Category Archives: politics

Why the World Always Seems to be Getting Worse

“It’s the end of the House System at Caltech,” many Caltech alumni proclaimed upon hearing the administration unveil its plans for the newly constructed Bechtel House yesterday evening. The first major addition to Caltech housing in over 20 years, Bechtel will allow every undergraduate who wants to live on campus to do so. No longer will upperclassmen be subjected to the same harrowing process of roompick lotteries, uncertain whether they’ll be able to stay in their beloved House or move off-campus.

If you’ve spent any time dealing with the Caltech administration, though, you know there has to be a catch somewhere. Fortunately, the admins didn’t decide to go with one of their original plans, to make the new dorm all-freshman housing. Instead, they decided to make it a more free-for-all living arrangement, where clusters of friends can join and create their own culture without the social pressure of being another House (or two).

Working through the consequences, then, the procedure of matching freshmen to houses, currently a weeklong process known as Rotation and occurring right after students arrive at school, would inevitably have to be reformed. The main source of the drama lies in their solution: Houses will no longer have the ability to rank prefrosh; placement will instead only depend on the preferences of the incoming prefrosh (that’s Caltech lingo for matriculating freshmen).

There are unfortunately also serious concerns with the way this decision was reached that call into question the integrity of the administration. Sadly, this is not the first time they’ve acted unilaterally and in bad faith, despite giving all pretenses of working with student committees. Since they hold all of the power, it also won’t be the last.

That said, I’ve also been struck by the reaction of my fellow alumni to the content of the changes themselves. As one of my Caltech friends messaged me, “Sam, the world is ending. It’s all over. Run for the hills!” (emphasis his, punctuation mine) And yet, I’m also not surprised: This is exactly the same way that the Caltech Alumni Facebook group has reacted to, well, pretty much everything.

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Turning Off the Noise

One of my favorite albums of all time is Switchfoot’s The Beautiful Letdown (2003). In addition to the radio smash hits Dare You to MoveThis is Your Life, and Gone, the album also featured a song that I initially found a little strange. Here’s the chorus:

If we’re adding to the noise
turn off this song
If we’re adding to the noise
turn off your stereo, radio, video

Why would the band be telling you to turn off their music? Is this some weird reverse psychological tactic?

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What did Jesus say about ethnocentrism?

The events in Charlottesville last weekend around a planned white nationalist protest called “Unite the Right” have raised the ugly specter of racism again in a country which has been steadily growing ever more diverse. Given that white evangelical Christians famously voted in droves for the same president that the white nationalists cite as inspiration, one naturally wonders: Should we be also allow ourselves to be united to such a cause?

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Truth Telling Under Uncertainty

“Thou shalt not lie.” Perhaps the most misquoted commandment of them all is actually not that broad:

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What if we actually valued everyone equally?

I’ve previously written about the less commonly examined consequences of believing the life, with all of its dignity and worth, begins at conception. This week, I’d like to examine another common belief that tends to be voiced on the other side of the political spectrum: that we should value everyone, not just people we know or who are similar to us in some way. If I didn’t know better, I’d summarize this by saying “all lives matter,” but somehow that phrase has come to mean something closer to the opposite notion.

Without a convenient handle, I don’t have a relevant survey statistic to cite. Instead, we find this notion in how our country’s first revolutionaries justified their actions:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. (Preamble to the Declaration of Independence)

Beautiful language, which would form the basis of the grand experiment of the US. At the same time, I know some of you are thinking: “Just men? What about women?” Or perhaps you readily think of the already-widespread pattern of slavery and marvel that it took at least another 80 years and a civil war to overcome what some have called America’s original sin. But if your mind is drawn in those directions, it probably means that you think you believe in the equality of humanity even more than the Declaration signatories did.

The only problem is, you don’t act like it. How would we all behave if we actually valued everyone equally? Read more of this post