Letters to the Editor

Discussion on hazing misses the point

It disturbs me that most in the MIT community have missed the point when it comes to hazing.

Much of the current discussion has been frustrating to follow in large part due to the fact that much of the focus has been on irrelevant arguments, and the true problem goes unaddressed.

The current discussion boils down to the following structure:

A) Massachusetts law defines “hazing” as applying to a set of actions (call this set S) that follow a set of criteria C that are all necessary and sufficient to call the action hazing.

B) In deciding whether or not the actions performed by a group can be labeled as “hazing” and thus punishable, we must analyze whether or not the set S’ performed by [insert group here] follow the criteria C.

For example, the action set S’ can’t be hazing actions because they weren’t causing harm, or the participation was voluntary, or the definition of hazing is flawed and thus the criteria set C needs to be altered, etc.

But I call shenanigans on this mode of thought, for it sidesteps the root problems.

First, the MIT community, as well as the Greek sub-community, has its own set of standards that should be considered higher than that set down in Massachusetts law. As a member of the Greek community when I was an undergraduate, I find it odd and disappointing that any group would base its ethical standards simply on what is in the law books. This has always been the case when it comes to academic honesty policies, and social policies should be no different.

Second, one cannot define something into and out of existence; it makes no sense to say that under one definition hazing occurred but under another definition hazing did not. The term “hazing” is just an arbitrary signifier on some set of actions, of which finding the “true” definition is a fruitless task.

What the community needs is a discussion on the real question: whether or not some set of actions S (i.e. those we know PBE performed) should be allowable and tolerable in 1) the MIT community and/ or 2) the Greek community, both of which should strive to maintain strong ethical standards (especially the Greek community, which markets itself as such). The IFC seemed to have this concept in mind in their judgment, but this topic should be in the minds of all students and not just limited to the FSILG sub-communities.

In this manner, we displace the question that focuses on how hazing should be defined, and center on an issue of how to deal with heinous acts that violate the principles of a community of great minds and scholars.

Et Animus: Beyond Mind and Hand

It is fitting that an MIT education is so aptly described by our motto — mens et manus — mind and hand. Over the course of four years, we students are minds to be shaped and hands to be trained, and for what? We are an army of thousands assembled here for the advancement and development of science and technology.

As we approach the festivities surrounding MIT’s 150th year, we are continually reminded of the great accomplishments our predecessors have achieved through dedication to this task. The statues have been raised and the hymns composed, and now we are ready to praise the wonders of mind and hand. Yet, the nature of our self-congratulations and back-patting reveals the extent to which the identity of MIT is intimately invested in unbridled enthusiasm for science and technology. Only this positivism of “inventional wisdom” can justify our achievements and inspire our continued devotion.

But what have we really accomplished? In the name of science, our explorations have taken mankind to the edges of the solar system and the depths of the sea, and still we have not learned to live together in peace. It seems that we are capable of transforming the world, yet we lie helpless when confronted with the depths of the human heart. We have made humanity more comfortable, more healthy, and more efficient. Have we made humanity better?

Unfortunately, we cannot even claim that our little technocracy is a futuristic utopia, for nowhere are the limits of our positivism more apparent than here at MIT. Within these walls, we have built a mecca of technological innovation, and we call it Hell — not because of shortcomings in mind or hand, but rather because of the emptiness in our hearts. It is tragic that the mark of an MIT education is bitterness instead of joy.

It seems that we have lost something of ourselves in the cult of the firehose, in the single-minded and self-destructive pursuit of technical excellence. Though we may try to hide behind fanciful explanations of our love-hate relationship with the Institute, the suffering is real. It is a pain that neither mind nor hand can soothe.

How, then, are we to heal ourselves, and further, to heal mankind? Such a task is simply inconceivable, much less solvable, in the context of everything MIT stands for. And so we must grow even beyond mind and hand — beyond the constraints of positivism and of the mechanistic view which fails so terribly and tragically when applied to the human person. Though the fruits of our labors may well be gifts of love, neither a grand unified theory, nor fusion, nor strong AI, nor any of the grails of modern science and engineering can help us learn to love each other in truth and in deed.

If we truly desire to leave the world a better place, the key lies within our own heart. We must approach our fellow man with gentleness, respect, and mercy. We must chasten our hearts, humbling ourselves in service, sacrifice, and forgiveness. We must unlearn the bitter lessons of experience, that once again we might see the world through the eyes of a child.

The task before us is difficult, but how can we expect mankind to better itself if we ourselves refuse? Too long have we permitted ourselves to be consumed, as chaff, in the fire of our suffering, when instead we should glow, as gold. It is in fellowship and in service to each other that our grief can turn to joy and peace.

Engineers, let us build our world anew! Let us transform this wasteland of blood and concrete into a wellspring of life.

Anthony Valderrama ’11