Editor’s Note: This column originally ran in the September 5, 2014 issue of The Tech.
I suppose I was a bit too optimistic after hearing of changes to the Mind and Hand Book, especially of those relating to the Institute’s drug and alcohol policies. Given MIT’s apparent willingness to support policies consistent with the prevailing trend on college campuses to support harm-reduction with the adoption of a Good Samaritan policy for alcohol-related medical emergencies in February 2013, I had hoped, briefly, that the recent revisions would tackle the issue of substance abuse in a consistent and rational way.
Just over a week ago, a federal appeals court handed down a decision that may radically alter the relationship between Americans and the Internet. Since 2004, in an effort to uphold the ideal of net neutrality, the FCC has enforced non-discriminatory practices among Internet service providers (ISPs), forcing equal treatment of all traffic. However, with the court’s decision in Verizon v. Federal Communications Commission to gut net neutrality (at least temporarily), equality on the web is no longer legally guaranteed. Companies are now free to give preferential treatment to certain sites and thereby financially assert more control over the content their customers can access.
In a characteristically paternal fashion, late last month, the New York City Council raised the minimum age to purchase cigarettes and other tobacco products. To purchase a pack or even an electronic cigarette, consumers must now be 21 years of age. The justification provided by the City Council rests on the claim that by making the purchase of tobacco nominally more difficult, fewer young people will start smoking in the first place. The data suggests the move might be effective, just like stop-and-frisk. Still, there is a fine line between maintaining public health and trampling on the individual rights of Americans, and the Bloomberg administration has again chosen to jump right across it.
As I type this article on Monday morning, a government shutdown seems inevitable. In a little under 18 hours, barring a congressional Hail Mary, legislative intransigence will mean the shutdown of the National Parks, freeze on pay for troops, and furloughs of governmental employees.
In the introduction to Cannibals and Kings, the anthropologist Marvin Harris wrote that “cultures on the whole have evolved along parallel and convergent paths which are highly predictable from a knowledge of the processes of production.” This belief is the crux of his greatest contribution to anthropology, the theory of cultural materialism. Over the course of his career and many books (of which I own all), Harris applied this principle to explain many of the seemingly irrational practices and tenets of the world’s varied cultures, notably including cannibalism and prohibitions on consumption of pork. In a contemporary context, however, I think it can be equally well applied to the phenomenon of so-called modern art.
From our first day of kindergarten in the United States, we are expected to recite daily those 31 words which solemnly declare our fidelity to the nation we call home: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”