The Assault on Reason: Praise for Al Gore

I know you think it ironic that I am praising Al Gore in an article that appears just after one that chastised him. It just goes to show that I am an equal opportunity praiser/chastiser. In all seriousness, I have been so far very impressed by Al Gore's latest book, entitled The Assault on Reason.

I had an interesting discussion with our city librarian at the book fair yesterday. When I told her I would donate The Assault on Reason to the library when I'm done reading it, she said "I guess it's important to have both sides of the issue available to the public." I told her that although I don't agree with very much Al Gore says, I think it's still important to read the works of him, a very important and knowledgeable person. Imagine my surprise when I can find nearly nothing in his new book with which I can disagree!

I have as of yet only read the introduction and part of the first chapter of the book, but so far I think he makes an excellent analysis of the state of today's American politics. (I am reserving judgment, however, until I reach the end of the book, being flummoxed as I am by his lack of reasoning--while instead favoring emotional pleas--when it comes to our environment. My current impression is that Mr. Gore is an excellent political scientist while not a very good environmental scientist.)

As the book begins, the former US vice president reminds us of the political climate in the run-up to the Iraq war. Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia stood in an essentially empty legislative chamber (which should have been full) and asked "Why do reason, logic, and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions?" This is a question on whose import Senator Gore, Senator Byrd, and I agree. Politics should be about reasonably accentuating our differences rather than using vitriol to divide ourselves.

A great problem with today's American society is that, according to the book, we have come to depend on the sound bites of television rather than the extensive reasoning of the printed media, such as newspapers. I agree. I know a lot of people who only read when they have to and probably exceed the 4.5 hours of daily television watching that Al Gore reports is the US national average per capita.

Why has America's public discourse become less focused and less clear, less reasoned? Faith in the power of reason--the belief that free citizens can govern themselves wisely and fairly by resorting to logical debate on the basis of the best evidence available, instead of raw power--was and remains the central premise of American democracy. This premise is now under assault.

I agree. It is critical, from the City Council chambers to the hallowed halls of Congress, that we reign in our interest in anger as a successful political weapon. Because ultimately, anger nearly always signals failure.

News "stories", such as the OJ Simpson case, the Jon Benet Ramsey case, Michael Jackson, and the Runaway Bride, have been all too much the norm. When there is only a finite amount of time for television viewing, why do we pollute it by producing and consuming filth and tripe instead of using one of the greatest inventions in history to expand our minds?

...while American television viewers were collectively devoting a hundred million hours of their lives each week to these and other similar stories, our nation was in the process of more quietly making what future historians will certainly describe as a series of catastrophically mistaken decisions on issues of war and peace, the global climate and human survival, freedom and barbarity, justice and fairness.

How can we expect a society that lives on a cesspool for its breakfast of information to notice the issues that are really important? How can we expect them to use reason if all they ever know is faux emotions generated in and for them by the "boob tube"?

Reasonable people can disagree. But they do so with much more respect and candor than people who are mere creatures of emotion. I disagree with Al Gore on certain things, but on this one I do not. If America is to survive, America must re-learn how to be reasonable.


  1. I'll admit that I have not read "The Assault on Reason" but from all the reviews I have read I get the impression that Al Gore had nothing substantial to add to the work of Niel Postman in "Amusing Ourselves to Death" from two decades ago.

    The only thing that Al Gore seems to do here is bring this up again. Maybe his high profile will bring more active and widespread discussion for this idea than it has had previously. That would be a good thing.

  2. At this point (now in chapter 3) I am beginning to be glad that I hedged my bet. Gore's excellent logic (it is ironic if it is merely a rehash of Postman as you say) is turning into a diatribe against the Republicans and religious conservatives. In other words, because it is one-sided, it is itself becoming an Assault on Reason.


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