David Brooks’ Assault on “The Assault on Reason”

David Brooks writes a negative column on Al Gore’s recent book, The Assault on Reason (which I reviewed here) and in the process shows how devoid of reason much of the right wing has become. Rather than using meaningful arguments, Brooks tries to revive some of the old memes on Gore, startng with his title, The Vulcan Utopia. Brooks cherry picks some of Gore’s arguments to claim, “Gore is, for example, 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.”

If one wants to take a very limited view of Gore’s book, this thead is present. Gore goes from the printing press to describe changes in how people get their news, but this is ultimately about people, not just machines. Gore is critical of the poor manner in which television presents the news, dwelling on topics such as Anna Nichole Smith as opposed to real news. If not for his partisan dislike of Gore, I would think that under other circumstances Brooks would agree with this criticism of television news.

The final chapter of The Assault on Reason deals with the internet, giving Brooks more ammunition to mischaracterize the book:

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.

Of course Gore has far more to say on the topic, but Brooks ignores most of Gore’s arguments to make it easier to argue with him. At least he doesn’t bring up the false claim commonly heard from conservatives that Al Gore had said he invented the internet. Brooks also ignores the bulk of the book which does not fit into the narrative he invented of Gore having a theory of history entirely driven by machines.

The progression from the printing press to the internet is only a small part of Gore’s book, but even this could be used as one means to summarize the history of human knowledge. This is exactly what is done in the narrative to Spaceship Earth at Epcot. Spaceship Earth is a brief ride, and therefore it makes sense to concentrate on such means of communication in its attempt to briefly summarize all of human history. Al Gore has a full book, and goes well beyond this idea, but you couldn’t tell this from Brooks’ misleading description of the book.

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    jpe says:

    I read that column on the subway this morning, and I really couldn’t believe just how terrible it was. I mean, it was really shocking.

  2. 2
    beachmom says:

    Great post, Ron. David Brooks is as “strange” as any of the other DC dwellers. Talk about calling the kettle black.

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