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.
But Gore’s imperviousness to reality is not the most striking feature of the book. It’s the chilliness and sterility of his worldview. Gore is laying out a comprehensive theory of social development, but it allows almost no role for family, friendship, neighborhood or just face-to-face contact. He sees society the way you might see it from a speaking podium — as a public mass exercise with little allowance for intimacy or private life. He envisions a sort of Vulcan Utopia, in which dispassionate individuals exchange facts and arrive at logical conclusions.
This, in turn, grows out of a bizarre view of human nature. Gore seems to have come up with a theory that the upper, logical mind sits on top of, and should master, the primitive and more emotional mind below. He thinks this can be done through a technical process that minimizes information flow to the lower brain and maximizes information flow to the higher brain.
It’s an interesting parallel: on the one hand we have the David Brooks, water-carrier for the uptight righties who sneer at the emotional outbursts of progressives over such things as poor people suffering from Hurricane Katrina, or the David Brooks who gets all weepy over memories of going to a baseball game and who pleads compassionately for the unborn. He’s like Spock — half emotional human, half coldly logical Vulcan, at war with his inner self and never able to come to terms with his emotions overwhelming his logic. And here he is taking Al Gore to task for being pompous, elitist, and emotionally detached. It’s like that’s an act reserved for the coldly pragmatic bow-tie daddies of the right wing like William F. Buckley, George F. Will, and their boy-wonder sidekick, Tucker Carlson. Fascinating.
If we’re going to make Star Trek references, I always thought that Mr. Brooks and his pals bore a striking resemblence to the Ferengi; if not in appearance, at least in morality.
One thing Mr. Brooks doesn’t seem to have a problem with is unintentional irony. It’s a real hoot to hear him to accuse Al Gore of pomposity. Let’s see how he’d do on the Daily Show. Oh, and if were him I’d watch it with calling someone like Al Gore an “exceedingly strange individual”; has he checked the GOP presidential field recently?
Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.