How does C. Wright Mills define "the masses," and why does this concept raise anxieties?

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C. Wright Mills described the difference between a "public" and "masses" in his 1956 book titled The Power Elite.

When considering a "public," there exists an opportunity for a fairly equal exchange of opinions. People share their beliefs and are heard with openness. Therefore, there is a two-way discussion of ideas, and discord has a great chance of resolution. Authorities generally do not infiltrate private affairs of the public, which functions fairly autonomously.

By contrast, the descriptor "the masses" describes a top-down prioritization of voice. There are far fewer people who express opinions than people who are expected to receive those opinions. Individualism is lost as the populace becomes one vague and abstract portrait of an "audience." It is therefore difficult for most people to voice individual opinions in response to the few who are the voices for all, and authorities actively penetrate the populace, reducing the likelihood of individual opinions. Mass media therefore serves as the voice that controls agents of change and prohibits a true discussion of ideas. Indeed, in a "mass" society, the media becomes "the dominant type of communication," and the populace is reduced to a "media market."

A "mass" society creates anxiety because it restricts individuality and diversity. Additionally, environments which fail to foster true discussion implicitly establish expectations that a populace will accept the opinions, beliefs, and strategies which are determined by the few—and that the populace itself is powerless to create change within its society.

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