CHAPTER FIVE •
do not preexist social institutions; they are formed and shaped by existing arrangements. Much of the time, people develop tastes for what they are used to seeing and experiencing. If you are used to seeing stories about the local sports team, your interest in the local sports team is likely to increase. If news programming deals with a certain topic-say, welfare reform, environmental protection, or a current threat of war-your taste for that topic is likely to be strengthened. If you learn that most people like a certain movie, or book, or political candidate, or idea, you will be more likely to like them too; and this effect is increased if the relevant people are "like you." Recall the experiment with music downloads, in which the success or failure of songs was largely a product of people's perceptions of what other people had done.
When people are deprived of opportunities, they are likely to adapt and to develop preferences and tastes for what little they have. We are entitled to say that the deprivation of opportunities is a deprivation of freedom-even if people have adapted to it and do not much want anything more.
Similar points hold for the world of communications. If people are deprived of access to competing views on public issues, and if as a result they lack a taste for those views, they lack freedom, whatever the nature of their preferences and choices. If people are exposed mostly to sensationalistic coverage of the lives of movie stars, or only to sports, or only to left-of-center views, and never to international issues, their preferences will develop accordingly. If people are mostly watching a conservative station-say, Fox News-they will inevitably be affected by what they see. Whatever one's political view, there is, in an important respect, a problem from the standpoint of freedom itself. This is so even if people are voluntarily choosing the limited fare.
The general idea here-that preferences and beliefs are a product of existing institutions and practices, and that the result can be a form of unfreedom, one of the most serious of all-is hardly new. It is a longstanding theme in political and legal thought. Thus Tocqueville wrote of the effects of the institution of slavery on the desires of many slaves themselves: "Plunged in this abyss of wretchedness, the Negro hardly notices his ill fortune; he was reduced to slavery by violence, and the habit of servitude has given him the thoughts and ambitions of a slave; he admires his tyrants even more than he hates them and finds his joy and pride in servile imitation of his oppressors.'? In the same vein, John Dewey wrote that "social conditions may restrict, distort, and almost prevent the development of individuality."] He insisted that we should therefore "take an active interest in the working of social institutions that have a bearing, positive or negative' upon the growth of individuals." For Dewey, ajust society "is as much interested in the positive construction of favorable institutions, legal, political, and economic, as it is in the work of removing abuses and overt oppressions." Robert Frank and Philip Cook have urged that in the communications market, existing "financial incentives strongly favor sensational, lurid and formulaic offerings," and that the resulting structure of rewards "is especially troubling in light of evidence that, beginning in infancy and continuing through life, the things we see and read profoundly alter the kinds of people we become.?"
Every tyrant knows that it is important, and sometimes possible, not only to constrain people's actions but also to manipulate their desires, partly by making people fearful, partly by putting certain options in an unfavorable light, partly by limiting information. And nontyrannical governments are hardly neutral with respect to preferences and desires. They hope to