Geek Wars

You know you have reached utter geekdom when David Brooks attacks Al Gore’s new book by making unfootnoted references to Star Trek.

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.

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14 Comments

Filed under 06_bobby

14 responses to “Geek Wars

  1. The thing I found most “amusing” about Brooks’s piece when I read it late last night was that the point he seemed to be criticizing, namely Gore’s assertion that the internet can and will change the type of discourse and involvement of the average person in terms of politics, went whizzing by Brooks’s head while Brooks was trying to geek out.

    Gore’s point is a valid one, and we’re seeing the results today. People are more engaged than they were during the days when television was unchallenged (which I would date as starting with the cable explosion). Television is a passive medium, and the internet is not only an active one, it’s one that demands connection using the written word, which requires a completely different set of brain functions than watching tv does. And Brooks, working as he does in the world of the written, ought to understand that, but he instead decided to take an undeserved shot at Gore.

  2. You know, I am never going to understand the wingnut problems with being an ‘elite’.

    “Ooooo, you’re intelligent, and articulate, can use big words, speak about nuance, and look at things internationally! YOU MUST BE EVIL!!!”

    You know, sometimes a little less respect should be provided to morons, and a chunk more to so-called ‘elites’ … because, you know, then we wouldn’t be in the mess we are now.

    Which is ironic, given the right-wing neo-cons that are the real elites in this country are the one’s pretending to be country rubes to mask the fact that a) they are incredibly privileged, and b) are idiots.

    If Gore is an elite, count me in on considering being called such to be a compliment. Especially from Brooks.

  3. Older

    I guess it’s just my background, but Gore’s remarks didn’t seem all that pompous to me. The sentence is kinda long a serious, but it’s important stuff he’s addressing.

    Now, Brooks’ own comments, they’re pompous.

  4. Arkades

    Which is ironic, given the right-wing neo-cons that are the real elites in this country are the one’s pretending to be country rubes to mask the fact that a) they are incredibly privileged, and b) are idiots.

    Tell me about. Robber barons run the country, but somehow skate by on the concept that they’re ‘just plain folks’ who somehow happen to have enough money to succeed in politics.

    If Gore is an elite, count me in on considering being called such to be a compliment. Especially from Brooks.

    Me too, Sarah. Me too.

  5. oddjob

    Not that this changes anything regarding Sarah’s comment, but Gore absolutely has to be considered elite. He went to a seriously swanky exclusive private secondary school in DC, St. Alban’s. This isn’t at all surprising for many of DC’s elites send their children there. It was a surprise when Jimmy Carter opted to send Amy to public school in DC.

  6. OK, there are points in Assault on Reason which Gore repeats and repeats and are just plain wrong, like his description of television as a one-way medium (mostly correct, but there are plenty of programs where viewers can express their opinions). There are many, many points cribbed from Thom Hartmann, especially when Gore quotes Thom Jefferson. The book feel rushed together, with breaking stories from this year inelegantly shoe-horned between paragraphs as done with a lot of political nonfiction. It leaves a lot out because Gore and the publisher wanted to keep it in the 300-page range. In sum, it’s a flawed work.

    BUT…

    If that’s the best Brooks can do in attacking the central thesis, he needs to go back to critic school. It reads like one of those Amazon troll reviews by somebody who just looked at the jacket flaps at Barnes & Noble.

    Gore’s point is that governments should make decisions, whenever possible, based on facts and reasoning. Duh. This is nothing new. It’s why we got rid of the king, so we could have a deliberative body of supposedly intelligent people to consider the need for policy consequences of action beforehand.

    To disagree with Gore’s central thesis without disputing the evidence is to argue that Dubya has the right idea: Fuck facts, fuck reason, make all decisions based on ideological myths. This is government of, by, and for the id, also known as despotism.

  7. TomDunlap

    Ooh, ooh. Can I be elite too? Or do you have to be rich? 😦

  8. jahf

    Which is ironic, given the right-wing neo-cons that are the real elites in this country are the one’s pretending to be country rubes to mask the fact that a) they are incredibly privileged, and b) are idiots.

    a) True, but only because people give it up to them.

    b) False. If it were true, America wouldn’t be getting raped by them.

  9. I’m sorry jahf, but if you can show me that Bush Jr. is intelligent, I’d be highly surprised. It’s a wonder the man can tie his own shoes. Just because one is in a position of privilege does not mean one was the one who needed the intelligence to get there in the first place.

  10. jahf

    I’m sorry jahf, but if you can show me that Bush Jr. is intelligent, I’d be highly surprised.

    Perhaps. Nevertheless, he is in fact sitting in office; and this after being re-elected for raping America. It might not be everything, but there is something to be said for results.

    Bush may not be the brightest bulb ever, but there are certainly bright people working his strings. In my view, the relative unintelligence of George W. Bush emphasizes the more important point that he is more foot-soldier than mastermind in all that has transpired.

    There are many actors behind the malevolence and it would be a mistake to think that it will end with Bush’s departure from office.

  11. I’ve noticed Brooks, like many conservative pundits, is much better mannered and reasonable when he appears on PBS and NPR. In his columns, sometimes he’s an out and out hack and wanker.

  12. I’d say that in describing the zanies on this thread, we should switch over to LOTR and say you’re orcs or uruk-hai.

    Al is a lying pompous buffoon and the only thing lucid about him is the glint in his eyes as he hoodwinks insufferable fools like y’all.

  13. Oddjob doesn’t depart far from his Bond incarnation, and the “public school” Amy Carter attended in DC was much harder to get into than Sidwell Friends where the ClyntOOns sent Chelsea.

    And GWB’s twins went to public high school in Austin, and one to U. of Texas.

    Now you can crawl back under your rock….where Sarah obviously has been keeping house for you!

  14. Batocchio is so right about Brooks. He does deport himself quite well in his guest spots on NPR.

    The Brooks Effect the opposite of Bill O’Reilly, who redefines the term “flaming asshole” on the tube, but whose syndicated column comes off downright reasonable (not necessarily logical or correct, but reasonable).

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