct identity of the agent.22 This is not a mere repetition or reiteration of Aristotelian ethos, considered in the Rhetoric to be something that could be cultivated and affected as in Antonys show of feigned grief and anger to win a crowd. The nature of who comes across through acting and speaking, and the speaker can neither control it nor, in all likelihood, even perceive it. The wary member of the Roman mob should have been able to perceive what Antony was displaying without speaking and what he was not able to control: that his emotional display was faked, and that he was using rhetorical tricks to whip a crowd into a bloodlust. Those who are willing to heed these messages and cues are able to find the truth behind the synthetic ethos. It is a safeguard against deceit, but requires personal communication. The crucial aspect of Arendts proposal is that there is something involuntarily transmitted by the speaker in all speech and action, an undercurrent to the intentional manipulation of logos, pathos and ethos. Arendt believes that this is a necessary and an indispensable part of public deliberation and discourse because it allows us to see the who behind the speaker, and since it is not within their control, allows a glimpse into their true motives and character. Aristotle was correct to discern that the character of the speaker was important, but the audience desires the portrayal of an accurate image of that character, whereas the speaker may not. In fact, an accurate portrayal of character may even be disastrous for the speaker. It is in their interest to cultivate an ethos likely to show them as a trustworthy person of good and forthright character, somebody intelligent and educated in the matter under discussion, and somebody who would not deceive in his audience even if they had reason to. In the political community, especially for a functional deliberative democracy, it is in the interest of the

Arendt, 179-180.


audience and the political community at large that the speakers true character be revealed, so that he can be judged by who they truly are, and not by the ethos they cultivate. A well-known and illustrative example of the potential conflict between ethos and the conveyance of true character can be found in the perhaps unlikely person of Richard Nixon. In his 1960 debate with John F. Kennedy, his performance was generally judged to have been superior to Kennedys by those who heard it on the radio, including even Lyndon Johnson.23 Nixons logos was judged to be superior by most, and the medium of radio allowed more of his logos to come through, as it presented his argument without nonverbal, visual cues. However, to those who watched the televised debate, Kennedy appeared the clear victor. The charitable explanation is that Kennedy declined makeup, tanned and relaxed from campaigning in California; an intimidated Nixon followed suit. However, Nixon was recovering from an illness; he was pale and wan, and had lost twenty pounds. Moreover, the Lazy Shave product he had applied to conceal his heavy stubble began to streak and run as he perspired under the studio lights.24 By this account, Nixon was unfairly judged on his personal appearance when his arguments alone should have decided the matter. Hunter S. Thompson took a more Arendtian view of events. Nixon had gotten away with his sleazy my dog Checkers speech, he wrote, because most voters heard it on the radio or read about it in the headlines of their local, Republican newspapers. When Nixon had to appear on television for real, however, even die-hard Republican voters were shocked by his cruel and incompetent persona the mushrooming TV audience saw him as a truthless used-car

23 24

Daniel Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), 43. Ibid.


salesman, and they voted accordingly.25 What could explain such a performance? Building an ethos that portrayed cruelty and incompetence would be a questionable strategy at best. Indeed, Nixon worked to build his ethos as a family man, an American patriot and anti-Communist, a Navy serviceman, and the child of hardworking, honest, American parents. Thompson confirms that Nixons ethos was entirely at odds with who he really was in his acerbic indictment of Nixons character: Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism -- which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.26 What Thompson seems to mean by the weakness of objectivity is the emphasis on logos which excludes any Arendtian revelation of who a speaker really is. Objective journalism would dismiss these messages and judge a speaker based on the rationality of his argument alone, but in the opinion of Thompson, this was a gross mistake that allowed a criminal, corrupt, Mephistophelean character like Nixon to become the most powerful man in the world. He could use his skill in the art of rhetoric to modify and control his logos and his ethos, but what he could not control and, in Arendts estimation, could never control, conceal or even inhibit was the communication of who he truly was. To the Arendtian question of who Nixon was, Thompson answers, a political monster evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality


Hunter S. Thompson, He Was a Crook, Rolling Stone, June 16, 1994. Reprinted in Atlantic Magazine, July 1994, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1994/07/he-was-a-crook/8699/ (accessed December 1, 2011); emphasis in original. 26 Ibid.


of the Devil can understand. Nixons daimon, who looked over his shoulder throughout his life and was visible only to those he encountered, was an ugly, Nazi spirit.27 However, while television may reveal more of a true personal identity than other media, television is not a deliberative space. One can imagine, however, that had Nixon been arguing in the agora, a similar feeling of distrust and revulsion that overcame Thompson and the viewers of the televised 1960 debate might have also overcome his interlocutors. Despite the soundness and appeal of his logos, despite his carefully cultivated ethos and his research into the pathos of his audience, the perceptive interlocutor ought to have noticed the nonverbal disclosure of who Nixon really was: a liar, a cheat, a man who did not believe what he was saying and was actively trying to manipulate his audience. What would be required to transmit this message, Arendt argues, is immediacy and physical presence. She insists on the primacy of open, face-to-face discourse, and argues that modern society does not allow a truly public sphere because it has blurred the lines between private and public so greatly.28 Without this face-to-face communication, the ability to perceive the daimones of ones interlocutors becomes harder as communication becomes more abstracted from the primitive immediacy of personal conversation and oratory. With television, some of these messages may still be heard, but far fewer of them over the radio, and perhaps none in print. Television, radio and print are broadcast media, not discursive spaces. Where these nonverbal messages must be heard is in a medium where all discussants have an equal power to hear and be heard, which cannot be true of any broadcast medium by definition. The rise of the social destroys the public sphere, Arendt argues; the social has come to include the household and so

27 28

Ibid. Triadafilopoulos, 751.


has blurred the dividing line between hearth and polis that so clearly demarked the Greek private and public spheres.29 The modern era does not allow for the sort of face-to-face public sphere that Arendt believes can adequately convey hidden meaning. The destruction of intimacy makes the conveyance of emotional content impossible, and the replacement of discursive spaces with broadcast media may be increasing public vulnerability to the abuse of rhetoric.

The Enlightenment and the Ascendancy of Reason

If Arendt is correct, why are so many fooled by ethos when they should be able to see the truth? What can explain the regrettably all-too-frequent successes of confidence tricksters and hucksters, forgers and quacksalvers, psychics and mediums, charlatans, bigamists, or philanderers? The answer, according to Gavin de Becker, is that these messages are always perceived but often ignored or rationalized away, especially when what they convey does not coincide with that which the audience would prefer to be true. They form the basis of intuition about our fellow human beings, and when we intuit the attributes and character of other people, we are actually reasoning with the subconscious mind, which reads tiny, untaught signals and cues, then transmits them to the conscious mind.30 De Becker focuses on the intuition of fear, but this is also true of other intuitive feelings, such as trust or revulsion. However, intuition is usually looked on by us thoughtful Western beings with contempt. It is often described as emotional, unreasonable, or inexplicable We much prefer logic, the grounded, explainable, unemotional thought process that ends in a supportable conclusion.31 The feelings we intuitively have about others are very often dismissed and overridden by reason.

29 30

Arendt, 24, 27 & 45. Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence (New York: Little, Brown, 1997), 14. 31 Ibid., 12.


Our rational mind reminds us that we have no evidence or logical basis for fearing the stranger approaching us; his smile, his friendly words of greeting and his offer of help are evidence that he is trustworthy, and yet our intuition warns us that this person intends us harm and should be feared. Our intuition receives the transmission of the true who of this person in the Arendtian sense. Despite his efforts to create a persona of trustworthiness and harmlessness, he cannot conceal his true identity as a predator. Like Arendt, de Becker also feels it is a grave mistake to dismiss these feelings and allow reason to override them, to submit to the enlightenment appeal of pure reason; the intuition of the human brain is immeasurably superior to logic when the survival of its host body is at risk.32 We owe our dismissal of intuition and our failure to watch for Arendtian daimones to the supremacy of rational, enlightenment thinking. Although it preceded Arendt, the enlightenment tradition belittles or dismisses the emotional content of discourse. The advent of modern science has made great strides towards an understanding of the natural world, and it has done it by dismissing emotional content and religious special revelation in favour of pure reason, logic, and the search for verifiable evidence, testable hypotheses and repeatable results. Enlightenment thinkers were attempting to apply much the same form of reasoning to politics, doing away with the emotions of Aristotelian thought in favour of pure reason and rationality. In short, the enlightenment proposed that logos should be the sum total of public discourse and the only component worthy of consideration: an orators message ought to be considered on the grounds of its logic, evidence and reason alone, much as the scientific community would judge a new hypothesis.


Ibid., 26.


Immanuel Kant is the quintessential enlightenment philosopher, his summary of the enlightenment that of human emergence from a self-incurred immaturity and our new ability to use our own understanding without the guidance of another.33 In his Idea for a Universal History, his third proposition essentially states that humans of the enlightenment are no longer to be guided by instinct, but by reason.34 It seems emotion is part of instinct and not of reason, swelling unbidden inside us without our ever having deliberated our way into it or having constructed a rational argument for feeling it. In public discourse, then, we should dismiss any emotional feelings or reactions we have to a speaker and consider his logical argument on the merits, to borrow a jurisprudential term. As rational beings, we ought to dismiss both the calculated ethos of a practiced Aristotelian orator and the Arendtian subconscious messages that speak to true character. John Stuart Mill continues in this vein when he argues against censorship, essentially proposing that the public sphere should be an open marketplace of ideas where all proposals can be mooted and discussed rationally. His belief is in a reasonable, rational, enlightenment-era discourse, similar to that of the scientific community.35 It is this sort of a public discussion that Mill wishes to have, based strictly on logic, reason and evidence. Any effort to dismiss or promote an argument based on emotional content or on feelings about the character or the intent of the speaker would essentially be censorship, and impermissible. Any interlocutor who does not propose to counter the speaker based on reason alone ought not to be heard. Mill imagines a


Immanuel Kant, An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? in Kant: Political Writings, ed. Hans Reiss, trans. H. B. Nisbet (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 54. 34 Immanuel Kant, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose , in Kant: Political Writings, ed. Hans Reiss, trans. H. B. Nisbet (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 43-44. 35 John Stuart Mill, "On Liberty," in Social and Political Philosophy: Classic and Contemporary Readings , ed. Andrea Veltman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 208.


great bazaar of rational, enlightened thought to be opened up, unencumbered either by censorship or by irrationality. The enlightenment tradition proceeds to apply the principles of reason to political discourse. In the deliberative democratic tradition, political and democratic deliberation is constrained to the rational and reasonable, and logos becomes the primary or perhaps the only consideration in deliberation.36 The deliberative model does not have to be narrowly rational or dismissive of all emotional content or feeling, but it often displays a stereotyped vision of emotion wherein the only positive emotions are those that contribute to public reason. Even if emotion exists, it ought to lead to reason or else reason ought to triumph over it in the deliberative model.37 John Rawls, perhaps the most important of the deliberative democratic theorists, describes all ways of reasoning, including public reason, as employing the concept of judgement, principles of inference, and rules of evidence, and much else, otherwise they would not be ways of reasoning but perhaps rhetoric or means of persuasion.38 Furthermore, citizens must be reasonable and rational in order for public reason to work. 39 Aristotelian rhetoric should ideally play no part in public reason, and a participant in public reason ought to make no attempt at conveying ethos or at making emotional appeals aimed at pathos. The audience, for their part, ought not to consider the hidden messages which Arendt identified, and should judge an argument on its logic, evidence, and inference alone. This highly rational and logical conception of public reason is the mechanism by which Rawls proposes we should decide such

Stephen Salkever, The Deliberative Model of Democracy and Aristotles Ethics of Natural Questions, in Aristotle and Modern Politics, ed. Aristide Tessitore (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002), 345. 37 Ibid., 356-357. 38 John Rawls, "The Idea of Public Reason," in Deliberative Democracy: Essays on Reason and Politics, ed. James Bohman & William Rehg (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999), 99; emphasis added. 39 Ibid., 97.


important matters such as enfranchisement, religious tolerance, equality of opportunity, or property-holding.40 James Bohman further clarifies the deliberative democratic position: legitimate decisions from deliberative democracy demand equality between citizens in that citizens must be equal; and their reasons must be given equal consideration.41 The choice of word is almost certainly not in error, deliberative democracy relies upon a conception of citizens as rational, enlightenment beings willing to present competing rational arguments for their positions, between which the democratic process ought to find rational, reasonable compromise. The conception of deliberative space that most fits those found on the internet comes from Jrgen Habermas. Rawls believes that public reason operates, or should operate, in traditional political spaces: parliaments and legislatures, courts, etc., while Habermas takes the stance that the key site of democratic deliberation is in civil society the public spaces not expressly designated as political where citizens gather to deliberate.42 He shifts the focus of the critique of reason from Kantian transcendental consciousness towards an emphasis on interpersonal communication, which the internet liberally facilitates. Communicative rationality must still use reason or grounds, in accordance with enlightenment tradition, however. The Habermasian communicative approach may seek to take account of the contextual features of language use, but it cannot renounce the import of claims of reason.43 In his examination of the French Revolution as a key and early implementation of the enlightenment into politics, for example, Habermas concludes that a politics radically situated in this world ought to be

40 41

Ibid., 94. James Bohman, "Deliberative Democracy and Effective Social Freedom: Capabilities, Resources, and Opportunities," in Deliberative Democracy: Essays on Reason and Politics, ed. James Bohman & William Rehg (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999), 321; emphasis in original. 42 Salkever, 348. 43 Thomas McCarthy, "Enlightenment and the Idea of Public Reason," in Questioning Ethics: Contemporary Debates in Philosophy, ed. Richard Kearney & Mark Dooley (London: Routledge, 1999), 170.


justifiable on the basis of reason alone.44 Any participant in deliberative democracy who does not cleave to pure reason, therefore, insults enlightenment ideals. The Habermasian view of the public sphere is decentred, and in the decentred society, the peripheral networks of the political public sphere, such as the internet, become tied to proceduralized popular sovereignty and the political system. The deliberative space is thus different from the strictly political spaces; the former cannot produce sovereign rule by themselves, but can exert a programmatic power over ruling bodies.45 The internet neatly fits into this conception of the public sphere, and like the Habermasian public sphere, it, too, is unique and without any historical prototype.46 Ideally, its role is in compromise, since compromises make up the bulk of the political process itself. In legislation, deliberation not only tests ethical validity, but compromises competing interests to each other in service of the common good.47 In the public sphere, communicative freedom exists between actors who, firstly, have a desire to reach some understanding, and secondly, expect one another to take positions based on reciprocally raised validity claims.48 In summary, the Habermasian public deliberative space is decentralized, found not in traditional political spaces but in civil society as a whole, and expects reasonable, rational argument in search of compromise. If the internet is to fulfill such a vision, then it, too, should be a decentralized, non-traditional public space, and if it meets these criteria which it surely does it must facilitate reason, rationality and arrival at compromises. This last


Jrgen Habermas, Popular Sovereignty as Procedure in Deliberative Democracy, in Deliberative Democracy: Essays on Reason and Politics, ed. James Bohman & William Rehg (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999), 41. 45 Jrgen Habermas, "Three Normative Models of Democracy: Liberal, Republican, Procedural," in Questioning Ethics: Contemporary Debates in Philosophy, ed. Richard Kearney & Mark Dooley (London: Routledge, 1999), 141-143. 46 Jrgen Habermas, The Public Sphere, in Social and Political Philosophy: Classic and Contemporary Readings , ed. Andrea Veltman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 282-283. 47 Habermas, Three Normative Models of Democracy, 139. 48 Jrgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy . Trans. William Rehg (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), 119.


criterion depends upon the disposition of interlocutors more than on the medium through which they interact, but the medium itself may be able to encourage rationality and compromise through its own attributes.

The Discursive Spaces of the Internet

The various virtual spaces of the internet do not coalesce to a single, monolithic entity. Those aspects of the internet which do not pertain to human interaction at all but to the transmission of data between various computer systems which may enable human interaction but in no way contain any human interaction communications between point-of-sale systems and centralized credit card databases, for example may obviously be dismissed from the discussion. There are also many spaces on the internet which are chiefly or solely used as broadcast media, and many have become highly significant facets of the internet. Webcasting, or internet-based streaming media such as the nearly-eponymous YouTube, is an example. So, too, is podcasting, in which material is pre-packaged into a downloadable format for later review, rather than being streamed live. These media are merely internet applications of the principles of television or radio, and are similarly non-interactive. They are able to broadcast information or opinions, but cannot enable the viewer or listener to interact with the speaker. The same is true of blogging, which is to print media what webcasting is to television and radio. These spaces cannot be deliberative in their simplest application because no discussion may occur. From Aristotle to Habermas, all are in agreement that the minimal criterion for a discursive space and public deliberation to exist is the engagement of two people in discussion. Such spaces could, however, become a site of deliberation in much the same way as an exchange of letters. YouTube, for example, seems to have embraced this interpretation in the addition of options to post video responses, and which will appear to the viewer as links below the original 20

video. In this way, a dialogue of sorts can develop. However, this is a stilted dialogue, with no immediacy. The interlocutors have a great temptation to simply broadcast at one another and their mutual audience without truly interacting. 49 This pseudo-deliberation cannot arrive at any compromise, for it is simply a series of presentations on competing viewpoints that does not work closer to any mutual conclusion. Further, there is no opportunity for the audience to interact with the interlocutors. If language is a unique part of the human experience, and if the public space comes into existence when two humans possessed of language, the ability to reason, and the desire to enter into discussion come together, then the transmission of a response in a discourse of letters or YouTube videos requires the surmounting of skill-based, technological barriers against entry into the discussion. Such barriers prevent it from becoming an actual public, deliberative space. The only truly open deliberative space may be face-to-face, since spoken language is common to all humans, whereas the same cannot be said even for literacy. Internet spaces would not be unique in raising additional barriers, but their barriers are rather higher than in other, non-virtual spaces. Further, the skill that the speaker has in overcoming these barriers (e.g. the ability to create a professional-looking video or a well-designed blog) may be used as a performance of ethos in that the audience may find a highly polished website to be a more credible source than a decidedly amateurish one. The truly discursive spaces on the internet are among the oldest. Realistically, early modems in the late 1970s and early 1980s were only capable of the transmission of text, and this gave rise to the bulletin board system, or BBS. A BBS is run on a host computer, into which

I have not included a consideration of videoconferencing technology, which might well be considered a face-toface deliberative space, firstly since this technology predates the internet and the internet has merely provided a way to facilitate it more cheaply and easily, and secondly, because videoconferencing is a technology that facilitates the private, intimate conversation, and should rightly be considered an aspect of the private rather than the public.


other users can dial in using their modems. This scheme was not on the internet, strictly speaking, as access was direct rather than through an intermediary internet access provider and through the internet backbone. Like its namesake in the physical world, the BBS often offered a message board where visitors could post messages to one another, either privately or in a public forum. In public forums, readers could generally also become speakers by posting a message of their own. At the same time, the Usenet system was developed. This, too, resembled a message board, but rather than being hosted on a single server, the message boards are distributed over a conglomeration of dynamically changing servers. Usenet is divided into groups, with descriptive titles (e.g. alt.politics, a general political discussion group, or alt.politics.socialism.trotsky which, as the name implies, is a more specific group for discussions of Trotskyism). Discourses take the form of initial posts which can be made by any user, and subsequent replies (and replies to replies), arranged by chronological order in a thread. Usenet predates the world-wide web, but with the advent and success of the latter came the development of a web-based parallel in the online forum. These often parallel the format of Usenet, and with the advent of forum software such as vBulletin that can be integrated into a website relatively easily, a great many websites (including those of broadcast-based media) now also include a forum or comment system for public discussion of some kind. These disembodied discussion forums are the internet equivalents to the salon. They are spaces in which citizens may gather for discussion as peers, with a few caveats: firstly, the internet is an international construction and even though language may tend to divide discussants into roughly national groups, this division is rarely (if ever) neat; secondly, their virtual nature abstracts speech from speaker in a way that the salon does not. Because of this, they may fail to meet Rawlsian or 22

Arendtian criteria for the formation of a deliberative political space, for different reasons, but they are arguably manifestations of Aristotelian or Habermasian deliberative space. Because the space is virtual, and because the speech of an internet forum is done through a virtual avatar that may bear little or absolutely no resemblance to the actual speaker indeed, that may bear no resemblance to any human at all the internet might be a space that could be beloved of enlightenment thinkers, where the reason and rationality of an argument can be entirely separated from emotional considerations about the speaker that might affect consideration of the argument, even subconsciously. Ideally, from an enlightenment perspective, these internet forums could be spaces where ideas can be untethered from the people who propose them and allowed to float for purely rational consideration. Perhaps this might be a solution to the problem identified by both Plato and Aristotle, to wit, that rhetoric can be employed not just to communicate truths, but to delude the credulous.50 If logos can be separated from ethos and pathos, then emotional appeals that could sway an audience away from truth might be done away with. However, this presupposes the enlightenment proposition that reason and rationality lead to truth, at least when pursued vigorously and honestly, and that emotion is a barrier to truth if it leads away from reason and rationality. To a limited extent, pathos might be able to penetrate the impersonality and anonymity of the internet. Although it is hard to attain the full nuance of pathos in front of a faceless audience, internet speech is generally delivered to a specific audience of specific interests (e.g. specifically-named Usenet groups), and even when delivered to a general audience, in the free marketplace of ideas, audiences often gravitate towards speeches and forums of interest to them and which conform to their existing worldviews. On a Christian Conservative forum, for

Triadafilopoulos, 744.


example, certain assumptions about the feelings and beliefs of the majority of the audience could probably be made with great accuracy; one might also assume that the regular readers of alt.politics.socialism.trotsky would probably not appreciate a ringing endorsement of Milton Friedmans economic thought. Ethos is rather harder to convey, however. A display of emotion or character would have to be expressed verbally, and such expression is difficult, for the advent of text-only conversation is a new event in human history, and humans seem best equipped to display and perceive emotion non-verbally. Antony could not have recited his speech to the crowd in a bored, disinterested tone; a credible performance would have had to include non-verbal signs of his pretended anger and grief. Character is impossible to establish anonymously by its very definition, and to do so would mean the abandoning of anonymity in favour of a human persona, even a synthetic one. This speaks to the incompatibility of ethos with enlightenment thinking on discourse, for the establishment of ethos would be a resort to persuasion based on something other than the rational and the logical. The inability of these forums to convey emotion is so profound that an entirely new discursive concept has arisen in an attempt to fill the gap the emoticon. Emoticons actually precede the development of the internet by almost a century and a half, being first seen in Morse code.51 The emoticon is a written stand-in for an emotion that would be expressed non-verbally in a face-to-face conversation. For example, the smiley52 conveys friendliness, and is commonly added to sentences that might cause offence if taken at face value, to emphasize that


Joan Gajadhar & John Green, An Analysis of Nonverbal Communication in an Online Chat Group, (working paper, the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, March 2003), 4; the emoticon described was 73 to represent love and kisses. 52 :-)


the comment is not intended to offend, or is tongue-in-cheek.53 But if the emoticon can convey emotion, then it is strictly as ethos; the only emotions conveyed are those that the speaker wishes to be conveyed. They may even be emotions not genuinely felt at all. Antony could perhaps have used sad and angry emoticons54 to convey the feelings he wanted his audience to perceive, and although that would be rather less eloquent than Shakespeares drama, they would be much easier to perform than a non-verbal display. Apart from that, if the only emotions or nonverbal cues or messages that can be communicated are those that the speaker wishes to be communicated, there is absolutely no way to answer Arendts question of who. The daimon that looks over the speakers shoulder would not only be invisible to the speaker, but now also to those with whom they speak.

The internet offers Habermasian public spaces, as it allows the coming-together of interested citizens in a non-traditional, social space. It is a facilitator of Habermasian civil society, since it allows more entrance into political discussion for citizens who do not make policy themselves but may have a programmatic influence. In fact, the internet may casualize the public sphere, making political deliberation something that can be engaged in almost flippantly rather than only after a specific effort to seek out and engage other individuals in public. The discursive spaces of the internet represent a great step towards an enlightenment ideal: a place where rational arguments can be presented with the temporal immediacy of face-to-face discourse while the anonymity and the potential for a complete divorcing of speech from speaker allow rational discourse to be somewhat protected from emotional content. The transmission of ethos and aim at pathos can still exist, as appeals to passion may still be written, but the
53 54

Gajadhar & Green, 9. :-( and >:[


combination of a discourse entirely in written format and between visually anonymous parties whose real and online identities are separate makes this much harder than in other public spaces. However, from an Arendtian perspective, the internet can never be a truly deliberative or a public space. In fact, the internet may be disastrous to the existence of such spaces. The internet, in Arendtian terms, is a social realm, not a political one, as it lacks all capability for face-to-face engagement. The casual nature that makes the internet an expansion upon Habermasian public space also makes it a destructive force upon the Arendtian interpretation of such spaces as the gulf which the ancients had to transcend between the private and the political, if it had not already disappeared in Arendts time, is surely disappearing now.55 If the social blurs the line between the political and the private, the internet erases it altogether. For anyone with access to a computer and an internet connection, the political can now be brought into the private sphere at the whim and leisure of the participant. For such individuals, the barrier to be surmounted for a transcendence of the private to engage in politics is now immeasurably small.


Arendt, 33.


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