There exist two buildings on this campus where you can eat as many cookies as you want. I don’t think we’ve really come to terms with this, as an institution or as a community. We’ve got the situation covered in the most logistical sense; there’s not going to be a run on the dessert counter anytime soon. But, we haven’t achieved a real cognizance of the situation, and don’t account for it in the way we live our lives.
In the past, food was never something taken for granted. In antiquity, the barest rumor of a regenerating platter of cookies would send fleets of triremes hurtling across the Mediterranean to scour the coasts of Asia Minor. But now, at Tufts, this sort of thing is a daily reality. It’s wholly feasible for any one of you to park yourself in Dewick at 8:30 a.m., rig yourself with some Rube Goldbergian flatware conveyor belt and eat until your body physically cannot handle the strain.
Of course, no one actually does this, and it’s easy to see why: they begin to feel full. The grand, doomed excess that lives in shipping pallets of chicken tenders and oil drums of pasta Alfredo is more or less sustainable here because supply follows demand, not the other way around. Satiation is an achievable goal, so no matter how much higher the pie is made, eating isn’t going to make you hungrier.
Right, what’s all this then, about the denial of the self? The Buddha lingers over Tufts’ campus like a church barbecue spinster, always smacking hands away from buckets of chicken. Everywhere I go I see people bemoaning the hopelessness of their plights, and always the response is the same — “Have you been getting enough sleep? How’s your schoolwork? Have you tried focusing on the positive parts of your life?” — always, in the end, self care. But what is self care but the diversion into simpler desires — giving up one’s real hopes as hopeless, hunkering down to erode like sand on the beach of life? The most pressing problem at this university is the number of people who subscribe to the belief that behind every desire lurks yet another, that to seek fulfillment beyond codified societal boundaries is pointless — that food may fill you, but when it comes to love or friendship, all bets are off.
As a social environment, this school is every bit as outrageous as its dining halls. We’re a community of 5,000 individuals, all the same age, all with several hours per day relatively unaccounted for. Yet most people sit around at home, watching Netflix and thinking about how lonely they are — because without simple rules and clear boundaries, they are too terrified to look for the things they really want. Some day, when the AI constructs that descend from us visit the Tufts Validation Halls to drink their fill of other people’s love and support, they’ll take it as much for granted as we do Dewick. But until then, we need to have faith that there are answers out there. Otherwise, we risk sitting around, binge-streaming “Friends” (1994–2004) until the end of time.