This is an excerpt of Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason. The book looks pretty interesting, actually, even though it is basically explaining the reality of what Debord, Lefebvre, Baudrillard, Jameson, and others predicted decades ago. He is basically outlining the way in which television has aided in the transition from politics to business as electioneers learn to manipulate poll numbers with advertising, rhetoric, and spectacular presentation rather than with logic and reason. I follow him up until this part of the excerpt:
Unfortunately, the legacy of the 20th century’s ideologically driven bloodbaths has included a new cynicism about reason itself—because reason was so easily used by propagandists to disguise their impulse to power by cloaking it in clever and seductive intellectual formulations. When people don’t have an opportunity to interact on equal terms and test the validity of what they’re being “taught” in the light of their own experience and robust, shared dialogue, they naturally begin to resist the assumption that the experts know best.
This seems more true of how the Holocaust came about and the fall out in our faith in reason after WWII. The Holocaust was thought by many to be the horrific end result of all our rationalization. Eugenics was in the early 20th century a popular topic, with intellectual support. [If my books where hidden away in unmarked boxes after my move, I'd be more specific]. Anyway, this period reason does seem to enter the equation. We have known we were being lied to the day Bush was elected the first time. Hell, no one with half a brain is really believes electioneering anyway. It is just all we have, and that sounds more like cynical reason.
Thomas Foster has a really interesting piece in Selling 9/11 in which he argues that government doesn’t even go through the effort to hide anything any more. It simply tells us to forget, not to think about tough issues, let them be the deciders, or decider, as the case may be. And the people just kind of shake their heads and go along with it. This seems a completely different problem than the one Gore is trying to outline about a loss of reason and the making-passive of citizens.
Lewis Black actually has a good bit on this. He talks about how business and government have always been in bed together, they just do it in public now. He also talks about how he doesn’t have a problem going to war, he just needs the government to do his job and to convince him that’s what needs to be done. So, when the WMD’s can’t be found, and it appears we went to war for no reason, someone in government should have the forethought to “send two kids to kinko’s to make picture of a camel with a missile on its back”.
The problem, then, for Gore is two fold. Yes, reason plays less and less a role in government. Gore should know this better than anyone, now making movies and showing up on MTV as his main political platforms. But, in addition, reason as Gore means it has been replaced by a cynical reason. Gore does talk in this article about how the impotency most Americans feel has lead to a detachment from government, and this has a lot to do with the onset of cynical reason. On top of this, though, Foster’s point is very important: dominant culture doesn’t need to justify itself any more.
And that means critique and resistance need to chance face as well.