- Paperback: 200 pages
- Publisher: Encounter Books; Reprint edition (November 12, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1594037086
- ISBN-13: 978-1594037085
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 8.9 inches
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- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
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America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered In the Obamacrats) Paperback – November 12, 2013
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The argument goes something like this: American society in general and America's universities in particular were led before the war by WASPs. Their orientation was more social than intellectual. They celebrated patriotism and duty. Their training grounds--the universities--prepared people for leadership that included, e.g., significant participation in the OSS and, later, the CIA. Ivy league men were routinely members of the officer class in the military, fighting side by side with blue-collar enlisted men. One way of thinking of this (not the author's words) is that the nation was more English, with firmer class lines, a greater sense of noblesse oblige, a higher regard for tradition and a culture that, to put it plainly, was far less crude than today's. That does not mean that it was perfect. Far from it, but it enjoyed certain advantages that are now largely lost.
Then, a change occurred and the change was in the colleges and universities. They became more intellectual and less social. They became more left-leaning than right-leaning. They spawned a society of post-religious, global intellectuals, one driven by left/liberal ideology. Interestingly, the author argues that this was not the `60's' phenomenon that it is often seen to be. The changes came earlier, just after the war, and were then given further impetus and energy by the civil rights movement, the anti-war protests of the Vietnam era and the women's movement. He notes that the university vanguard was often Jewish (so was the anti-war movement, as Todd Gitlin and Diane Ravitch, e.g., have reminded us).
The underlying ideology of the PORGIs, as he terms them, has led to the depreciation of literary, religious and especially historical study in today's universities. In turn, that has led to the creation of several generations of ephebes who are, essentially, airheads, parroting the theories of those who have indoctrinated them. The `theory' element is crucial; he argues that the humanists and social scientists who now dominate the universities are largely theoretical in their thinking. If inconvenient facts get in the way, they are simply dismissed. The theory is everything, whether true or not, whether successful or not when put into practice. Hence, the imperial academics pay no attention to their failures (in education theory, e.g. or in social engineering) and simply proceed as if nothing happened.
The antidote to all of this is the use of the internet, where the playing field is level and where the older, more traditionally-educated might strike an alliance with the young, who are chronically anti-authoritarian. In some ways this reprises the argument that cable news and the blogosphere have freed us from the ideological shackles of the mainstream media; we might be able to achieve such a success again, with education at all levels. (It is interesting that he includes K-12 as well.) It is also interesting that he believes that this battle is actually winnable. We've done this sort of thing before, he says (at the battle of Midway, against terrible odds, e.g.).
The book will be both refreshing to some and infuriating to others because the author pulls no punches. Believing that most of his points are commonsensical he simply tells it as he sees it, without delicacy or circumlocution. One of his key examples of airheadedness, e.g., is our current president. The tone of the book is relatively unique for a Yale professor. It is written without any academic superego. It is like (to give a mundane example) listening to Howard Stern; you can't wait to hear what he'll say next (or as a Yale professor might say, what shibboleth he will assail next).
The overarching problem--given the stakes and the complexity of the subject--is that we need another 200 pages of text, argument and examples. That, however, would radically restrict his audience and reduce the book's urgency. One simple question that might be asked, e.g.: how is it that the education revolution which was, in some ways, rigorously meritocratic (bringing the Jews into the academic mainstream and leadership when they had been systematically discriminated against in the past) could participate in such corporatist activities as encouraging student evaluation of instruction and such `democratic' but anti-meritocratic activities, as grade inflation, the reduction of requirements, the recentering of the SAT's and the dismantling of core curricula? Another question: what role did the theories of the French Nietzcheans play in this process and is their current eclipse a hopeful sign? And another: how could putative globalists (and Europeanists) throw out foreign language requirements?
Bottom line: a very lively read which needed to be longer. Those in agreement with its central argument would relish the additional material and those in disagreement would have more substantial ideas with which to engage.
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.