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America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered In the Obamacrats) Hardcover – June 26, 2012
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In Drawing Life, published in 1997 and reviewed here in the Smoky Mountain News some ten years ago, Gelernter recounted not only the effects this explosion had on his personal life, but also blended into the details of the bombing and his long recovery a mediation on American morality. He critiqued, sometimes savagely to the dismay of many reviewers, the positive response of what many today call the elite, or the new class—the university intellectuals, the media, the politicians and all their attendants—to creatures like the Unabomber. He drew strong contrasts between current American responses to such people and events to those of America before the Second World War, an era with which he was well acquainted, having written his acclaimed 1939: The Lost World of the Fair. Near the end of Drawing Life, he wrote, paraphrasing a passage from E.B. White:
“The chances of our repairing American culture might be zero. But I find it inspiring anyway that I can address the direct descendent of the anything-goes fellow, the intellectual who commands modern culture, White’s voice. I am against him. I have seen the work of his disciples, and I say the hell with him. To me no cause is lost.”
In America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats (ISBN 978-159403606-4, 2012, $23.99), Gelernter returns to this theme of the role of the academy on culture and morality. His central thesis is that we have handed over control of our institutions, our culture, and even our way of thinking to a class of intellectuals who prefer theory to fact and reality, who want to make over what used to be called the “ivory tower” of academe into the living quarters for the rest of us as well.
In America-Lite, which is the author’s tab for where we Americans are now, living in a country where more and more the past and the future are blank slates and only the present matters, Gelernter assigns the title of PORGIs to this new class. PORGIs, or post-religious, globalist intellectuals, Gelernter associates particularly with the Ivy League schools of the Northeast. The graduates of these schools are the men and women who tend to direct national affairs, who dominate the media arts, and who are the shapers and movers behind our culture. (If one considers the educational background of our twentieth-century presidents, we find that a large proportion of them attended these schools at some point in their lives. Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama are all graduates of these universities).
Liberals will probably dislike Gelernter’s book, as they take a bashing here, but they should read it. Despite its title, America-Lite is not a screed against President Obama. It is instead a blunt criticism of an entire governing apparatus, Democrats and Republicans alike, who regard the electorate as cattle or fools, or both. “Obviously,” Gelernter writes, “America needs a left and a right. Any spectrum has two ends, and anyway there will always be people whose political instincts are dominated by outrage and others whose ideas are dominated by duty and devotion.” He is not out to bombard progressives, but he does deliver a blistering attack on “the intellectual’s odd starting point—replace facts with theories….” The “Airheads,” as he labels them, those who have been “inoculated with theories against facts,” are taking over America.
Near the end of his book, Gelernter, who still teaches at Yale and is himself an academic, but one who recognizes all the flaws of that sub-culture, does off a solution to the lock-step thinking of so many PORGIs. This is a treatise on the failures of education, or rather, on the path higher education in certain universities has taken, and it is to education Gelernter returns as the solution. He encourages parents to take more control of their children’s education, to provide them with alternatives if the school seems more interested in brainwashing than teaching individuals to thing. He also advocates using the computer and the Internet as a tool in this teaching.
The special gift that Gelernter brings to America-Lite, and what sets it apart from similar books on the culture wars, is Gelernter himself. He is a Yale academic who nonetheless delivers a blistering attack on the Ivy League. He is a Jew who is strong in his faith, but who is unafraid to state his admiration for the now-dead WASP culture of earlier years. He is a computer scientist who frequently warns against an over-dependence on technology.
America-Lite is a prickle-bush of a book, short—155 pages in length—concise in its arguments and evidence, and compelling in its style. Most importantly, it gives us insight into those who would manage our lives and our national interests and why they concoct fine plans that seem to implode on contact with the human realities.
In any case, Gelernter brings a lot of insight to bear on the present-day US left, and the book is highly recommended.
The book is a polemic, it's a thumping on the table, not an analytical work like Charles Murray's "Coming Apart" However, there are tons of empirical data that support his assertions (I will be happy to provide such data upon request, or just for one sample in the social psychology realms, google "Admitting to Bias inside higher ed"). Prof. Gelernter's past achievements (LINDA system, Worldbeam) should give some pause, google "worldbeam gelernter java" and read what he has seen in the past long before anyone 20 years ago. He was also one of the Unabomber victims.
As far as the content is concerned: I spend 16 years in these types of elite universities both as a student and CS faculty member. I left academica because I could not stand it anymore. By and large, his observations are true: About PORGI and airhead acolytes being in charge at both at the faculty and Dean level; the disdain for the principles and sovereignty of the United States and the fervent wish to subsume its institutions and laws to foreign dicta and mores; glib ingratitude towards and hatred of the US military and ROTC students; equating US patriotism with jingoism, a position borne not out of weighted argument but by apodictic ordre du mufti; "fly-over country" and anti-Texan snobbery; the ahistorical, acausal and unquestioned anti-American, anti-Western narratives undisturbed by facts, logic and argumentation that are not taught, but pounded into students; the fawning over the post-American PORGI know-nothing president in the mainstream press and among the lumpen-intelligentsia in academia. If this sounds like it cannot be true, read Kimball's "Tenured Radicals" about the state of affairs in the 80s and 90s, read for a couple of months the Chronicles of Higher Education. Go back to Naomi Wolf 2007 "End of America" screed against Bush and compare line by line whether Obama not just continued these assaults on civil liberties, but made them far worse, and look for the astonishing silence of the PORGI and airheads acolytes on this (Naomi Wolf herself noticed it in 2010, and became a persona non grata for talking about it). Similar PORGI state of affairs in Europe are discussed by Dalrymple "Vichy Syndrome" and Melanie Phillips "The World Turned Upside Down"
Three themes struck me:
a) The apotheosis of Theory over facts and human beings. Trilling of Columbia saw it too in the 60s. He wrote about Tacitus: "It is not, as I gather, that Tacitus lacks veracity. What he lacks is what in the Thirties used to be called "the long view" of history. But to minds of a certain sensitivity "the long view" is the falsest historical view of all, and indeed the insistence on the length of perspective is intended precisely to overcome sensitivity---seen from sufficient distance, it says, the corpse and the hacked limbs are not so very terrible, and eventually they even begin to compose themselves into a "meaningful pattern." So what if the PORGI administration regulators kill the American small business economy and empowers the deadliest totalitarians worldwide? Greater abstract good must prevail. Evidence for this world view abounds; the Obama administration's abandonment of young Iranians to the batons of the Basji and torture chambers of the mullahs in 2009 ("robust dialogue" was his word for these events), and 'democracy' as a fetish in the Arab Spring developments starting Jan 2011.
b) As the cultural revolution was sweeping the WASPs out of the gates, Mailer penned this touching observation around the Republican nomination for Nixon. Here "was the muted tragedy of the WASP [..] they were here to serve .. and so much of America did not wish them to serve any longer, and so many of them doubted themselves, doubted that the force of their faith could illumine their path in these new modern horror-head times". This self-doubt that led them to open the gates, the subsequent notion of self-hating WASP was new to me. How and why they abdicated or were forced to abdicate their responsibilities to lead the nation is worthy of a tome in itself.
c) Prof. Gelernter's remedy: Internet schooling (he recently wrote this up on a WSJ article too, google "gelernter internet schooling" ) to wrest back control over education content from the PORGIs and airhead acolytes. Indeed (and this is another book), there is a silent AI revolution going on that will hit us full force within a decade: Just like advances in industrial automation made 3-5 million manufacturing jobs disappear since NAFTA and the 1990s, this will happen to lower skilled white collar jobs. It's already happening to entry-level lawyers and newsstory writers ( google "new-technology-may-spell-doom-for-new-lawyers" ) and it is coming to education (see the automatic teaching software statistic course assessment at 6 public universities (google "report-robots-stack-human-professors-teaching-intro-stats"). All these developments (plus itunes U, udacity, edx coursera) are really a game changer, education will become a coaching model and with few exceptions (the signaling credentials of Ivy Leagues will remain) but we will see the waning years of a 100+ year old frontal classroom model with expensive human professors. Parents will have to play a larger role. America will take back its legacy and destiny from the PORGIs.
Lastly, and as an aside, on the failure of leadership (President down to Deans down to sha-shtill professors) google "In an Academic Voice: Antisemitism and Academy Bias" by Lasson 2011 and see what has happened and happens today in US campuses to Jewish students.