David Gelernter is professor of computer science at Yale, chief scientist at Mirror Worlds Technologies, contributing editor at the Weekly Standard, and member of the National Council of the Arts. He is the author of several books and many technical articles, as well as essays, art criticism, and fiction. The "tuple spaces" introduced in Carriero and Gelernter's Linda system (1983) are the basis of many computer-communication and distributed programming systems worldwide. According to Reuters, his book "Mirror Worlds" (Oxford University Press, 1991) "foresaw" the World Wide Web and was "one of the inspirations for Java"; the "lifestreams" system (first implemented by Eric Freeman at Yale) is the basis for Mirror Worlds Technologies' software. Gelernter is also the author of "The Muse in the Machine" (Free Press, 1994), the novel "1939" (Harper Perennial, 1995), "Machine Beauty" (Basic Books, 1998), and most recently, "Judaism: A Way of Being" (Yale University Press, 2010).
Question: How has surviving the Unabomber attack changed your life?
David Gelernter: Zero. It was my responsibility—I think it would be anybody’s who had been attacked in a particularly cowardly and despicable fashion—to go on. If I had said "This attack had changed me in the following 10 ways"... I’m not interested in being changed by criminals, murderers, and terrorists. I’m interested in being whoever I was destined to be as a member of my family and my community and that’s what I’ve been doing. It slowed me down, presented physical challenges, but it didn’t change my worldview, or the sort of broader sense... Worldview in the sense—there’s a tremendously useful German word used in philosophy: weltanschauung. Worldview meaning not just looking around, but how to make sense of things, how I put it together in a coherent way. So, my worldview is the same.
Question: Has being the victim of an attack changed your feelings about terrorism?
David Gelernter: I’m not a victim. I never was, never will be. Victimhood is something you choose, or something you reject. I and so many others have done before me and are doing today, they rejected, hate the tendency of society to glorify victimhood and to speak of oppression and victimhood and persecution as some soft of badge of honor, or something of that sort. I’m not a victim.
On terrorism, on the other hand, I guess it’s fair to say that I had a close-up personal look at terrorism. I don’t think my views have changed any. The fact is, any member of the American Jewish community has relatives who lived through the Holocaust, and who has more important, has relatives or close friends in Israel, who were either attacked themselves or whose family has experienced terrorist attack because terrorism goes back many centuries, but has always been a weapon of choice of Jew-haters and Israel-haters... So, the tragic fact is that the reality of terrorism is fundamental cowardliness, is fundamental anti-human character. I think it's familiar to everybody... I’d should say not just in the American Jewish community, the fact is that America is unique in its sympathy for Israel. Europe certainly doesn’t feel this way, Asia doesn’t feel this way. This is not a feeling only of American Jews. In fact, in many cases, the Christian community has been—has shown itself as much more interested in Israel’s fate and well-being than the Jewish community, which has its own political axes to grind. I think America in general has felt close to, in some ways, because the states are so similar—there is no nation in the world set up by people with bibles in their back pockets as a New Israel, there’s no nation that has been set up on that basis aside from the United States and Israel. So, there’s always been the sympathy, and growing up one has the feeling, one had a feeling in this country, I mean back in the 1960s and ‘70s, that terrorist attacks on Israel were hitting close to home. It was impossible not to be aware of the nature of terrorism, the threat of terrorism. It’s something that I’ve always lived with, tragically, as has everybody who has felt close to Israel.
Recorded on April 1, 2010.
It’s obvious to anybody that the mind does much more than solve problems.