Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Assault on Reason

I finished reading The Assault on Reason by Al Gore this week, and I think it's very good. Al's my favorite non-candidate, and he's written a passionate and informative book on the state of our political discourse.

And you've heard right. He shreds the Bush administration, and makes a well reasoned case that this administration is operating well outside normal constitutional constraints. He doesn't cut Congress much slack for abrogating their constitutional authority either.

But that's not really what the books is about. The Bush administration provides horrifying yet perfect example of what happens when a democratic system starts to show cracks in it's veneer.

According to Gore, and I think he makes the case, the problem is we've lost the participatory part of our participatory democracy. He puts a lot of the blame on our junk media driven society, particularly one way media such as radio and television. One way media turns us into passive consumers of information (be it true or false) and takes away the ability to flex our own thoughts and opinions. It feeds into a sense of powerlessness and divorces us from feeling we're a part of the democratic process because there's no real public debate. This has all contributed to the demise of reasoned political discourse. Many of us have become disconnected from democracy, and that understandably breeds cynicism and further alienation from the democratic process.

He puts a lot of faith into the ideals of the Internet, and it's ability to energize reasoned public debate, as well as reintroduce citizens to the idea of participating in our political system. Gore also makes the case for Net Neutrality, by making the point that decentralized, open debate is essential for the health of our democratic system and the Internet offers that promise.

So I think the answer isn't to bleat about how stupid the "other side" is, or to think that if they we're just educated they'd understand, or to continue to blame others for all the problems we face today, but to re-energize the political process by encouraging participation in the public forum. Staring at the tube, or listening to talk radio isn't participating. It's just receiving, not communicating. As Gore says, "...if citizens feel deprived of a meaningful opportunity to participate in the national conversation, they can scarecely be blamed for developing a lack of interest in the process." The key is to ensure meaningful opportunities.

The Internet is one promising road to that goal, but certainly not the only one. Gore also promotes his venture, Current TV. I need to poke around in there a little more. It looks very cool. Not only do they offer viewer submitted content, but they have lessons and tutorials in making your own videos and advertisements. Very cool.

In summation, I dug the book. Read it. Terryfaceplace gives it a big thumbs up. If you want to buy it at Powell's, please feel free to shop via this link because that will show me a little financial love. But if you're really slick, you'll check it out from the library. Either way, it's a good read.


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