Summary: The Assault on Reason: Review and Analysis of Al Gores Book
At the beginning of The Assault on Reason , one feels to be in the presence of something grand and overwhelming. The author appears to be at the brink, a rational man who has, like so many of us, been pulling his hair out for several years now in impotent rage over the avalanche of nonsense issuing from positions of power in this country.
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When Gore writes, "It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse," it is hard not to have the sense that a corner has been turned. After chastising a vacuous media for shoveling out bread and circuses to the American masses while they went to war and sacrificed their democracy in return, Gore turns to the Republican progenitors of irreality, hitting up the grand old master of such things, George Orwell, for a devastation critique of the current situation: The lunatics have been running the asylum for too long.
It may not be much that most of us haven't read in some other form in different media previously, but there is a refreshing zest to seeing stiff old Al finally cut loose on the b. It's as though the clock had been turned back to the presidential debates and instead of just sighing at the lies being spewed by Bush, Gore had instead turned to him and cut the moral dwarf down to size with a withering dose of reality.
Al Gore: 'The rich have subverted all reason' | US news | The Guardian
Gore says of the White House and its Congressional allies that "what makes their zeal so dangerous for our country is their willingness to do serious damage to our American democracy in order to satisfy their lust for one-party domination of all three branches of government and the enactment of dogma as policy. What robs The Assault on Reason of much of its potential punch, though, is Gore's inability to go further into the nuts and bolts of the situation he attacks. Too often, the book reads as an executive summary of most every administration critique published over the past several years.
There's not much here that a rational person wouldn't agree with, but it's also mostly been said before, and often with more power and heft. It's difficult, then, not to end up skimming through some chapters, searching for something new, or at least a fresh perspective, to latch on to. The perfidy of the administration and its lickspittle attack media is quite well known, what's needed is a meta-analysis of how we came to this unfortunate place in history.
The book does make a stab at such an analysis, but it ends up being another, rather winded variation on the same theme that's been pounded on since, at the very least, Paddy Chayefsky's Network. Namely, Americans get too much of their information about the world from TV, that passivity-inducing idiot box which produces all those second campaign ads which politicians spend all their time away from Washington raising money to pay for.
When Gore writes, "It is the public's lack of participation that empowers its abusers," he's absolutely right; but his solution seems hardly up to the task.
The Assault on Reason
Given his repeated insistence on the need for interactivity -- something that Gore argues, not quite convincingly, was much more common in the pre-TV era, when supposedly everybody was printing their own opinions on pamphlets and broadsheets -- it was only a matter of time before he got around to his own pet project. Mind you, he's not so crass as to use the book as a sales pitch for his newest business venture, but when he writes near the end that "the key requirement for redeeming the integrity of representative democracy in the age of electronic media is to ensure that citizens are well and fully connected to an open and robust public forum," it doesn't take a genius to imagine what forum he had in mind.
There's nothing wrong with a better method of public discourse, of course, but given the desperate conditions we are currently facing on multiple fronts and which Gore has amply detailed in this same book , Current TV is not quite going to have people out there storming the barricades.
The former future president is not wrong in what he says, you just wish that he were more right. This is no scene or collective. These artists have reached their limit in all directions, back into traditions and forward into uncertain futures. Well into her 30s, silent film star Mary Pickford was the waif-iest waif in film history, and the number of convincing variations she wrung on this theme is remarkable. Richard Tognetti reflects on synergising music and film with the cello-like voice of narrator Willem Dafoe in his work for Jennifer Peedom's gorgeous documentary, Mountain.
The rootsy releases of prove that Americana is and always has been experiencing a Rainbow Wave. Considering its YA audience, Markus Zusak's Bridge of Clay is a superb and accessible gateway to developing critical literacy skills. Our systematic exposure to fear and other arousal stimuli on television can be exploited by the clever public relations specialist, advertiser, or politician. Barry Glassner, a professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, argues that there are three techniques that together make up "fearmongering": By using these narrative tools, anyone with a loud platform can ratchet up public anxieties and fears, distorting public discourse and reason.
There are, of course, many historical examples of vivid imagery producing vicarious traumatization that has been used for positive purposes. For example, the images of civil rights protesters being threatened with snarling dogs and being brutalized with fire hoses helped mobilize ordinary Americans to become part of a broader movement for social justice. In my own experience, I have learned that visual images—pictures, graphs, cartoons, and computer models— communicate information about the climate crisis at a level deeper than words alone could convey. Similarly, the horrifying pictures that came back to us from both Vietnam and the Iraq war helped facilitate shifts in public sentiment against failing wars that needed to end.
Even though logic and reason have played more prominent roles in the medium of print, they can also be used along with images to powerful and positive effect in the television medium.
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In fact, visual images of suffering are significant precisely because they can help generate empathy and goodwill. The horrifying pictures from inside Abu Ghraib prison communicated the essence of the wrongdoing there far more powerfully than any words could have. Even so, when such strong feelings are manipulated, the possibility for abuse becomes considerable. It is well documented that humans are especially fearful of threats that can be easily pictured or imagined.
For example, one study found that people are willing to spend significantly more for flight insurance that covers "death by terrorism" than for flight insurance that covers "death by any cause. But something about the buzzword terrorism creates a vivid impression that generates excessive fear. The flight insurance example highlights another psychological phenomenon that is important to understanding how fear influences our thinking: Repeating the same threat over and over again, misdirecting attention from al-Qaeda to Saddam Hussein , and using vivid imagery a "mushroom cloud over an American city".
September 11 had a profound impact on all of us. But after initially responding in an entirely appropriate way, the administration began to heighten and distort public fear of terrorism to create a political case for attacking Iraq.
Despite the absence of proof, Iraq was said to be working hand in hand with al-Qaeda and to be on the verge of a nuclear weapons capability. Defeating Saddam was conflated with bringing war to the terrorists, even though it really meant diverting attention and resources from those who actually attacked us. When the president of the United States stood before the people of this nation and invited us to "imagine" a terrorist attack with a nuclear weapon, he was referring to terrorists who actually had no connection to Iraq.
President, where's your evidence? Even if you believe that Iraq might have posed a threat to us, I hope you will agree that our nation would have benefited from a full and thorough debate about the wisdom of invading that country. Had we weighed the potential benefits of an invasion against the potential risks, perhaps we could have prevented some of the tragic events now unfolding there.
Terrorism relies on the stimulation of fear for political ends. Indeed, its specific goal is to distort the political reality of a nation by creating fear in the general population that is hugely disproportionate to the actual danger that the terrorists are capable of posing. Ironically, President Bush's response to the terrorist attack of September 11 was, in effect, to further distort America's political reality by creating a new fear of Iraq that was hugely disproportionate to the actual danger Iraq was capable of posing.
That is one of the reasons it was so troubling to so many when in the widely respected arms expert David Kay concluded a lengthy, extensive investigation into the administration's claim that Iraq posed an enormous threat because it had weapons of mass destruction with the words We were all wrong. As we now know, of course, there was absolutely no connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. In spite of that fact, President Bush actually said to the nation at a time of greatly enhanced vulnerability to the fear of attack, "You can't distinguish between them.
History will surely judge America's decision to invade and occupy a fragile and unstable nation that did not attack us and posed no threat to us as a decision that was not only tragic but absurd. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, to be sure, but not one who posed an imminent danger to us. It is a decision that could have been made only at a moment in time when reason was playing a sharply diminished role in our national deliberations.
Thomas Jefferson would have recognized the linkage between absurd tragedy and the absence of reason. As he wrote to James Smith in , "Man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind. I spoke at the Iowa Democratic Convention in the fall of Earlier in August, I had prepared a very different kind of speech. But in the aftermath of this tragedy, I proudly, with complete and total sincerity, stood before the Democrats of Iowa and said, "George W. Bush is my president, and I will follow him, as will we all, in this time of crisis.
But he redirected the focus of America's revenge onto Iraq, a nation that had nothing whatsoever to do with September The fear campaign aimed at selling the Iraq war was timed precisely for the kickoff of the midterm election. The president's chief of staff explained the timing as a marketing decision. It was timed, Andrew Card said, for the post—Labor Day advertising period because that's when advertising campaigns for "new products," as he referred to it, are normally launched.
The implication of his metaphor was that the old product—the war against Osama bin Laden—had lost some of its pizzazz. And in the immediate run-up to the election campaign of , a new product—the war against Iraq—was being launched. For everything there is a season, particularly for the politics of fear.
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Al Gore: 'The rich have subverted all reason'
More from the Interview Al Gore talks about why he wrote the book, and why now. Book Excerpt 'The Assault on Reason'. May 6,