disobedience

Throughout history, humans across the world have engaged in innumerable courageous acts of rebellion, resistance and dissent against authority, many of which have led to revolutions and meaningful progress in society. There is now a financial incentive for such movements involving disobedience with the creation of an unusual contest from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

On March 6, MIT’s Media Lab began accepting applications for individuals and groups presenting an act of “responsible disobedience,” with a $250,000 prize awarded to the winner. Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, is funding the award. Hoffman serves on the advisory board of the Media Lab.

The concept was created “after a realization that there’s a widespread frustration from people trying to figure out how can we effectively harness responsible, ethical disobedience aimed at challenging our norms, rules, or laws to benefit society,” according to a MIT Media Lab post. “My hope is that the prize helps us understand that the way we make progress as a society and as humanity is by recognizing the right heroes who take personal risk, and sometimes that risk is a form of disobedience to help us evolve as humanity,” said Hoffman.

While the application time window opened up just recently, the university has had this in the works for some time, as the contest was announced last July. Submissions are currently being accepted and the deadline is May 1st, 2017.

The criteria for submission is complex, and it’s clear that the university is seeking exceptional endeavors that would substantially impact society: “The award will go to a living person or group engaged in what we believe is extraordinary disobedience for the benefit of society. Specifically, we’d like to call out action that seeks to change society in positive ways and is consistent with a set of key principles. These principles include non-violence, creativity, courage, and taking responsibility for one’s actions. We’re seeking both expected and unexpected nominees. This could include–but isn’t limited to–those engaged in scientific research, civil rights, freedom of speech, human rights, and the freedom to innovate.

Also among the criteria is the requirement that the “recipient must have taken a personal risk in order to affect positive change for greater society.” Applicants may be individuals or formed as a group, and there is an option to nominate others.

The college listed several influential figures from various points in history to reference as “inspiration” such as Galileo Galilei, the Founding Fathers, Sitting Bull, Martin Luther King Jr., Mark Felt, and the unidentified “Tank Man” who blocked a military tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Last year, the Media Lab hosted a presentation from one of modern history’s most notable dissenters, Edward Snowden, and engineer Andrew “Bunnie” Huang. The presentation, titled “Against the law: countering lawful abuses of digital surveillance,” centered around the moral dangers of digital surveillance, particularly of journalists, and discussed measures of protection from “lawful” government monitoring.

The winner will be chosen by a committee within the Media Lab network on July 21st, 2017.

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New Hampshire-based writer Annabelle Bamforth is focused on breaking the left/right paradigm through new media and local politics. Annabelle is the editor-in-chief of Emmy-winning journalist Ben Swann's Truth In Media Project and a producer for Mr. Swann's Truth In Media episodes.