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This is an interesting book that is easily praised and easily damned. It is not served well by the flammable title, subtitle and jacket design, which make the book appear to be a screed by a conservative journalist or pundit. There are also issues concerning what I would call `nonfiction genre'. The book sketches a historical argument but ends with a peroration that is a call to arms. The author is very serious about both, but the two jostle here. We need the historical argument; we also need a call to arms, but we don't usually expect both between the covers of the same book.

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.
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on August 19, 2012
Fellow readers

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.

Daniel Bilar
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on October 22, 2012
Fabulous read! The book details the cultural shift that occurred post WWII and changed the fabric of America, starting at the elite colleges and then spreading from there. The author does state that many good things game from this cultural shift, such as the civil rights movement, feminism, etc., yet the intellectuals had to continue their crusade, and now target any inequality they can find, even if none actually exists. I now find myself using the word 'PORGI' (Post religious global intellectuals) to describe some of those on the left, especially those that feel they can run your life better than you can. Everyone should read this book.
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on March 19, 2017
This little book is a great book. I am an immigrant from Hungary (1973 to Stanford) and the America I cherished had to sustain lasting damages since. It is now such a different country now that I am not sure I would decide the same way when I filed for naturalized citizen status. Many of us are not delighted by the newfangled lightness - shallowing of culture, discipline, moral. Prof. Gelernter's book goes way beyond the mere description of America losing its former "heavyweight" status. He penetrates the surface in search of deep clues. I highly recommend the book for all who are bothered - and hope that Prof. Gelernter will have a chance not only to elaborate on his book (not long enough) - but perhaps becoming able to something about the undesirable lightness.
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on March 2, 2017
I would strongly recommend this book to everyone I know (even people I don't know). The writing style is fast paced with historical facts that provide the reader with solid foundations to think about (and research a little deeper on their own). Today's media and teachers provide filtered data - we need to scream loudly that this is not acceptable. The strategy at the end of the book is priceless.
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David Gelernter is a Renaissance man, a person who has distinguished himself as a computer scientist, artist, and philosopher, and now as a social commentator. This book attempts, similar to Charles Murray's "Coming Apart," to assess the malaise that has affected America for the past few decades. Like Murray, he has a few simple prescriptions to fix the problem. That's the weakest part of the book. It will be fixed, but not by conscious action.

Gelernter is a master of the image, simile and metaphor. His writing is a pleasure to read. He is widely read, and his sources are different than mine. His ideas tie to those of Robert Trivers "The Folly of Fools," Michael Shermer "The Believing Brain," and a lot of what Stephen Pinker writes.

You can read the thesis of the book in other reviews. Fundamentally, he contends that the leftist intellectuals took over academia sometime after World War II. Having seized control of the educational establishment, they indoctrinated generations of children to the point that they are now knee-jerk, instinctive leftists. He calls them PORGIs, post religious globalist intellectuals. As many other writers have done before him, he notes that however intelligent they may be, they do not think for themselves, simply regurgitating the received wisdom which they have been fed since they were in grammar school. The lesson is anti-religion, anti-American, against patriotism, and for diversity. Whatever that means, and provided the diversity embraces only the right people.

His solution is to take education out of the hands of the educational establishment. He proposes delivering education over the Internet. I am working on a book of my own about how I am going to school my 10-month-old child when the time comes. The Internet is only the beginning. The Internet is a vehicle for delivering a vast amount of unbiased curricular material. This is absolutely necessary, but it is only a start.

We need to educate our children in matters of character and deportment. One of the strengths of this book is the homage this Jewish intellectual pays to WASP culture of days gone by. Our noblesse oblige. We did believe teaching character as we raised our children. We used the Bible as a reference in teaching character. Although the academic subjects were often secondary to teaching character, civic responsibility, patriotism, and the values of family, somehow academic subjects still manage to be taught better 50 years ago than they are today.

Gelernter leads into homeschooling, but he does not quite make the connection. The Internet will be the essential tool for delivering good homeschooling. I recommend John Gatto's "Underground History of American Education" and Diane Ravitch's more mainstream "Left Back: A History of Failed School Reform" as a good background on what has gone wrong with American education and why homeschooling is probably the only remedy. The problem with homeschooling is the problem with any education. The most important element is an intelligent and dedicated teacher. That has to start with the parents themselves.

Now let me mention a few random thoughts which I think contribute to Gelernter's argument. He speaks of the countercultural revolution in the 60s having its roots in the 40s. I believe this is true, and I will add another major contributor to the argument. Children born in the 1940s and later were the first generations to be saturated by television throughout their childhood. Television, in turn, was dominated by the media elites, whom Gelernter correctly identifies as primarily second-generation Jewish immigrants, to whom he correctly identifies a leftist bias which was evident as far back as the Army McCarthy hearings and the treatment of Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential campaign. These children, washed in television, not only accepted their opinions from the media, but they did not develop the strong reading skills that characterized their newspaper reading parents. Television breeds intellectual laziness as well as physical sloth.

Gelernter idealizes the 50s as a period of American triumphalism. It is true that we were an economic pinnacle. However, the spirit of the times was decidedly gloomy. There was a dread of the Russians and the Red Chinese, and the fear that we would all die in a nuclear holocaust. The humorists of that time, Mort Saul, Lenny Bruce, and Tom Lehrer, captured the angst quite well. I think that this fearful nihilism contributed to the mindless nihilism of the hippies of the 1960s.

Gelernter rather bravely identifies the role that Jewish intellectuals - the expression seems redundant - played in transforming America. He should give a bit more history of the Jewish people themselves. I think that evolutionary psychologist Kevin MacDonald is onto something in his trilogy on the subject, culminating in "The Culture of Critique." Throughout their 3,000 year history of the Jews have constantly struggled against host societies, using intellect and intellectual aggression as their weapons. This strategy led to Jews being expelled from medieval England and France, persecuted in the middle of the millennium by the Spanish, French, and Portuguese in the Inquisition, and then by the Slavs in the latter part of the 19th century during the pogroms. This was not totally without foundation; the Jews were at the center of the anarchist groups that eventually came together as the Bolsheviks. Around the turn of the century large numbers left for the United States, Argentina and Canada. They continued their leftist politics in their adoptive lands, which resulted in somewhat similar types of confrontations with the establishment in each of them. I broaden Gelernter's argument a little bit. In taking over academia, the Jews in the United States were simply doing what they had always done, and what had historically been in the genetic interests of the Jewish people.

Gelernter sees an evolutionary process leading out of this morass. I think will be rather more cataclysmic, like the fall of communism. The economic system which has been built in Europe and the United States on the untested and in fact thoroughly unsound theoretical premises of which the left is enamored are simply going to fall. The mistaken belief in equality of ability, which Gelernter addresses only as it relates to women, has resulted in the construction of an economic system which is premised on productivity much higher than we actually achieve. We subsidize large segments of our populations on the theory that it will be possible for them to develop mainstream earning capability if we educate them, tide them over hard times, let them catch up, etc. We have been supporting our pipedream by borrowing at an ever-increasing pace. The lenders have stopped lending: Greece is in default, with Spain, Italy, and Portugal not far behind. The United States had a small crisis last year when we raised the debt ceiling. We have done absolutely nothing to cure the underlying problems in the interim, and the battle will be re-fought, more fiercely, in early 2013. Sooner rather than later, Europe and the United States are going to enter a severe correction, as they are forced to face up to their economic problems. Rather than default on sovereign debt, they will probably inflate their way out of it the way Latin American countries have traditionally done. However, there is no country which can bail us out, as we did for others. It will be a difficult time.

It would take a remarkable seer to project what the coming hard times will bring. First and foremost, I expect that society's freeloaders will be dumped rather unceremoniously. People who cannot produce will not eat. Or not eat very much. We beneficiaries of the Ponzi scheme called Social Security will see our benefits diminish, probably through the effects of inflation. I prognosticate that governments will conclude that their school systems are simply too expensive and cease the lavish funding that they have enjoyed. They will get even worse, and people who are serious about educating their children will increasingly turn to the tool which Gelernter recommends, the Internet, to teach their own.

I expect that University education will follow the same path at some point. MIT has had its curriculum online for quite some time. Other universities are following suit. Once the curricular material is available, all that is needed for distance learning are a few teaching assistants to help students over the rough spots, and a foolproof system of delivering examinations so that the preservation of the grading system is provided through a worldwide system. There is a precedent in the Scholastic Aptitude Tests, and Graduate Record Exams. I think we will find that highly paid university professors are no longer needed to deliver their blend of pedagogy and propaganda.
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on February 9, 2017
Having read Gelertner's book on Judaism, I had an image of him as a highly intelligent, sensitive, observant, and meticulous writer. I am deeply disappointed and, frankly, disgusted with the pseudo-scholarship of this book. Gelertner makes gross generalizations, false accusations, and willfully distorts or ignores factual evidence in order to make what amounts to a racially tinged, white supremacist nostalgic ode to "the good old days," when old, white, Protestant men ran things. It's really a shame. I was looking forward to a thoughtfully rendered challenge to liberalism and liberal excess. I consider myself a liberal, and I appreciate and welcome reasoned critiques of my assumptions and values. That's what allows us to grow and progress. But this is the literary equivalent of a monkey tossing excrement at its enemy. Gelerntner is blinded by a deep hatred of the left--a position from which no positive contribution to the conversation can be made.
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on October 9, 2012
The author describes how "intellectual eletism" has brought about a cultural revolution in America -- and he does not like it. For my taste, he spends too much time intoducing the elite prople who have effected the gradual change. He posits that our public educational system has been degraded by the proponents of intellectualism. He proposes how our educational system could be upgraded and restored using advances in technology and a change in our overall vision of how the education process should be modernized. He shows us that all the money we've been throwing into our educational system has been wasted, since the outcome of the process has become increasingly substandard and is cheating the students of their true potentials. The book deserves careful consideratation by anyone who would cut the costs and increase the quality of our educational system.
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on June 25, 2014
On June 24, 1993, David Gelernter, then an associate professor of computer science at Yale University, opened a package in his office that exploded, tearing off most of his right hand and damaging his hearing and eyesight. Gelernter, who had written extensively about computer usage and was a frequent critic of our use of them, was ironically one more victim of the Unabomber, who detested technology.
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.
Highly recommended.
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on October 20, 2012
this book was very good and it helped me to understand why our education system is producing graduates that don't really know their history and real life
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