David Brooks: Al Gore's Theory of History





... [Al] Gore is ... a radical technological determinist. While most politicians react to people, Gore reacts to machines, and in this book he lays out a theory of history entirely driven by them.

He writes that “the idea of self-government became feasible after the printing press.” With this machine, people suddenly had the ability to use the printed word to debate ideas and proceed logically to democratic conclusions. As Gore writes in his best graduate school manner, “The eighteenth century witnessed more and more ordinary citizens able to use knowledge as a source of power to mediate between wealth and privilege.”

This Age of Reason produced the American Revolution. But in the 20th century, television threatened it all. In Gore’s view, TV immobilizes the reasoning centers in the brain and stimulates the primitive, instinctive parts. TV creates a “visceral vividness” that is not “modulated by logic, reason and reflective thought.”

TV allows political demagogues to exaggerate dangers and stoke up fear. Furthermore, “conglomerates can dominate the expressions of opinion that flood the mind of the citizenry” and “the result is a de facto coup d’état overthrowing the rule of reason.”

Fortunately, another technology is here to save us. “The Internet is perhaps the greatest source of hope for re-establishing an open communications environment in which the conversation of democracy can flourish,” he writes. The Internet will restore reason, logic and the pursuit of truth.

The first response to this argument is: Has Al Gore ever actually looked at the Internet? He spends much of this book praising cold, dispassionate logic, but is that really what he finds on most political blogs or in his e-mail folder?...

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