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Prickly but also extremely insightful

bookOn 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 10 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 20th 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).

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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 offer 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 think. 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.  

(Jeff Minick is a writer and teacher who can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. His just-released first novel, Amanda Bell, is available through local bookstores and at Amazon.)

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