May 29, 2007

David Brooks Assaults Al Gore’s “Vulcan Utopia”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Volt @ 11:48 am

David Brooks, The New York Times, May 29, 2007

If you’re going to read Al Gore’s book, you’re going to have to steel yourself for a parade of sentences like the following:

“The remedy for what ails our democracy is not simply better education (as important as that is) or civic education (as important as that can be), but the re-establishment of a genuine democratic discourse in which individuals can participate in a meaningful way – a conversation of democracy in which meritorious ideas and opinions from individuals do, in fact, evoke a meaningful response.”

But, hey, nobody ever died from contact with pomposity, and Al Gore’s “The Assault on Reason” is well worth reading. It reminds us that whatever the effects of our homogenizing mass culture, it is still possible for exceedingly strange individuals to rise to the top.

Gore is, for example, a radical technological determinist. While most politicians react to people, Gore reacts to machines, and in this book he lays out a theory of history entirely driven by them.

He writes that “the idea of self-government became feasible after the printing press.” With this machine, people suddenly had the ability to use the printed word to debate ideas and proceed logically to democratic conclusions. As Gore writes in his best graduate school manner, “The eighteenth century witnessed more and more ordinary citizens able to use knowledge as a source of power to mediate between wealth and privilege.”

This Age of Reason produced the American Revolution. But in the 20th-century, television threatened it all. In Gore’s view, TV immobilizes the reasoning centers in the brain and stimulates the primitive, instinctive parts. TV creates a “visceral vividness” that is not “modulated by logic, reason and reflective thought.”

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