Monday, June 19, 2006

“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences." This powerful quote from Winston Churchill is the centerpiece of Al Gore’s otherwise strangely languorous call-to-arms, “An Inconvenient Truth”. Even the title is a calculated understatement. The film deals with the issue of global warming with charts and graphs, punctuated by listless reminiscences of Gore’s life and love of nature. But for all the urgency of the issue itself, there’s a sense that to get too excited about it would be indecorous. The occasional tongue-cluck and that trademark exasperated sigh is about as action-packed as it gets here. In “An Inconvenient Truth” Gore cajoles, when clearly the crisis merits a cudgel.

Gore’s audience is well-groomed and eminently well-behaved, shaking their heads in solemn solidarity. Not only are there no wacky Global Warming Deniers here, but no Green Peace types either. Not a hippie in sight. No earth mothers in muumuus and flip-flops. No bearded freaks with bongo drums. No, this is your understatedly upscale, Volvo-driving, Whole Foods crowd. Conscientious consumers, let’s call them. No need for alarm. These are sensible people. Nothing fringy here. Move along.

They’re the ones for whom the Democrats unveiled their “New Direction For America” campaign, a document as timid and uninspiring as their campaign slogan, "Together, America Can Do Better." If this is, indeed, a new era, we are greeting it not with Churchillian determination, but like a nation of wavering Saint Augustines: “O Al, help us to be pure, but not just yet.”

Even the true believers aren’t quite convinced it’s really as bad as all that, although, in their partisan heart of hearts, they may be hoping against hope that it is. Because if it is, it’s not our fault, but Theirs. And we all know who They are. There’s lots of solemn head-shaking and tongue-clucking when Gore points to Katrina, let me tell you. But it never gets nasty. He’s obviously preaching to the choir here, but how remarkably subdued the sermon is. Sadly, as hard as Gore has worked to modulate his tone from openly chiding to gently nudging us in the direction of environmental consciousness, he’s still not cool enough to convert us wholly to his cause.

But Gore is only following our lead. Our casualness when it comes to the moral and political crises of our time—from the reaction to Abu Ghraib (“kids will be kids”), to domestic spying and the new no-knock decision by the Supreme Court (“well, I’m not doing anything wrong, so I’m not worried”), to the fate of New Orleans—belies the real and visible signs of a cancer in the collective life of society and culture. We seem to have developed a strange faith that society can survive on autopilot. We are not yet fully ready to be inconvenienced by the truth. Unfortunately, the truth may not be willing to wait for us.

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