The Legacy and Experience of MIT: Safetyism, the Nixon enemy list, and the loss of innocence with Luke Igel
Luke Igel and I talk about our experience and the history of MIT.
Table of contents
Our recorded dialogue can be found here
“It was such a touching point for us to discover that website, “This is the Eastside”. All those essays said it way better than we could. And one of them said, “what makes the MIT dorm special is what makes MIT special”. This idea of openness, this idea of freewheeling, this idea of being the strange person. It’s relates it to building 20, which is very important for the other half of our documentary, which is about MIT’s history since World War Two in terms of technological development, and not just the culture of the people who operate here. The thesis of one of those little essays that we tried to show was that a normal student, like some sophomore studying physics wrote that the reason why building 20 was great is the reason why MIT’s campus is great. By and large, the reason why people enjoy talking about this college in general is that all doors are unlocked; it’s the expectation that you interrupt your friends as they work on incredible projects, and they interrupt you. And there’s just a general feeling of collaboration and a non adversarial tone to everything that makes this place tick.”
“one narrative that feels alive to me right now is the This idea of like a loss of innocence. I, there’s a parallel in my head here between the students and the institution as a whole. So let me lay it out and see what you think of this. As students come in, and there’s no course 11, or this freshman or sophomore, studying physics writes about the openness and just this, like raw curiosity that these undergraduates have building rollercoasters in their backyard. flame throwers, dancing with LEDs, spinning, whatever. And then there’s the realization, four years later, they’re working at like, Microsoft. And like, and, and maybe they’re, you know, drinking kombucha on the tap, but they’re being encultured and there’s not the same sense not the same feelings of like curiosity and building and all that energy is dissipated. So in that sense, there’s, there’s this like loss of innocence among, in incoming builders, engineers, students at MIT. In a broader sense to though, there, you could see MIT as an institution that really earnestly believed, maybe still believes that you can use science and technology to solve the world’s problems,”
That continues mostly until sometime around like the late 90s or so after a series of student deaths. And there’s some bigger change in the culture of the US increasing the coddling of the American mind or whatever. And that has seeps in. And then, you know, Chancellor Barnhart comes in her number one priority, or one of her biggest priority is the safety among people on campus. And then the tides shift. The students are no longer adults, they’re actually seen as large children.
“In the late 1960s, when you have a war that does not have popular buy in, no longer has popular buy in like World War Two does, where almost all of the middle class people who were drafted, but were fortunate enough to be in college now had the full freedom to protest the ability to protest. And like the financial means to do so. Just took off like wildfire. All of these things combined, you know, created what is like a large chunk of our movie, which people will have to see for themselves. I think what happens in the 1990s is, a lot of those factors disappear. And there’s no longer a perpetual war that you’re getting drafted into. Student debt is also ballooning every single year. There’s this pretty incredible quote from the Nixon administration. It’s really dangerous to have a educated proletariat. That is literally what one of Nixon’s advisors was caught saying on the record. I don’t think he meant it in like the Marxist way. I think what he meant it as is like, all of these kids who have enough money to have enough time and money to just like protest, and exercise their civic duties and, you know, in voice, their voice, their disagreement with his war”
Okay, yes. Okay, so I’m here with Luke today. And I want this to just be as just very casual like a dialogue. But what generally I want to talk about with you is the MIT experience. Yeah, just reflecting on MIT in general. And there are two parts to this.
Yeah. So the first component is thw personal experience. And then second, we can look at it more from like an institutional perspective. So, Luke, you were class of 2022? Yes. And I was class of 2021. You are particularly interesting, or I particularly wanted to talk to you just I mean, because we’ve had good conversations before. But also you made the canonical for our generation documentary on on MIT. That’s, that happens like roughly 10 years, every 10 years, some student makes that right. 10 to 20 or so yeah. Okay, how many have existed before the one that you made.
So the one that we take the most inspiration from is this movie called MIT progressions from 1969. Very frequently, like these large projects, these large media projects about MIT get made. And it’s usually either a student run, or it’s just made and commissioned by MIT itself, right. From the 2000s Onward, it was always just like a bunch of smaller videos, MIT’s video productions department would always put out documentaries about individual parts of MIT. It had been a while since we’d seen like a large project with like, pretty significant scope made by students. But I didn’t realize until working on this until talking to like filmmakers at MIT that there’s like a pretty strong tradition of filmmaking at MIT. Through the documentary lab, it was taught by Chris Bobo and Christine Wally cool. Christine Wally, she’s a professor of anthropology here. Her husband, Chris has been like at the working on like video production at MIT for for a long time now. And it was an opportunity taking that class to see all the other student films that had come before. And so it’s like a lot of ADD, as well as like professors who come before as well as people who advise just on MIT’s old film school, or just called the MIT film section. A lot of really important names like Richard macaque, Patrick Wiseman, who have really like changed what documentaries are rather like visiting scholars at MIT or full on professors. Ricky Lee Kok being one of the people who helped coined the phrase cinema Verity, which is where you just get a camera out, you just record and then you don’t really add any editing or anything, you just let the conversation occur. You can see how podcasting is has been heavily influenced by this idea. The reason why they own it took it to the late 1960s to get there is because of audio sync, making it so that the audio and your video synchronized super easily. So you don’t need like a full blown audio engineer to just run and gun record on the streets of Paris record in the streets of like Cambridge. Whatever’s happening He helped him and a few others, you know, helped make this like something that in pretty much any film student could work on. And that was, you know, all of that was the basis of what Wes and I and my good friend Wesley block. And I did starting like November of 2020. We saw all these documentaries, we saw a documentary by this guy named Adam Curtis that really inspired us. It was COVID. It was our gap year. So we decided to make a documentary ourselves about the history of MIT from kind of these two and bookmarks that we felt like we could get a lot of archival footage of and we had a pretty compelling story to tell from you know, World War Two up until COVID-19, where MIT and America in general significantly changes its stature and its position relative to the rest of the world.
Personal reflection on coming to MIT
Yeah, before we reflect broadly, on the structures that have changed MIT, I think be cool to reflect a little on the personal experience that we both had. Yeah. So you went to high school? You grew up in Minnesota? Yeah. How did that experience condition you or interact with your initial experience on campus?
It’s a good question. I grew up in like a pretty suburban place, like 40 minutes southwest of Minneapolis. I was shell shocked in a good way. Like the moment I arrived here, just like the density of everything, how things are always happening. You’re always surrounded by young people your age, socializing?
Do you do an FPOP?
I did not. I skipped one. I was like, Oh, I just want to stay at home and hang out with my friends. I ended up going to school anyway, or ended up going MIT early anyway, like halfway through the F pop season. Okay. But, you know, did my own kinda just hung around campus.
Is there a scene that comes to you when you think of the first moments at at MIT
there are a few. Part of it was probably CPW. So campus preview weekend, the spring of your senior year. After you find out you got admitted you get to go on campus. Meeting my good friend Keith was, was good. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was playing Smash Brothers at some, like next house or something. Next, okay. And then just accidentally met this person who’s also comes from like, comes from the Midwest as well. We just became very good friends from that point forward. I think
so playing Smash Brothers. Like, I want to seem like very cocky. I can give you an example of my Yeah, yeah. But like, it’s, yeah, like you’re, you’re in some frats Yeah, that’s yours. You’re in your next house on this carpet, and pretty boring wooden furniture. There’s a TV in the center lounge. And presumably, there’s like a bunch of other pre frosh. Yeah, and you’re just playing Smash.
There’s behind me, there’s this girl who’s a core 16 Like furiously finishing her aero Astro homework. And like on the dot, it’s like a Thursday, she completes it and I turn around and like Damn, that looks hard. I go back kind of doing what like this the distraction that this thing is, which is it sells this idea that you’ll just be like, eating free food and like playing Smash Brothers and like socializing throughout all of them it so
you see some Oh, so you see some events? Yes. Like CPW because we get the booklets, right? Yeah, exactly. And one of the things is like smashing food at next
is it’s all it is. Yeah. It’s like some very variant of playing Smash Bros at one place. Right? Right. There’s an east campus as well was really incredible. I remember I there was a friend who I’d run into a friend I’d met there she was like, temporarily placed or there that was her attempt to her. She was like, Guys, there’s some science going on outside. So we go into like the main EC courtyard. And everyone is like, shut the fuck up and and get quiet.
It’s really scary. Like you’re, you’re like a high schooler, you have no idea who anyone is. Everyone’s this cool, like college student. There are people at every corner of the courtyard looking over their shoulders, giving a thumbs up and speaking, like signaling each other that all the cops are clear. And then this guy just has this like, Home Depot, orange Homer bucket that he lights up, puts in the middle of like the volleyball court and walks away and this massive fireball. That must have been like 50 feet wide, explodes super loudly and just goes like, over 100 feet up in the air. Like my eyes. Like it felt like I was staring at the Sun very briefly. And it was like the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.
Like, what how did he do that?
I don’t know what I never found out like what they actually did. I should have gotten more into the pyrotechnics. But it looked like like it was filled to the brim. It was some like combustible material filled this massive bucket that they clearly sourced it. I think there’s a plastic bucket they clearly sourced it from some sort of lab or something,
but they made it they made it so it didn’t explode outwards to hurt the people in the audience. And somehow, yeah, so the bucket must have been strong enough to withstand that. Yeah, it
must have been. It was. Yeah, that was like a good initiation into into this place.
Yeah. Yeah. My first memory was because I came for an FPOP the freshman pre-orientation programs, and there was FLP freshman Leadership Program. year they banned it since then. Really,
they? Yeah, one of the one of these fascistic administrators accused them of hazing, and they were like, That’s not true. We don’t hate and he was like, fuck you. And then they shut it
down. Really? Yeah. That you said yes. But that’s very astounding. But I interrupted your story. It wasn’t hazing. There was there was a it was so wholesome. I guess I’m surprised because it was so wholesome. When we went they did, you know, try to get us to jump in the cold water, but it’s like think that was what they say. It’s a summer camp thing, you know, and it wasn’t you have to do this was just like everyone, you know, eat like, you don’t have to, but everyone’s doing it. Yeah. And you’re just jumping into the cold water. Like, yeah, it was. I mean, we did so many, so many things like that in high school. But yeah, I remember arriving on campus, getting on the bus, not knowing anybody. And driving. I don’t remember who I talked to on the bus, but there was just such excitement. Everything was so new, very stimulated. I mean, CPW for me, it was a whole ordeal to but but this is maybe the first real arrival. i Yeah, literally no, no one because I’m dealing with from New Zealand. And the we get off the bus really nice campground put our stuff in our cabins. And we do more or less normal camp activities. It’s not especially memorable, making us stand on pieces of paper teamwork type activities. The moment that really still stands out to me that was when they had this skit. So they did this thing where they had impressions. Like basically a racist skit. And it was it was they were banging, making jokes, like banging pots and pans and pretending like you name Asian people after that, Jesus, whatever. But they were doing it deliberately. Because people in the audience weren’t supposed to laugh, you know. It’s doing it deliberately. And then they’re like, so what’s wrong with that? And then they just have a discussion. And having, and some of the jokes were clearly too far. But a lot were kind of on the line, especially from where I’d come.
who’s doing the Ricky Gervais defense, right? Or something like that.
I don’t know what that exactly there. We get your list of answers. But I yeah, I might imagine it to be something similar. But he, I felt the solidarity with him. So early on, I felt this cultural difference between the like Americans who are mostly all just knew you’re not supposed to joke or talk about these types of things. Like you can’t, you can’t make fun of Asian people for their names or whatever. Yeah. And that, you know, quickly we assimilated like, you, you. I talked to my spattered and yeah, I guess like after spending a few months around a lot of people it’s like, a lot of people who have that type of opinion than the way you speak changes to to fit to the environment. But yeah, that was that was an early early memory of this, like cultural change and the norms shifting. What about like maybe we can do an early And then like midway through and then and MIT. Sure, like memory. So early memory, you aren’t CPW? Do you feel like there is a? There’s so many different facets, you can, you can lay out the different facets, but midway through is there an experience that you choose is pretty representative of of like, your student life at MIT? Yeah, I mean, this is such a hard question. Because there’s the social element. There’s like the schooling element.
Yeah, there are a few moments that that a resume, I think my freshman spring was like the hardest I’ve ever worked myself up to that point. And so all this like crazy social stuff that they throw at you at the beginning of your freshman year when you arrive. And like when you visit for CPW, like there’s the two poles of MIT One is you’re just working constantly. And the other one is, you know, you’re going to super cool creative parties, and you’re doing all these awesome, like strange activities. The crazy work of was just like your standard, of course, six, like computer science classes. Plus, like this driverless race car team that I was doing in the side, and plus I was like in a fraternity or still am. And all of those things combined meant that I was just working till like midnight every single day, and still was not making my deadlines on time. I was always taking like at least one or two late days to get my four problem sets in. So which one would you wake up? I would usually wake up like at 11am 10am. It was a vicious cycle.
Right? So Friday, so so like, can you imagine a specific Friday in that, in that period? you’d wake up at 11? And where
would you be then I would go to the concourse lounge if you you. Are you living in PKT. At this time as a freshman I was living in Simmons, okay, which had its own social write its own factor to it. I think. Do you
have a roommate?
I did my good friend, Keith, that I ended up meeting playing Smash Bros we mentioned we also became got randomly matched shows or matches roommates according to our like responses to that match. That already knew that. We were friends algorithmically. What strikes me about this story was that the Friday before spring break my freshman year when I was slated to go out sailing and the Grenadines in the middle, like the grenadine islands just north of Venezuela with a bunch of people for my friend. Like the small catamaran. The idea was to fit eight people on it, eat nothing but like, just like the super preservable food that you could get at the stores nearby. It’s like corned beef, and like a bunch of crusties pancake mix like the before that I had to get all four of my piece sets in. And I had to do finish this project that I did for this race car team. And I had to do all these other things. And I was up until like 4am. And one of the student lounges. And I finally it was the lounge that doesn’t exist. It was one of the Athena clusters, which has now been blocked off, unfortunately, okay. And I finally hit the enter button. And this Introduction to Algorithms piece, it was finally finished because it automatically solved that one. This one like board game that you’re supposed to algorithmically solve,
okay, because so these piece sets, there’s, there’s the written components, we describe your algorithms and words. And then there’s the coding component.
Yeah. Intro to algorithms is interesting, because you had to do both. That was like our first time learning law tech learning how to like do discrete math really, right. And then also like a multi hour like Python component where you implement what you just wrote, right? Yeah, it was, it was so buggy. It was like I was barely awake because I was barely able to function and I just like did the most insane series of nested for loops to get this thing to finally work on time so I could get the hell out of here. I hit enter it works. I’m like thank God that I get on the plane like a few hours later. And then I was able to truly unplug for the first time in my freshman year I think that spring break which is like almost exactly oh my god four years ago now.
For now three years ago, right or four? Oh, did you
spring of 2019
Hacks at MIT
yeah, many many moments like that. There’s just in incessant mill that you’re that you’re running on. I think this is not particularly unique to MIT. That’s not as every every college but yeah, that that moment feels some I mean, I would never saved before I am but I would wake up like 5am and then do similar things.
Are there moments that come to you that are you feel like are particularly MIT? Like some like that East Campus explosion
like what Yeah, what do you think? Do you got to experience that You had here but nowhere else?
A lot of stuff with hacking, I think, is very unique. I don’t know if we should I don’t know where this is going. But uh,
yeah, I can cut it out. Yeah.
There was a something that a bunch of friends a bunch of us decided to do freshman year, we had a plan to put a tin the beaver head on the John Harvard statue during the Yale Harvard football game. And then a giant banner that said Go Yale, in front of the John Harvard statue, because it was the game was being played at Harvard that year. And we successfully commandeered, like as many like 30 different 3d printers across campus while still being while we were freshmen. And made it so that each 3d printer printed out a different piece of this massive Tim to Beaverhead. And we got it, we ended up like annoyingly pestering all of our friends in order to like let us use their various 3d printers, it all worked. We glued it all together. And we ended up deciding to, you know, to jump the shark, we decided that we wanted to actually use this plastic model as a way to do an iron cast where where you make an aluminum cast of the beaver head, and then place it on top of that. So there’s really nice, like, project that was already kind of completed this, like Tim the beaver. And we were like, No, we’re going to do Santa based injection molding. And this big is going to work. And so my, one of my friends and I, we go to the metal, like the chief metalsmith MIT who teaches metallurgy. And we are like, theoretically, if we wanted to, you know, make this like, three by three by three foot aluminum sculpture, you know, using just household materials in the back of Simmons, would that be possible, you know, and then he’s just like, staring at us and we leave many emails is like, dear Luke and Zack, if you do this, you will unequivocally die. This is absolutely something that you cannot do Molten Aluminum will blow up in your face or whatever. We were already halfway through doing the casting. The aluminum casting idea fell apart. But what didn’t fall apart was still like, you know, planting the initial trap thing. So we end up going to Harvard, like the night of the game, we have this massive banner that says go yell and we start like stringing it up, like behind the statue. And as we’re halfway through it, this like drunk 27 year old looking Harvard alum comes out of nowhere. He’s like, Yeah, man, I used to have such a fucking fun time around here. This was so sick. I don’t really know where to go, though. Like, it’s not really like, I know that many people here. And we’re like, both looking at it. Like Us and the other people who are here. We were looking at each other like, this is not this is not good at all. So we’re like, Oh, nice, nice. We’re trying to weigh him away. And he just won’t go away. And one of us accidentally makes the mistake of being like, Dude, I need you to get out of here right now get super fist. And he like slams one of the blue buttons, which immediately calls the campus police. What? Whoa. And so we start sprinting we see sirens. We start sprinting from the police. We saw a bunch of stray cats. We got an Uber to drive us silently back to the John Harvard statue to see the police dealing with all of like the duffel bags that we left behind. We left a 3091 duffel bag guy and like or bag like the intro to material science bag. So I think the hat got
slightly disrupted you didn’t you say you didn’t end up carrying through
it did not get carried through now, but it was there later hacks that did, which was cool. But that was like a good intro.
Yeah, that’s fantastic. Fantastic. So you wouldn’t want that to be you want that to stay private? Hidden in the archive. So no one even knows that you is yeah, the heart. No one’s gonna know that you did this hack.
But we can we can keep it. Okay.
That That is fantastic. I don’t have anything that’s super comparable. I think I Yeah. I never carried through on any of any of the ideas. So that’s very respect,
respectable a few friends had a lot of very successful hacks after doing that one, like the barbershop one, where they have like, 72 different barbershop poles scattered throughout campus. Some of that being literal, others being like, making it so one of the Lobby seven pillars is like, red and blue and white. Right, right. That was super cool. That was like so well executed compared to what we did. But that was like, about two years after. A lot of them it was also marked by you know, COVID we had been, I got kicked out. You know, we all got kicked out when I was halfway through sophomore year at that week. Yeah. So almost exactly three years ago now when all that stuff happened, right.
That week was incredible.
Yeah, what was it like for you?
As to as deeply Be scarring. Yeah. Yeah, I mean for a lot of various personal reasons that I wouldn’t, that I can talk more about later. But I really didn’t want to leave and went to didn’t have a good place to go. And there’s some pretty dramatic stuff with my relationship with the time. And I was just getting things together like how we’re going to all our friends, we’re going to move to Central Square, like I’m getting, like, just the people I love the most were back to like, sign this lease and then and then everything just like falls apart.
Wow, that exact thing happened to me as well. Relationship kind of not going through a good time because of this, you know, trying to convince everyone you care about to stay,
The feeling of apocalypse as COVID arrives
right. And then it was like I was just about to do it. And then yeah, everything.
For us. It was when that second text came through. We were at my frat, a bunch of people were like partying, I had missed this part. Like, oh my god, there’s this virus, we’re gonna be out of town for a few weeks. You have until March 17 to get out of here. It will be fun. And then that night, when everyone was like partying and just having a good time, an emergency text got sent to everyone saying actually you have three days to leave not five days. And people at my frat like started crying hugging each other. Like, this is like a real life pandemic that is going to Yeah, that’s when the entire my entire like living community realized that this is something that will exist indefinitely. And it is completely unclear when we’re things are getting back to normal. Yeah. And that the entire plan I had sort of completely fell apart. Every single person texted me. Yeah, I’m going home with my parents like, Fuck this.
It felt Yeah, it felt like the apocalypse. Yeah.
Or there are rumors about New York City shutting down. I don’t remember. If you remember that, like all the rumors really started picking up right when that happened. Yeah,
that’s such a it’s a that’s a really instructive period, I think to attend to because that, that feeling everything was just not working. And what I there were a lot of things that I think it get revealed in that crack. For me, one of the striking memories was, I was in BC. And they announced in our Yeah, they they announced that we had given three days to leave or whatever. And I remember the heads of BC I felt really sorry for them because I like them as people. Like, thing is Jerome and his wife. They had two girls and it was just such a good reasonable dude. Yeah, but yeah, people who were just freaking out and the students were. Yeah, we were just like having an end of the world party. And people were like crying dancing. And these two dudes just went FLOOR and FLOOR just like punching through the exit signs. Really, really pandemonium?
That sounds so like so much pent up rage. Yeah. Yeah. Because of, you know, Burton connors shutting down immediately after that. This is like the last that minute most people in that dorm will have this right. Right, right.
I remember people feeling like, Ah, so sorry for the seniors because their whole, like their spring gives us like ruin. Yeah. And no, it’s not. You should feel sorry for everyone who has to stay at this place. Yeah, it’s like the sophomores that the people who have even come yet. Yeah, that was an intense, intense experience. We definitely got a very, very unusual experience at MIT, having been through it before. And partly after the pandemic. Yeah. What is it? What is the period or a scene that captures after the pandemic for you?
There are a few things. There is the feeling when the pandemic was kind of adherence to the pandemic was kind of wrapping up when the campus was just totally locked down and felt like a fundamentally different place. having a really hard time just entering the building. By having to take multiple nose swabs and putting the sign into the MIT App and all that, like the usual chatter that you’re used to was just not there anymore. It was just just a fundamentally more Darrell in different place? Well, like the restaurants and the stuff that I usually went to were like, shut down. We’re all swapped out for new stuff.
Yeah, there’s no swaps. tap in to go to class, you have to submit your COVID tests on this app. And yeah, like, you get locked out if you haven’t done it. If you haven’t done like the two tests in the week, everyone’s wearing masks.
Yeah, that was a wild time, it was almost. So what I would consider to be like when things were fully back to normal, was really like the fall of this year, fall of 2022. Where people would just would not bring up COVID are testing or quarantine.
Isn’t that so? Insane? Yeah, it’s it is very so recent. All the stuff has happened.
With all the stuff disappeared. All the discussion pretty much disappeared. Discussion, a new variants as well. Just kind of last time I remember being like extremely freaked out was January 2022. It’s been a minute.
Yeah. Still non trivial number of deaths from companies here. I mean, each each month each day.
Yeah, well, that’s what a lot of people are saying would happen. Right? There’s there would be a conscious attempt to memory home. This like three year period.
It’s like an adaptive response of the super organism, you know,
in a way that feels very distinct from other catastrophes that are based that are more were like, an attempt to memory will I don’t think there was an attempt to like, memory hole 911. Exactly. You said it. In fact, I’m sure you remember it. That’s the whole thing. Yeah. Yeah. You should remember this like,
but yeah, it was it was talking about remembering COVID.
No, even though both of them represent like, existential risk in some way, right? For both of them. The reason you should be afraid, or you should be upset about both events is not only the death that occurred, but also this points to larger risks that our society faces. One is pandemic risk. The other one is large scale terrorism,
right. But one is faceless, and one is masked. Yeah. And yeah. One is, like, beneficial for coalition building. Yeah. Yeah, mighty. Do you feel like it’s become that student experience has gone back to what it was like before? Like, what is what is the best case for it having returned to normalcy?
A lot of the classic parties and a lot of like, the classic events that everyone looks forward to each year are still intact. I’ve gotten to something like parties that Burton Connor throws like the
but OPC is open. Yeah, the bombers are still NBC. Yeah,
but they’re living in a much more sterilized environment. Regulations are higher adherence to like wearing their ankle bracelets.
It that’s what it feels like. They’re like permanent, because you’re paid staffers at like every checkpoint as you enter the building to get to the party,
who like coming. That’s how it was before the pandemic and remember people filing you through and all that. Yeah, I mean, there were there were desk workers who would like you would check you into the parties. I think maybe they’re
like, there are 2x more workers than there were right before. COVID. Right. It’s more of the same.
Yeah. This like babysitting. That? I do remember, at least Yeah, there. There were multiple parties. There was all student run. I think maybe the first DT yd or ABC parties. There was it was all just students staffing. Yeah, so maybe that’s that’s a market change. But you’re saying TTY, D and ABC are still a thing.
They are. They’re just a lot different.
They’re just like, lit the environment.
The grimy environment of that dorm is what I think contributed to so much of it. And now that it’s like this pristine, it’s pristine. Now the dorm has like pristine white walls everywhere.
I go and I need to go back into BC.
Yeah, a lot of floors are having a better time than others that recovering.
Like what like the ones with the most heritage are recovering better.
Yeah, they you’re feeling they’re attempting to and I think a lot of freshmen sophomores have that fight in them that
you know, so that gives you hope.
On current hope for preserving MIT culture
I am much more hopeful now than I think it was when we finished working on regressions. regressions is like it’s over. It’s fucking over. Like the fact that we’re talking about it means that it is over. The fact that we’re talking about preserving culture means that it’s already an uphill battle. Things are just not as bad as I initially feared that they were A lot of is just seeing, having freshmen come up to us and I, and sophomores being like, you know, I under the I anointed that MIT used to be like this. You know, this is a, I want to carry this forward, like people consciously saying that to us. And I remember asking Wesley, like, I think a few months before the project was pretty much wrapped this past summer, like, you see a scenario where we help cause like MIT student life to bounce back to where it was before COVID, or before this current safety regime stepped in. He was like, maybe, but it would require people to be particularly inspired by this movie to make it their purpose, their mission to, to bring a lot of this back. And we have seen some inklings of it, distributed across many different people.
And so one thing that I really find important and inspiring from regressions is the collection of existing resources. It’s like you don’t have to inspire you don’t have to create the evidence or artifacts of the beauty and the chaos and the strangeness of MIT before it actually exists. It’s just not well known. Like one of the things that I was watching last night was the clip where Cynthia Barnhart is visit to East Campus, and they put together all this website. That is why we love these campus.
This is the east side. Yeah, it wasn’t just east campus before there were other dorms in addition to that Bexley, SR house random Hall, which still exists as well.
There’s, there’s like, so much stuff that people in so much culture that has been created, I mean, a lot of which is not in the form of language or written artifacts. But there is a lot that has been written about it to this is my sense, right? There’s I threes, like those are fantastic. The videos that you try to show incoming freshmen to decide where you want a room. That’s, you know, that’s so precious and important. Sorry, you’re gonna say something,
I appreciate you saying that. That was such like a touching point for us to discover that website. This is the Eastside, just all these essays that said it way better than we could. And one of them was like, what makes MIT dorm special is what makes MIT special. This idea of openness, this idea of freewheeling this idea of being the strange person. And it’s relates it to building 20, which is very important for the other half of our documentary, which is about MIT’s history since World War Two when it comes to technological development, not just the culture of the people who operate here. And the thesis of one of those little essays that we tried to show that just like a normal student, wrote, some sophomore studying physics wrote, which is that the reason why building 20 was great is the reason why he’s campus is great. And by and large, the reason why people enjoy talking about this college in general, which is all doors are unlocked, it is the expectation that you interrupt your friends as they work on incredible projects, and they interrupt you. And there’s just a general feeling of collaboration and a non adversarial tone to everything that makes this place tick, which is non trivial, and something that you don’t see, you know, Google Cambridge, or Microsoft’s Office in Cambridge,
or Harvard, or Stanford, or places where you get randomly assigned to different dorms. I mean, maybe I’m being a little presumptuous, but that was my feeling
that palladium article Stanford’s, were in social life, painted a really brutal picture of what it looks like if this is fully extinguished. This this culture that I’m talking about. I think Stanford represents a place that also did have pretty incredible subculture, right, like MIT. That, but they lost in a way that MIT has not yet lost. Would I recommend, if you’ve already if you haven’t changed,
I have I remember this article. This is a natural point to start talking about the structural lens of, of MIT, like the, the forces, the trends that have shaped it, and I don’t I don’t look at the text too much. I don’t want to
spoil it for myself. Yeah.
On MIT’s loss of innocence
But that, you know, you can look at it through through the perspective of narratives I’m particularly interested in, we can, we can talk about cultural changes, cultural modes, looking at MIT through the generations of how culture has changed. And you can talk about it with respect to like, the, the lens of technology and progress. But I mean, one one narrative that feels alive to me right now is the This idea of like a loss of innocence. I, there’s a parallel in my head here between the students and the institution as a whole. So let me lay it out and see what you think of this. As students come in, and there’s no course 11, or this freshman or sophomore, studying physics writes about the openness and just this, like raw curiosity that these undergraduates have building rollercoasters in their backyard. flame throwers, dancing with LEDs, spinning, whatever. And then there’s the realization, four years later, they’re working at like, Microsoft. And like, and, and maybe they’re, you know, drinking kombucha on the tap, but they’re, they’re kind of like being in cultured and there’s not the same sense not the same feelings of like curiosity and building and all that energy is dissipated. So in that sense, there’s, there’s this like loss of innocence among, in incoming builders, engineers, students at MIT. In a broader sense to though, there, you could see MIT as an institution that really earnestly believed, maybe still believes that you can use science and technology to solve the world’s problems,
which is very non trivial. And when they first kick that when they first were founded as an institution for
you, what do you mean non trivial.
The emphasis was usually, amongst these, that sort of emphasis for an entire educational institution to place was usually more common amongst trade schools.
You mean, like back in 1861? or so where where the solution seemed to come from like, political, like, great, man, you just go and you, you would sort it out, among other other people, the societal problems we’re not, it’s not a technological thing. So much is like, you need to change your government or
exactly, and there’s still a belief and there’s still an understanding, even like, throughout the modern era, that technology is what progression of technologies which changes how wars are fought, changes how nations are built, but the emphasis was not nearly as strong back then as I think it really began became from like, World War Two onward. Yes. thrust MIT in the spotlight.
The Gatling gun in WW1. I’ve I’ve heard that talked about as a moment, where it’s like the, there’s just a clear game change. If you if you have this automatic machine gun, you just the leverage that that gives you is is incredible, but okay, so they’re there, I think this narrative of like, the loss of innocence is not super clean, when you look about look at it through like, the lens of MIT as an institution, but one part of me wants to tell the story, like, you know, the, the promise of modernity is that you can have science and engineering to understand the world, like the world is understandable in terms of science, that’s one of the premises. You know, like, if you think about three strands of modernity is Charles Taylor talks about it. There’s, there’s the, the like, Protestant Christian backdrop, there’s a little bit of like romantic expressivism, caring about the interior. And then there’s the scientific materialism. I think, to me MIT in, in this like dialogue is brings forth like, embodies the scientific materialist, also techno solutionist mindset. That’s like, yeah, we can understand the world in terms of science, and we can build to solve the world’s problems. But even from the beginning, it’s like building artillery building like Vannevar Bush, the most notable invention he has is this analog computer that calculates missile defense trajectories. Yeah. But But still, it’s like, it doesn’t feel like there. This still feels like there’s some kind of really belief in technology, that that is at the core of like the mythos of MIT, belief and technology and science. That is, like continued to, to be in tension with student protests about the war. But But ultimately, they’re still like, Why do you even come to an institution technology? Like you have to have some belief that technology is important, worth understanding to even do that. So, yeah, I guess I’m like What is how does MIT interact with this? Dislike? Discourse? Do you see MIT as this as this force that, like, do you see MIT’s relationship with science and technology changing over the eras? Interesting. And also just feel free to react to anything that I that I said that that’s just a prompt.
I think what MIT considered, even pursued technologically changed a ton. There’s this great guy, great guy named Eric Gillum, who wrote some I may be mispronouncing his name, who wrote multiple substack articles called a progress studies history of MIT. And he kind of wraps it up right in World War Two, right where regressions begins. And he talks a lot about how just wildly different the curriculum once and the expectation was of a person who graduated from here and what I imagine extends to other trade schools at the time, such as our IT wrt and others, which is these are the people who are sanitation engineers, these are the metallurgist, us, the bridge builders, the people who are going to spread copper wire across our country in order to create like a truly technological, industrialized society. All of this really happening right after the Civil War, where the South is in ruins, the North has total hegemony. And it is now going to begin this upward trajectory, which really becomes quite notable as World War two kicks off. What you see with kind of from like World War Two onwards is a very different emphasis on curriculum. MIT’s biology lab in the 1930s was not respected at all. few decades later, though, it’s it’s now finally pumping out Nobel Prize winners. Similar thing with MIT’s physics department. Really even like before World War Two as well. Extreme emphasis on theoretical, theoretical fundamental sciences, as well as economics, as well as just economic planning in general. All of this emphasis, I think, really started happening after America entered was central to the world stage, elite American colleges is not just where all Americans wanted to go, it’s where people around the entire planet wanted to go. And with the rise of computers as well, it’s almost like society was rearranged so that computers could process them more specifically, that was a line adopted by
James C. Scott. Now,
it was James C. Scott talks about this a lot as well, one of the very good friends of John von Neumann, kind of eulogizing von Neumann and talking about his final years, where his brain was going away, he was so clearly upset, just how he wasn’t able to think like he used to. And he talks about this legacy that he left is that everyone started von Neumann his legacy is that he caused everyone to think like him from that point forward in history, where all other disciplines became digitized. behavioral psychology became understand stood in forms of data tables. And experiments were orchestrated that way. You can see how this applies to everything most profoundly in areas like genomics scenarios, like you know, what software is now capable of doing to the world,
On cybernetics, Cybersyn, and von Neumann
but like also deeply deeply within the social sciences like the whole agentic utility function notion. It depends on von Neumann Morgenstern conception of the utility function. Exactly. And that is still seems, corner, cornerstone of high modernist society, Amok micro economics, but yeah, yeah, high modernist society too. But yeah, just the way that people are conceived, and human beings are conceived in in the academy. Very, very deeply, in my opinion, misconstrued by von Neumann, its description of us as like utility maximizers. I mean, I don’t think he believed that necessarily himself. But that was the legacy of his of his thought.
One of his many legacies. Yeah, just all of the the metaphors of digital computation in what they enabled, right? You can you can imagine a lot of Trotsky’s talk about grammars and syntax trees as well, kind of emerging from what computers are now capable of doing for us. I think I did this talk with with my friend Keith, back in December, at MIT about just the history of cybernetic thought, at this place, how it began with an MIT professor named Norbert Wiener. You know, Kurt writes a book called cybernetics
and also the There’s this one called the human made. There’s there’s one that that I had read excerpts of, anyways, continue,
I forgot the name of the entire metaphor that he provides of a self regulating mechanism where you use control theory, in order to actually regulate it extends not only to robotics extends into how the spinal cord regulates the way that your arm moves and a non jerky way, how autopilot works, how nature works, how nature works, how ecology works, it completely re shifted, so many domains, right? Yeah, and I think we now all have this implicit assumption that this incredibly complex, chaotic dynamical system that we all live in, can be measured and predicted with these mathematical tools. And it is the power now lies in the hands of these extremely well educated technocrats in order to properly allocate resources. And I don’t really disagree with this statement. But it’s, it is a market difference from what we saw before. This kind of epoch,
you’re saying you don’t disagree with the claim that technocrats are the most powerful right now. And, like, a lot of the decisions that affect society are made by a small group of elite. Is that what you’re saying? Or what?
Yeah, that is what I’m saying. And I think there’s a lot of reasons who to praise what their performance has been so far as well as
you know, but they’re not technocrats most of the elites are not technocrats they’re not No, it’s not in the United States. The thing is that Wiener, or wiener? Cybernetics was in opposition to von Neumann its conception, von Neumann had individual agents, whereas Norbert Wiener didn’t have like agents was an assistant it was just like an entire control system exactly. Right. Moreover, cybernetics has essentially failed as like a research paradigm, even though it was really seen as it was, it was the the thing if you if you consider that there are so I mean, some I kind of believe this, there are only a couple of like, really vital intellectual questions for any given era, like the cutting edge thought the envelope is really being pushed in a relatively select number of, of traditions, if you if you take that lens seriously. Cybernetics was part of this core paradigm, this core discourse that was happening around around the 40s and 50s. And the it led to things like Donella Meadows systems theory, have you heard of this? No, she was a professor at MIT. And I think she was she was like a professor of ecology or something. Interdisciplinary, but she was not the Media Lab, they had a whole institute. And they they wrote this big report about the future of the climate, and they used notions of cybernetics, and trying to describe everything as a system to try to make predictions about what was gonna happen in the 2000s. And the predictions were that we will run out of food. Is this
the limits to growth report that you’re referring to? Yes,
I think so. Yeah,
the Neo Malthusian ism, right, how this sparked an entire generation of ecologists going in recommending anti growth strategies, right. D growth strategy, right.
She was essentially like, one of the core degrowth authors. But I don’t know that this cybernetics necessarily had to lead to that. I don’t think it did at all. No, but the the sense that I get is that, that that proved to be one dead end. There’s no like real active systems, theory, researchers. The other thing that happened was this application of cybernetics to economics never really reached fruition because of us interference in Chile, actually Cybersyn right. Yes. Yeah. And I think that that, that wasn’t like definite conclusion to the questions raised by cyber genetics, but that was that just represent Then at the end of like that natural experiment. So this Cybersyn was this, this economist who wanted to take seriously the idea that the economy is like this complex system, but maybe you could model it using computers. And there’s all these advanced state of the art computers. And it’s set up in Chile under Alon de. And right is he’d spent a couple of years bringing the smartest people together building the computer systems. There was the cool by Pinochet. Yep. And then he gets forced out, flees Chile, and then we never see what what would have happened with that?
They did, I looked into it. So there was like this central command center, the economy would be centrally planned for these incredible computers, social strife would be reduced. They did successfully break at least one strike. That’s, that’s what Wikipedia CITES. There was like, so Cybersyn
was partly implemented before the coup.
It was partially implemented before. Yeah, so the years leading up to IMDs, fall, like GDP was collapsing. The world would, or they were not doing super well as a nation in general. There was, I believe, like a strike amongst truckers, national like trucker strike. And they use like a lot of the tools of Cybersyn in order to like, allocate trucking routes in order to do some Google Maps type stuff and actually try to like, alleviate some of the harms to the supply chain that the strike was causing. Which is funny that this like super leftist government ended up using this economic planner to to break a strike. But yeah, I think in the literal sense, I think the idea or I think like these literal interpretations of cybernetics have not gone super far. But there are ones that were fully carried out like the one child policy in China I’m a lot of right now I’m thinking of that another palladium article, the genealogy of Chinese cybernetics if you slow No, I haven’t, it talks about how she and she said of former MIT professor of course, two ends up planning cybernetically planning the great leap forward in his descendants is intellectual descendants plan the one child policy sorry, he
the greatest form of cybernetics planning,
it was and really elements of it that were planned by Shannon watts.
The really Ford
you know, the, the effort to rapidly industrialize involves a lot of like decentralized action, but the work that he did for which is not single ahead by any means. He was, in a way, he was very similar to Vanniver Bush, but for China, he’ll deliver them their first like nuclear weapons as well as like their first ballistic rocket system. And he a lot of economic planning, as part of that massive program was was him and he explicitly invoked like Norbert wieners name to wow, carried on,
that must be the single worst legacy of any Well, I mean, maybe maybe, like, Marxist communism. But like, the Great Leap Forward is like, in my head, one of the biggest, maybe the biggest historical catastrophe from policy created
directly caused by human hands,
right? Like for like, something between like 30 to 50 million people starve to death. Yeah. I wonder what cybernetics like the decision to get people to try to melt their own iron in their backyards. I wonder if that was like a cybernetics? That’s pretty horrible. I had no idea that cybernetics had that at hand in that.
The fundamental idea though, that society resources will be allocated, according to intelligent Oracle’s or intelligent agents, borrows a lot from cybernetics. And I think that is the world that we already live in the way that you actually the way that, you know, our system determines if you get a bank loan, what your prison sentences, how shipping routes are actually determined, are all completely out of control of individual human beings. It is in the hands of this agency is not in the hands of human computers anymore, much less, something even less powerful. It’s in the hands of massive computer systems, almost anonymously crafted by a pretty small group of people.
When did the humanities begin at MIT?
Right. Interesting because, to me, that isn’t the same as the core of cybernetics. I don’t have a very deep understanding of cybernetics. But my sense is that it’s more specific than just like it is more specific than that and then systems can be modeled by a small the small set of computers or whatever. Okay, What about the legacy of the arts at MIT? One thing I was probably surprised by when watching regressions was that Weisner, there was actually a pretty strong emphasis on the humanities from fairly early on. Like before. And maybe you can describe a bit like, what, when did the humanities really begin to take root at MIT? Because my understanding is that didn’t happen. Like, at around World War Two miniver. Bush was the dean, there wasn’t really a big humanities program. But somehow it came to have people like Chomsky. And having some, I mean, I can’t really there’s not it’s not the humanities, like it’s like, does not have the humanities impact of other major colleges,
unless it’s in these bizarre examples, like with Chomsky, like with Chomsky, the economics department like Samuelson, right? Those are both very, like computationally based, like ways to do these, like these disciplines.
Right. Right. Right. But like, when does that happen?
The 1950s, the requirement that all undergraduates take eight humanities classes was established. Okay. It was a big report that, you know, made it so that there’s like a Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, school science and engineering are separate, who decided that it was called the Lewis reports. I think the whole corporation and the president all agreed, is that we’re going to run things that you think I’ve seen, I’ve heard a little bit of the rhetoric about why students shouldn’t be required to take humanities class every semester while they’re in an undergraduate. I think a lot of it was this idea that we have inherited the earth. And these technocratic elites that MIT is pumping out, should be at least somewhat well versed, they should know how to write. And I think there was also an urge to match the stature of our peer institutions, which were no longer just like trade schools, or maybe our our it, I think WPI of these places were considered like our peers back in. In the earlier days now, it was the likes of Harvard, Yale, and others. But I
mean, so that still doesn’t answer the question. Why did the elites themselves think that MIT needed to learn humanities subjects? You know, like, Why did Lewis Penn this report? Yeah, sure. People can be really influential from MIT. But when what went along the line, does that lead to like this humanities requirement? You know, like, because you can imagine, there, there’s probably the sense that like St. Paul University, that these people are going to be really influential and important. But my sense is that they don’t nearly have the same emphasis on on humanities and learning other subjects.
I don’t have a more specific answer. But yeah, to find out, yeah, but I think the basic idea, but that I have heard is that, you know, very important people. We witnessed this crisis of confidence in our republic in our democracy multiple times the past 2030 years, the Depression, World War Two onward, fascism almost took over all that. There’s an incredible responsibility that this world order that we now rest upon, gives us.
Yeah, I think that there’s something to be said about educational philosophy, and the notion of what an education was for, then that really shaped this. I feel really ill equipped to talk about this much. But I’m imagining, like some of the, like, Dewey, some of these philosophers who had this notion that, you know, education was really for making a citizen who could take part in a democracy. And the first isn’t to take part in a democracy. You can’t just be a calculator or a boat engineer, you actually need to know how to form opinions about a broad variety of things. Which, yeah, somehow the transition along the line? Yeah, MIT, went from being a trade school to really emphasizing the liberal arts. One funny thing that you notice that was an undergrad is that people are always minimizing the humanities. And everyone, we talk about past requirements, humanities or social sciences. Everyone talks about how the house classes are a joke, or you just choose the house class that has the least number of hours. Yep, many of them are. And that I mean, do you have a sense of if that was a thing? In the 60s, and the 70s Has that changed among the student population?
I went They’ve talked to when Wes and I talked to older students, we never really heard much discussion of humanities classes general in both positive and negative direction. But I say there are many classes are a joke. The faculty at all in all of the like our major classes are in all of our major, like humanities subjects are all quite, like very strong. Yeah, there are many of them. Many professors, especially for freshman classes, right, do not expect the students to actually do the reading. I hear that even at colleges that emphasize the liberal arts also don’t expect their kids to do the reading, which is very concerning. But yeah, there’s a massive gradation. A lot of the philosophy classes that I have taken do expect you to put in the hours. And I’ve heard that about, of course, classes or Congress classes, for sure, as well as like stuff. That’s the straight up philosophy department, as well as the linguistics department. Right? Right. I’m sure there are many. The other departments also have these expectations as
well. Yeah, the philosophy class that I took were pretty serious, I would say. And the less serious ones would be like, world music or anthropology for example, since like, no one’s majoring anthropology. There’s,
I’ve taken multiple anthropology classes here. As you rise from like freshman, the sophomore in junior year, it kind of wills out the people who don’t actually care, right? The people who don’t actually care, what they’ll do is they’ll do like, voice and speech, they’ll take multiple acting classes, bodies in motion. So they called bodies and spaces or bodies in motion, and so on. But a lot of the freshman classes for pretty much all of the humanities departments here, have a lot of that, right, you know, you put in what you, you get out what you put in. But being in like the higher level anthropology classes, it’s like a good mixture of you and a bunch of other graduate students who are also focused on this.
One, one thing I’m thinking of, is this, this general observation, this is just some random person on the internet. But they were saying that this their philosophy professor, that actually I think it was a philosophy presser saying that when they were a student, that the standards were just very, very different. People were expected to have already read Heidegger. I saw this tweet, enter entering college, and then
so I thought she meant until during undergrad and I was like, What the Hell Verse students? So the tweet was like, apparently is for his graduate program. Right, right. The the under, there’s an understanding of that, if you’re going to take like a be a graduate student critical theory in some way, you should have already read Heidegger. You should have already read like almost all of Marx. Now it’s time for you to go into the deep cuts. Right. Right. And right now, the expectation is that grad students should you should assume they have a blank slate when it comes to a continental philosophy or whatever, right? Yeah, probably.
I mean, I don’t know if that specifically is true, but more generally seems pretty. Like, I’m wondering, this seems plausible to me. There’s just a lot more reading, and a lot more understanding in the humanities, going into college, people were not people were reading a lot more. It’s pretty typical. This is hard, because a lot of STEM. My stem friends just don’t read very much. But very few of my friends do read in general. But my sense is that the technical people are doing more math than ever before. And just like lots, people have programming more, doing more engineering stem stuff, but the people who are actually putting the same amount of intellectual effort into, like wrangling big ideas, writing reading literature, it’s it’s significantly decreased. Well,
I witnessed like a different completely different culture talking to a lot of friends in Colombia. For them it is the opposite. Oh, yeah. Like it’s crazy to do much more than like an integral on for like a lot of the people I talk to you but they’re reading like all of Machiavelli’s, the prince within like a week. Otherwise, they’ll get like a terrible grade in the fall behind in the discussion. Right. And they’re, like, expected to read the quarter and like all the classics, right. And I think a lot of,
but like going in. So this is this is an existing requirement at the college. So obviously, you have to do that. But my question is, the high school students who are going to go into the call that’s more considered doing this, like my sense is No. People are reading a lot less generally.
Yeah, that is concerning. I mean, I’ve been seeing, I’m sure you’ve seen it as well, a lot of reports about how literacy seems to be going down in like American high school students. A lot of the core metrics that you’d think we’d be spending a lot more time on optimizing for right or not doing super hot right now.
Yeah. I feel bad about making a general claim about America or like, because I know so little about the data there. But just anecdotally among people All younger MIT students, people that I know, it’s pretty shocking to me how little people read. Just among Yeah, just very few people who I mean, they’re all incredibly smart, brilliant. Or many, many people who I consider incredibly insightful, smart. Very few of them read more than like five books a year. That’s very, very rare.
Yeah, I think that’s many structural factors leading to that. I want to, I want to wish I have personally read much more than I currently do. Yeah, I’m not hitting more than five per year at this rate.
The Rise of Safetyism at MIT
So do you need to take go to the bathroom? No, no. Okay. So you can rotate your chair? If it’s, it’s, I should do that. But okay, what about safetyism your favorite topic, the rise of safety ism on campus, and just how, okay, so this is this is maybe relates back to what I was saying before about the, like, innocence or loss of innocence or changing relationship between the student body and the Institute. The thing that I heard, I’ve heard from you, and thing that is kind of the myth in my head is that students will wear to wear enlist enlisted, you know, people were volunteering to find the war, they were seen as adults, on the same hierarchy citizens. As faculty members, they had the same similar levels of respect, really, lots of responsibility. That continues mostly until sometime around like the late 90s or so after a series of student deaths. And there’s some bigger change in the culture of the US increasing the coddling of the American mind or whatever. And that has seeps in. And then, you know, Chancellor Barnhart comes in her number one priority, or one of her biggest priority is the safety among people on campus. And then that the tides shift. The students are no longer adults, they’re actually seen as just like large children. And you have all these restrictions, like people standing at the Gateway, making sure that kids aren’t drinking too much. And you can’t live in your fraternities until you’re like much until you’ve been on campus for a year. There’s lots of restrictions on Russia and whatnot. Yeah, do you do you? Would you add nuance to the story?
Yeah, I would correct it a little bit. I think there’s this really weird era before the countercultural revolution, the late 60s. That might be a bit unrecognizable to us. I don’t think it was students or adults. And then suddenly, the 90s actually know you’re coddled children. And, you know, it’s our time, it’s our turn to babysit you. I think what happened in between, was this weird period between World War Two and the late 60s, where there actually was like a very paternalistic attitude towards students. And you can kind of see it in the social beaver. It wasn’t the type of childish coddling that you kind of see when you look look at how, like college orientations
and some plastic ball plastic ball
pits and Semmens. If you’re not on a meal plan, like you have to be in the meal plan. We don’t trust any of you. You don’t trust children to feed yourselves which honestly fair in some cases,
but it’s been like a it’s been a it’s been abused, not just abused, but like a self embodying thing.
It’s self reinforcing, right? If you if you see if you tell these 1920 year olds that you don’t trust them to feed themselves, and they’re not going to adopt those habits, cooking together with young people is increasingly rare. Like a lot of the dorms at MIT.
This, it’s so absurd to me. Yes, in order and I grew up, I grew up cooking a lot. But
it’s great. In order to kind of get that culture you have to opt out of MIT is default track writing track, which is pretty bad pressure. The funny thing is, as a side note, this gives a lot of power to frats. Probably, which is probably what they don’t want. You can opt out of a lot of this stuff, but just living in a frat off campus, right? You can cope with your friends, you can party much more openly. Anyway. There is like a very paternalistic culture where there are areas where only women are allowed and like men are strictly kept away. I’m sure you remember that scene that we have the 1950s chapter on the few women on campus have their own place called the Mary Baker Eddy Eddy room, which still does exist, which is only
I mean, there’s McCormick that’s still existence. Right? And but there are fraternities are also like men only allowed here to but but that’s not an institution. There’s
a lot of sexual mores mores in. Right that existed in this era for the workplace paternalistic, and that were very, that were very be literally, I think were like your behavior was pretty strictly regulated by by MIT. And that’s part of what seemed to have animated so much of the blowback during the late 60s When the sexual revolution, the civil rights era is cresting, as well as the rise of drug culture with things like LSD, and, of course, the hippie movements, the anti Vietnam movement, anti Vietnam War, movement, all these things kind of coalescing to create a totally different type of American culture. And on top of all of this, a draft is occurring, which means that every
able bodied was voluntary entirely.
Right? There’s I think there was drafted in World War Two as well. Okay. Okay. So there was multiple things that were happening. One is this kind of soft authority that just American culture seemed to have on men and women, a lot of it related to
right. So that’s, that’s one thing that I would say was apparent to me is that the authority imposed in the the between the 40s, and the 60s was as an adult, it’s just like, repressive American Protestant culture. Exactly. But it’s not because you’re a child. It’s like, no, in fact, any institution, even if you’re working in a Ford factory, or something like that, you would still have this like, segment for women, and like men and women are not allowed to spend time, like, allowed to mingle in the night or whatever. But there’s still like, implicitly, you know, there’s the institution, which is the authority, but it’s not like faculty see the students as children. Right? I don’t know what yeah,
like many of these things, I think it’s a matter of emphasis, there’s still an understanding that like, these are young 18 year olds don’t know exactly what they’re doing. Okay. They’re all during like the 40s, who was like a bunch of everyone. It’s a bunch of like, jarheads, right bunch of guys with shaved heads, many of whom are taking on technical roles. So they’re not actually infantry. But they’re not nearly as respected, of course, as the faculty, but they are treated as adults, they are going to fight in the front lines often or they’re going to be more often than not and MIT’s case taking on the technical support role, right. I think what you see, I think that’s a really important distinction to make. What we do know and the distinction
between what what
American culture in general was imposing upon people as adults, right, versus what the institution was what the institution was very strictly imposing upon people, right? In the late 1960s, when you have a war that does not have popular buy in, no longer has popular buy in like World War Two does, where almost all of the middle class people who were drafted, but were fortunate enough to be in college now had the full freedom to protest the ability to protest. And like the financial means to do so. Just took off like wildfire. All of these things combined, you know, created what is like a large chunk of our movie, which people will have to see for themselves. I think what happens in the 1990s is, a lot of those factors disappear. And there’s no longer a perpetual war that you’re getting drafted into. Student debt is also ballooning every single year. There’s this pretty incredible quote from the Nixon administration. It’s really dangerous to have a educated proletariat. That is literally what one of Nixon’s advisors was caught saying on the record. I don’t think he meant it in like the Marxist way. I think what he meant it as is like, all of these kids who have enough money to have enough time and money to just like protest, and exercise their civic duties and, you know, in voice, their voice, their disagreement with his war, but not be able to do so if they just can’t go to college in the first place. There was a refusal to kind of raise federal aid for universities when the explosion of inflation happened in the 1970s. And from the 1970s, onward, you see just a massive explosion, not only in health care costs and housing costs, but also the cost of college. And I think it completely changes the economic calculus of sending your kid to a place like MIT by the 90s. This is also a time when, despite the fact that cost is going up, demand is surging, like the middle class is still growing number of kids who could go to MIT is still expanding. And so you’re in this really weird position of a parent or colleges more expensive than ever more expensive than you could possibly imagine. You’re the child of a college aged kid in the 90s. It’s also more competitive than ever, like Al Gore said that his acceptance rate when he got into Harvard, the acceptance rate was like 30 or 50% or something. So almost like from birth, you have to have this highly cultivated child that goes to gets all the right extracurriculars goes to the right preschool.
So that’s driven by scarcity, you think is Putting the bottle on first. But what you’re saying is the increasing demand? Well, then there’s a question behind what is
driving the increasing demand, which I think is very strange to think about. But yeah,
right. So roughly, you can one lens is really, really increasing demand for some reason for colleges. Plus rapid inflation means that colleges are both more expensive than ever before, but also more hard to get into than ever before. But yeah, the most interesting fundamental question for me is, what is driving this like prestige? Or what is driving this drive to get your kid in?
That’s the hard part. Right? I think the easier part to understand is the safety of something, which is my child is like a rare bird that I’ve been taking care of since birth. Right. The last thing that I want to have happen is for, you know, one of these nightmare scenarios that did happen to many kids at MIT in the 90s. It was both suicides, or it was it was alcohol poisoning, right.
So so safety ism, as a whole, we can, you’re saying we can largely pin that down to the fact that it just become so much of an investment to send your kid to college and so much harder to do, so that you have to actually be very deliberate about it.
The meritocracy is getting was much more more competitive now than it ever has been. As well as that other structural factor. The expectations of young Americans, the expectation of young Americans is not to, you know, be on the line for the next draft. It is, you know, to enter in our, in the case of someone at MIT to enter the professional managerial class, get as far ahead as you possibly can, and join these jobs in the new economy. That’s another thing. Jobs at Microsoft, Google, Apple obviously did not exist until like the late 20th century onward. Right? What, what did you have to look forward to? If you didn’t get drafted, you’re fine. You’re an MIT student, late 60s, it was working at many like military contractors whose names we wouldn’t recognize anymore. The big players like IBM, and others, large car companies. And in many cases, a lot of the jobs that are better known for amongst the Ivy League, such as Goldman Sachs.
But those are much, much, much later.
But that was much later, high finance was not really was unleashed in like the 80s, after a series of deregulation, right.
And then there’s the whole era of trainers, which which didn’t really happen in Wall Street to like the late 80s, like, mid 90s,
which was a perfect call, it was a perfect combination of like the technology for high frequency trading right there. The deregulation that makes it possible, as well as just the incredible rates of growth that like the Dow,
and the technical talent. Exactly.
So these talent pipelines that were usually orchestrated towards a military industrial complex are now widely open. When the Professor Cornel West from Harvard/Princeton, whenever he comes to MIT, he says, you know, when I get up, I’m used to look staring at my lecture hall and looking at the faces of future members of the American elite. But whatever I do my guest lectures at MIT, I’m looking at the future elite of the military industrial complex. And then he’s like, I don’t really feel quite that same way anymore. It seems like you guys are all sharing a lot of jobs these days. I think he has pretty much nailed it in a very profane way, right? We’re talking about the like, why is safety isn’t safety hasn’t been like, why is this prestige like this urge for prestige, this anxious upper middle class thing that we keep seeing the rise of things like college confidential? And what is driving all this? What is your immediate reaction?
Well, I’m wondering globalization, like, what, what this has to do with with broader trends in the world economy? Are you cold? No, no. And I’m also thinking, because I’ve been listening to Gerard, like, what is this? Is this mimetic? Like? It’s just another instance of mimicry, like, nothing becomes more prestigious just because because just because it’s more selective. Yeah. So you could say that the thing that actually drove people to it was the fact that inflation was making it a little more expensive, became a little bit more selective. And people by nature, just flock towards things that are selective. And that, just like these clubs that we see is what propelled MIT Now obviously, it can’t just be that, but the structures were in place and these were seen as already very prestigious places. So the flywheel start to turn, things are more expensive. Wow. You know, it’s kind of hard to get into this place of people must want to go here, then. Everyone wins. In the same way leads to acceptance rate decreasing from 30%. To like, 4% 3%.
It’s yeah, it’s getting Wilder sounds COVID it’s even lower than that. It’s been crazy.
Yeah. Can’t wait for it to be like point 2%. But it will be. There’s also a thing about like, well, this is a question on the supply side, like, why has college increase in costs? Yeah. Why do service things tend to increase in costs, while goods tend to become cheaper over time? There’s the viewer, have you heard of Baumol’s cost disease?
No. But I’ve seen the classic chart where it’s like, since like the 70s percentage increase in price decrease in like, televisions and consumer electronics has decreased by like, 1000s of percentage points. Right. Right. So like, you know, the usual suspects, housing, healthcare, college
cost, money to attend, yeah, musical symphonies, the wages of just like how much it would cost to put on an opera production or something also significantly increases. And I mean, I don’t, I can’t spend too much time describing because I don’t understand it that well. But by most Costas, he basically says something like, service jobs are not scalable as the goods jobs because goods, you can use a bunch of machines. And there’s lots of like, economies of scale, that make it just cheaper and cheaper. But service jobs require people. And even though the population expand, it’s not nearly comparable to like the economies of scale of like, a factory. So that’s just like, a economic fact, that service service things are things that are limited by like the people that are present, like in our case, colleges are limited by the number of faculty are just going to be and housing. Yeah, and housing are more expensive than good jobs. And there’s I mean, you could ask the question, like, could MIT not have doubled, or like tripled in size? I think that one’s
easier to understand. Prestigious, very hard to get, and it’s very easy to lose.
Right, right. I mean, from from that lens? You don’t want to be diluting your prestige. But I mean, do you think it’s actually plausible that MIT could have tripled, and build more housing and got more students enrolled? Like not not plausible from the administration choosing that more just like? Is there enough housing in Cambridge? To do that? Is there enough? Like, is it practical to get enough faculty to teach enough students?
Well, that’s a great thread that we also cover. If you noticed in regressions, if you’ve watched it recently, the kind of the thread about housing, we talked about how there’s one guy named Michael Elbert, who ran for being president of the UAE, the Undergraduate Association, had three demands, every single person in the tech who wrote in to be on the ballot would just do like the definition of class president is, you know, blah, blah, blah. And what he said is like three things one is accepts the current demands of the Black Student Union, which are just born that year. The other one is end all war research at MIT. And the third one is end to the Cambridge housing crisis. If there was a crisis in the late 60s, imagine if he could see how it is now imagine like how terrified people would be seeing how bad it has become?
How would they How would MIT and the Cambridge housing crisis
in his paragraph that he dedicated to it in this like 50 year old newspaper, he even said that MIT and Harvard are buying up properties and refusing to build affordable housing on those properties. We later talked about Tent City in the 1980s, right 8688 Where MIT is demolishing this like extremely low income neighborhood in order to build like a housing site. That would be super expensive, and would almost certainly be for faculty, which now is called the simplex site, you can see it, there’s like a monument dedicated to what happened. So a bunch of homeless people and MIT students started like camping out outside of MIT outside a Lobby seven in like that site, they just refuse to move. And they called it Tent City. And everything. You know, I think so many different cities in America and across the world. deal with this problem where the economics of building affordable housing don’t seem to be super appealing to a lot of the people who have who can make these decisions. It has been good to see just the explosion of discourse around this yimby ism versus nimbyism versus the third option, which is, you know, entirely government backed housing solutions. I think that is part of it, though. So many different zoning regulations. I sound like a human being myself right now. Are the current state of our political economy, I think is what prevented MIT part of what prevented MIT from expanding more than I could
If and all so this isn’t the 60s ending all war research would have meant that MIT is it’s done budget zero.
He from expanding more than I could have.
And all. So this isn’t the 60s ending all war research would have meant that MIT is it’s telling budgets, zero.
Cut by, according to some historians we talked to cut by at least 66%. There’s
like, I mean, there’s a quote in the document and where they say, well, actually, this is Chomsky. Chomsky says that up until the 90s, yeah, 100% of MIT’s funding is from the Pentagon. That’s probably not exactly true.
We, it’s one of those things where like, the real answer is so is quite complicated and kinda boring. But right, for the lab that he was
in the NSF is not the Pentagon, right, like NSF definitely existed before. The 90s. Yeah,
he does a lot of old man exaggerations. But politically for sure, as well.
Yeah, poetic license will give or give Chomsky poetic license. The one thing that I was also inspired by in regressions was this. Like, humanity’s had a big presence. But also MIT was kind of a bastion of free speech. Like I really liked this, this little anecdote that on Nixon, and Nixon is just you get some really good clips of him just like, why, like, do we can we just slash the $40 million and get the funding? Like, why did these like campus socialists need any money? I mean, they’re smart. Sure. But why can we just give that to Oklahoma? Yeah. Like can’t be learned to be smart to
those wild. That was yeah, the theater always like erupts whenever we play that part.
Yeah. But that the the Nixon enemy list, the fact that MIT purportedly has the more had the most of of any organization? Probably, I mean, surely, if any, like,
Unknown Speaker 1:32:03
aside from the government, I assume?
MIT Professors on the Nixon enemy list
Yeah. Have any college probably. Yeah. On the Nixon enemy list of anyone is, I think a little bit of a point of pride.
I think it should be Yeah, I mean, the bar was pretty low to get on that list. But you had to be I think almost all those voices that are on the from MIT who are on the enemies list are all like people who we should all take a lot of pride in. Wrong Weisner, Jerry Wiesner Noam Chomsky, Paul Samuelson, like one of the one of the leading economists behind like modern quantitative finance, and just the study of finance is very funny. I don’t know what he did to get on there. Daniel Ellsberg for obvious reasons. He the Edward Snowden of his day, who leaked the pentagon papers to the Washington Post. There’s other parts that we didn’t include that I wish we did, where Henry Kissinger and Nixon are just like scheming at the the Oval Office. And they’re talking about this Ellsberg guy. And Kissinger is like, let me tell you, Mr. President, he was my student once he was the smartest SON OF A BITCH I’ve ever met. And then Nixon’s like, Ah, interesting, interesting. What do we got out of how do we screw up? And then like, Kissinger starts being like, yeah, he’s a drug addict, we could like totally destroy his reputation that way, like, they’re going on about it. And he tells the story about how apparently Ellsberg Kissinger was at MIT speaking in Kresge, for some reason, and Ellsberg burst into the room and scream you war criminal, and then ran away. And I heard a lot of anecdotes of this sort of thing happening. And like these very impassioned disruptions of speeches, but still allowing the speeches to continue. Right. It was a there’s almost like a it was very different, I think from like, the campus disruptions, the like, the kind of the culture war stuff that you hear about, and like that we’ve we’ve been hearing about from the past, like 10 years, there’s this guy named Chomsky himself, has said multiple times that like, if you don’t allow the speaker then I’m also like, boycotting this, this particular talk at MIT, right, a lot of people who had, he had every reason to be deeply critical of like one important member of the CIA, was invited to speak and 26 100, of course, where we screen our movie, and be their massive protests. Half of the Students for a Democratic Society in the late 60s Were like, there’s no way that we let this guy on stage, right? You know, the principle of freedom of speech was invented, when the church would execute you if you spoke against God or the king, if you spoke against the king. This is not that era. These are like colonialists trying to spread their lines or whatever. There are a lot of other young student radicals who are like absolutely not. This is like a mechanism by which we can act properly. We cannot sacrifice this. Right. They they were definitely not unified on like the primacy of free speech. But there was quite a bit of free speech going on. I think a lot of the disruptions that I did hear about were less like We’re more about expressing disgust with what is currently happening. Like one of the most wild stories is this one student told me that in kreski, there was some important general who was speaking. And so a bunch of students, I guess he considered this to be a hack. Found Footage of Vietcong soldiers shooting down American planes and projected it on to Kresge that way that was playing over the guy’s face while he was trying to speak. And like, as you can imagine, the general was super upset like the police came in. There’s a there’s a theatrical quality to it, which you can criticize. But it felt very strikingly different from right what people now.
Yeah, so that’s, that’s the thing that I wonder if you can bring the dialogue with the safetyism. So now it’s people people are, my experience was that there was no, like, there was such the lack of political really interest or engagement among the students. People did not talk about politics or government are really the conversations were all about. technical things. Yeah, it was it was about what jobs you would get or whatever, there was just a general lack of awareness of, of like, federal issues, policies, whatever. There was a, there were certain democratic organizations, but those are actually usually led by the grad students. And yeah, that, yeah,
the Kissinger protests that I was at as a freshman, but I made sure to put in our movie, because like, the back of my head is visible, and I figured you got to put the shot in there. Yeah. And because Kissinger was such a symbol of like, this thread, the rise of like, the American technocrat throughout our entire movie. It was mostly BU and grad students, bu grad students and MIT grad students leaving the protest, which in the era of undergrads being massively politically activated, ended pretty quickly, when from the 70s Onward.
So it ended in the 70s. It’s what you’re saying.
That’s based on just like the interviews that we did, and based on a lot of reading in the tech, there’s very conscious shift towards I think career ism towards.
But wait, you mean, obvious not conscious? Surely, like the were students at one point being like, actually, I don’t think we should focus on policy like we should focus instead on our career. So
there were a few really insane examples of former hippies working on Wall Street. The day that Timothy Leary, put on a suit. So the same guy who’s in our movie in late, you know, sightseeing 68 Or five talks about why you should just drop out of life and do LSD, yeah. later became moved to Silicon Valley, became like a big web guy, web 1.0. Guy. A lot of the up, Jerry Rubin worked on Wall Street. He like helped his group helped coined the phrase make love not war. Abbie Hoffman did not because he ended up dying in like the early 80s. Like some of the Chicago seven, the people who were arrested after the like the 1968, Democratic primary in Chicago, or Democratic Convention in Chicago, that were effectively like put on trial for protesting. One of them became like a founder of one of like, lead investors of Apple back in the day, others Wall Street. So there was like that, yeah, this really interesting phase transition, where people realized, okay, we should probably move to where the people are at, you can make your judgments yourself about, about that. What we see from students from the 80s onwards is they’re just facing a totally different set of incentives. Right? There are these new types of brand new genres of jobs to move after, it is more expensive than ever to go to MIT. I need to fuck I need to pay off my debt. Right and to pay off my loans.
Okay, so the safety ism, there is a thread linking them, there’s, I think there is things that it’s not also just the parents grooming this, the students, there’s a sense of the college is so precious, and you have to like, really make sure that it equips you to then pay back.
Yeah, it’s and whatnot. The stakes are really high. You can’t
you can’t protest because you could get kicked out of college. But I mean, the thing is, it’s you don’t feel like that’s a calculus being made at all. It’s more just like, what, like, protest?
Yeah, why would I do that? You would, if you, you could be really rude to your professor, but they’re never gonna write you a letter of rec like, right, you know, word will spread very quickly that you’re an annoying college student. incorrectly. So Right.
Unknown Speaker 1:39:25
I mean, I don’t know correctly. So but yeah, but that you
are, you know, it is it is annoying, right. Like to be that’s what I mean. You are, yeah, it’s protesting is, you’re annoying people, right, which is, you’re doing it in service of something else, but there are consequences of doing it. And I think, you know, that’s, I think people are less willing to take on that risk. They don’t like you said they don’t consciously make that calculation. Right. I think part of why college felt so high stakes to me to tie it into the personal is because it’s really this four or five year period of your life. You do a Masters as well. Where do you live in this super walkable community, very dense socially, where you can have so much time to really figure out the path that you want your life to take, right in the medium and long term, even meet your potential spouse. All of this, these moments and opportunities and objectives are kind of compressed in this very short amount of time, right. And so when these policies change, and when what is considered possible changes, you see all these incredible downstream effects, whether it’s the threat of safety ism, what we talked about the very beginning of the conversation about this vibrant social life that College gives you access to,
but that has, is that a new thing? Is that not what has existed in the past two years? I think it’s
new. I think a lot of people like talking about walkable communities and
the preciousness of that as the college is the one place you can get that, right. Yeah, so that wouldn’t explain the increase in safety ism, or
whatever. No, I think it explains why the stakes feel so high. Why, but this discussion emotionally is such a passionate,
right. So but this is why it’s so passionate in general, even in the 60s, and even now. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I feel like there’s a broader thing to say here too, about meaning, and the dearth, or fragmentation of institutions that can provide meaning outside of college. So when you live in a suburb, and you drive your SUV with your 2.5, children to your, to your job. Or your middle manager, there’s not, there’s not a lot of institutions that allow you to play allow you to spawn you can have a barbecue in your backyard, and then your dog plays with the other neighbor’s dogs. But yeah, there’s this like sterility outside, there’s no communal living, there’s no like, chaos and spontaneity. And maybe since like, the 50s, that, like college just played an increasingly important role, as the place where meaning is made for young people, and the people don’t go to college aren’t just like, not equipped for the workforce. It’s part of like a middle class, upper middle class, you actually are not even given the chance to, to find, I mean, this is a very romantic expressiveness find yourself or to construct the narratives that you want to continue on with your with your life. Because some of that can be taught, and some of that you learned from reading, and from lectures, but a lot of it is really ways of being that you learned from your peers. And you might learn that, actually, I like walking around with my shirt off in the house, and it feels fantastic to, to say on the sailboat, or, like, they’re, like, I’ve never known such a joy as it being 12am. And we are in a shared, I’m in a share landrus with friends, and we are throwing fruit in a wall. You know, these, these types of ways of being are just maybe less and less accessible. But but you know, I always have to also have to say like, that’s, that’s pretty luxurious way of being, the thing that I just described is
deeply, deeply privileged, but experience to have and many people in this country can be very unlucky about where they are, where these sorts of in person communities are way less common and way less easy, because variety of factors, lack of common spaces, lack of walkable areas, right? Just like being things being geographically unfortunate,
right? I mean, so you can say plays a privilege, but that doesn’t make it less important for us.
Yeah, I think the goal should be to make it so that all these things are that we know are good for people more accessible.
What do you think of the role that MIT has now to play on the world stage?
Unknown Speaker 1:44:32
Like what, what you think, what maybe what you think you would like it to be?
And also versus maybe what you think it’s functionally doing?
The current phase that it’s in, like, there’s like a massive emphasis on theoretical sciences. Of course, computer science is I think it’s only gonna grow, I think acceptance rates will continue to go down. I think population will, will go up faster than, like the capacity, MIT’s capacity. Right. I think like the research, the research directives, I think so much of what shaped like MIT’s the labs that are now forming, it was definitely the Cold War. So I think in that is a bit of a prediction about where things are heading with, between the US and China, what is if there’s going to be another great power conflict and some other strange kind of post cold war thing is going to happen. I could see a few other things. But I mean, is maybe that’s a fancy way of me saying more of the same when it comes to when it comes to that the character and the feeling of this place, right.
I mean, more of like, what what role it’s playing right now, as opposed to in the near future. I see. Like, one might say that, functionally, it has recently come to try to produce rich alumni by like, founding tech companies. That’s functionally what things like sandbox have done, they have tried to try to incentivize students to instead of, you know, going on to become managers at banks or whatever, to actually start their own companies, and then they become multimillionaires or billionaires who also can continue to fund MIT
ICMS there’s a huge emphasis on that not unique to MIT. You know, the vague concept of entrepreneurship is thrown around a lot, right? There also been a few high profile cases, the founders from MIT, either doing very well, or crashing and burning, sandbags, and fried being an awesome example of that. The role of the students or the faculty member once you’re done here, or like while you’re still here. It’s kind of emerging more and more with our peer groups of what is expected of people who come out of Harvard and people who come out of standard and other schools.
Unknown Speaker 1:47:09
So feeding the PMC.
Feeding the PMC pipeline is a given, I think,
but that so that was the transition. So okay, if you want to play this dislike reductive narrative game, what do you think is still instructive? Yeah. Charlie would say that in the 60s, even from the beginning in the 40s. Mit feeds the war machine, the US and my MIT is the gears the the factory that turns out the war machines, but then you then it’s changing a little bit now. It’s like the professional managerial class. Maybe later on like the 80s, or 90s. And then maybe you say in the more recent era, now it’s just like
my you go back to the return to tradition, to return to
tradition, because of a looming Cold War. Yeah, I don’t. Yeah, I guess I feel skeptical of that. But
I do as well. It’s, uh, yeah, it’s, yeah, for rhetorical purposes.
And, but like, what do you do you think? Like, I guess, how do you feel about this, like, MIT better world stuff? Like Rafael Rights Initiative, like, MIT can use technology to solve climate change, and we can use it to cure diseases, whatnot. How do you feel about? Yeah,
it feels like an extension of, you know, the promise that has been made by this place for a long time. It the MIT Better World fundraising campaign started sixth 2016 or 17. Put into very plain words, what the rhetoric is, when on the world stage when you’re trying to promote yourself to this massive billionaire class of MIT and just the world in general, to get people who aren’t even associated with MIT like Stephen Schwarzman to donate massive sums of money, right? That is the rhetoric that MIT has chosen, which is that, you know, the, what solves climate change is going to be fundamental technological breakthroughs, which is correct. It’s going to be things like nuclear fusion, it’s going to be a lot of these incremental steps. And crucially, it’s going to be basic research. But just like fundamentally improving, like our understanding of fields, and then allowing these applications to trickle down from that.
Unknown Speaker 1:49:28
So you’re sympathetic to this to this. Yeah,
I have yet to hear a strong alternative to that. It would be very anti enlightenment. I think that there’s that that is not like a core pillar of it. Obviously, though, technology without any of these technological developments, without like a sound society that that the rest within it’s not super advisable either. Right. Well, I
mean, I, you mean, you haven’t heard a convincing alternative solution, right. Or you haven’t heard convenient criticism.
The best critics Islam is just accusations of hypocrisy on MIT’s part. Right. And that’s what our movie focuses on a ton, right? We’re just students, faculty, outsiders, all saying the same thing, which is, this facade that MIT is putting up, is in service of what they really want to do, which is partaking the Cold War, which is, you know, continued the status quo. I think it’s possible to have these two ideas in your head at the same time still strive for this ideal? Yeah, I mean, while still being fully willing to criticize the execution of the ideal,
right. I mean, the criticism that that I’m thinking of is that actually, our technology is going to destroy us all right, war, it saves us. And the while it’s true, that we not be we might not be able to solve climate change without clear breakthroughs and technology. Actually, it’s better that we have collapse societies than like, no one, or nuclear wasteland or whatever,
by collapsed societies to be like the group heavily degrowth.
Yeah, or just the consequences of of, yeah, the havoc that have flooded coastal areas, really dry other places. You know, there’s a lot of turmoil. But it’s not everyone dying. I mean, this is, yeah, I’m putting forth this argument. I’m sympathetic to it. I do, it’s pretty clear to me that it’s not like a real existential risk. Sense of like, climate change would lead to every single human day. Seems very, very unlikely.
But it’s what a allows effective altruists ignore not talk about it. We only care about if population goes to zero. Right. If you were stuck at less than 1 billion, though, then it’s fine.
You Yeah. I mean, you know, that’s not just there’s there’s some merit to that.
For sure. I mean, the EV, of preventing everything from going to zero, right? If it’s possible, as much higher.
I mean, I don’t like I think it’s a horrible. Like, I just, I just don’t think you can make, like, moral decisions like that, though. You definitely can’t. I mean, you can. It’s just wrong to, I think, or category or something. But yeah, okay. Yeah. Any last words you want to say about MIT reflections.
Well, thank you for having me talk. This was cool. Wouldn’t a lot of fun directions. Yeah. Yeah. You can check out the movie at regressions.net if you want to see it for yourself.
How are ya? Yeah. And I mean, I think like, five people are gonna look at this transcript. To be honest, this structure is almost more like for if we want to reference the conversation or something I’ve seen but I will put it up like in a blog post but where maybe podcasts but I Yeah, but in either case, your documentary. I will post the link to and you have a Twitter page to that I can post the link to and maybe soon you also have Keno Oh yeah. Your new filmmaking product.
Exactly. Well, yeah. You saw the demo of it at the other house. Yeah. Cool. Okay. Let’s wrap it up.