|Al Gore's Personality Disorder|
Henry I. Miller, 03.01.10, 04:21 PM EST
Is the former vice president not-so-secretly a narcissistic, shameless phony?
Just when we thought that--finally--we wouldn't have Al Gore to kick around any more, he resurfaces with a characteristically apocalyptic, know-it-all New York Times op-ed about global warming, "an unimaginable calamity requiring large-scale, preventive measures to protect human civilization as we know it."
How awful a calamity? "The displacement of hundreds of millions of climate refugees, civil unrest, chaos and the collapse of governance in many developing countries, large-scale crop failures and the spread of deadly diseases." Sounds almost as bad as a Gore presidency.
Leaving aside the school-marmish, patronizing attitude that makes him such a magnet for parody (recall the Saturday Night Live send-ups before the 2000 general election), how believable is Gore?
He's a phony--and a shameless one at that. In his op-ed, he refers to "tobacco companies block[ing] constraints on the marketing of cigarettes for four decades after science confirmed the link of cigarettes to diseases of the lung and the heart." Well, that is true, and it is consistent with his impassioned address in 1996 to the Democratic Party convention, in which he vowed to fight the tobacco industry to his last breath because 12 years earlier his sister had died from lung cancer. But in 1988, while campaigning for the nomination for president, Gore had been telling tobacco farmers (in a Southern accent much thicker than it ever had been in Washington) that he was practically one of them, that he had tenderly held the young plants in his own two hands, that he had their interests at heart and so on. And his movie, An Inconvenient Truth, which offers an exaggerated, one-sided and often inaccurate view of global warming, is more propaganda than documentary.
There may be a medical explanation for what makes Al Gore tick. On the basis of his actions and writings over many years my guess is Gore suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The criteria for this diagnosis, as described in the psychiatrist's bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, include a " pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts," as indicated by these manifestations:
[ John Edwards, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama - it seems we have an epidemic of such characters. ]
--"A grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)." Gore regularly demonstrates his grandiosity. Who can forget his notorious claim that he had been instrumental in creating the Internet? But far more serious and complex are Gore's delusions about issues of technology and environmentalism, such as his repeated endorsement of anti-technology tracts and criticism of technological advances while a congressman, senator and vice president. His writings generally place science and technology at odds with "the natural world" and, by inference, with the well-being and progress of mankind.
--"Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love; believes that he or she is 'special' and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)." These sorts of fantasies run riot in Gore's book Earth in the Balance, in which he assumes that he and a small number of other elites have divined the solutions to the world's problems and the bold and dramatic measures that await the education and enlightenment of the public. When he was vice president, Gore and his staff of true believers attempted to purge the federal government of any dissension or challenge to his view of policy, in a way reminiscent of the worst paranoid excesses of the Nixon administration. Vexed by people who weren't sufficiently "special" or ideologically pure, Gore simply got rid of them.
--"Requires excessive admiration." With the exception of the period since his defeat in the 2000 presidential election, Gore has for nearly his whole adult life been a politician who surrounded himself with sycophants--need one say more?
--"Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others ... shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes." While a senator, Gore was notorious for his rudeness and insolence. A favorite trick during hearings was to pose a question and, as the witness began to answer, commence a whispered conversation with another committee member or staffer. If the witness paused to make sure the senator did not miss the response, Gore would instruct him to continue, then resume his private conversation, leaving no ambiguity: Not only is your testimony unimportant, but I won't even pay you the courtesy of pretending to listen to it. Gore once accused his political enemies of possessing "an extra chromosome," a remark that infuriated families of persons with Down Syndrome, which is caused by the presence of an extra chromosome.
Gore's patronizing and overwrought Earth in the Balance provides numerous illustrations of many of these diagnostic criteria, offering disturbing insights into its disturbed author. In it, Gore trashes the empirical nature of science for disconnecting man from nature: "But for the separation of science and religion," he laments, "we might not be pumping so much gaseous chemical waste into the atmosphere and threatening the destruction of the earth's climate balance." But for the separation of science and religion, we would still be burdened with the notion that the sun and the planets revolve around the Earth.
It gets worse. Throughout the book Gore employs the metaphor that those who believe in technological advances are as sinister and polluters are as evil as the perpetrators of the Holocaust. He accuses Americans of being dysfunctional because we've developed "an apparent obsession with inauthentic substitutes for direct experience with real life," such as "Astroturf, air conditioning and fluorescent lights ... Walkman and Watchman, entertainment cocoons, frozen food for the microwave oven," and so on.
Another example of Gore's bizarre thinking is his take on biotechnology. After campaigning tirelessly for years to over-regulate the most precise and predictable techniques of biotechnology applied to agriculture--ostensibly to ensure environmental safety--he changed his tack and came up with this doozy: "The most lasting impact of biotechnology on the food supply may come not from something going wrong, but from all going right. My biggest fear is not that by accident we will set loose some genetically defective Andromeda strain. Given our past record in dealing with agriculture, we're far more likely to accidentally drown ourselves in a sea of excess grain."
The reality is that grain production will need to double during the next few decades to feed an increasing world population, and during the past several years food prices have been under intense pressure because of the diversion of vast amounts of corn to the production of ethanol for fuel. Moreover, modern biotechnology is extremely environment-friendly, conserving water and reducing the use of chemical pesticides and the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Gore's Sunday op-ed column was titled, "We Can't Wish Away Climate Change." Too bad we can't wish away Al Gore.
Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He was formerly an official at the NIH and FDA.