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The Assault on Reason: How the Politics of Fear, Secrecy, and Blind Faith Subvert Wise Decision Making, Degrade Our Democracy, and Put Our Country and Our World in Perilby Al Gore
Synopses & Reviews
A visionary analysis of how the politics of fear, secrecy, cronyism, and blind faith has combined with the degration of the public sphere to create an environment dangerously hostile to reason.
At the time George W. Bush ordered American forces to invade Iraq, 70 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11. Voters in Ohio, when asked by pollsters to list what stuck in their minds about the campaign, most frequently named two Bush television ads that played to fears of terrorism.
We live in an age when the thirty-second television spot is the most powerful force shaping the electorate's thinking, and America is in the hands of an administration less interested than any previous administration in sharing the truth with the citizenry. Related to this and of even greater concern is this administration's disinterest in the process by which the truth is ascertained, the tenets of fact-based reasoning-first among them an embrace of open inquiry in which unexpected and even inconvenient facts can lead to unexpected conclusions.
How did we get here? How much damage has been done to the functioning of our democracy and its role as steward of our security? Never has there been a worse time for us to lose the capacity to face the reality of our long-term challenges, from national security to the economy, from issues of health and social welfare to the environment. As The Assault on Reason shows us, we have precious little time to waste.
Gore's larger goal in this book is to explain how the public sphere itself has evolved into a place hospitable to reason's enemies, to make us more aware of the forces at work on our own minds,and to lead us to an understanding of what we can do, individually and collectively, to restore the rule of reason and safeguard our future. Drawing on a life's work in politics as well as on the work of experts across a broad range of disciplines, Al Gore has written a farsighted and powerful manifesto for clear thinking.
"Al Gore possesses a skill that no other American politician can match — or would want to. He has a consistent ability to express fundamentally reasonable sentiments — often important ones — in ways that annoy the maximum possible number of people. In the seven years since his narrow failure to become president, Gore has been an active and admirable public servant. He has explored... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) ways of using technology to enhance civic participation, spoken out courageously against the fraudulence of the Iraq War and forced the issue of climate change into the front ranks of worldwide debate. Even as a citizen activist, however, free from the burdens of office and campaigning, Gore nearly always manages to sound like Gore. His documentary film on global warming, 'An Inconvenient Truth,' is sophisticated, provocative and in many ways convincing. But it is also smug and self-centered, and its failure to consider even moderately differing points of view serves to alienate skeptics rather than to persuade them. Something rather similar might be said of Gore's ambitious new book, 'The Assault on Reason.' Gore argues that there have been two major assaults on reason in recent years: a gradual, insidious one brought about by structural change in the public media and a deliberate one foisted on the electorate by an administration insensitive both to individual rights and to honest public discourse. Gore blames television for what he sees as an alarming decline in the quality of political discourse in America. When political news was communicated mostly through newspapers, he argues, there was a lively exchange of opinion and an opportunity for reason to win out in the marketplace of ideas. Once newspapers were replaced in this role by the 30-second televised campaign commercial, rational debate withered away. He blames George W. Bush for just about everything else. Gore's attack on the Bush administration — on the invasion of Iraq, the curtailment of civil liberties at home in response to global terrorism, and the refusal of the White House and federal agencies to take the dangers of climate change seriously — is scathing. In denouncing the president who defeated him, Gore sacrifices some credibility as a disinterested observer, and readers who wish to treat the book as an extended harvest of sour grapes have a license to do so. Nevertheless, much that he writes seems to be on the mark. History, Gore writes, will judge the Iraq War — a 'decision to invade and occupy a fragile nation that did not attack us and posed no threat to us' — as 'not only tragic but absurd.' After four years and more than 3,000 American deaths, most of the American public is inclined to agree with him. Gore also laments that 'paid disinformation — in support of candidates and ballot initiatives — is polluting America's democratic discourse.' Anybody who has been around a congressional campaign lately — or even watched one on television — will have little inclination to dispute that point. 'The Assault on Reason' is, like much of what Gore has said over the years, essentially truthful. It is also the apparent product of a man desperate to display his erudition at every possible moment, appropriate or not. Virtually every major figure in the history of political theory turns in a cameo appearance, often making the same point someone else just made. Within the space of a few pages, we are treated to the wisdom of Louis Brandeis, Thomas Jefferson, Edmund Burke, John Donne, the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas and the Roman rhetorician Lactantius. One begins to wish that Bartlett's 'Quotations' had gone out of print. Then there are the strained attempts to explain relatively simple political events through detours into the chemistry of the brain. The Bush administration, Gore says, has not only lied to the voters about its intentions, it has damaged the nation's capacity for judgment by stimulating the 'affect heuristic' and generating fear responses in the portion of the brain called the amygdala. In a book by a Nobel laureate neurophysicist, some of these ideas might strike the reader as odd but provocative speculation. In this book, they simply come off as pedantry. 'The Assault on Reason' is a serious work by an intelligent man with an incurable habit of calling more attention to himself than to the ideas he wishes to communicate. It is worth reading, but it is maddening. In one respect, however, it is entirely satisfying: Unlike virtually all other books bearing the names of prominent politicians, this one raises no serious questions about its authorship. Only Al Gore could possibly have written it. Alan Ehrenhalt is executive editor of Governing magazine and author of 'The United States of Ambition' and 'The Lost City.'" Reviewed by David S. BroderAlan WolfeDennis DrabelleRon CharlesWendy KannAlan Ehrenhalt, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Gore's professorial style...elicits a different response today than it did seven years ago....At a time when we are learning that political responses tend to be more emotional than rational, as he surely understands, his stubborn faith that we will someday return to reason is touching." Joe Conason, Los Angeles Times
"[T]his isn't a campaign book....It's a deep public remonstrance, inspired a little by Tom Paine's Common Sense....Gore is no Paine, but he argues persuasively that Bush's tenure is no longer a constitutional presidency." Boston Globe
The former vice president presents a visionary analysis of how the politics of fear, secrecy, cronyism, and blind faith of the Bush-led radical Right has combined with the degradation of the public sphere to create an environment dangerously hostile to reason.
A #1 New York Times bestseller: A visionary analysis of the degradation of our public sphere and its consequences for our democracy
Nobel Peace Prize winner, bestselling author, activist, and political icon, Al Gore has become one of the most respected and influential public intellectuals in America today. The Assault on Reason takes an unprecedented look at how faith in the power of reason?the idea that citizens can govern themselves through rational debate?is now under assault. The marketplace of ideas, once open to everyone through the printed word, has been corrupted by the politics of fear, secrecy, cronyism, and blind faith. By leading us to an understanding of what we can do to restore the rule of reason, Gore has written a farsighted and powerful manifesto for clear thinking.
An indictment of the Bush-led radical Right's disdain for the principles of reasoned decision-making, and a reckoning with the degradation of the public sphere that facilitates their rule of unreason.
About the Author
Former Vice President Al Gore is chairman of Current TV, an independently owned cable and satellite television nonfiction network for young people based on viewer-created content and citizen journalism. He also serves as chairman of Generation Investment Management, a firm that is focused on a new approach to sustainable investing. Gore is a member of the Board of Directors of Apple Computer, Inc., and a senior advisor to Google, Inc. Gore was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1976 and the U.S. Senate in 1984 and 1990. He was inaugurated as the 45th vice president of the United States on January 20, 1993, and served eight years. He is the author of the 2006 bestseller An Inconvenient Truth. Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, live in Nashville, Tennessee. They have four children and two grandchildren.
Table of Contents
The Assault On Reason Introduction
One. The Politics of Fear
Two. Blinding the Faithful
Three. The Politics of Wealth
Four. Convenient Untruths
Five. The Assault on the Individual
Six. National Insecurity
Seven.The Carbon Crisis
Eight. Democracy in the Balance
Nine. A Well-Connected Citizenry
Conclusion. The Rebirth of Democracy
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