MIT (6): International Relations (IR)

After dealing with the quirks, comments, and concerns of Prof. Charlie, it was off to a big second semester trying to be a conservative at MIT in the belly of the socialist beast. That semester I took a class from Prof. Alpha who had been a math major as an undergrad, which in the vernacular of MIT is Course 18. Being a EE/CS or Course 6 kind of guy, I was looking forward to Alpha’s theory of international relations (IR) class. The only problem was that Alpha was teaching alternatives to the standard theories, and since my back ground in IR or Course 17 political science was somewhat shallow, it was going to be challenging to understand the alternatives without having been taught the standard IR theory, but I was always up for a challenge.

Alpha taught many concepts that were considered slightly “out there.” These include political geography, the idea that there are world centers that change over time, such as from Amsterdam to London to New York, and that what’s nearby matter more than what’s far away. Also, Alpha introduced me to Anthony D. Smith and nationalism studies, which made a lot of sense to me but seemed to politically correct for my fellow students. Alpha had us read James Grier Miller’s Living Systems, because he recognized that political systems were complex social systems. More on that later. Finally, Alpha taught me the importance of the secondary literature by having us read commentaries on Thucydides, which I remember because the précis used the word “navel” as an adjective to describe sea battles, which was not correct — oops. We also took a test to see how Machiavellian we were, which I almost maxed out. One of my classmates said, “I can’t believe I got a higher score than Lowell!”

One thing I noticed about my fellow students was that they often were quiet and didn’t ask questions, while I was always talking, especially in Alpha’s class. He liked that I had a Course 6 background, so we were always alluding to mathematics but I seldom knew exactly what he was talking about. The class had a significant break, and I remember one day several students asking me what Alpha was talking about, but I had to confess that I really didn’t know, I was just trying to keep up. But I was learning lots and even though I was struggling a bit, Alpha was supportive, which was nice.


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