I’m going through my unread gmail messages, tracking down notes to myself about the four empirical chapters of The Thesis (which is all but done). And I’m stumbling on stuff that I always intended to blog/think more about. Here’s one (should probably turn into a video!)
“The first rule for understanding the human condition is that men live in second-hand worlds. They are aware of much more than they have experienced; and their own experience is always indirect. The quality of their lives is determined by meanings they have received from others. Everyone lives in a world of such meaning. No man stands alone directly confronting a world of solid fact. No such world is available. The closest men come to it is when they are infants or when they become insane: then, in a terrifying scene of meaningless events and senseless confusion, they are often seized with the panic of near-total insecurity. But in their everyday life they do not experience a world of solid fact; their experience itself is selected by stereotyped meaning and shaped by ready-made interpretation. their images of the world, and of themselves, are given to them by crowds of witnesses they have never met and never shall meet. Yet for every man these images – provided by strangers and dead men – are the very basis of his life as a human being.
“The consciousness of men does not determine their material existence; nor does their material existence determine their consciousness. Between consciousness and existence stand meanings and designs and communications which other men have passed on – first, in human speech itself, and later, by the management of symbols. These received and manipulated interpretation decisively influence such consciousness as men have of their existence. They provide the clues to what men see, to how they respond to it, to how they feel about it, and to how they respond to these feelings. Symbols focus experience; meanings organize knowledge, guiding the surface perceptions of an instant no less than the aspiration of a lifetime. Every man, to be sure, observes nature, social events, and his own self; but he does not, he has never, observed most of what he takes to be fact, about nature, society, or self.
“Every man interprets what he observes – as well as much that the has not observed: but his terms of interpretation are not his own; he has not personally formulated or even tested them. Every man talks about observations to others: but the terms of his reports are much more likely than not the phrases and images of other people which he has taken over as his own. For most of what he calls solid fact, sound interpretation, suitable presentation, every man is increasingly dependent upon the observation posts, the interpretation centers, the presentation depots, which in contemporary society are established by means of what I am going to call the cultural apparatus.”
C. Wright Mills, “The Cultural Apparatus,” in Power, Politics, and People: The Collected Essays of C. Wright Mills, p. 405-406