Al Gore says that there’s an assault on reason, David Brooks writes and a review and shows him why. The first paragraphs of Brooks’s review center on Gore’s sentence structure and word choice–not the facts, the reason, or the logic. For instance:
>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.”
Maybe Gore doesn’t write well, maybe he does (you can’t tell by a few sentences taken at random), but at least it’s him that’s doing the writing. Worse than Brooks’s Blackwell criticism, is his failure to comprehend Gore’s point. For Brooks, Gore’s history is technological, “determined” by machines. This nicely plays into another of the many Gore tropes invented and endlessly repeated by the likes of Brooks: Gore is a “strange” person, a machine-like person, who needs someone to teach him how to act or dress.
Brooks failure to grasp Gore’s point repeats the now standard tropes of the printed pundit. The internet is bad:
> 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.
>The first response to this argument is: Has Al Gore ever actually looked at the Internet? He spends much of this book praising cold, dispassionate logic, but is that really what he finds on most political blogs or in his e-mail folder?
Golly-gee. Ever so many political blogs engage in real serious political discourse. The real surprising thing here is that Brooks wants us to think that somehow he knows what reasoned political discourse is.
23 thoughts on “Brooks on Gore I”
I wasn’t overly fond of Brook’s critique of Gore’s latest text, but he does echo many of the concerns which were discussed in the Times Review. There is little to debate with the principal assertion of Gore’s latest book that rational discourse has been losing footing in American society. You’d be hard pressed, I would imagine, to find trouble with his conclusion that this has come at our great detriment. What really motivated me to purchase, and subsequently read Gore’s latest work, was his explaination for how the trend began and his solutions to the problem. As to the cause of this deficiency in reason, Gore points almost soley to what Brook’s christens ‘technological determinism’. This is a very popular theory in contemporary anthropology, which stresses the role of technology in the way that society’s have developed. I think back to the impressive, Pulitzer winning, Guns, Germs, and Steel, which greatly stressed the inequitable distribution of important resources as the single most important explaination for the success of the West. Having read about half of this book yesterday, I can say that that the resemblance of the first half of the book to Jarrett Diamond, (or Ian Bremmer) is uncanny. We are treated to an account of the major technological achievements over the course of modern history, and their impact on American culture. Gore bemoans, at some length, the invention of the TV on discourse, for example. Thus far, I’ve had trouble with most of what I’ve read. That opening sentence, Professor Casey, is not a loner. This manuscript does feel rather sloppy.
The first part of the book is well referenced. He documents dozens of instances of cheap rhetoric and outright deceit on the part of the White House and of the media. He impunes the national media and members of Concress for not being sufficiently critial of the White House, especially with regard to the War in Iraq, and Global Warming. Unfortunately, the rest of the book fails to keep to such high standards. He makes broadly accepted claims that the rise of the TV in our culture, is largely to blame for our current predicament. With that being said, he fails consider the counter-argument to many of his positions. What about Public Television, CSPAN, and CNN. Haven’t they benefited mainstream discourse? The seme rigorisity is missing from his claim that the Internet will rectify things. Brooks alludes to the point made in the Times Review, that Gore fails to consider other aspects of the Internet such as YouTube, and social networking sites, in addition to the numerous political blogs and communities.
The problem with much of Gore’s book is that it’s inconsistent. While Brook’s column is not as well-evidenced as the Times Review, he does point out many of its deficiencies. Gore’s tendency to retreat to an over-simplified cause for much of his analysis is problematic. While the Right accused Mr Gore of these sorts of antics with Inconvenient Truth, any intellegent commentator knows otherwise. In that book and documentary, Gore subjected his claims to rigorous analysis, and avoided cheap fallacies. This book, having seen Inconvenient Truth, is a significant dissapointment.
Although an oft-venerated publication, i’d be careful of the NYT Book Review. It’s become a pawn of the publishers. usually to generate controversy or buzz around certain books. Certainly the former VP’s book would rate this sort of review, for it encourages his audience to go out and buy it; we all want to see if the NYT Book Review is off its nut. That said, I havent’t read Gore’s book, but I’d say that asking David Brooks for a fair appraisal of political discourse is like asking Idi Amin to prside over a human rights hearing.
I’m not sure exactly what you mean by ‘its become a pawn of publishers’, but as a loyal Times reader for years, I have always touted the reviews as a wonderful haven away from that sort of influence. Of course, the selection of the books has veered far closer to the controverisal and infamous lately, but I still consider the Times Review to be an important independent voice on publications. Often times, the criticisms of a text which are echoed in cafes and interviews across the country, originate with the Times Review. It would be easy to simply rubber stamp a text and move on, but the Times generally stays away from wholehartedly reccommending/rejecting something.
In fact, the opinions page of the Times, can often be a poor reflection of the scholarship of the paper. I’ve learned recently from this page just how flawed are the columns of Mr. Brooks, for instance. Apart from conversing with a trusted friend, the Times Review remains for me, as do the Film Reviews, a great starting point for deciding whether or not to read a text. The reviews are original and generally make arguments for their positions. I would reccomend reading the review on Mr. Gore’s latest book. Its a good example of the sort of scholarship which can still be found on that page.
Joe Meno over at Columbia has some interesting things to say about the NYT Book Review and the odd realtionships between large publishing houses and reviwers in general. he gives talks and readings around town. you should check one out. he’s a great fiction writer and an innovative thinker.
also, please note that i didn’t recommend disregarding the NYTBR altogether, but to be careful of it, given the atettnkion given to certain texts over others and the type of attention paid to certain texts. you might also want to check out a documentary called “Stonereader,” which undertakes this topic, among myriad others.
i’d trust my friends before i’d trust the NYTBR, because i know and trust them. since seeley left, i don’t trust the NYTBR to really talk about the books we should read before they talk about the books the big publishing houses think we shoudd read.
Perhaps, the publishing houses can have their influence on the sorts of texts that get reviewed, but to actually influence the content of the reviews is a troubling charge. I’d like to hear some of what Meno has to say on the subject. I suppose no element of mass commercial media can be entirely pure of this sort of influence, but well, it’s always nice to look to the Times as an exception. The Reviews in the Times, New Yorker, and Atlantic Monthly have helped me make many buying decisions.
Regardless of patron influence, the arguments remain sound and well-evidenced.
“to actually influence the content of the reviews is a troubling charge.”
no, it’s just capitalism. journalism is largely a for-profit business. the ones that pay the bills get to write the copy. i don’t know that i can fault the NYTBR for making money, but it makes me wary of their reviews.
I suppose I can follow your thinking, but if the reviews really were so compromised, one would expect the signs to be evident in the content. Consider the more odious examples of corperate pandering, (FOX News, WSJ Opinion Pages, USA Today). Yet, the New York Times still manages to produce reviews of quality. If the Times is really so intertwined with the Publishing Elite, it hasn’t been of any obserable detriment.
Two things. The NYT book review made the following critical points:
>When Mr. Gore turns to the larger cultural and social reasons behind the decline of reason in America’s marketplace of ideas, his arguments become fuzzier and less convincing. His argument that radio was essential to the rise and reign of Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini (“without the introduction of radio, it is doubtful that these totalitarian regimes would have commanded the obedience of the people in the manner they did”) is highly reductive, just as his argument that television has enabled politicians to manipulate mass opinion while preventing individuals from taking part in the national dialogue seems overly simplistic.
That seems fair. But nothing close to what Brooks is saying.
Second, Steven, keep in mind that “points” are a creature of arguments. Brooks’ arguments fail, so do the points lurking behind them. If you want to make those points separately, then make them. Brooks would have a lot to learn from you.
Thus far, Professor Casey, I’ve found little disagreement with arguments that you’ve labeled as problematic. In the spirit of discourse, however, I find it helpful to dig through these arguments for some defensible positions/points. I’ll try to do a better job in the future of seperating the two.
Unforuntately, Brooks seems more prone to the Ad Hominem fallacy then any other columnist I’ve encountered. If I could chat with him about this column, I would first try and divine his purpose for writing it. Is it supposed to be a critical review of Gore’s text, or rather, a piece on Gore as a stately figure. Both of these could, and have occupied many columns recently. We’re never quite sure just what sort of piece it is.
He does, echo a couple of well argued points from the Times Review. The one you’ve indicated above, and another about the role of the internet. He could have flushed out these two objections, perhaps with research of his own, and formed a cogent argument that might work. Instead, he gets caught up in his dislike for the author of the text, that he loses sight of his goal. Consider for a moment, the point about technological determinism. Instead of explaining why this is an oversimplified cause, as the Times Review does, he takes this to support an an attack on Gore’s character. Somehow, this piece of evidence is twisted in such a way that it demonstrates that Gore’s worldview is a sterile, inhuman environment, where machines displace human beings in everyday life. This, is a bizzarre attack on Gore’s character and personality. It has nothing to do with the book being reviewed. So often, I see some promise in a Brooks column (i.e this technological determinism), and he just avoids devloping his idea.
Instead, with Brooks, you’re left with a series of ‘good points’ with no way to bring them together in the form of a single, cohesive argument.
Brooks doesn’t have “good points” insofar as he does not have points. I’d also suggest that you reread the Gore review in the Times. I don’t get the sense that Gore is a “technological determinist.”
I don’t know exactly how to frame my dissent, except to say that I disagree completely. I’ve read the review (no need to read it a third time), and its most poignant claim concerned this notion that Gore was providing an oversimplified cause for defieciencies in discourse.
“doubtful that these totalitarian regimes would have commanded the obedience of the people in the manner they did”) is highly reductive, just as his argument that television has enabled politicians to manipulate mass opinion while preventing individuals from taking part in the national dialogue seems overly simplistic.”
This is, without a doubt, the argument of a technolgical determinst.
Brooks makes two of the same points that the Times Review does, and they are valid ones.
That hardly makes Gore a “technological determinist” (whatever that means). It means his explanation for the state of discourse is, according to Kakutani, weak. I hardly think Kakutani means to claim that anyone who suggests that technology plays a significant role in political discourse is a determinist. Determinism suggests that human agency does not play a role. And Gore obviously denies that.
I don’t know what Brooks’ “points” can be separate from his moronic arguments for them.
I think I should make an important distinction between characteristics of Mr. Gore and those of his text. I do not claim to know whether Mr. Gore is a Technological Determinist. I am talking about the arguments in his book. A crucial part of the text, is Gore’s explaination for how we found ourselves in the current predicatment (deficiency of reason). He chooses to only present this a Determinist’s position. By leaving out other causes such as human activity, he is offering an oversimplified cause. It’s really that simple.
I have already acknowledged numerous times, that Brook’s arguments don’t work. This site has, to use a cliche, opened me up to his flawed reason. He lacks the ability (as it would seem) to anayze a work and form a cogent, and sound argument.
But, at the same time, I won’t simply throw the work into the outbin, as you do. There are some important matters brought up in this columns. These ‘points’ could be formed into an argument, but aren’t.
Gore’s claim that the Internet will rectify our problems, and that the TV played a huge role in shaping our current state of affairs, are flawed, and Brooks brings them into light. Those are ‘good points’.
Noticing the last sentence in your post, you call Brook’s arguments ‘moronic’. Arguments work or they don’t. They aren’t moronic. This sort of charged language suggests a personal gripe with the author, which I think often preculudes you from seeing what others do in his columns.
“Noticing the last sentence in your post, you call Brook’s arguments ‘moronic’. Arguments work or they don’t. They aren’t moronic. This sort of charged language suggests a personal gripe with the author, which I think often preculudes you from seeing what others do in his columns”
i assuming Bob Somerby isn’t on of these “others.” he thinks brooks is a moron, too: http://www.google.com/custom?q=brooks&cof=AH%3Acenter%3BAWFID%3Ac32a032061318778%3B&domains=dailyhowler.com&sitesearch=dailyhowler.com
this guy, too: http://www.matthewyglesias.com/archives/2007/01/plus_ca_change/
and these guys really think so: http://thinkprogress.org/2006/02/12/brooks-on-blogs
I’m in no ways vouching for Brooks, pm. A pejorative might me nessecary to describe the man, but it’s not way to describe his arguments.
Wow, I really wish there was a spell-check available.
The evidence offered about technology does not make Gore a determinist in any meaningful sense of the term.
On the other matter, Brooks’s arguments are moronically bad–for instance, claiming that Gore is some kind of techno determinist because in a book about media he talks about the foundational role of, get this, the media.
Not to get into the content of Gore’s book, but I think it’d be funny if he said “the internet will solve our problems.” Especially if he meant “the computers” rather than the people using them. If he means the computers (not the people using them), then he is some kind computer sci-fi determinism.
‘The evidence offered about technology does not
make Gore a determinist in any meaningful sense of the term. ‘
The inclusion of technical progress as a contributor so some particular cultural phenonenon
does not make person/argument a Technological Determinist. But, when someone, Gore,
wants to explain what he perceives to be a deficiency in reason, cites only technological innovation
to explain it, then my friend, of course he’s taken the position of a determinist.
You have said that “I don’t get the sense that Gore is a “technological determinist.”,
I’m citing his book for my position, while you cite a review.
I think “determinism” is the wrong word.
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