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The Future, by Al Gore (2013)

23 Feb 2013
Any attempt to sort out this book is inevitably colored by our knowledge, and opinion, of all that has gone before with Al Gore. I carry as much baggage in that regard as anyone else - for good and ill in equal measures - but will endeavor to set it aside as I review his latest effort. Indeed, there is no point in reading a book of this scope without a willingness to consider fresh information and opinions.

The Future is a book about all the cool things that interest Al Gore, many of which project into the future. The good news is, the cool things that interest Al Gore interest a lot of us. The bad news is, it's amazing all the cool things that don't interest Al Gore, and hence did not make it into this book (such as cyber warfare, space exploration/colonization, robotics, bionics, designer pharmacology, and life extension science).

In The Future, Gore takes so many opportunities to give us a history lecture -about the agricultural revolution, geology, capitalism, the history of plant breeding, and on and on -that we ultimately find ourselves wondering why he calls this tome The Future. He even tells us the history of this book. This is clearly a personal work.

So let us consider what this book is not. If you are looking for a book that projects into the future in the manner of Alvin Toffle's Future Shock series, you will be disappointed. Indeed, it is a mistake to think of this book as a comprehensive survey of the future as it looks today. As a partial survey it is quite compelling in the arenas he does touch upon. While he strives for synthesis, he succeeds more at sheer accumulation.

The six drivers of global change that he identifies are Earth, Inc; the Global Mind; Power in the Balance; Outgrowth; Reinvention of Life and Death; and The Edge. Earth, Inc. is about the emerging dominance of the corporate organizational model. The Global Mind is about the idea of an emergent unitary consciousness based on the Internet and its offspring - including the emergency of global government. Power in the Balance is about the changing balance of power among nations, and how that relates to Earth, Inc. Outgrowth is about the changing populations, and population growth/decline, around the world. Reinvention of Life and Death is about the bioengineering of plant and animal growth - about humans taking control of evolution. The Edge is about his favorite subject of all time, climate change.

The book is complex; the ideas are heavily entangled. At times Gore's wonkishness exasperates to no end, giving us such sentences as One neednot believe in a deity, however, in order to entertain the possibility that the web of life as an emergent holistic integrity features linkages we do not yet full understand and which we might not risk disrupting if we did. He goes on to use mythological examples of this point, helpingus remember that this book addresses the future only upon occasion, in glimpses.

The overbearing tendentiousness of such phraseology, which fills the book, in conjunction with its ADHD-like tendency to jump from one subject to another without warning, made me put down this book more than once. In one instance, I turned my attention to a recent book by Ralph Nader, Seventeen Solutions. Given that I struggled mightily in choosing between Gore and Nader in my 2000 presidential vote, I thought the juxtaposition could prove interesting, if not informative.

I will not review the Nader book here, partly because I had to put it down, permanently. Nader's reversion to pure political polemic makes it difficult to find value in his rants. Despite being a trained lawyer with a background in research, he appears to have left the investigation and documentation of raw facts to his past.

Gore's style is a welcome contrast. Having tasted of Nader, I was happy to eat a full meal of Gore. Whether you like the food, though, will depend a lot on your predisposition toward the objects of Al's attentions, because there are no surprises. Three stars - good but not great.

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