Thursday, February 14, 2013

Al Gore's Future

Posted By on Thu, Feb 14, 2013 at 12:36 PM

Al Gore's new book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change (Random House), came out in late January, but the chief topic every interviewer has been asking the author isn't the future. It's the recent past: the sale of Current Media, co-owned by Gore, to Qatar-based Al Jazeera, a sale announced in early January. And so: Al Jazeera America will replace the Current TV cable channel.

Was this sale a wise move for Gore and his business partners, interviewers want to know. It was a sound move, good business, Gore has said repeatedly. Which may be true, but it was also certainly an odd move, bordering on hypocrisy, given that the global-climate-minded Gore would do business with an oil-rich country and a news organization that many believe too fairly treats the actions of Islamic fundamentalists.

The second question put by every interviewer does, however, address the topic at hand: The Future — what it is and is not. As Gore writes in the Introduction to his book: "Neither is this a manifesto intended to lay the groundwork for some future political campaign. I am a recovering politician and the chances of a relapse have been diminishing for long enough to increase my confidence that I will not succumb to that temptation again."

Which is one way of putting it, and that's behind him — "it" being some future run for political office. But in the pages of The Future, Gore has not put today's politics behind him, and that's especially the case when he discusses the state of democracy in America today — from powerful business lobbyists steering the very language of legislation to the Supreme Court's recent recognition of the "personhood" of corporations. Gore calls that court decision "a slow-motion corporate coup d'etat that threatens to destroy the integrity and functioning of American democracy." And elsewhere in The Future: "[N]ot since the 1890s has U.S. government decision making been as feeble, dysfunctional, and servile to corporate and other special interests as it is now" — a state of affairs that has left the U.S. with, in Gore's words, "a dangerous deficit of governance."

Alarmist? Gore's got good cause for alarm, but he's in equally good company.

"I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

That's Thomas Jefferson writing in 1819. And Jefferson would be rightly alarmed by today's hypercapitalism. But would he be as at home with the World Wide Web? Are we? Yes, we are, but it could be driving us crazy. The forthcoming edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Gore reports, already has a name for one emerging pitfall of living 24/7 in a globally, digitally interconnected society such as ours. The DSM's "target for further study": Internet Use Disorder.

Case in point: the "FaceTime Facelift," which plastic surgeons are now performing to correct the sagging that shows up in the faces of users tied to their iPhones — users horrified by the sight of themselves. This is nothing, though, compared to the "interspecies sexting," which is Gore's joking term for the dairy cows in Switzerland that have their genitals hooked up to the internet to monitor their estrous cycles, a practice that apparently makes for good breeding.

And speaking of hooked up: Self-tracking software programs can "empower individuals to be more successful in modifying unhealthy behaviors in order to manage chronic diseases." Sounds good. But here's the absurdity: The software will facilitate doctor/patient communication. Had any "face time" lately with a doctor? It's probably on par with the length of an everyday phone conversation, which now clocks in, on average, at one minute and 47 seconds.

All told, though, The Future is a comprehensive, sobering look at the world forces now in play or soon in store. Which is where Al Gore will be: in store on Monday, February 18th, at the Booksellers at Laurelwood at noon on that date. Line ticket, which comes with purchase of the book, required. Gore will not be signing his previous books or any memorabilia. For more information, call the store at 901-683-9801. And again, former Vice President Gore's signing is this coming Monday: Presidents Day 2013.

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