CHAPTER FIVE •
capacity as consumers. For example, some people support efforts to promote serious coverage of public issues on television, even though their own consumption patterns favor reality shows and situation comedies; they seek stringent laws protecting the environment or endangered species even though they do not use the public parks or derive material benefits from protection of such species; they approve of laws calling for social security and welfare even though they do not save or give to the poor; they support antidiscrimination laws even though their own behavior is hardly race- or gender-neutral. The choices people make as political participants seem systematically different from those they make as consumers.
Why is this? Is it a puzzle or a paradox? The most basic answer is that people's behavior as citizens reflects a variety of distinctive influences. In their role as citizens, people might seek to implement their highest aspirations when they do not do so in private consumption. They might aspire to a communications system of a particular kind, one that promotes democratic goals, and they might try to promote that aspiration through law. Acting in the fashion of Ulysses anticipating the sirens, people might "precornmit" themselves, in democratic processes, to a course of action that they consider to be in the general interest. And in their capacity as citizens, they might attempt to satisfy altruistic or other-regarding desires, which diverge from the self-interested preferences often characteristic of the behavior of consumers in markets.
In fact social and cultural norms can incline people to express aspirational or altruistic goals more often in political behavior than in markets. Of course it is true that selfish behavior is common in politics; but social norms sometimes press people, in their capacity as citizens, in the direction of a concern for others or for the public interest. Acting together
as citizens, people can solve collective-action problems that prove intractable for consumers. For each of us, acting individually, it is nearly impossible to make any substantial contribution to the problem of air pollution or to the assistance of those who are suffering from the effects of a natural disaster. But if we are able to act collectively-perhaps through private institutions, perhaps through governmentwe might be able to do a great deal. As citizens, people might well attempt to promote democratic goals-by, for example, calling for free air time for candidates in the late stages of campaigns-even if they do little to promote those goals in their purely individual capacities.
Indeed, the deliberative aspects of politics, bringing additional information and perspectives to bear, often affects peopie's judgments as these are expressed through governmental processes. A principal function of a democratic system is to ensure that through representative or participatory processes, new or submerged voices, or novel depictions of where interests lie and what they in fact are, are heard and understood. If representatives or citizens are able to participate in a collective discussion of broadcasting or the appropriate uses of the Internet, they can generate a far fuller and richer picture of the central social goals, and of how they might be served, than can be provided through individual decisions as registered in the market. It should hardly be surprising if preferences, values, and perceptions of what matters, to individuals and to societies, are changed as a result of that process.
Of course it cannot be denied that government officials have their own interests and biases, and that participants in politics might invoke public goals in order to serve their own private agendas. In the area of communications, not excluding the Internet, parochial pressures have often helped to die-