Monday, June 11, 2007

Al Gore gets it right again

I spent the weekend reading Al Gore's book Assault on Reason. It looks like it is pretty high on amazon's best seller list so he obviously doesn't need me to plug it, but THANK YOU AL.

The book is excellent. Obviously Gore thinks America has been hijacked by ideologues over the past 6 years and he doesn't hold back enumerating the many flaws of the Bush administration. Still the argument that he focuses on is how media, most especially television, has changed the way the public at large consumes news and information. Reading and writing is/was a many to many format that encourages thinking and rational debate, but radio and more especially TV are inherently one to many (i.e. broadcast) and one direction communication media that while providing a richer (full sensory) entertainment experience, actually discourage rational thinking. And let there be no doubt Americans watch a lot of TV (I was astonished to learn that 4.5 hours/day is the norm!). His hope lies in the possibility that the internet is a technology that can enable us to return to the many to many format which fosters rational debate.

The one to many format of TV, especially when very few massive conglomerates control the broadcasting infrastructure creates conditions where a select few are able to control the flow of information to the public and with uncanny sophistication and precision manipulate the public using lots of 30 second advertisements. We are all in one sense aware of this, but nevertheless still fall prey to the many tricks advertisers employ. This manipulation is especially useful in election campaigns, which means all successful campaigns use the tricks, which require lots of ads, which in turn require raising lots of money which in turn means that politicians must be especially attentive to wealthy campaign contributors/well funded special interests rather than the voters.

But the really effective parts of the book show the efforts of the secretive Bush Administration to deceive the American public about going to war in Iraq, by scaring the public half out of its wits and on the flimsiest of pretexts wrest unchecked power (indeed virtually unlimited power) from the other branches of government. The unrestrained power grab by the executive has not only diminished our standing in the world, but threatens the future of our republic. Gore enumerates many instances where Bush's contempt of the law is undermining the credibility and effectiveness of a system that has served us rather well for 230 years.

We must all hope (and work to ensure) that the next president is willing and able to bring our country back to a more historically consistent and stable relation between the branches of government at home, and willing to work internationally to establish frameworks where we work together with our allies on the many inter-related pressing problems of the new century.


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