UPDATE JUNE 30: So. I’ve finished reading The Assault on Reason. I must say, it’s not what I expected. My ultimate takeaway feeling is that this is a very powerful book, whatever flaws it may have. But that’s getting close to giving away my review, which I’m still in the process of writing….so in the meantime, let’s carry on the great dialogue we have going in the comments. I’ll do so by making the following additional points:
* In response to Mark Powell: I know you think Gore is making too much of the concept of “reason”–but it’s clear that in using this term, Gore doesn’t simply mean a thought process. Instead, he quite literally means the entire Enlightenment project of self-government and self-determination. I had no idea Gore’s critique was going to be this broad, this sweeping, this ambitious. Gore is definitely a forest guy, more than a trees guy.
* I don’t know that Gore’s solution meets the challenge. If our citizenry has become less deliberative, less connected, less engaged, and less reasonable, it doesn’t suffice simply to point to the Internet as salvation. To me, being deliberative and reasoned relies on being willing and able to engage with viewpoints other than one’s own. But as Cass Sunstein and others have argued (and as Jon Winsor points out in the comments), the Internet may well just help funnel people to sites where there are lots of other like-minded people. Even Scienceblogs, much as I love it, has an aspect of this to it.
* So Gore’s book strikes me as mainly a lament…although, as I said, an intensely powerful one.
UPDATE JUNE 28: I’m rewriting this this post, now ten days old, and moving it to the top of the page now that I’m actually reading Al Gore’s book. I’ve read the Introduction as I write this. The comments below have already helped me shape my thinking about what I’m reading.
I agree strongly with commenter Mark Powell that Gore’s idea of a “well-informed citizenry” is an idealization at best, and wholly unrealistic at worst. Nevertheless, I also think I agree that we might achieve, let’s say, a “more informed citizenry” if we had more responsible coverage of public affairs on television, rather than Britney-Spears-shaved-her-head infotainment crap all the time.
In any event, as I continue to read, I’m looking forward to seeing whether Al Gore’s proposed solutions measure up to the magnitude of the problem he’s addressing. The problem certainly exists, that’s for sure. But whether we’ll ever close the Pandora’s Box of less-reasoned public discourse that has been opened by television, and by highly sophisticated public relations techniques, seems to me to be doubtful…..
Anyway, I’ll say again: If you haven’t read it yet, you should buy Al Gore’s book, and we can continue to use this thread as a kind of mini-book club…..