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Assault on Reason
May 18, 2007 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Book Excerpt: The Assault on Reason Time Magazine publishes an excerpt to further whet appetites. Releases on the 22nd.
posted by allkindsoftime (93 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Al Gore has a new book coming out?

Does it have its own Keynote presentation?
posted by smackfu at 8:07 AM on May 18, 2007


We have an independent judiciary

heh.
posted by matteo at 8:10 AM on May 18, 2007


I am happy that this excerpt was posted here. I am VERY UNHAPPY that a direct link to a preorder page for the book was posted along with it.

but yeah, i'm developing a serious thing for al gore, and I used to hate him.
posted by shmegegge at 8:15 AM on May 18, 2007


I can't wait for the CNN special report on this.
posted by gsteff at 8:18 AM on May 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


It won't change any of the minds that need changing. To paraphrase a Gary Larson cartoon -

What sane people hear when Al Gore speaks: something akin to this article

What right wingers hear: ARF ARF TREASON ARF ARF ARF HATE AMERICA ARF ARF ARF COMMUNISM ARF ARF ARF
posted by fleetmouse at 8:21 AM on May 18, 2007 [7 favorites]


Yes, Mr. Gore, I have a two-part question. Why aren't you running for President, and as a follow-up, will you please fucking run for President?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:21 AM on May 18, 2007 [4 favorites]


the croissant of treason?
posted by breakfast_yeti at 8:21 AM on May 18, 2007


American democracy is now in danger—not from any one set of ideas, but from unprecedented changes in the environment within which ideas either live and spread, or wither and die. I do not mean the physical environment; I mean what is called the public sphere, or the marketplace of ideas.
I love how he has to qualify "environment" on the off chance that a staunch conservative makes it past the dedication page of his book.

"What? He's going off again about that nature shit?"
*throws book at wall, knocking down hunting rifle and confederate flag*

If Gore actually presents ideas in this book on how to reinstate reason and logic in the political arena (and engage the public in reasoned debates), I suggest we set up a fund to distribute as many copies to as many red staters as possible.

And it's "whet." /nitpick
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 8:21 AM on May 18, 2007


Is this really a new phenomenon? What about "yellow journalism" and the Spanish-American War?
posted by pax digita at 8:24 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]



"Yes, Mr. Gore, I have a two-part question. Why aren't you running for President, and as a follow-up, will you please fucking run for President?"

Impersonates Al Gore: That's a great question XQUZYPHYR, There are a whole slew of personal reasons why I'm not runnning and one very important political reason. I'm hoping that by being a public intellectual who doesn't run for office I can help to restart or national discouse as you'll see in my book The Assault on Reason. Hopefully we can discover our national discourse by more people engaging in substantiative discussion. Besides my wife won't let me.
posted by Rubbstone at 8:29 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


He had my vote when he appeared on Futurama. Twice.

There are intimations that he could run again. Personally, I think the best way to "reinstate reason and logic in the political arena (and engage the public in reasoned debates)" is for he himself to go back to politics but keep talking like he has been. It would also help to be a head in a jar and team up with Nichelle Nichols and Stephen Hawking.
posted by DU at 8:32 AM on May 18, 2007


XQUZ, why should he be able to raise more cash than the Clintons?
posted by matteo at 8:32 AM on May 18, 2007


Duly noted.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:38 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


will you please fucking run for President?

I think he's more credible as long as he doesn't run for president. By running for president, it's easy to pass off things like Inconvenient Truth as a grab for attention.
posted by drezdn at 8:39 AM on May 18, 2007


The marketplace of ideas has been out of stock for a while now. Just think what'll happen when the internets evaporate.
posted by ahimsakid at 8:39 AM on May 18, 2007


It took me until the moment when he refernced himself on the second page to know that this was Gore talking, and he already had me. I can't wait.

And yes, please please run. That'd be just wonderful.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:41 AM on May 18, 2007


"In the world of television, the massive flows of information are largely in only one direction, which makes it virtually impossible for individuals to take part in what passes for a national conversation. Individuals receive, but they cannot send. They hear, but they do not speak. The "well-informed citizenry" is in danger of becoming the "well-amused audience.""

This isn't a danger - this is reality. I don't know if the US ever had a well-informed citizenry, but we sure don't have one now.

The world is becoming more and more complex, both technologically and politically, and the US public knows less and less about either. Knowledge is replaced by 'facts' supplied by the talk radio host.

I don't know how you're supposed to maintain democracy in a country that despises intelligence and education, but knows every detail of Paris Hilton's life.
posted by bitmage at 8:43 AM on May 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


I suggest we set up a fund to distribute as many copies to as many red staters as possible.

We might have to start literacy programs first. Reading might lead to evolutionary theory, and that goes straight to godless atheism right after that. Not like the warming voices of Rush and O'RLY who speak the only reason you need to know: (white) America, Fuck Yeah!
posted by yeloson at 8:44 AM on May 18, 2007


I love it when people pretend like the internet is full of rational nonjerks who are more interested in the free exchange of ideas rather than seeing who can be the biggest jackass.
posted by smackwich at 8:45 AM on May 18, 2007


I think he's more credible as long as he doesn't run for president. By running for president, it's easy to pass off things like Inconvenient Truth as a grab for attention.

Yeah, but he'd be a REALLY GOOD President.
posted by deadmessenger at 8:45 AM on May 18, 2007


the marketplace of ideas was bought up recently by Wal*Mart
posted by Postroad at 8:46 AM on May 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


He certainly addresses two of my pet peeves: The money-driven distortions of the political process and the impact of an uninformed or misinformed electorate on the outcomes of elections.

As for the former, I wish that TV and radio, in order to keep their FCC licenses, had to block out certain amounts of time gratis for candidates' spots and debates, since it's in the public interest -- isn't that already stated somewhere in the mandate to provide access to the airwaves?

For the latter, the debate the other night had me rolling my eyes when I considered that my vote's canceled out by that of some mouth-breather who thinks that torture's OK; after all, look how effective it is for that Jack Bauer guy on 24.
posted by pax digita at 8:47 AM on May 18, 2007


I hated Amusing Ourselves to Death when it came out, but now I'm starting to think it was prescient.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:50 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


By not running for president, Gore ensures that the other Democrats running adhere to his environmental ideas. If he jumps into the race now, his Democratic components might try to differentiate themselves on the environment by running to the right of him on the issue. By staying out of the race, the Democrats maintain a certain consensus on the environmental/energy agenda that is favorable to Gore's policy goals.
posted by deanc at 8:51 AM on May 18, 2007


Astro Zombie- Why didn't you like Postman's book? I ask because I usually teach Mcluhan, but it's been recommended as a more up-to-date version, without all the 'hepness' and 'hot' and 'cool' jargon.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:54 AM on May 18, 2007


I HAVE RIDDEN THE MIGHTY MOON WORM!
posted by chlorus at 8:55 AM on May 18, 2007


I found this bit hard to believe:
"If you run this ad at this many 'points' [a measure of the size of the advertising buy], and if Ashe responds as we anticipate, and then we purchase this many points to air our response to his response, the net result after three weeks will be an increase of 8.5% in your lead in the polls."

I authorized the plan and was astonished when three weeks later my lead had increased by exactly 8.5%. Though pleased, of course, for my own campaign, I had a sense of foreboding for what this revealed about our democracy. Clearly, at least to some degree, the "consent of the governed" was becoming a commodity to be purchased by the highest bidder. To the extent that money and the clever use of electronic mass media could be used to manipulate the outcome of elections, the role of reason began to diminish.
How could you ever predict an "8.5% increase", especially when polls often have a margin of error around 3%? I suppose you could say something like 'demographic group X' will drop support by 50%, reducing the total to 8.5%, but it sounds more like his pollsters were just B.Sing him, feeding him data that matched what they'd told him in the past, but within the MoE.
posted by delmoi at 8:57 AM on May 18, 2007


I think Postman can come off as both smug and Cassandra-ish, even though I think he's nailed a lot of what we're experiencing.
posted by everichon at 9:01 AM on May 18, 2007


I didn't like Postman's book because books are too long to read in one sitting, present complex arguments, and require attentiveness. If he could have turned it into a half-hour sitcom, I would have liked it more.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:02 AM on May 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


...Britney and KFed, Lindsay and Paris and Nicole...

I didn't read much of the article, but I like this Gore dude because his use of first names and nicknames for our most popular celebrities shows he's very in tune with pop culture. Politics is boring and out of touch with our culture -- how refreshing to see a politician who "gets" what is really important to all Americans in this day and age. Rock on, Gore! Will you pardon Paris when you're elected?
posted by pardonyou? at 9:05 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


(I probably need to point out that the above post was intended to be humerous)
posted by pardonyou? at 9:06 AM on May 18, 2007


As a college student, I wrote my senior thesis on the impact of television on the balance of power among the three branches of government ... I pointed out the growing importance of visual rhetoric and body language over logic and reason ... the first [example] that comes to mind is from the 2000 campaign, ... when the controversy over my sighs in the first debate with George W. Bush created an impression on television that for many viewers outweighed whatever positive benefits I might have otherwise gained in the verbal combat of ideas and substance. A lot of good that senior thesis did me.
LOL.
posted by delmoi at 9:08 AM on May 18, 2007


As for the former, I wish that TV and radio, in order to keep their FCC licenses, had to block out certain amounts of time gratis for candidates' spots and debates, since it's in the public interest -- isn't that already stated somewhere in the mandate to provide access to the airwaves?

A watershed moment for me in the past few years was FCC honcho Michael Powell redefining the public interest as "things that interest the public". So since what you describe is something that would bore most people the current FCC does not consider it in the public interest. American Idol, on the other hand...
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:12 AM on May 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


did anyone else notice that he seems to have made a strong point about net neutrality there at the end?
posted by shmegegge at 9:22 AM on May 18, 2007


The ad at the bottom of the page on Time is "Mitt Romney's Top Ten Gaffes. " That pretty much sums up our marketplace of ideas right now.
posted by octothorpe at 9:26 AM on May 18, 2007


Nothing in the excerpt is a shock to anyone here.

I struggle, everyone I know struggles, to discover a method of engaging the vast machine of the government in such a way that we feel that we are actually being heard.

There is massive concern within my network and real-life extended network about what is occurring within and to our country.

A majority of the current politicians in place exist not to serve in the greater good function of a public servant, but to further the interests of themselves and whomever else the money trail might lead to. There politicians have built up walls of protection created from money and poll driven wedge issues.

Lying is rampant. Such behavior is not called lying, instead delivered under other pretenses, pretenses we have slowly and calculatingly been warmed up to.

Our Current state of affairs is no mistake. Vast amounts of energy and capital have engineered and honed our polimedia. And, as such, an equal or larger amount of work instigating change is required. The overwhelming magnitude baffles me, and I personally stuggle with where to begin.

Such bafflement causes me to sit up and listen when people such as Al Gore speaks. Perhaps they might have the guiding light I need to direct me in creating true change with my meager means.

And then I read:
The democratization of knowledge by the print medium brought the Enlightenment. Now, broadband interconnection is supporting decentralized processes that reinvigorate democracy. We can see it happening before our eyes: As a society, we are getting smarter. Networked democracy is taking hold. You can feel it. We the people—as Lincoln put it, "even we here"—are collectively still the key to the survival of America's democracy.
God damn it Al. We -know- the internet is important, but we've been fed the 'internet is the revolution' line before.
Dot-com boom anyone? It isn't the answer.

The internet is -just- another communication method. Nothing more, nothing less. There is nothing magical about it. Now, I agree that the barrier the publishing on the internet is low. 500,000 unread blogs attest to that everyday.

And that's the point: it isn't the existence of a given media on the internet that counts, it's the eyeballs looking at it. And with that fine point, you're right back to the entertained, not the enlightened, masses.

So I'm still at square one: what can I do? Well, I suppose I'm embracing Al's vision right now by taking the time to compose and post this. Am I furthering the cause that will change our government from it's current form? Somehow, that promise rings hollow.
posted by killThisKid at 9:28 AM on May 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


I don't know how you're supposed to maintain democracy in a country that despises intelligence and education, but knows every detail of Paris Hilton's life.

I remember a convo with my college roommate in '84 wherein he remarked, "It's not that you and I are smart, really; it's just that most of the people we meet every day are so ignorant."

Long before there was Amusing Ourselves to Death there were Trivializing America, The Closing of the American Mind, and Cultural Literacy, and that's just off the top of my head. The average American man or woman's ignorance on anything but entertainment stuff really amazes me. But then, it amazed me as a child that despite my parents' blue-collar backgrounds, our home was awash in books compared to my playmates'. The Internet can be a revolutionary tool for self-education, but I expect most people are just using it for stuff like Flickr, MySpace and EverQuest.
posted by pax digita at 9:29 AM on May 18, 2007


Most people don't seem to want a dialogue; they just want a soapbox. The thing they yell the loudest is that the other side won't listen to reason. Applies to both sides.

I liked Gore's article, and share most of his concerns, although as a conservative I would probably prefer (and predict) a different outcome to solving those problems than he envisions. I think he does himself a disservice when he overstates his case. For example, while "hardly anyone now disagrees that the choice to invade Iraq was a grievous mistake", roughly 123 million of us do, in fact, disagree.

It isn't a simple of matter of "show them the facts, then they'll wake up." Interestingly, the study referenced above shows that older Americans are more likely to think invading Iraq was a mistake. But according to every PEW study I've seen, the Interest skews pretty young. If the Internet can be the panacea for educational enlightenment and political involvement that Gore is suggesting, maybe people are just drawing different conclusions from the data.
posted by JParker at 9:33 AM on May 18, 2007


I have a man-crush on Al Gore.
posted by empath at 9:39 AM on May 18, 2007



From James Traub's recent interview with Gore in the NY Times:

'When I asked Gore why he hasn’t dismissed all the speculation by issuing a Shermanesque refusal to stand, as he did in 2002, Gore said, "Having spent 30 years as part of the political dialogue, I don’t know why a 600-day campaign is taken as a given, and why people who aren’t in it 600 days out for the convenience of whatever brokers want to close the door and narrow the field and say, ‘This is it, now let’s place your bets’ — If they want to do that, fine. I don’t have to play that game."'

Oh, Al, you big tease.
posted by zueod at 9:43 AM on May 18, 2007


despite my parents' blue-collar backgrounds, our home was awash in books compared to my playmates

I know what you mean. We had bookcases in every room filled with books and going to my friends house I'd think: "Where are all of their books?"
posted by ao4047 at 9:46 AM on May 18, 2007


I'm waiting for the book to come out as a series of youtube comments, myself.

In the same vein, there's an interesing article here:
"Television addiction is no mere metaphor
[pdf] which talks a bit about television's effects on the psyche.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:47 AM on May 18, 2007


It's hard to remember that people were saying in 2000 that there is no difference between Gore and Bush.
posted by octothorpe at 9:48 AM on May 18, 2007 [5 favorites]


Fixed the "Television addiction is no mere metaphor" link for you.
posted by pax digita at 9:51 AM on May 18, 2007


Or tried to, anyway...
posted by pax digita at 9:53 AM on May 18, 2007


I don't know if the US ever had a well-informed citizenry, but we sure don't have one now.

The US citizenry certainly used to be quite a bit more informed than it is now. I like Gatto's take on this:
Old-fashioned dumbness used to be simple ignorance: you didn’t know something, but here were ways to find out if you wanted to. [...] Now dumb people aren’t just ignorant; they’re the victims of non-thought-of second-hand ideas. Dumb people are now well-informed about the opinions of Time magazine and CBS, The New York Times and the President; their job is to choose which pre-thought thoughts, which received opinions, they like best. The elite in this new empire of ignorance are those who know the most pre-thought thoughts.
Follow that with some Postman (who I think is incredibly precient on the subject), and you get a reasonably good idea of why we are where we are:
We do not see nature or intelligence or human motivation or ideology as “it” is but only as our languages are. And our languages are our media. Our media are our metaphors. Our metaphors create the content of our culture.

What I suggest here as a solution is what Aldous Huxley suggested, as well. And I can do no better than he. He believed with H. G. Wells that we are in a race between education and disaster, and he wrote continuously about the necessity of our understanding the politics and epistemology of media. For in the end, he was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.

[...]Of course, to say that television is entertaining is merely banal . . . what I am claiming here is not that television is entertaining but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience. Our television set keeps us in constant communion with the world, but it does so with a face whose smiling countenance is unalterable. The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining, which is another issue all together.
People have forgotten, by and large, how to use their brains to think with. Gore is absolutely right about all of this, and it has become perhaps the most urgent issue of our time--because, if we don't address it, all of the other problems we face are irrelevant because we won't even be able to understand those problems, much less solve them.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:54 AM on May 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


I read the first few paragraphs waiting for the bit where religion kicks into the equation, but instead seem to be reading the same old television/internet dumbing down of the peasantry rhetoric... is there any point at which he addresses, I wonder, the fact that civil discourse has become crazy and magical and metaphorical due to religious fantasy and its active attack against reason and science?
posted by jokeefe at 9:57 AM on May 18, 2007


Was this it?

"Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor," by Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Scientific American, February 23, 2002.

Chilling pull quote:

"Most of the criteria of substance dependence can apply to people who watch a lot of TV."
posted by pax digita at 9:59 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Some disorganized thoughts:

- Most everyone is working harder and longer these days, and in the fewer "leisure" hours alloted to us, we go for intellectual junk food. If more people had more free time, there would be more interest in engaging more with the world immediately around us, joining things, volunteering, being able to spend 3 hours to read a Sunday paper.

- I think Mr Gore has not considered a deeper unspoken reasoning that's going on around us. I believe that at some unspoken, maybe even unconscious level, we know how deeply things are currently f*ed up. Despite that, most of us are currently doing OK - fair to good jobs, cheap goods, affordable gas.We also know a frontal attack on this would be hugely difficult to organize and and would be hugely messy and disruptive to the country... and so I think the majority of people are secretly hoping that the bad stuff will be corrected by the next election cycle. I don't necessarily agree, and i suspect that the Dems will be seduced to some extent by their own desire for power and their own special agenda.

Nonetheless, I really respect Mr Gore, and I believe he will do more good by staying outside of the Presedent's office.
posted by Artful Codger at 10:04 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


is there any point at which he addresses, I wonder, the fact that civil discourse has become crazy and magical and metaphorical due to religious fantasy and its active attack against reason and science?

He mentions several times the casual dismissal of science in the public sphere, fake studies being used to muddy the waters, the need for reason to rule debates, etc. He's sort of half-way to doing what you're asking about.

Assuming he believes as you (and I do), that religious fundamentalism is a huge problem and that its irrationality, and rejection of sound science, is poisoning a lot of discourse, I'm not so sure he can come right out and say it... It'd be a thin line to walk to try to make that point in a way that doesn't lend itself to that same hysterical mob of crazies screaming that Al Gore hates Christians, religion, etc...

Part of me thinks that, if he believes the above, he should just say it anyway, since the wackjobs are already lost to him. But that wouldn't necessarily be helping to raise the level of discourse, no? I'm conflicted.
posted by sparkletone at 10:09 AM on May 18, 2007


joekeefe, before I respond to your post, do I need to readjust the sensitivity on my irony detector and reread it? True, he doesn't discuss the impact of religion on intellectual pursuits informing political decisions, although I wish he had. "I consulted a higher Father" and all that.

From what I've seen, other than how religion justifies people's prejudices and power trips, I don't know that it's really causing people to read and think less. I don't think religious belief seduces people away from rational thought anywhere near as effectively as entertainment does.
posted by pax digita at 10:11 AM on May 18, 2007


pax digita,

Religion is the ultimate pre-thought second-hand idea. It is all explained to you by someone else, pre-processed, pre-approved, guided thought.

No seriously, it is. Stop trying to think of an arguement. There is no religion in the world that does not have it's own pre-thought dogma for you to absorb and adhere to. Stop trying to argue. Stop. Just stop right now, I know all of you are saying "that's not true" but you apparently don't want to accept the fact that all religion is simple a centuries old story passed down from generation to generation, previously thought, crafted and adjusted to be of interest to the highest segment of the population and shoved down the throats of the populous at large usually starting at a very young age before the mind begins to form the ability to rationalize and reason for itself, where it's simply a sponge, absorbing everything around it and incorporating the enviornment into it's core being.

You want to know why people don't read? They were not read to when they were young. They were plopped down in front of the boobtube instead. Yes, people who read also watched television when they were younger, but they additionally had exposure to books and were read to when young. Many were probably lauded at a very early age for learning to read before their peers as well.

You will have to excuse me, reading this discussion and listening to darkcore/hardcore is kind of an adrenaline kick.
posted by daq at 10:25 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Old-fashioned dumbness used to be simple ignorance: you didn’t know something, but here were ways to find out if you wanted to. [...] Now dumb people aren’t just ignorant; they’re the victims of non-thought-of second-hand ideas. Dumb people are now well-informed about the opinions of Time magazine and CBS, The New York Times and the President; their job is to choose which pre-thought thoughts, which received opinions, they like best. The elite in this new empire of ignorance are those who know the most pre-thought thoughts.

Prove this, please. Or at least give some supporting evidence. Maybe a link to an old newspaper article that didn't have 'pre-thought thoughts in it'.
posted by spicynuts at 10:29 AM on May 18, 2007


Metafilter: Stop trying to argue. Stop. Just stop right now
posted by pax digita at 10:29 AM on May 18, 2007


daq: All religions? even Buddhism? Even atheism requires accepting some unprovable tenets.

I think that the "religious right" have been more or less duped and they're slowly coming round to this fact as their "leaders" are exposed for the manipulative un-Christians they are. The majority will become independent, leaving the wingnuts alone again on the fringe; you may even see a new religious left coalesce, as they consider that many leftish and Democratic aims are closer to Christian teachings. Witness the "greening" of some religious groups, as they embrace the need for sustainable growth and an end to environmental damage.
posted by Artful Codger at 10:43 AM on May 18, 2007


Religion is the ultimate pre-thought second-hand idea. It is all explained to you by someone else, pre-processed, pre-approved, guided thought.

daq,

Maybe this is the exception that proves the rule, but I know of a religious tradition -- I hesitate, as many of its adherents, to identify it as a "church" -- where I've seen the young people be guided through the process of developing their own personal statements of belief -- even if those statements are deliberate, considered lack of beliefs. The religious tradition I'm in now arose from one famous monk's challenging certain "pre-thought thoughts" of his day, too, come to think of it.

(I hope you'll excuse me for having gone ahead and thinking of arguments despite your exhortation to the contrary)
posted by pax digita at 10:44 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


pax digita: Long before there was Amusing Ourselves to Death there were Trivializing America, The Closing of the American Mind, and Cultural Literacy, and that's just off the top of my head.

I've read all of those and that didn't sound right to me. A quick check on Amazon showed the following copyright dates.

Amusing Ourselves to Death--1985
Trivializing America--1983
Closing of the American Mind--1987
Cultural Literacy--1987

No big point here, except that Postman was among the first to really get widespread attention for his concerns about our entertainment culture. Hirsh and Bloom came soon after with their books. Postman really was prescient in this matter.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:53 AM on May 18, 2007


Yes, Mr. Gore, I have a two-part question. Why aren't you running for President, and as a follow-up, will you please fucking run for President?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:21 AM on May 18 [1 favorite +]
[!]


From Team of Rivals, emphasis mine:
"Lincoln understood that the greatest challenge for a leader in a democratic society is to educate public opinion. "With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed," he said. "Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions." This statement goes to the heart of his disagreement with Douglas; when such an influential leader as Mary's "Little Giant" insisted that blacks were not included in the Declaration [of Independence], he was molding public opinion and bending history in the wrong direction, "He is blowing out the moral lights around us," Lincoln warned, borrowing a phrase from his hero, Henry Clay. "eradicating the light of reason and the love of liberty in this American people."

"Lincoln's goal was to rekindle those very beacons, constantly affirming the revolutionary promises made in the Declaration. When the authors of the Declaration spoke of equality, Lincoln insisted, "they did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality...They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.""

TL;DR: He's staying out of it in order to keep the fires burning. Much like the Coulter/Malkin/Limbaugh/Whatever-His-Name-Is-On-CNN crowd. Except he's not a character. He has character.
posted by lysdexic at 10:53 AM on May 18, 2007


Regarding 'fake studies being used to muddy the waters', here's the Union of Concerned Scientists's report on Exxon's science-like product:
"Smoke, Mirrors, and & Hot Air - How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco's Tactics to Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Science"
http://www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/ExxonMobil-GlobalWarming-tobacco.html
http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/global_warming/exxon_report.pdf

In the same vein, I was leafing through a copy of "Resource World Magazine" (resourceworld.com) for all you extractive industry fans) and read the editorial in the April 2007 issue, in which the editor states that he's been reading a hypothesis "that solar activity might be responsible for global warming" (I'm paraphrasing, I don't have it in front of me and I can't find the text online).

This is could be a casebook example from the UCS report. (Although I suspect the editor is arguing from good faith and a strong confirmation bias.)
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:10 AM on May 18, 2007


Religion is the ultimate pre-thought second-hand idea. It is all explained to you by someone else, pre-processed, pre-approved, guided thought.

Unlike, say, science, where each person independently develops appropriate methodology and then discovers gravity, heliocentrism and evolution on their own, without being inculcated into a tradition of pre-processed and pre-approved thought.

Religion is like any other discipline. You can be a mindless goof, just accepting what is handed to you by whichever popularizer you prefer, or you can immerse yourself in a long and complex history of competing ideas, building your own integrated approach. Yes, there are a hell of a lot of mindless religious goofs, but it's also not hard to find thoughtful interpreters of any religious tradition. It just happens that religion, by its nature, has a lot of interested laymen.

Tell you what, do what I did and study Greek and Hebrew, immerse yourself in studying ancient near eastern cosmology and mythology, spend some time in textual criticism learning how the scriptures were formed and redacted over centuries, try to get a handle on rabbinic interpretations and early church history, acquaint yourself with feminist, Marxist and liberation theology, study the development of spiritual disciplines, read the major players in modern theology, like Barth and Schliemacher, and then let's have this discussion. Or maybe that's too much work and you'd rather just have someone explain it to you?

Or maybe you decided already that religion isn't really worth thinking about, so you won't bother. Fine. But just because you won't be bothered to deal with religion in an rich, nuanced and meaningful way doesn't mean that other people aren't.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:10 AM on May 18, 2007 [4 favorites]


Artful Codger,
Yes, even Buddhism. Hell, especially Buddhism. Why do you think Buddhist seek enlightenment? Because someone told them that's what they should be doing (see here for examples). Mind you, I don't necessarily see it as bad, just kind of interesting that it is seen as 'better than' trying to live up to a fictional hero from an anime or cartoon (a positive role model, if you will). Then again, I always like Han Solo better than Luke Skywalker.

Atheism is a mixed bag. Capitol A Atheism, yes, lots of pre-thought ideas, second-hand thoughs, regurgitated over and over again by people just as mentally unbalanced as most religious-right wackadoos. Seriously. Lowercase A atheism, not so much. I, for example am a lowercase A atheist, because I just simply reject the concept of God as pre-thought by the existing religions I've been exposed to and studied (and boy there are a lot of them). Lowercase A atheism is more like someone who has been told about God or gods and just kind of looks at the person telling them and goes "boy, you sure are a nutter."

pax digita,
I don't see it as an exception. Here's my rather disturbed take on it. Universal Unitarians are simply lapsed Christians who want the comfort of a church social group but can't get the spine to adhere to a complete set of dogmatic beliefs. While better than traditional Christians, if they were to simply retribalize and add some hallucingenic drugs into the mix, they'd just be aging hippies who couldn't completely let go of their upbringing in a church going family. I could be wrong, but pretty much all of the ones I've been exposed to hurt my brain with their selfish religious thumbsucking. Pablum. Sorry if I'm dismissive, but I find that level of unexamined internalism to be unhealthy and leads to problems in peoples lives. Mind you, I only speak from personal experience, so others mileage may vary. Mine kind of stinks.

And yes, Martin Luther was awesome for challenging the Catholic Church and the movement the followed him was a much more personally aware type of congregation and history, history, history. _But_ it was also the start of centuries of murder and death in the name of an invisible man in the sky and how you looked at him, even thought it was supposedly the same guy. I know I harp on some dogmatic principals of atheism when stating this, but it's from a very extensive study of Christian history and the bewildering things mankind has done to itself in the name of imaginary constructs.

And you do realize that by my exhortations of non-argument, I want arguments, I want lots of them. I really want to be wrong. It's bad for my ego if I'm right, since it leads to lots and lots of bloviating while drunk.
posted by daq at 11:15 AM on May 18, 2007


Why do you think Buddhist seek enlightenment? Because someone told them that's what they should be doing

What is the sound of one gum flapping?
posted by gompa at 11:17 AM on May 18, 2007


Has everyone forgotten what a SHITTY campaign Gore ran in 2000??? It's all very well and good to have great bold ideas out in books when you aren't actually going to have to implement them -- where were his bold calls to action 7 years ago? Oh, that's right, just like EVERY OTHER politician, he traded in his supposedly core principles for some muddled bullshit he thought would attract votes in the centre.

Gore had his chance, and blew it. Time for fresh blood.

(Just to clarify, I *fully* agree with what he has written in the Assault on Reason (well, at least I agree with the excerpts I've read), but Gore's crappy campaigning and inability to connect with voters are one of the main reasons America's been stuck with Bush for the last 6.5 years.. it baffles me how quickly people forget that).
posted by modernnomad at 11:19 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


TV's not killing America -- if Gore is offering the six decades before 1945 in trade for the six decades since, no thanks. My guess is that for every % of the population that today knows more about Paris Hilton than about unfunded mandates, there was probably an equal percentage a hundred years ago that knew more about how to raise chickens than about guerilla wars in the Phillipines.

Campaign finance isn't killing politics, either. Politicians have always been beholden to special interests -- today it's Exxon, in the idealized 18th century it was the Tammany machine or the Grangers. At least today there's a measure of transparency .

In my view what's poisoning the "marketplace of ideas" today is the cowards of the mainstream media, who have somehow come to believe that every voice in the public square is equally legitimate, and is so cowed by the power of the demagogues on the right that they're unwilling to offer any real critical counterpoint to the lies and hatemongering that reached its apex in the Clinton years and still boils away, waiting greedily for the next Democrat to take office.

Ah.. but it's Friday afternoon. A long rant about Sean and Rush and how they're killing America will have to wait for another day.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:23 AM on May 18, 2007


Gore's crappy campaigning and inability to connect with voters

yeah, i remember all sorts of talk about how 'wooden' gore looked, and how his policy positions were just 'too nuanced' to connect with the american voter (who prefers strong, decisive leaders), and i remember gore being criticized for not being the kind of guy you'd want to have a beer with. yeah. if only he'd been more like bush, and focused on looking good and keeping his policy talk simple and direct.

pah. i think his campaigning was fine, and the failure was in how his campaign was received.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:28 AM on May 18, 2007


Pater Aletheias;
HA. Hahahaha.

Mind you, I did not learn Greek, I still had to work from translations, however, I did at least learn a little Hebrew and later Yiddish. It led me to my current conclusion that religion is a tool used by one person to gain power over another a long long time ago that got way out of hand. So out of hand that it has come close to ruining life for pretty much everyone on the planet at several points in history. Though I never got much into the modern theology because more often than not the texts I was exposed to ended up with the presupposition that you were already a believer in the religious discipline being discussed. I did not get too far into Judeism, since many of the texts I was particularly interested in were not available to me as I was not of the faith and at the time did not show any interest in being of the faith. I simply sought the knowledge of what came before and how it evolved over time. It also took me a long time to overcome a lot of misinformation that was thrown in my path, such as many of the mid-schism (the first one, 500AD) heretical works that were later absorbed into the traditional cannon.

But now we're just waving our dicks at each other. And this is a discussion about reason and rational discussion, not ancient history.

And for once, on subject, as much as I like Al Gore, I hate him for how late he was to start taking an interest in being seen as intelligent and rational, instead of as just a politician.
posted by daq at 11:28 AM on May 18, 2007


Unlike, say, science, where each person independently develops appropriate methodology and then discovers gravity, heliocentrism and evolution on their own, without being inculcated into a tradition of pre-processed and pre-approved thought.


No, but I got to do the Millikan Oil-Drop Experiment and measure the charge on the electron, which seemed to be a good test and confirmation of the physics they were teaching us.

I'm not sure what manner of experiments theologians engage in to test their hypotheses.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:33 AM on May 18, 2007


I hate him for how late he was to start taking an interest in being seen as intelligent and rational, instead of as just a politician.

Well, then I think your hate is misdirected--it was the media's coverage of Gore's campaign that made it appear he wasn't already taking an interest in being 'intelligent and rational'. Don't you remember how the media kept harping on the fact that Gore's political positions were supposedly over the heads of the average voter and how that was the biggest challenge to his campaign? Gore did try to elevate the level of discourse and he was almost universally chided for it. Don't rewrite history.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:35 AM on May 18, 2007


Metafilter: Now we're just waving our dicks at each other.
(NOT BOYZONIST)
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:37 AM on May 18, 2007


saulgoodman;
Sure, but that just means he didn't hire the right PR agency to sell his image to the media correctly. And no, I don't remember the media harping on Gore for anything other than being a wooden, soon-to-be-former Vice President, who was misquoted over and over again on his voting record as a Senator.

And yes, I did see the documentary/interview film that Spike Jones did just before the election which should have aired before the election. It gave a whole new image to Gore that no one had seen before and would have won him the 2000 election by a landslide. He is the real deal, where-as Bush has to put on the airs of a common man. That's why I hate Gore. He could have won and been a great leader. But like all who are truly fit to lead (it seems), it is those who do not wish to that are best suited.
posted by daq at 11:43 AM on May 18, 2007


*waves dick uncertainly*
posted by everichon at 11:55 AM on May 18, 2007


of COURSE Gore is going to extoll the virtues and potentials of the Internet. He DID invent the thing, after all.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:01 PM on May 18, 2007


Sure, but that just means he didn't hire the right PR agency to sell his image to the media correctly.

But isn't that the whole problem? That it all comes down to how well a candidate's image comes across in the press?

Suppose, for a minute, that the popular press really did consciously decide to kill a particular candidate's chances of getting elected for economic or ideological reasons (which is what happened in Russia to get Yeltsin in office, by some recent accounts). Since we rely on the media accounts to form most of our opinions, and the media focus tends to be on appearance and presentation (and consequently, political campaigns themselves tend to focus on these), we're deprived of any independent criteria for forming opinions of the candidates. If we focused more on the substantive policy issues and held our leaders accountable for their policy commitments, then we'd be in a better position to make the right decisions.

I don't have the time to flesh out these arguments, but to me, the failure was in how the press and our culture as a whole viewed the election. Even at the time, I remember noticing how all anyone cared about was surface of the campaigning--how it was all meta-talk about how each candidate was presenting himself, how each candidate came across. Substantive policy discussions were AWOL all around.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:05 PM on May 18, 2007


No, but I got to do the Millikan Oil-Drop Experiment and measure the charge on the electron, which seemed to be a good test and confirmation of the physics they were teaching us.

And christ, what a pain that was.

posted by COBRA! at 12:07 PM on May 18, 2007


pax digita:

joekeefe, before I respond to your post, do I need to readjust the sensitivity on my irony detector and reread it? True, he doesn't discuss the impact of religion on intellectual pursuits informing political decisions, although I wish he had. "I consulted a higher Father" and all that.

From what I've seen, other than how religion justifies people's prejudices and power trips, I don't know that it's really causing people to read and think less. I don't think religious belief seduces people away from rational thought anywhere near as effectively as entertainment does.


I'm not by any means anti-religion... in the aestheist threads I'm generally banging away at the philosophical, cultural, and artistic importance of religion in history. My concern is with religious narrative being used as a basis for running the government, for making decisions. It's pushing gay marriage to the top of the agenda while millions of Americans go without healthcare; it's not just actively believing that evolution is an evil lie peddled by those in thrall to the anti-christ (okay, I exaggerate, but not by much), but actually making educational policy based on this. It's forgetting about the separation of church and state or attempting to erase it. It's trying to run the lives of women based on scripture, or refusing to distribute condoms in Africa because it's "immoral". You know what I mean.

So while I believe that the vast entertainment machine causes huge social distraction, I'm not sure that's anything new-- you can easily find articles published in 19th century newspapers decrying the taste for penny dreadful novels and scandal sheets in the reading taste of the general public. It's the contemporary shift in the last ten years or so away from rationality and education to theocracy worries me far more.
posted by jokeefe at 12:15 PM on May 18, 2007


I also think that the gore hate might be a tad misdirected for one reason:

If a guy makes a mistake as a politician, and then tries to rectify by being a good environmental and public advocate, then we should (especially in this political climate) applaud him for having some common sense, the ability to regard himself honestly and the werewithal to turn it around.

my $.02
posted by shmegegge at 12:29 PM on May 18, 2007


By not running for president, Gore ensures that the other Democrats running adhere to his environmental ideas. If he jumps into the race now, his Democratic components might try to differentiate themselves on the environment by running to the right of him on the issue. By staying out of the race, the Democrats maintain a certain consensus on the environmental/energy agenda that is favorable to Gore's policy goals.

I agree with this but disagree with it at the same time. You're absolutely right and I know as well that this is exactly what Gore is doing. That said, I don't want this to be a country where we simply accept that the traits that make a person presidential include their refusal to try and be president.

True public service, by definition, is realizing what you can provide to the public and offering it as such. He of all people knows that the idea he "can do more" when not being the leader of the free world is nonsense and we shouldn't buy into it either.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:30 PM on May 18, 2007


That said, I don't want this to be a country where we simply accept that the traits that make a person presidential include their refusal to try and be president.

I think that's a very good point. It brings to mind some quote from Kurt Vonnegut that said something along the lines of "The problem with the office of the President is that only power hungry lunatics would want the job." setting aside the quote's simplicity, I think it bears thinking about that there seems to be a flaw in the system as it exists that the office of the president is exceptionally alluring to the type of person who sees it less as a role of service and more as a role of power acquisition. add to that the idea that the office seems most often to be won by the candidate who is most ruthless and ambitious and you have a fairly decent recipe for disaster again and again. obviously there have been exceptions (carter comes to mind) but they're exceptions for a reason.
posted by shmegegge at 12:34 PM on May 18, 2007


Oh, I forgot the other reason I can't in good conscious ever vote for Gore, even if he isn't running. Tipper.

Say all the nice things about Al you want, but his wife is a doozey and I can't in good conscious give any credence to anyone who would be such an horrendous public persona. Mind you, I do understand that she apparently had some mental issues or something, I'll have to look that up again, but I think it's mentioned in the Spike Jones documentary, but anyone who thinks that the PMRC is a good idea gets a nice hard slap across the forehead with a clue-by-4.
posted by daq at 12:35 PM on May 18, 2007


The ad at the bottom of the page on Time is "Mitt Romney's Top Ten Gaffes. " That pretty much sums up our marketplace of ideas right now.

#10: President Mitt? C'mon.

#9: He doesn't drink coke, coffee, or booze. What the fuck kind of American is that?

#8: His favorite book is by L. Ron Hubbard. His other favorite book is by Dean R. Koontz. And his third favorite book is the same as his first favorite book... but reads it backwards to get at the secret message.

#7: Wants to appoint Mothra to head Air Force

#6: Wants to "double" Guantanamo. Which is consistent with his "quadruple the Grand Canyon" and "quintuple colo-rectal cancer" stances.

#5: Doesn't hate Osama Bin Laden as much as he says.

#4: Thinks Cream of Wheat is decadent and Apple Cinnamon oatmeal is waaay too spicy for regular white people.

#3: Wears magic Mormon underwear... but only in the shower where he might be loured to look "down there."

#2: Wants to criminalize Doggy Style.

#1: Believes Jews will be raptured.. to help run the new Transcelestial Deli.
posted by tkchrist at 12:35 PM on May 18, 2007


Lentrohamsanin, "redefining the public interest as things that interest the public" is clever paraphrasing, not literal policy, right? (I'm embarassed that I no longer can tell the jokes from the policy.)
posted by ~ at 12:57 PM on May 18, 2007


ExxonMobil Lied, Continues to Lavishly Fund Prominent Global Warming Deniers
posted by homunculus at 1:58 PM on May 18, 2007


I like Gore too but c'mon, he ain't running for POTUS. At the end of the day, Bill Clinton still pulls his strings, and he would shit a brick if Gore dared to enter the race. But hey, he could wind up being the first EPA head who actually did something to, ya know, help the environment.

On another note, the Dems actually have some palatable candidates, unlike the Republicans.
posted by bardic at 2:26 PM on May 18, 2007


“It is too easy—and too partisan—to simply place the blame on the policies of President George W. Bush.”

You’d think so, but here we are.*

*(that’s a simpson’s reference)
posted by Smedleyman at 2:37 PM on May 18, 2007


ExxonMobil Lied, Continues to Lavishly Fund Prominent Global Warming Deniers

Hmm... pdf reports. That's very pre-web 1.0.

Is it just me, or should organizations start co-releasing reports in html format? They'd be easier to get into and easier to analyze for the blogosphere crowd.
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:12 PM on May 18, 2007


bitmage:I don't know how you're supposed to maintain democracy in a country that despises intelligence and education, but knows every detail of Paris Hilton's life.

You're not.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:20 PM on May 18, 2007


Daq, though I am no fan of censorship, your citation of Tipper's clearly ineffective campaign of more than twenty years ago as a reason to *never* vote for Gore strongly suggests to me that your sense of proportion may be slightly out of whack.

If there were a few hundred people in Florida that shared your thinking on this issue, they brought us:
* the Iraq war
* the completely ineffective response to Katrina
* enormous budget and trade deficits
* enormous giveaways to industries that don't need any help, such as the pharmaceutical and oil industries
* the rapid disintegration of Consititutional government under Bush's "unitary executive"

But hey, at least we don't have any more labels on CDs! Whew!
posted by lackutrol at 4:32 PM on May 18, 2007


At the end of the day, Bill Clinton still pulls his strings, and he would shit a brick if Gore dared to enter the race.

he does? i can't help but wonder where you came across this piece of information.
posted by shmegegge at 5:12 PM on May 18, 2007


i can't help but wonder where you came across this piece of information.

Again, I like Gore. Hell, he's almost making it easy to forget what an abortion of a campaign he ran in 2000. He's lost some weight, he can work on his own projects, he doesn't have to suck up to Bill any longer. He's finally got that stick out of his ass, and all is well and good. But c'mon, you really think Bill Clinton would let Gore run? Really?

Never going to happen. Not in 2008 at least.
posted by bardic at 6:03 PM on May 18, 2007


Gore's greatest mistakes in the 2000 campaign:
1. Not using Bill Clinton's incredible ability to connect with the voters.
2. Choosing Lieberman as a running mate.

That's all in the past, of course. It really does look as if his single, best purpose now is to 'keep the fires burning' for change.
posted by Kikkoman at 4:51 AM on May 19, 2007


octothorpe writes "It's hard to remember that people were saying in 2000 that there is no difference between Gore and Bush."

George Bush is a guy you can have a beer with, and he won't bore you by talking aboutthe transforming power of the internets or the global warming, or reading.
posted by orthogonality at 4:06 AM on May 20, 2007


Diane Sawyer's interview with Gore about the book is hilarious.
posted by gsteff at 9:13 PM on May 21, 2007


Free to be Al Gore
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:40 AM on May 22, 2007


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