Cherry Pie Society

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The Cherry Pie Society is Ashdown House’s intellectual discussion group, open to every member of the community. Founded more than 50 years ago, the Cherry Pie Society was originally the name of a group of residents who would meet up from time to time for dinner to discuss intellectual topics. Every meeting would end with dessert, typically cherry pie since that was a personal favorite of one of the Cherry Pie Society’s original members, Housemaster Avery Ashdown.

The modern incarnation of the Cherry Pie Society dates back to 2012 and closely resembles the original Cherry Pie Society in both spirit and format. The topic of each meeting is introduced by a Society member through a short presentation, after which a discussion of the topic amongst attendees commences.

The discussions typically last 1-2 hours and are accompanied by tea/coffee, light refreshments, dinner (sometimes) and, of course, cherry pie (always)! Occasionally, documentaries or video clips are shown and guest speakers invited (e.g. at a March 2014 meeting, Professor Christopher Leighton of MIT was invited to contribute to a discussion about a documentary on democracy in China). At the end of every meeting, each attendee is invited to give their closing opinion the topic at hand.

Every meeting is run according to the Cherry Pie Ideal, an emphasis on mutual respect, openness and fair discourse. Debate is allowed (and sometimes encouraged), but, at all times, attendees are urged to remain cordial and courteous to others with whom they disagree.

A partial list of past Cherry Pie discussion topics include:

  • Humanity and Technology: Cyborg Anthropology, the Internet as an organism and Technology as the 7th Kingdom.
  • Modern Democracy: Is it Succeeding or Failing? Is it truly the best form of government for a 21st Century world?
  • The MIT Career Fair: How should it balance the types of careers it showcases?
  • Human Rights: What are they and do they truly exist?
  • NSA’s PRISM Program: Liberty vs. Security.
  • Paid “Student Athletes”: Is it greed or justice?
  • Economic Structures: Adam Smith, Karl Marx or somebody in between?
  • Science in the Ivory Tower: What is the proper balance between pure research and applied research?
  • Ukraine, Putin and Crimea: Russia and the West in the 21st Century.
  • Intellectual Property and Patent Law: What is patent-able and what isn’t? Is this right?
  • Unemployment and Automation: Will robots displace the modern blue collar worker? Is the efficiency gain of automation worth the possible societal and psychological cost?