Brooks On Books

32 comments May 29th, 2007at 11:55am Posted by Eli

David Brooks, already a world-class wanker extraordinaire, really outdoes himself with his “critique” of Al Gore’s new book:

If you’re going to read Al Gore’s book, you’re going to have to steel yourself for a parade of sentences like the following:

“The remedy for what ails our democracy is not simply better education (as important as that is) or civic education (as important as that can be), but the re-establishment of a genuine democratic discourse in which individuals can participate in a meaningful way — a conversation of democracy in which meritorious ideas and opinions from individuals do, in fact, evoke a meaningful response.”

But, hey, nobody ever died from contact with pomposity, and Al Gore’s “The Assault on Reason” is well worth reading. It reminds us that whatever the effects of our homogenizing mass culture, it is still possible for exceedingly strange individuals to rise to the top.

Gore is, for example, a radical technological determinist. While most politicians react to people, Gore reacts to machines, and in this book he lays out a theory of history entirely driven by them.

He writes that “the idea of self-government became feasible after the printing press.” With this machine, people suddenly had the ability to use the printed word to debate ideas and proceed logically to democratic conclusions. 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.”

This Age of Reason produced the American Revolution. But in the 20th century, television threatened it all. In Gore’s view, TV immobilizes the reasoning centers in the brain and stimulates the primitive, instinctive parts. TV creates a “visceral vividness” that is not “modulated by logic, reason and reflective thought.”

TV allows political demagogues to exaggerate dangers and stoke up fear. Furthermore, “conglomerates can dominate the expressions of opinion that flood the mind of the citizenry” and “the result is a de facto coup d’état overthrowing the rule of reason.”

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?


Gore seems to have come up with a theory that the upper, logical mind sits on top of, and should master, the primitive and more emotional mind below. He thinks this can be done through a technical process that minimizes information flow to the lower brain and maximizes information flow to the higher brain.The reality, of course, is that there is no neat distinction between the “higher” and “lower” parts of the brain. There are no neat distinctions between the “rational” mind and the “visceral” body. The mind is a much more complex network of feedback loops than accounted for in Gore’s simplistic pseudoscience.

Without emotions like fear, the “logical” mind can’t reach conclusions. On the other hand, many of the most vicious, genocidal acts are committed by people who are emotionally numb, not passionately out of control.

Some great philosopher should write a book about people — and there are many of them — who flee from discussions of substance and try to turn them into discussions of process. Utterly at a loss when asked to talk about virtue and justice, they try to shift attention to technology and methods of communication. They imagine that by altering machines they can alter the fundamentals of behavior, or at least avoid the dark thickets of human nature.

If a philosopher did write such a book, it would help us understand Al Gore, and it would, as he would say, in fact, evoke a meaningful response.

Wow. Just wow. So much wankery in there, I hardly know where to begin. I’ll just note the “Algore is a cold-fish Vulcan weirdo” cheap shots in passing, and start with the three examples that Brooks uses to demonstrate that Algore is incoherent and out of touch. Notice that that they all have a common theme: The key to democratic government is democratic discourse. Gore states this in the abstract in the first passage, then cites the specific examples of the printing press and the internet in the other two. I can certainly see where Brooks might not see the value of discourse of/by/for the people, as opposed to top-down, one-way communications from the corporate and government spheres, but he’s not exactly an impartial observer here. When David Brooks tells me that it’s a bad idea for the unwashed rabble to have their own voice, I’m going to be a leetle bit skeptical.

As for his other main point, that Gore is advocating the sterile supremacy of reason over emotion, I fail to see the problem – he is talking about public discourse, right? The problem with our mainstream media today is not the presence of appeals to emotion, but the absence of anything else. Indeed, to anyone paying attention, Algore himself is not unemotional in private or in public – far from it. But he clearly recognizes that emotion should serve reason, not replace it. Consider Al’s beloved blogosphere, which Brooks takes an uninformed swipe at: On the liberal side, contrary to what Brooks and Chait believe, there is an abundance of both logic and passion, and that synthesis is what makes the progressosphere so appealing and powerful.

Of course, Brooks’ specialty is fact-free pro-Republican generalizations issued from the heights of Mt. Olympos, so I can certainly understand why a book calling for the return of rational, participatory public discourse might make him feel a little threatened. One of these days, he will have even fewer readers than I do, and there will be much rejoicing.

Entry Filed under: Books,Gore,Media,Wankers


  • 1. bdr  |  May 29th, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    Here was Brooks Friday night on News Hour:

    ” We’ve now got a stereotype for each candidate and a weakness, which every media story plays into. For Clinton, it’s coldly ambitious. For Obama, it’s lightweight, inexperienced. For Edwards, it’s overly ambitious and superficial. And every time there’s a hair flip or anything that plays into one of those three stereotypes, it’s tremendously damaging for that particular candidate.”

    So when David Brooks evokes hacky pigbot stereotypes he’s considered credible cause he’s, like, winking above the stereotypes he cites.

    When I say David Brooks is a fatuous wanker who confounds his reflexive inanities as wisdom in the service of conservative idiocies, I’m an uncivil blogger.

  • 2. Eli  |  May 29th, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Really, pundits like Brooks are exactly what Algore was talking about. I think Brooks proves Al’s point pretty much every time he opens his mouth.

  • 3. spocko  |  May 29th, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    bdr. Thanks for dissecting that Eli. I’m so often sucked in by authoritarian pronouncements. I need someone who can say, “What a load of Crap and here’s why.”

    I can buy Al as a Vulcan. Like me! Half human Half Vulcan. Which makes for a powerful combination!

  • 4. Eli  |  May 29th, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    I need someone who can say, What a load of Crap and heres why.

    In Brooks’s case, I think the byline should be sufficient.

    I’m actually probably even worse than you are about authoritarian pronouncements of total bullshit, but this one was just so blatant, and it had that whole unifying theme about participatory dicourse as being proof of Gore’s insanity (who knows, maybe to Brooks’s ears it really *does* sound like gibberish), that I couldn’t *not* blog it.

    Much as I like the idea of Algore as a Vulcan, the visible reality is that Algore is actually very passionate and emotional about global warming, about democracy, and about his family. But maybe he just lets his human side show more than you do.

  • 5. Silleigh  |  May 29th, 2007 at 8:24 pm

    Jeez. I’m only a little way through the book and it’s kicking my ass, it’s so good.

    This slays me: “As Gore writes in his best graduate school manner…” ??? WTF do they WANT??? Were Gore’s tone more casual and impassioned, he’d be “shrill.” He just can’t do anything right.

    Gore is a screen upon which lesser beings (that’s being charitable, in Brooks’ case) project their own incompetence. This execrable “review” is Exhibit A. People like Brooks have nothing, so they fling poo. Unfortunately, many people let them get away with it.

    (p.s. It was very cool to pick this up from C&L, Eli! Goin’ to catch Al on Countdown now.)

  • 6. Eli  |  May 29th, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    Hiya, Sill! I really do need to read it – but I’m still trying to finish off Red Mars, and the shadowy and mysterious Codename V. insists I must read Neverwhere next, so…

    Have you seen the WaPo review? Basically admits that Gore might have some good points, but he’s just soooo smug and annoying.

    C&L linky very cool! Woohoo!

  • 7. Dr. J  |  May 29th, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    To better understand Al Gore’s book, one might want to read Jurgan Habermas’s Element of reason. I don’t know why anyone hasn’t pointed this out about the book yet.

  • 8. jcasey  |  May 29th, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    The amazing thing about Brooks is his inability to grasp the concept of a self-refuting hypothesis–he makes an argument (a bad one) that arguments don’t matter. People draw conclusions out of emotion. Well that just makes me wanna scream. But I won’t. I’ll coldly and mechanically draw the conclusion that Brooks doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

  • 9. Eli  |  May 29th, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    As a matter of fact, the WaPo reviewer mentioned the book’s reference to Habermas as one of his examples of Algore showing off his insufferable erudition… How dare Algore know stuff about stuff!

  • 10. Eli  |  May 29th, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    I liked how he implied that making decisions based on reason is somehow sinister, like SOMETHING THE NAZIS WOULD DO OMG!!!1!

    Of course, Hitler perfected the art of exploiting emotion. It’s not about whether your society’s decisionmakers are ruled by emotion, it’s whether they *rule* by emotion.

  • 11. Robert  |  May 29th, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    It’s guys like Brooks that just want to make me cry.

    Gore writes an incredibly lucid and dead-on paragraph about what ails our democracy and Brooks calls it “pompous” and “exceedingly strange”.

    Contrast that with Brooks’ pithy turn of phrase: “radical technological determinist” whatever the fuck that is.

  • 12. Eli  |  May 29th, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    Gore writes an incredibly lucid and dead-on paragraph about what ails our democracy and Brooks calls it pompous and exceedingly strange.

    It’s standard Republican reality-creation. *Tell* people that it’s pompous and strange, and maybe people will believe it. After all, it was in the newspaper.

  • 13. daveinboca  |  May 29th, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    Robert and Eli should do an AP course on Creative Writing or Lit Crit. Al is a lying pompous buffoon and the only thing lucid about him is the glint in his eyes as he hoodwinks insufferable fools like y’all.

  • 14. Robert  |  May 29th, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    My advise to you daveinboca is to read everything you can get your hands on and try to reach, say, high school freshman level competency.

    Then take another shot at “Assault on Reason”. You may still need to look up some of the word you don’t know but I think you will be surprised at what you can accomplish.

    Then come on back and make some thoughtful comments :)

  • 15. mmeo  |  May 29th, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    There is brain research which can be brought in to support Brooks’s point: Antonio Damasio has been researching and synthesizing evidence on the use the brain makes of emotional states in the course of thinking.

    Thinking and making decisions is not without emotion. If we try to exclude emotion we get only a series of factual statements, but no personal commitment.

  • 16. Endriev  |  May 29th, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    Brooks is clearly an elitist scumbag. Nuff said.

    But Gore ultimately defends the interests of the very same degenerating U.S. ruling class as Brooks.

    Since the destruction of the USSR, the rulers in the West have been drunk with triumphalism: Hey, they said – “Screw the welfare state — all those concessions we made in order to buy the loyalty of the workers during the cold war. We can do whatever the fuck we want! Bring back the golden age of the robber barons, the 12-hour day, child labor, a world of slums, sweatshops and limitless profits! Public education – who needs it? Giv’em that old time religion, creationism, and ‘abstinence only’ sermons!” They’ve succeeded in driving this program through beyond their wildest dreams – first under Clinton/Gore, then under Bush/Cheney.

    The phoney “war on terror” supported enthusiastically by Gore and all the other dems is tailor made to drive forward the class war on workers and the poor even faster.

    Gore simply represents that sector of the propertied class that is starting to sober up a bit. One sees a clear parallel with his environmental shtick (For now, at least, the rich still have to share the same planet with the poor). “Let’s not go too far… better keep up the ‘democratic’ window dressing, or we might unleash more social anger than we can handle down there among the lower orders.” I think Katrina really woke up a faction of the capitalists to how badly things have deteriorated.

  • 17. Alfredo  |  May 29th, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    To daveinboca: may I respectfully suggest you change your nom de guerre to daveinculo as it is evident from your comment that you’ve got your head deeply and pathetically buried way up your a**

  • 18. FarAway  |  May 29th, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    It’s obvious that Gore pointing out the truth of what ails society scares many who are literally part of the problem.

    As for feelings vs rationale.

    Arne Nss sr., Norwegian philosopher and positivist, talks about the needed return to what he calls “ratio” (Ancient Greek meaning rational thinking in correlation to emotions). He thinks that we are wrong to uphold the myth that logic is detached from emotion. Rather, it’s intertwined. We need to use both logic and emotions to do what’s right in a moral human perspective. The emotions we feel defines morality, and are deeply buried in the human soul as a “mass surviving mechanism”, and we need to utilize that together with rational thinking, and stop thinking that it’s separated.

    I also think that tyrants might have no feeling for others, but that they are filled with emotions like fear and pride for themselves. It’s just that all their emotions respond only to their own ego and person. Sociopaths like Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld for instance.

  • 19. FarAway  |  May 29th, 2007 at 10:49 pm

    I’d like to add that I think Al Gore would understand Arne Nss’ perfectly in that regard. In fact, I’m almost sure he’s read some Nss.

    This Brooks sycophant either plays stupid because he’s sold his soul to satan, or he is stupid, and considering his position within media, that just confirms that America has a problem when “royal court” assholes like he is allowed to spew their quasi-intellectual BS in such a high profile mag.

  • 20. Eli  |  May 29th, 2007 at 10:54 pm

    I think Brooks and his… ilk are not as stupid as they pretend to be. But there is a certain level of willful obtuseness required to espouse many conservative positions, especially pro-Bush ones.

    They are Republican operatives.

  • 21. FarAway  |  May 29th, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    Brooks = motivated by fear
    Gore = motivated by love

  • 22. FarAway  |  May 29th, 2007 at 11:02 pm


    Some Wiki info on Arne Nss, and his “Deep Ecology”.

  • 23. Endriev  |  May 29th, 2007 at 11:05 pm

    Brooks represents bourgeois factions motivated by reckless drive for immediate profit.
    Gore represents bourgeois factions motivated by “rational” concern for maintaining ruling class power in long term.

  • 24. Eli  |  May 29th, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    Some Wiki info on Arne Nss, and his Deep Ecology.

    Ah, excellent. I always thought utilitarian environmentalism was kind of morally repellent – nature only deserves to exist so long as it has value to *us*?

    Gore represents bourgeois factions motivated by rational concern for maintaining ruling class power in long term.

    Realistically, our government will probably always be made up primarily of rich white men. Given that rather limited demographic set, I would hope to at least see some rich white men in charge who are concerned for the well-being of those who are *not* rich white men. Even if it’s solely for self-preservation reasons (although I do not personally believe this in Gore’s case).

  • 25. Robert  |  May 29th, 2007 at 11:26 pm

    Re: FarAway’s comments on the connection between feelings vs. rational thinking.

    An interesting finding in neuroscience is that logical thinking is impossible without properly functioning areas of the brain that deal in emotions. “Descartes’ Error” by Antonio Demasio describes in great detail the problems patients with damage to areas of the brain where emotions and feelings are localized have. They are incapable of making logically correct decisions when presented with certain tasks.

    So there is empirical evidence that logic is not at all detached from emotion. The scientific and philosophical conclusions are perfectly aligned here.

  • 26. Lee  |  May 30th, 2007 at 1:14 am

    I love how you guys have appropriated the ‘Algore’ thing.

    David Brooks sucks. really, really bad.

    and that’s all i have to say about that!

  • 27. HopeSpringsATurtle  |  May 30th, 2007 at 2:20 am

    I have nothing good to add. Obviously Bobo is a clown. I hope his gig gets canceled.

  • 28. dan stadler  |  May 30th, 2007 at 3:09 am

    I’d like to see Gore and Brooks have it out on

    Which, by the way, is a great example of the internet providing a tool for rational, intellectual discourse.

  • 29. Eli  |  May 30th, 2007 at 7:33 am

    I love how you guys have appropriated the Algore thing.

    Funny thing is, I can’t even remember where it came from. But it kinda works well with the whole Vulcan thing.

  • 30. Lee  |  May 30th, 2007 at 11:20 am

    Funny thing is, I cant even remember where it came from. But it kinda works well with the whole Vulcan thing.

    I’m pretty sure it was Limbaugh. I think it’s implication was that Gore was freakishly stiff and robotic… like some kind of a Lurch.

    And back in 2000 when he was trying to filter his every answer through the advice of his consultants there was a ring of truth to it. But now that he’s free from all that the way he’s been acting is so far from that stereotype that it’s almost absurd to try to peg him that way.

    Not that that stopped Brooks from trying.

  • 31. Dwight  |  May 30th, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    Thanks so much for writing this up. I was so fumed when I read Brooks’ piece that I went to see if there was an NYT blog I could comment on. He has been poluting the pages of the NYT with inane clap-trap for too long. Brooks specialty appears to be cutsy repositionings of socio-political issues. I would think a guy who was so consistently wrong on Iraq should spend more time analysing what’s wrong with his world view, not trying to undermine others. Gore’s thesis is essentially unassailable….let’s use facts and reason to make decisions. To be honest, Brooks’ critique just didn’t hold water. It came across as a desperate and failed attempt by a right-wing apologist….which it was.

    I think Brooks sums it all up when he assails the discourse in the blog world as compared to the MSM. You know the answer. That’s why Internet usage is up, and network ratings are down.

  • 32. Ian  |  May 30th, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    Plainly, Brooks is a terrorist, or at least a terrorist fellow-traveller. Why indeed an appeal to reason when we can appeal to fear or hate? Dialog to Brooks is pointless since he’s got it all figured out on his own.

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