Monday, September 24, 2007

The strange case of Al Gore

There was a time when I liked Al Gore, although I never voted for him. (I did vote for Clinton-Gore in '92.) His strange career, with its unexpected twists, reminds me of Michael Jackson. Like the pop singer, Gore was once a normal kid, before Something Bad happened. In 1988, he was a moderate Southern Democrat, a once-familiar political type. By 1992, he had already become the humorless RoboGore of later years. A French magazine that year referred to him as le Bon Élève (the Good Student) - sort of like Lisa Simpson, only with less charm and musical talent. He grew to resemble the denizens of postmodern academia and characteristic of all that is worst in his generation: censorious, obsessed with proving his higher virtue through pet causes, impatient with reason and evidence, burning with the need to impose righteousness on others. After all, this is the generation that gave us "advocacy journalism" and political correctness, taking over and abusing - for illiberal purposes - the liberal institutions their parents and grandparents had built to serve the larger public good.

That he underwent some obscure personal transformation in those four years is not in doubt. It's dangerous to psychoanalyze someone from a distance, but Gore himself has left an open trail of biographical crumbs in his Earth in the Balance, published in 1992. His son nearly died in an automobile accident, and his sister died of lung cancer. (The Gore family fortune was largely built on tobacco.) Gore would hardly be unique if crusading became for him an expression of complex and all-too-human feelings in the double aftermath.*

When we look at what's become of Gore since then, the only sensible response is to shake one's head in irritated befuddlement. The insistent demonization of rational critics and criticism of a mass hysteria is a hallmark of crusading fanatics, as noted by Ted Koppel on his Nightline program several times during Gore's tenure as Vice President:
The measure of good science is neither the politics of the scientist nor the people with whom the scientist associates. It is the immersion of hypotheses into the acid of truth. That's the hard way to do it, but it's the only way that works. (ABC News Nightline, February 24, 1994)
Koppel is one of the very few journalists in the conventional media to call Gore and others on their "global warming" fanaticism and militant desire to crush anyone who disagrees with them. In a saner and better educated age than ours, these very tendencies would be widely and correctly viewed as clear warning signs that such people are not to be trusted and perhaps even need to have their heads examined. Instead, people swoon over their "idealism," not remembering that idealism is not the same as saintliness or virtue.

So what are we to make of Gore's recent movie and books? All of them are full of little irritating gestures of "seriousness" (read: fanaticism) that seem both pathetic and highly revealing. On an intellectual level, these pale in comparison to the giant, looming scientific fallacies. The science is wrong on multiple counts, in some cases so wrong it seems like deliberate misrepresentation. I won't rehash what has been hashed out elsewhere. Apparently Gore (like many others) thinks he's doing G-d's work here, promoting a "higher cause," no matter how questionable the means. Like other crusading fanatics, he doesn't seem to realize that this technique of agitating the masses through hysteria and deception just makes everyone disillusioned and cynical in the end. If the "higher cause" itself turns out to be a bust, then the damage done is major and has no compensating upside.

Gore has further arguments, however, that invoke something other than the faulty science behind the "global warming" craze. He insists that the decline of education, bookreading, analytical thinking, rational public culture, and the news media have prevented ordinary folk from seeing the deep truth of his pet cause. These are real and worrisome developments. But Gore wildly and breathtakingly inverts the truth here: the "global warming" hysteria could not have gotten anywhere near as far as it has without just those helping trends.

At the center of the issue, the decline of science literacy enables the hysteria in a direct way. Science education in the US hasn't just declined, of course. It's been actively corrupted by an illiberal vision that replaces education based on skills, knowledge, and learning to think for oneself with the indoctrination and propaganda of crusades and causes. (For an example, see here.) This development parallels the decline of fact-based and investigative journalism, increasingly replaced in the last couple decades by "advocacy journalism," by which "activist" journalists push their usually ill-founded viewpoint in dishonest ways by manipulating their public with the older conventions of objective journalism. Only most sentient people have now seen through this maze of tricks and have lost patience with the conventional news media: fewer and fewer are fooled any longer.

Along with this half-baked argument comes bizarre claims that the news media have become increasingly "right-wing" (!) in their slant. Come on: a "right-wing" news media - really? With a few major exceptions (Wall Street Journal, Fox), the US news media (and even more so, the global news media) is overwhelmingly liberal to left-liberal in its reporting slant and the proclivities of its personnel. That's a massively overdocumented fact; there's no quibbling about it.

And really: doesn't the "global warming" hysteria, which the news media have played a decisive role in promoting, fit the news media's needs perfectly? Both in the commercial sense of getting people chronically anxious and constantly tuning in (to see if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has finally melted - spectacular, exclusive, thoroughly misleading footage from National Geographic Channel! CNN! MSNBC! Fox, even! with ominous music playing in the background!) and in the deeper sense of feeding the news media's delusions of being a profession and a fourth branch of government?

Al Gore is a sorry case. It's fine and all to denounce the partisan fanaticism of our present politics and the semiliteracy of the televisual global village. But he, his books, and his movie are very much part of the problem, not the solution.
* This phenomenon is explored and explained at length in that great modern classic, Eric Hoffer's The True Believer.

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At 12:43 PM, Blogger Sissy Willis said...

Binah: I couldn't agree more, as you know. It's wicked fun reading things by a man of science you totally agree with. :-)

Note: I fixed the links you left at my blog so readers can click and go directly to your posts.

At 8:53 AM, Blogger Binah said...




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