So far this book is more about the dire situation of our public rhetoric than anything else. Gore is clearer and more to the point than Neil “Entertaining Ourselves to Death” Postman ever was.
He points to many of the problems as symptoms. The problems: extreme partisanship, superficial public debates, money in politics, public apathy, declining citizen participation and other stuff.
He makes an interesting point about the partisanship. While the talk has heated up and the parties are at each other’s throats, at the same time Americans see less difference than ever between them.
Here’s how he says it:
“Excessive partisanship is identified as a source of the problem by Americans of both political parties, and — especially — by the growing number of independents. Those on the Right lament the intrusion of government via taxes and regulation, while those on the Left decry the wholesale abandonment of the government’s prior commitments to public education, health care, science, medical research, assistance to the poor, the young, and the elderly, and the withdrawal from regulating corporate behavior to protect the public interest. Paradoxically, more and more Americans also say they perceive few substantive differences between the two political parties.”
So what does he think the true cause of these symptoms. Basically, TV.
TV has replaced the written word and the coherent public rhetoric. The problem with TV is not just it’s banality but the idea that communication only goes one way. So there is no conversation, only passive observation on the part of the viewer. TV itself is at best entertainment/information and at worst manipulation/bad information but never conversation.
This fascinates me and helps me understand many things about the current environment (actually it’s not just in the USA).
I will read on. So far this is not a vanity issue political book. Gore grew up with politics and TV. His father was a Senator. I heard him say recently that not only is not politicking for the presidency but that he has finally figured out, he’s not that good at politics. To me, this sounds like someone who is actually thinking.
Recently I had a conversation about the way people do not read now. This conversation was mostly about how people get their news. Of course, it’s mostly through the television. I find the television a very poor source of information. I am still one of those Neanderthal newspaper readers. Also, since I grew up with TV myself, I tend to think of it as something that has been made and reflects the views and needs of its makers. People seem to forget that at some level.
Gore thinks that the Internet holds out a possibility for helping resuscitate the public conversation necessary for a civil society. He says maybe TV was a transition from the printed word to the Internet. This feels a bit on the false hope side to me. Maybe because I want so badly for it to be true.