January 23, 2017


David Gelernter and the Life of the Mind (Joseph Bottum, January 20, 2017, Free Beacon)

Kaplan hangs her column on the hook of a news item, an announcement by press secretary Sean Spicer that Gelernter had met with Donald Trump to discuss the administration's science policy--and possibly to be vetted as the new president's chief science adviser. The position would make sense. Gelernter had taken to the pages of the Wall Street Journal in October to announce his support for Trump (albeit with admitted reluctance). In so doing, he became one of the few neoconservative intellectuals to endorse the Republican candidate.

Of course, to admit that would require Kaplan to admit that Gelernter is an intellectual, and she attempts throughout the column to prove the Yale professor is simply not an intellectual. "If appointed, he would be the first computer scientist to take the job, and the first adviser who is not a member of the National Academy of Sciences," she writes. "He has expressed doubt about the reality of man-made climate change--something that 97 percent of active researchers agree is a problem. And his anti-intellectualism makes him an outlier among scientists."

The proof she offers for his anti-intellectualism follows in the next sentence: "Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he hadn't heard of Gelernter until Tuesday." Kaplan had opened her column by naming Gelernter "a pioneer in the field of parallel computation" for his early work in computer programing. From such a beginning, you'd think she intends to criticize Rosenberg for never having heard of the man.

But no. Rosenberg is the foil by which the Washington Post develops its implicit claim that "intellectual" and even "scientist" identify what is essentially a social class, as though to say: You're one of us, one of our kind, or you're not an intellectual. Not a scientist. Not a thinker. Not a scholar. Not our sort, my dear.

And since politics over the past few decades has become perhaps the key marker of social class for those who see themselves as the intellectual elite, David Gelernter's politics mean that he cannot be an intellectual. Unfortunately, he's undeniably a very smart man, one of the youngest people ever to receive tenure at Yale. A dilemma, yes?

For Kaplan and the Washington Post's headline writers, the way out seems to be to declare that he's actually anti-intellectual. He has, from time to time, used his smarts to argue against the politics held by the class that occupies the key intellectual positions in the culture. He has, for that matter, attacked academics for identifying themselves as a superior social class, notably in his 2012 book, America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats). A better or more charitable reader might have noticed Gelernter's irony in that book when he suggests that American culture was weakened by "an increasing Jewish presence at top colleges," while Gelernter himself is a major Jewish presence at one of America's top colleges.

Irony, however, doesn't come easy to Kaplan and Rosenberg. They're too sincere, earnest, and convinced of their rightness for any such frivolity. They find the logic too convincing: To support Trump is to be déclassé, and to be inferior socially is to be inferior intellectually. David Gelernter cannot be an intellectual if he has the wrong politics, and the only way he could support or work with Donald Trump is by being anti-intellectual.

The normally astute Mr. Bottum stumbles into confusion here in his eagerness to defend Mr. Gelernter from a truism.  It is precisely because he is a scientist that Mr. Gelernter is anti-intellectual.  The dirtier secret though is that Donald Trump is an intellectual, which is why he pushes a political/economic program which can withstand the evidence of what results it has produced when applied in the real world.  A trade war and closed borders must be good thing just because you think they will punish Mexicans, Chinese, and other non-whites, no matter what happened in the 30s after we imposed racial quotas and Smoot-Hawley. The intellect can imagine the regime would "work" and that suffices.

Posted by at January 23, 2017 5:14 PM