Archive for May 2007

Democracy Demands an Informed and Rational Public: Al Gore

May 31, 2007

In his new book, “The Assault on Reason”, Al Gore makes the case that our democracy is in trouble, and indeed our civilization is in trouble”, because of the decline in rational thought on all levels, especially in regard to public policy. He is not saying that we lack rational thinkers, but rather that the public is not actively involved in discussion of the issues of the day. His great example, is the attack on Iraq, where the media, even Congress, allowed the assumption that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 to go unquestioned. This has been such an egregious blindness to facts that even today, half of Americans believe that this is the reason we are in Iraq. A recent PBS discussion with National Guardsmen posted to Iraq would seem to confirm this interpretation of the state of public discussion.

Many have long noticed the massive decline in the role of reason in the public arena after the passing of the Founding Fathers. Even in 1858 at the time of the Lincoln-Douglas debates on the question of slavery, we had an attentive public that was willing in town after town to listen to carefully reasoned debates. In the debates one of them spoke for an hour, then the other candidate spoke for an hour and a half, and then the first speaker was allowed a half hour “rejoinder.” People traveled from neighboring states to listen, and major papers published full texts of the debates.

The difficulty I find with Gore’s thesis is that I do not know where it leads. Is there really a road back for the American public. It would make sense to allow no advertising on TV, or at least nothing under 30 minutes. But I cannot see this happening. Gore has faith that the internet will help bring us back. But I fear the internet drags us in all directions, with a tendency for the most absurd and outlandish to get the largest audience.

A couple of days ago, David Brooks had a long Op-Ed in the New York Times attacking Gore’s thesis from every angle. He tried to make him out to be some kind of inhuman monster who would replace the mixture of emotion and logical thought that we all work with by an inhuman and purely logical approach. It was a surprisingly sophomoric column (apologies to sophomores). I was glad to see that there was today (or yesterday) about seven letters in response, all good and all supporting Gore against this ridiculous attack.