Book Review: The Assault on Reason by Al Gore

I usually don’t read books by politicians, mainly because it’s usually a book displaying why the other side is wrong or putting forth some ideology.  But when I was Gore’s book and the title, I told myself, “this book is going to be different.”  After all, he isn’t a politician anymore and I thought, just based on the title, that this book would be talking about society instead of politics.  I was mistaken.  At times, Gore seems to show off his erudite knowledge.  However, these little tangents suggest that it helps his case.

I don’t want to sound stereotypical, but Gore’s book was kind of boring.  (Insert Al Gore joke here.)  I eventually got turned off because his intro says that he isn’t talking about the Bush administration, but in every subsequent chapter, it was basically stating why the Bush administration has made things worse for the country.  While I agree that the Bush administration has been disastrous for our country, it seems disingenuous to say that the book isn’t about the Bush administration, but it turns out that it is.

In chapter one, Gore talks about how after 9/11, the Bush administration took advantage of the situation to get the country geared for the War in Iraq.  The Bush administration played on the fear of the country and if there’s fear, you can play into the American public and convince people to do whatever is needed.  Something to add here, it turns out that the British were “dragged” into the war as well. While I agree that the Bush administration took advantage of the situation and played on the American’s fear, I’m wondering if other politicians have done this.  Hobbes has suggested that what moves and drives politics is fear.

Chapter two.  Gore talks about how Bush took advantage of the religious particularities to suggest that invading Iraq was a religious “crusade.”  Indeed, Bush has said that being a Christian is part of his foreign policy.  By playing into this, he appealed to the dogmas of society so that it bypasses the debates and arguments about whether the War in Iraq was needed.  Gore does admit that the Iraq War is debatable, but a debate is better than bypassing one.

Chapter Three. Gore talks about wealth.  With TV, radio, and the internet without having a sovereign, it has no regulations.  People can take advantage of this and the media can play into people’s predilections to buy and purchase things that they didn’t realize they needed.  Capitalism, by its very nature, makes things unequal.  But in a democracy, it calls for the equality of people.  I’m not an expert on economics, but I can’t help but see a correlation between democracies and capitalism.  It seems impossible to have a capitalistic society without democracy (even with the converse being false).  Gore doesn’t talk much about Bush, but without regulations, the Bush administration let everything go chaotic to the point where it leads to an economic mess that we’re in today.

Chapter four.  In this chapter, Gore points out the both Bush and Cheney either purposely ignored information about the War in Iraq, or else they didn’t care.  Either way, they aren’t capable of leadership.  Constantly, information about the War in Iraq suggested that the war would be time consuming and troublesome.  However, Bush and Cheney convinced the American people that it would be a swift war.  However, with them purposely ignoring evidence, this has lead us into a disastrous state of affairs.

Chapter five.  Gore talks about how this War on Terror has made the prisoners into a different kind of prisoner.  These prisoners aren’t POWs, but they aren’t your common criminals.  They are “unlawful enemy combatants.”  But with these words, anyone can be an “unlawful enemy combatant” just by the President declaring these magic words.  Strictly speaking, I could be one if the President decided that I was a threat to the country.  With this, the rights of the individual are downgraded because security is at the most highest priority.  Indeed, 90 percent of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib did not have any information.  I’m sure the same is at Guantanamo.  Also, anyone can be detained without knowing why one is detained.

Chapter six.  Gore talks about how the Bush Administration’s actions have actually hindered our national security.  Because of Iraq, al-Qaeda has gained more members, Iraq has diverted our attention away from the real enemy (in Afghanistan), and America has had a tarnished reputation around the world.  Ironically, the War in Iraq is the best recruitment tool for al-Qaeda gaining about 18,000 more members since the wake of the war in Iraq.  Retired generals have displayed that this was a strategical error, but the Bush Administration dismissed them simply because they are retired.  What does Gore recommend?  He states that after we pushed the Taliban out, we should have stayed to gain a more secure force in Afghanistan.  Our military was in favor of it.  But we diverted our attention to Iraq and now the Taliban came back with the same strength in 2006.  (Now it’s 2009 and they’re even stronger than they were in 2001.)

Chapter seven.  Gore talks about how Bush and ExxonMobile are together in “solving” the pollution crisis.  Lobbyists come to Bush supporting the oil industry and they convince Bush there is no need to pay attention to any of the global climate situation.

Chapter eight.  Gore talks about how our Founders wanted to have three branches of government to keep each other in check.  But Congress doesn’t question the Bush Administration or follows him dogmatically, and the Supreme Court has lobbyists who take the judges out in order to educate them in an ideological point of view.  To me, this was the strongest chapter.  This chapter actually talks about how reason is being ignored because the government appeals to the emotions or some dogmatic idealogy.  Everything is subservient to the Executive branch of power.

Chapter nine.  The solution is to bring reason back into politics.  I was amazed at some of the studies that Gore presented.  When college students were presented with the First Amendment, that was the first time they’d heard of it!  Indeed, after they heard it, these students thought that the First Amendment “went too far.”  I couldn’t believe that.  But also, Gore’s solution is to let the little people’s voices be heard.  Part of this means that technology and the Internet will have to play a big role.

So what do I think of this?  All in all, I think it was a typical response from someone like Gore.  Mainly, I wasn’t surprised by what he said.  However, there was something in there that he constantly brought up that made me cringe.  Gore kept on saying that we need to bring reason back into democracy.  I hate to tell you this, Gore, but democracy and reason are antithetical to each other.  Democracy is about the “tyranny of the majority,” the huddled masses, and the herd mentality.  We see this in Plato, Mill, and Dewey.  Of course, each of them had various solutions but I can’t believe that democracy and reason go together.  It seems that democracy, by its very nature, is unrational.  That’s why we have politicans.  We trust them to be rational and to look out for us.  Of course, the whole idea is that we’re supposed to be watching the government, but sorry to say this, a democracy doesn’t work that way.  People in a democracy are fickle, lousy, and just plain dumb.  Sure there are smart people, but those are rare indeed.  Given a group of Americans, I can guarentee you that less than 50% will not know much about politics.  Gore even admits that.  So while Gore’s solution is predictable, I can’t help but think that the problems of democracy has been around since Plato.  Gore’s solution of “bring reason back to democracy” seems weak.  How, do I ask, can we bring reason “back to democracy” if democracy was never rational to begin with?  Gore brings some insight in the background of politics.  Unfortunately, his solution, I find, is weak at best, and utopian at worst.

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
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1 Response to Book Review: The Assault on Reason by Al Gore

  1. Kevin says:

    I read this book befor the end of the Bush years. It was actually pretty informative at the time. I agree that Gore sets out to prove a point that he doesn’t really get to, all he does is bash Bush, but he does it from the point of view of somebody that has had access to the country’s most sensitive material, and he speaks about it openly and honestly. When I was reading that book at work, I had a philosophy minor take a look at it and ask if I thought Gore actually understood logic, to which I replied no. It’s a good book if you’re looking for a Bush bashing, but that’s about it.

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