December 12, 2007

Pardon me for not realizing before now that Al Gore is really smart

Okay, though it tends to bring in the trolls, here is another post about something that’s hotly discussed on general political blogs…

I’ve been reading Al Gore’s new book, The Assault on Reason, and I have to admit that I had underestimated him, simply because he has been successful in politics without widely communicating even a few of the insights about the world that are in his book.

There isn’t much in the book that is new to me, or probably to you if you are reading this. The reason that I’m bothering to post about it in Library Juice is that in this book Gore takes up many of the topics that have been the meat and potatoes of Library Juice since 1998, and brings them to a truly wide audience, with the authority of a national leader. If you’ve been following Library Juice you will notice that many of the intellectuals Gore cites, quotes, and mentions in his discussion of what is going on in the world have also been discussed here: Jürgen Habermas, Neil Postman, Edward Bernays, Walter Lippman, Louis Brandeis, Jerry Mander, George Orwell, Hannah Arendt, Larry Tye, Seymour Hersh, and Lawrence Lessig. Gore puts the problems of the Bush administration in the context of the effects of television media, public relations, the effect of money in politics, print culture and its relationship to reason, and the transformation (or death) of the public sphere.

American liberalism as a political philosophy, as everybody is saying, is in need of revitalization and clarification, and I think Gore’s book does a lot to help liberals find their footing. I think it is very helpful that a book that states the case against Bush as solidly as this also provides a coherent view of the contemporary world. Gore really puts it all together in this book. I am very impressed, and a little embarrassed, because until reading this I just thought of him as a more or less typical politician. No, he is a very intelligent person whose engagement with world issues led him to take on a role of political leadership. I will also add that in a world that has taken such a disastrous wrong turn, the fact that Gore can write with not only a broad comprehension of contemporary society but with an apparently well-grounded direction forward is inspiring, and much needed at a time when it is such a challenge to find hope. Before this I’ve never felt that a “leader” (a politician) of my own time was actually a leader…

Now, I have some deep disagreements with him politically, but I could get behind him despite those because of the qualities that he has and the things he understands.

One sad note: Right winger’s have dinged the book for lacking footnotes; Eric Boehlert, who comments on the media, refutes this by pointing out the books 273 endnotes. Footnotes, endnotes; the sad note is that while the publisher did include the 273 endnotes in the book, it deleted all the textual references to them, at least in the edition that I am now reading. So there are no numbers in superscript throughout the text that point to the clearly numbered endnotes. I don’t know what Penguin was thinking….

4 Comments »

  1. I thought of you and Library Juice when i heard the Nobel speech on the radio. He kept talking about truth, which I associate as one your themes.

    “And when large truths are genuinely inconvenient, whole societies can, at least for a time, ignore them. Yet as George Orwell reminds us: “Sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”

    “Mahatma Gandhi awakened the largest democracy on earth and forged a shared resolve with what he called “Satyagraha” – or “truth force.”

    In every land, the truth – once known – has the power to set us free.

    Truth also has the power to unite us and bridge the distance between “me” and “we,” creating the basis for common effort and shared responsibility.”

    http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2007/gore-lecture_en.html

    Comment by Isabel Espinal — December 16, 2007 @ 8:46 am

  2. That’s a good observation, Isabel. Thanks for those quotations.

    Truth, it’s relation to intellectual freedom, to the public sphere, to librarianship, and to life – that’s definitely been a major theme of Library Juice.

    It’s stuff that sounds naive to many postmodernists. I’m not such a postmodernist, though I do recognize those basic insights and problems having to do with ideology and language and how these create lenses though which we perceive truth. I just think that if the idea of truth and the importance of it slip away in the process of recognizing how our knowledge is conditioned by social factors, we are lost. To me, language may condition our knowledge of truth, but the truth is still out there, regardless of one’s angle of view.

    Comment by Rory Litwin — December 16, 2007 @ 11:14 am

  3. In 2000 I attended every Gore event in my area of Florida. He prepared for the debate at Mote Marine in Sarasota and I stood and gave a talk at the same location a few months later. The loss to our world was clear. Gore has always been smart…the right wing making fun of him about inventing the Internet was because he worked so hard on connectivity in the 1990s. But all they could do was belittle.They never do anything for the common good.
    Wait until you see RECOUNT. You might know why so many of us struggled so in 2000 to get the smart one. Al Gore was a true leader; Bush isn’t even in the same universe.
    Every day since J20 I have been quietly outraged that Al Gore was cheated here in Florida.
    See:The Battle for Florida: An Annotated Compendium of Materials from the 2000 Presidential Election, University Press of Florida, 2005.

    Comment by Kathleen McCook — December 16, 2007 @ 5:12 pm

  4. One of Al Gore’s many problems is that he wanted to change the world for the better, and he chose politics to try to do that. In my opinion, he’s not a good politician. At environmental activism, I can think of no one better at the moment. He’s a brilliant, forward-thinking, GOOD man. But as a politician, I didn’t care for him. And I cared for his wife even less. I’m so glad he’s ignoring the pressure to return to politics. He’s done much better for the world since leaving office. What he’s doing now is his true calling, and if he knew what I was saying here, I think he’d agree.

    All of that being said, yes, he’s supposed to be our President. That America didn’t storm the White House when our election was stolen scares me more than anything that’s happened since, and that includes the war and PATRIOT ACT.

    Comment by Tracy — December 17, 2007 @ 12:10 pm

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