Letters to the Editor

Cambridge Election Coverage Lacking

Thank you very much for providing coverage on the upcoming Cambridge City Council election (“City Councillors Seek New 2-Year Terms in Cambridge Elections,” Oct. 30, 2007). It is quite important to engage the MIT community in expressing its preferences for those who will lead the City of Cambridge for the next two years. It is unfortunate that The Tech seems to have decided that the race for School Committee is not worth covering in the same manner. In fact, the quality of life for graduates students and faculty members with school age children is affected deeply by the quality of the Cambridge Public Schools, and voters should take just a much care in voting for School Committee as in voting for City Council. It is my hope that all MIT affiliates who are Cambridge voters will vote their preferences on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

There is one factual error in The Tech’s City Council article. Anthony Galluccio is running for reelection in the sense that his name will appear on the ballot, but once he was elected to the State Senate in a special election earlier this fall, he announced that he would not serve on the City Council, thereby freeing up his seat. Many Cantabrigians wish that Tim Toomey would have come to the same decision years ago.

Professor of Urban Cultural Policy

On Intellectual Imprisonment

The decision of James Watson to resign his longtime post as Chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory confirms a sad truth: It is presently difficult, if not impossible, to have a reasonable discussion on most issues of consequence. The dilution of our discourse, and the atrophy of our minds that has attended it, have come of the efforts of numerous individuals and organizations. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, elements of the right have accused those who ask the United States to examine its own misdeeds of betraying their country and allying with those who would do it harm. Elements of the left continue to decry those who challenge us to objective examinations of gender, race, and sexuality as sexists, bigots, and homophobes. Examples of this defamation, a veritably nonpartisan enterprise, are all too easily found.

John Stuart Mill noted, 150 years ago, the plight of those who hold marginal opinions:

“In general, opinions contrary to those commonly received can only obtain a hearing by studied moderation of language, and the most cautious avoidance of unnecessary offense, from which they hardly ever deviate even in a slight degree without losing ground: while unmeasured vituperation employed on the side of the prevailing opinion, really does deter people from professing contrary opinions, and from listening to those who profess them.”

Mill would have been horrified by the prescience of his insight. Now, far more than in his time, the professed desire to introduce civility into discourse is more often than not an attempt to maintain the privilege of powerful interests.

We submit ourselves to norms of discourse (which have come to be known collectively as political correctness) that we reject as individuals. That behavior — society’s acceptance of the very intellectual imprisonment that its members condemn without a moment’s equivocation — must rank among the most vexing paradoxes of our times.

Only sustained, conscientious effort on the part of those who recognize political correctness’ destructive consequences can reverse the damage that it has wrought. Speak with prudence but never acquiesce to those who would intimidate you into silence. After all, the critic of political correctness who says nothing is as detrimental to the cause of free thought as the organs of power that enforce it.