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Sunday, January 23, 2005

Menopause and the NeoCondition

Some consider David Gelernter a god of the CompSci world. God in the sense of showing all-around brilliance in advancing the state-of-the-art and providing visionary insights into the future of computing. His big claim to fame came in the parallel processing arena via the Linda project, where he tried to educate everyone on the concept of "tuple"-space. I never really understood the significance of this; tell anyone else what a "tuple" is and the best explanation to offer is to say they are "arguments" or "parameters" passed between concurrent applications. No big whoop in my opinion. Yet surprisingly, a cleverly coined term can do wonders for a reputation.

Gelernter also escaped from the evil clutches of the UnaBomber. This evidently counts for something in a Warhol-ian sense.

But he ain't a Chomsky when it comes to transferring heavyweight technical credentials to the general purpose intellectualizing sphere of influence. Evidently a right winger, as he regularly rights for The Weekly Standard, his essay on "Americanism - and it's Enemies" makes no logical sense to me. For that quality alone, it remains a fascinating character study on how technical minds can misfire. Kind of like understanding Michael Crichton, but in a non-Hollywood-tech-geek sense.

Gelernter's essay tries to relate traditional Puritanism to current day Americanism, claiming direct lineage between the two.

Given that Gelernter considers software his expertise, he should know enough not to start parsing the Bible to back up his arguments. As a software engineer colleague once said to my group, "This here technical document is like the Bible; it can mean anything to anyone." We call those things in the software world, "ambiguous requirements" or "ambiguous specifications" depending on where in the software life-cycle you sit. Don't go near that stuff with a 10-foot pole if you can help it. On the other hand, if you must use an ambiguous document, you might as well just start making crap up. The point to remember with this attitude -- bet the farm that either (1) the customer does not know what he wants or (2) consider him gullible.

I found his use of a "tuple"-like word very revealing. The word "climacteric" shows up in his essay to indicate key turning points in his argument (apparently once used by Winston Churchill during WWII). However, according to the hyperdictionary, we find current usage for climacteric:


1. [n] the time in a woman's life in which the menstrual cycle ends
2. [n] a period in a man's life corresponding to menopause

In the end, Gelernter shows us the technical road to becoming a neocon:
  1. Show Reputation and Credibility: Skills in techno-speak
  2. Show Integrity: Overcome Vietnam-era protest mindset and survive the UnaBomber
  3. Induce Gullibility: Write tripe

For a much better read on Puritanism in our current culture, seek out George Monbiot's Guardian essay, Religion of the Rich.
So why has this ideology resurfaced in 2004? Because it has to. The enrichment of the elite and impoverishment of the lower classes requires a justifying ideology if it is to be sustained. In the United States this ideology has to be a religious one. Bush’s government is forced back to the doctrines of Puritanism as an historical necessity. If we are to understand what it’s up to, we must look not to the 1930s, but to the 1630s.


Professor Blogger Phila said...

I love your blog! I read it often, and am finally getting around to posting.

I'm sorry to start out with a disagreement, but I'm afraid Monbiot's fallen prey to a popular misconception. Puritan economics were actually quite liberal, in the context of their times AND ours. Their attitude towards worldly riches was pretty negative, and their attitude towards refusing to help the poor was extremely negative.

Not saying I'd want to live in a Puritan colony...I'm sure none of us would. But there's no way one can say that Puritan theology justified oppressing the poor. And as Perry Miller's sourcebook of Puritan writings says, "They [the Puritans] have been invoked in justification of free competition and laissez-faire, though they themselves believed in government regulation of business, the fixing of just prices, and the curtailing of individual profits in the interests of the welfare of the whole."

The Puritans may have been the source of some negative things in American life, but I'm pretty sure that George W. Bush's economics would've sickened them.

9:46 PM  
Professor Blogger WHT said...

To paraphrase J. Carson, "I did not know that"

What can I say, but Bouphonia doth rock !

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