I went to a talk by Al Gore last night, promoting his new book The Assault on Reason. I’m still working through Dawin’s The God Delusion, but Al Gore’s book is next in the queue. His essential message as I understand it is that “we the people” have allowed a power vacuum to develop due to our general inattention or aversion to civic and political matters. This leads to an erosion of rational discourse, and ultimately enables political leaders to make completely irrational judgments with impunity. The “rule of reason” appears to be fading.
So of course, someone asked “what can we do as individuals?” His jocular reply (it was the last question of the night and he was done) was “read my book.” But seriously, what would it take for us to get into the habit of discussing issues of the day in a reasonably civil, rational forum? Sort of like taking our 30 minutes of daily exercise – what would it take to engage civic/political issues for 30 minutes a day?
Al alluded to the Internet and other two-way technologies as a possible solution. Blogs, social networking sites, etc., are forums for the very back-and-forth he advocates. Of course, anyone who’s spent time looking at popular news sites with comments (Digg.com comes to mind) knows the rhetoric can turn nasty and juvenile pretty quicly. But there are those who stick with it and try to promote a higher level of civility and rational thinking.
I’ve always been impressed with European exchange students I’ve encountered in the U.S. (granted, a select group, since they had the motivation and wherewithall to travel abroad for education). In particular, their grasp of politics, social/political theory, and history is heads and shoulders above their US peers. I haven’t spent any time in Europe, but I suspect politics is not such a dirty word around the European dinner tables?
I’m going to think more about what to do with my 30 minutes a day. Writing this blog is interesting, but is more my own reflections than a truly public discourse. I’d like to find a discussion site where the signal-to-noise ratio is fairly large – any suggestions?