Monday, February 07, 2005

Full Of Shit

I don't think there is a human being on the planet more completely fatuous than my former "Computer Science and the Modern Intellectual Agenda" professor, David Gelernter. I've certainly never met anyone so fond of hearing himself spout The Truth in such equal and astronomical proportions of pomposity and sheer ignorance. Among the rare gems I heard in the few lectures I attended, the worst (best) were these:

1) No one today believes in Cartesian dualism (except of course for the chair of the Yale philosophy department).

2) Betrand Russell was not just an atheist (he wasn't an atheist), but a "flaming" atheist (he wasn't an atheist, and I'm not sure what it means for an atheist to be flaming anyway, except perhaps to be on fire).

After the sneer about Russell, I stopped going to class. But that's a story for another time. The reason I bring this up is because all those memories recurred to me when I read Gelernter's latest contribution to the philistinizing of political discourse. I suppose neoconservatives are as entitled to a creation myth as anyone else, but the notion that Disraeli is the founder of their movement is preposterous, especially in light of the much closer resemblance of Gladstonian liberal interventionism to neoconservative foreign policy. What accounts for this anti-historical foundationalism is that Gelernter is by any intelligible reading of his piece actually accepting the anti-Semitic slur according to which "neoconservative" and "Jewish conservative" are interchangeable terms.

The piece gets progressively worse, and I'll have more to say about it later; for now, I'll leave Gelernter's slander of Isiah Berlin without extensive comment:
His [Disraeli's] over-the-top pride, set against widespread Jewish self-hatred of the sort embodied by (for example) Marx or (nowadays) Noam Chomsky, is intensely refreshing--a cool dip on a hot day. Too bad so many Jewish intellectuals are afraid of the water. Take Isaiah Berlin, who breaks out the sneer-quotes to mock Disraeli for conceiving himself "lifted above the teeming multitude by the genius of a 'great' race." No doubt Berlin would have rated America, too, not great but merely "great"--or was he afraid to exult in Jewish genius lest his gentile friends not like him any more? Berlin is long dead, but many thousands like him live on. Who needs anti-Semites when so many Jewish scholars attribute a robust interest in Jewish achievement not to pride but to "insecurity"--a disease with which they seem suspiciously familiar?
Two quick points: for the sake of the children, let's hope David Gelernter never takes a cool dip on a hot day. And more substantively, in re: the remark that Berlin was "afraid to exult in Jewish genius lest his gentile friends not like him any more": As that famously self-hating Jew Woody Allen said in a very different context: What an asshole.

[N.B. I hope it's clear that the logic here is not self-referentially incoherent. No doubt I have contributed to the coarsening of political discourse. I'm sort of in favor in that. What I object to is its philistinization, and that is Gelernter's project--ed.]


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