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Enlightenment 2.0: Restoring Sanity to Our Politics, Our Economy, and Our Lives

by Joseph Heath

The new book by University of Toronto philosophy professor Joseph Heath is an important and even entertaining work that ought to be read widely. But, for the exact reasons Heath outlines, it is unlikely to find a broad, receptive audience. The author of Filthy Lucre and The Rebel Sell (co-written with Andrew Potter), Heath builds methodically and often brilliantly to a “Slow Politics Manifesto.” The problem, of course, is that his book is more than 350 pages long and delves deeply into social-science research, including lengthy discussions of things like kluges and heuristics. In other words, this book will not be sold at Shoppers Drug Mart.

The core of Enlightenment 2.0 is a critique of the way politics and citizens interact. Heath begins by referencing Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s 2010 Washington, D.C., Rally to Restore Sanity in Heath makes the case that the two comedians, at their best, highlight the insanity and outright unbelievability of many claims made by politicians, especially conservatives, in the U.S. and Canada. He shows that right-wing policies, like the Conservative Party’s efforts to get tough on crime, are driven by intuition – for example, the feeling that crime is getting worse – and not a reasoned interpretation of the facts.

Heath argues that the best way to counteract these “common sense” approaches is not progressive appeals to intuition, as proposed by the Berkeley linguist George Lakoff, but a move toward a “slow politics” rooted in the kind of rationality that is only possible with more time for understanding, deliberation, and, ultimately, collective action. This also requires opposition to the “universal folly of Fast Life,” which has been abetted by, among other things, the media in its many forms.

Heath is critical of the vapidity and virulence of some news media, especially cable TV news in the U.S. and Twitter, which, he says, is “inimical to rational debate.” But even if you accept these claims – and there is plenty of evidence to do so – perhaps the largest problem is not addressed in his book. Political scientist Markus Prior argues that the rapid growth in media options has made it easier for people to ignore politics and news altogether. Before we can even consider implementing Heath’s “slow politics,” we may need to address the growing chunk of citizens who have chosen no politics.