Inaction on divesment strengthens apartheid
I am writing to correct some of the statements made in James W. Reiner 94's letter ["MIT's role in divestment program is anything but certain, mandatory," April 9].
To the extent that each of us
is part of society, every one of our actions, to a lesser or greater degree, serves to perpetuate or modify the relationships of power in society.
In the same vein, MIT's actions have political relevance; great relevance considering its size and stature. Action lies in the making of the choice, not in the amount of change that results.
Hence the maintenance of status quo is not an apolitical act. Whether we like it or not, whether we are aware of it or not, MIT has a foreign policy. In fact, the reader has a foreign policy. If we choose to ignore the foreign consequences of our actions, then that constitutes our foreign policy.
The question then is to evaluate the negative and positive aspects of the choices on hand. I will not try and justify the statement that divesting now will indeed strengthen the forces that are struggling for justice in South
Africa, since that is not the issue on which the letter demonstrates confusion.
It is, however, useful to remember that the major black political parties in South Africa continue to call for it.
I do not agree that "education of students and pursuit of knowledge" are overriding factors in deciding on the appropriateness of an action. In the social sciences and in technology these are not goals but rather means to finding actions that will lead to just and beautiful society (of all living things).
Even in the pure sciences, where claims are made for knowledge as an end, few involved in it would consider a slowing of academic advancement more detrimental than the perpetuation of an unequal and cruel system.
Further, the reduction in investment income that can be expected from divestment is minuscule. In fact, gains can be expected in the long term if MIT invests with care as testified by Robert Zevren of US Trust Inc. based on the study of South Africa-free and South Africa-invested portfolios. Divestment would be a pin prick rather than a "crippling" blow as suggested.
Should MIT boycott goods made by offending companies? Yes if we believe it would be useful. Just as in the case of divestment, MIT's actions will have a positive impact if it is carried as part of a larger movement that includes other universities, corporations, city councils, etc.
If present reliance on these goods is too critical to start an immediate boycott then one must begin the process of exploring and creating alternatives.
Should MIT not accept students from South Africa? Deny people an education in an environment less bigoted than that in South Africa? Why? Unless it is clear that the skills and knowledge that people acquire here will be used to perpetuate apartheid why should they not be accepted? Incidentally some (white and black) South Africans at MIT have been very active in demanding divestment and a speedy end to apartheid.
We have the collective right to determine the actions that MIT takes. Divestment is not an issue to be left in the hands of a small group of wealthy men whose primary interests lie in the greatest profits for the corporations they represent and partly own.
Ranganathan Krishnan G