Dining on Sacred Cow
As far as I knew for the longest time, politics was my first adult love, dominating lunch table conversations and bar mitzvah decorations, spurning my advances with the cold reality of the faraway voting age.
Since my last column on the Crimean crisis, the plot has thickened considerably: from where National Geographic stands, the dangling Black Sea peninsula has joined the likes of Taiwan, Kashmir and Cyprus as an ‘Area of Special Status’. In terms of consequence to Eurasian politics and the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship, Crimea has far outstripped Abkhazia or Transdniestria—marking the most glaring political geographic revision the Commonwealth of Independent States has seen since the end of the Cold War.
For us Gen Y-ers, children of America’s “unipolar moment,” it is nearly impossible to relate to the Cold War zeitgeist of desk drills, space races, and Daisy Girls. Except for some brief, frenzied moments in 2001-2, the jihadists lurking between the cracks of 21st century state authority have never seemed to threaten our collective existence; from where we stand today, the threat of Chinese ascendancy is distant and mostly economic.
For about a decade, I’ve been an avid reader of the latest work on human population genetics. Following a rush of oddball (and sometimes downright irresponsible) amateurs and a few informed commentators, I’ve woven in a background in ancient history and comparative linguistics to compensate for my elementary-at-best knowledge of molecular genetics. Last year, I bucked the norms of my Arabic composition class on literature and politics, writing on the origins of the Semitic language family and the demographic nature of the Islamic conquests from a genetic perspective. Until quite recently, this was an exercise on the margins: in most cases, genetic researchers kept their speculation to the unfathomably distant past, and traditional historians steered clear altogether.
Every election season, Harvard’s undergraduate population bubbles over with enthusiasm for Barack Obamas and Elizabeth Warrens—standard-bearers of the well-behaved, mainstream liberalism that sets the cultural tone on campus. Students will pledge fealty to the sixties’ hallmark ideals: grassroots creativity, self-expression, lifestyle experimentation. But contrary to popular imagination, they will continue to lead overwhelmingly conservative lives.
Nothing illustrates this principle more starkly than the strange reality of marijuana at Harvard: that is to say, it’s rarer than you might expect. On the campus where Timothy Leary once conducted lab experiments with much harder drugs, only 35% of 2012’s graduating seniors claimed to have ever tried marijuana—as compared to 47% of American college students, by the Harvard School of Public Health’s account. This is not for lack of intoxication, however. By contrast, a substantial 67% admit to drinking alcohol at least once a week, with 93% admitting to have tried the liquid drug at least once.