Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Al Gore Speech on Public Discourse

It is to bad that such important topics discussed by intelligent people like Gore are dismissed by many, especially those in the media. Gore and then Kerry were written off as cerebral bores. Not acknowledging the fact that we may want our leaders to be intelligent people who can quickly understand complex problems and deal with the enormous volume of information that flows through modern government. We expect our Supreme Court justices to be brilliant minds that excel in their field, shouldn't we expect as much from our leadership?

That said, Gore gave an excellent speech on the nature of modern public discourse and the critical role it played not only in the formation of our country, but in understanding out basic freedoms.

Gore is apparently trying to put his money where his mouth is and is part of a startup cable channel, Current TV. Current is trying to foster greater viewer/broadcaster interaction with live events and viewer-produced programming.

Here's a few excerpts from his speech:
How many of you, I wonder, have heard a friend or a family member in the last few years remark that it's almost as if America has entered "an alternate universe"?
On the eve of the nation's decision to invade Iraq, our longest serving senator, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, stood on the Senate floor asked: "Why is this chamber empty? Why are these halls silent?"

But whether you agree with his assessment or not, Senator Byrd's question is like the others that I have just posed here: he was saying, in effect, this is strange, isn't it? Aren't we supposed to have full and vigorous debates about questions as important as the choice between war and peace?
In fact there was a time when America's public discourse was consistently much more vivid, focused and clear. Our Founders,  probably the most literate generation in all of history, used words with astonishing precision and believed in the Rule of Reason.

Their faith in the viability of Representative Democracy rested on their trust in the wisdom of a well-informed citizenry.  But they placed particular emphasis on insuring that the public could be well-informed.   And they took great care to protect the openness of the marketplace of ideas in order to ensure the free-flow of knowledge.

The values that Americans had brought from Europe to the New World had grown out of the sudden explosion of literacy and knowledge after Gutenberg's disruptive invention broke up the stagnant medieval information monopoly and triggered the Reformation, Humanism,  and the Enlightenment  and enshrined  a new sovereign: the "Rule of Reason."

Indeed, the self-governing  republic they had the audacity to establish was later named by the historian Henry Steele Commager as "the Empire of Reason."
In fact, our first self-expression as a nation - "We the People" - made it clear where the ultimate source of authority lay.  It was universally understood that the ultimate check and balance for American government was its accountability to the people.   And the public forum was the place where the people held the government accountable.  That is why it was so important that the marketplace of ideas operated independent from and beyond the authority of government.

The three most important characteristics of this marketplace of ideas were:

1)    It was open to every individual, with no barriers to entry, save the necessity of literacy. This access, it is crucial to add, applied not only to the receipt of information but also to the ability to contribute information  directly into the flow of ideas that was available to all;
2)    The fate of ideas contributed by individuals depended, for the most part, on an emergent Meritocracy of Ideas. Those judged by the market to be good rose to the top, regardless of the wealth or class of the individual  responsible  for them;
3)    The accepted rules of discourse presumed that the participants were all governed by an unspoken duty to search for general agreement. That is what a "Conversation of Democracy" is all about.

What resulted from this shared democratic enterprise was a startling new development in human history: for the first time, knowledge regularly mediated between wealth and power.

The liberating force of this new American reality was thrilling to all humankind. Thomas Jefferson declared, "I have sworn upon the alter of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
It ennobled the individual  and unleashed the creativity of the human spirit.  It inspired people everywhere to dream of what they could yet become. And it emboldened Americans to bravely explore the farther frontiers of freedom - for African Americans,  for women, and eventually, we still dream, for all.

- Murphy

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