Such generalizations are not merely helpful, they’re mandatory if we hope to stay sane. If conservatives can’t recognize the honest and honorable impulse at the bottom of liberalism, they aren’t serious; they are embarrassments to their fellow conservatives. When liberals can’t do likewise with respect to conservatives, we get the dishonest (sometimes obscene) trash-attacks on a George W. Bush or a Dick Cheney or a Sarah Palin.
LOPEZ: You write that we are “facing a terrible problem with a fairly simple solution. But the problem must be solved soon, or we lose a crucial advantage. There are still plenty of people around who were educated before the cultural revolution and remember the way we were: our schools, colleges, the press and the civilized world generally striving — with partial success at best, but fine persistence — to tell the truth. Principled conservatives and liberals remember it all fondly. They don’t want to go back in time. They don’t want to restore an old world; they want to build a new one that we can be as proud of as William DeVane was proud of America in 1957. We want a country whose national leaders are known for ‘integrity, idealism and skill’; where our college teachers are ‘learned and devoted’; where America herself is ‘the wonder and envy of other nations.’” You add: “In short, we want to go back to telling the truth.” But whose truth, Professor?
GELERNTER: Everyone’s truth. Mankind’s. Truth transcends time, place, and cultural tastes. This is a revealing, sad question for what it says about the pervasiveness of deconstruction, post-structuralism, and other games we play with the truth, all so much easier and more fun than actually finding the truth. Who does Leviticus 19 belong to, or the Ten Commandments? To mankind, and they are true for all mankind. A whole generation has been taught that truth is just a matter of taste. This is false.
Sure, we disagree about evidence. Sometimes we ask the wrong questions. We might be the jury at a murder trial, with twelve different opinions among us and no sure way of knowing who is right. But one thing we do know for sure: The truth exists, whether we can find it or not.
LOPEZ: Is it really possible to move forward with the best of what we’ve had in a united way? Some of the religiously affiliated institutions went bankrupt, or were otherwise bought out or closed. Believers don’t know what they believe quite like they used to, memorizing the Baltimore Catechism and all. Now we’ve got a government openly mandating the religious to the sidelines while using altar boys to make the sale. Aren’t we beyond hope here in any kind of rebuilding? Some of us may remember . . . vaguely . . . but are the blueprints and the work ethic still there?
GELERNTER: This was and remains a religious country. There is nothing hypothetical (barring some unthinkable catastrophe) about the survival and success of Judaism and Christianity in America. Many left-wing religious brands are out of business or flailing helplessly as they take on water, but up-to-date religion never did make sense, because religion is our lifeline and a sort of love letter to our families, our ancestors, and our better selves.
LOPEZ: How is Internet education key to the wave of the future? Wasn’t it a decade ago?
GELERNTER: Sure. I’ll look at this in a personal way: In 1991 I published a book called “Mirror Worlds,” claiming that the cybersphere would turn into (in effect) the smooth surface of a New England millpond, reflecting everything around it. I claimed we’d “stop looking at our computers and start looking through them.” It’s taken some time, but we are clearly moving in that direction. In the mid ’90s I claimed that time-ordered real-time messaging streams (like Twitter or Facebook walls, or blogs, or our own much earlier Lifestreams) would become the dominant model of the Internet and web; it’s taken a while, but it’s coming on stronger all the time. I still think that nearly all the Internet education software I see is lousy. (Naturally I think mine is better!) But this is a trend that is underway, there is no longer any doubt of that.
LOPEZ: How are “self-hating WASPS . . . as important a phenomenon as self-hating Jews”?
GELERNTER: In 1945, WASPs ran our powerful colleges and the cultural elite. No one could force them aside. The feds had yet to dig their nails deep into university flesh. Civil-rights laws were weak. The weather reports all said “increasing liberalism”; that was the mood of the times. Nonetheless, socially prominent WASPs looked at these institutions their ancestors had built, funded, and supplied with art and money and books and buildings — and stepped aside.