A second age of reason

Rob Paterson calls Al Gore’s latest book, The Assault on Reason, a manifesto for public media. In reading this excerpt from Time, I was fascinated by the interwoven threads of issues that I’ve been discussing on this forum. First of all is the need for public discourse, not just improving our existing educational systems:

So 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.

There is also the issue of Net Neutrality, which Gore shows as critical to the future of The Republic:

We must ensure that the Internet remains open and accessible to all citizens without any limitation on the ability of individuals to choose the content they wish regardless of the Internet service provider they use to connect to the Web. We cannot take this future for granted. We must be prepared to fight for it, because of the threat of corporate consolidation and control over the Internet marketplace of ideas.

The extract reminds me of John McKnight’s thoughts on de Tocqueville’s 19th Century visit to America, and how my own work to create a Commons is part of an effort to re-create spaces for rational public discourse:

The book, Democracy in America, is, I think, the most useful book I know to help understand who we are. And he says, if I can summarize him in a rather gross form, that he came here and he found a society whose definitions and solutions were not created by nobility, by professionals, by experts or managers, but by what he identified as little groups of people, self-appointed, common men and women who came together and took three powers: the power to decide there was a problem, the power to decide how to solve the problem – that is, the expert’s power – and then the power to solve the problem. These little groups of people weren’t elected and they weren’t appointed and they were everyplace, and they were, he said, the heart of the new society – they were the American community as distinct from the European community. And he named these little groups “associations”. Association is the collective for citizens, an association of citizens. And so we think of our community as being the social space in which citizens in association do the work of problem-solving, celebration, consolation, and creation – that community, that space, in contrast to the space of the system with the box at the top and lots of little boxes at the bottom. And I think it is still the case that the hope for our time is in those associations.

Perhaps these local spaces, linked through online communities, will be the seeds of a second age of reason. One can hope.

And then, 24 hours later, Rob follows up with this post, identifying variants of a new model for our age:

In Software, it is called Open Source. In banking it is called Microcredit. In business it is called eBay, or Google, or Southwest or Starbucks. In gaming it is called Second Life or World of Warcraft. In academia it may soon be called Wikipedia. In politics it was the Dean Campaign. On the web it is called Blogging or Web 2.0 or Social Software. In office design it is called the Commons.

4 Responses to “A second age of reason”

  1. HOTI75

    I think you’ve got it backwards. Gore wants to continue to strengthen the internet and increase broadband access, just like we at the Hands Off the Internet Coalition. This doesn’t equate to support for net neutrality. What many people don’t realize is that net neutrality legislation would cost us $69 billion over the next 10 years and lead to a DROP in broadband subscriptions. This is according to an American Consumer Institute.

  2. Harold

    Interesting point you raise, Hands Off the Internet (HOTI), and worth investigating further. All of my research to date shows that individual rights and freedoms (including the freedom to do business) are enhanced with net neutrality.

    Some quick research unearths more questions about HOTI’s” US political agenda:

    “A little searching on the HOTI site reveals that AT&T, Cingular, BellSouth and other telephone companies are all “member organizations,” but the level of financial support offered by those corporations is never disclosed.[2] One can guess that it must run into the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars, in order to support HOTI’s extensive advertising campaign. In a single month, HOTI spent $693,658 on television advertising alone, according to independent researchers at the Campaign Media Analysis Group.[3] That’s more than $20,000 a day on TV commercials. The group has also been running full-page ads regularly in papers like The Washington Post and Roll Call.”

  3. Harold

    And one more comment on your reference, HOTI75. It seems that the American Consumer Institute, whose PR you link to, isn’t really focused on protecting consumers:

    “Except the American Consumer Institute isn’t actually a consumer group. It’s an amalgamation of think tank reps pushing a free market ideological agenda under the guise of consumer advocacy. A quick WhoIS notes that the ACI website is registered to Stephen Pociask, a telecom consultant and former chief economist for Bell Atlantic, who via groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, works to shape data that argues against government regulation of industry.”


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