Marina Warner thinks higher education has become corrupt. Do you?

I.) Of course, that’s a trick question. The trick is getting you to believe that higher education wasn’t corrupt at some point. Let’s go through a short history lesson. In the western world, the first universities were so expensive, only the wealthy could attend. You either had to be rich, be the child of someone who is rich, or have someone who is rich be indebted to you somehow. The function of the university was to continue the entrenchment of the aristocracy. If only rich people can be smart, then only rich people can run society. We usually gloss over that though, because public college and universities were supposed to be the exact opposite. Education for everyone, regardless of status was the motto for everyone who thinks that’s what college is for. However, anyone born in the 1920-40’s can actually remember when the number of colleges exploded in the U.S. I’ll give you hint, it starts with ‘f’ and rhymes with ‘ball of Hitler’. After WWII, a lot of young soldiers came home with an awful lot of money (G.I. Bill). Many people (read: non soldiers) saw the G.I. Bill as basically free money. Now, what’s the easiest way to wrest money away from people? Convince them it’s worth it. College: training soldiers to re enter the work force at home, was the real motto back in the day, funded by the suffering and death of millions (read: weapons manufacturing), brought to you in part by Hitler (read:Global Politics). Eventually, colleges became readily available to everyone around 1965. What’s also interesting to note is that advertising became much more aggressive in that decade as well, but that’s probably a coincidence. The point here though, is that the second that college became available to everyone, it became available to everyone. Including corporations. Including think tanks. Including anything you don’t like. The fact is, College has never ever ever ever been ever separated from special interests at any time or place. “Oh, you have a college degree?,” says the employer ,”You’re hired!” “You only have a college degree?” Says the modern employer. “I guess we could start you at minimum wage. How’s 24 hours a week sound?”

II.) There is an abstract force which guides our society, I’ll call it ‘the system’. No, the system isn’t the man, it’s not the government, or big business. The system is you. The system is you, me, and everyone else. Specifically, it’s the accumulation of all participant’s desires. Here’s an example: You want an iPad. You also don’t want to pay $7,000 for an iPad. Apple wants to sell you an iPad. They know you don’t want to pay $7,000 for it. In order to get what you both want, Apple will create a sweatshop in Taiwan where it can be made such that an iPad can be sold to you for $499. You see, the system isn’t good at managing which desires have more merit than others, or which ones will be more important later down the line, it just takes them all and makes sure they all intersect at some point. Herein lies the actual problem with college. It tells you that all degrees are equal, which you know is bullshit. However, college isn’t telling you that so it can get your money because you’re moron and it knows better (mostly), it’s telling you that because that’s exactly what you want to hear. If college was as honest as you don’t want them to be, they would take down all of their extraordinarily unprofitable degrees and only allow you to take ones that would ensure success on some level. If you wanted to take creative writing as a degree to become a novelist, they would tell you to start writing, that you don’t need college for that; you need drive and constant practice. However, because you want to feel like writing sci-fi is just as important as curing cancer, and college wants your money, that’s exactly what it’s going to tell you. in the words of the last psychiatrist, “Sum the vectors.”

III.) Marina Warner is apparently a really famous novelist over in England, and good for her. She wrote the piece that I am basing this post off of. She subscribes to the romantic philosophy of higher education being the expression of western democracy and all that good stuff. Note, she identifies as a novelist (read: not an economist). This is why her piece is fundamentally flawed. She thinks that higher education has become flawed in modern times. She believes that when she went to school, there was no/very little corruption, as in, it never occurred to her to think this in the first place. If she ever admitted that she was duped and couldn’t see it until she was effectively double duped, I think her mind would break on the assumption that everyone’s mind would break if they admitted that most of their adult life was spent living in comfortable ignorance.

IV.) Ms. Warner’s thought process is representative of the mind’s defense against change. We all do it. It’s a powerful mechanism as creatures of habit. What makes it so tempting to do this is that it is so easy, and so powerfully irrational. It relies on confirming what we already believe to confirm what we are going to believe. If we see something that doesn’t align with what we already believe, we don’t explore new options, we usually just switch our viewpoint on the event to where it lines up with our preexisting beliefs. Here’s an example. Christians don’t believe in evolution. Irrefutable evidence of evolution comes forward. At first, they just refute it. Then they say God made evolution possible. Now we have distinctions in science made by Christians, separating science into observational science and historical science. Historical science can’t be observed, and therefore, we can’t really know what happened. Rather than accepting that everything they know could be entirely false, which I’m not saying it is (I’m also not not saying it), They merely found a work around that allows them to still believe what they were going to believe in the first place while coexisting with the evidence. That’s what happened here with Ms. Warner, down to a ‘T’. Not only did she refuse to believe that higher education was corrupt while she went there as a student, she even wrote an article about it. If you don’t think that’s important, you’re about to find out why it is.

V.) Defense against change manifests itself in one of two ways: Crowd sourcing opinion and frantic activity. Ms. Warner accomplished both. Rather than re-thinking what she knew, rather than at least forming a group dedicated to fighting corruption in higher education, she convinced herself it couldn’t have been corrupted while she was attending as a student and then wrote an article about it. Since she expended energy both convincing herself and convincing others by writing an article about how higher education has become corrupt, she no longer has to challenge her own beliefs. Status quo is maintained in her mind, and she can continue being a productive consumer while convincing herself that she isn’t one. What we keeping forgetting is that this works both ways. as long as status quo is maintained for her and everyone who agrees with her, so too is the status quo for the corrupt universities. Marina isn’t going to realize this, she’s set in her ways. To any of you who believe you can change the system, I will offer you these words: This will be cripplingly difficult, but you must find people who believe in what you believe in, and you must act.

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n06/marina-warner/learning-my-lesson

Advertisements