The rise of the stupid

One of the things that became most clearly visible upon the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency back in '16 is that the American system benefits the stupid. Our policymakers think prisons are kewl and the more the better, health care ought to be left in the hands of insurance extortionists, patriotism is best expressed through vacuous slogans, owning assault weapons is so totally worth all the school shootings, climate change is a conspiracy of the scientists to take away money from saintly oil companies, housing ought to be unaffordable, the homeless are a police problem, environmental pollution is solved by going indoors, poverty is the fault of the poor, the rich are virtuous, Pete Buttigieg's non-answers can be labeled "philosophy," and so on.

But to label all of this political taken-for-granted as "stupidity" appears to be more of a judgment call than it is any discernment of a pattern. Sure, it's the same judgment call Europeans make when they think of Americans as stupid, but still, it's a judgment call. Maybe it's just our policy situation and not our brains. America has this vast college and university system, right, so how stupid can we be? Maybe our problem is not that we're stupid, but rather that we leave policy up to the policymakers and that we think our vast intelligence is something to be used for medicine or law or engineering or making money.

Except maybe the system will disappear too, or at least it will shrink to some sort of significantly smaller size, congruent with a society in which high school is a waste of time, knowledge is picked up on the job, and the young have few prospects. (To be fair, we've had something of that society for quite some time now.) The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a section in its October 11 paper of this year titled "The Great Enrollment Crash," in which budget cuts shrink universities as costs to the students, already super-high, increase further and as more and more prospective college students recognize that they just can't afford to go to college given their meager job prospects upon graduation and given the enormous debts they'll be taking on once they graduate.

The Chronicle section begins with a piece from a UND professor titled "My University Is Dying" with the subtitle "and soon yours will be, too." The University of North Dakota is shrinking, and even if the process has been halted, as author Sheila Liming argues, there are fewer people left behind to bring back any sense of normalcy.

Bill Conley's piece, which is next, regales us with statistics, which are not going to be terribly useful to most of the readers. His point is that admissions people had to adapt to the 2008-2009 crash, and that they'll have to adapt again to the coming crash, only this time it will be worse.

The next part of this section, "A Crisis In Enrollment?", is a panel presentation by some admissions people, who are if anything gloomier than what was written before. Colleges have closed, more colleges will close, and the situation will get worse. One of them references the College History Garden, which is an easy place to go to find out who has closed.

Bernie Sanders' College For All proposal is a sympathetic attempt to deal with the financial plight of today's college students. Perhaps one of its beneficial side effects, should its be passed, would be to preserve the versatile role intelligence has had in the life of America, by preserving the colleges that will still be open when it has passed and by halting the decline of those that have managed to stay open even though they're smaller today than they were twenty years ago. If the political revolution is to be had, brains shouldn't have to pander after money.

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

but the point about education still stands.

This is what you can expect when the only thing you value about universities for forty years is their capacity to indirectly or directly produce profits. Disciplines that are likely to support the development of profitable tech, such as IT, Mathematics, Engineering, and some of the sciences, are deemed worthy of investment of time and resources--though even they receive less than they once did. Humanities and social sciences get repeatedly smashed with a hammer, politically, culturally, and financially.

Forty years later, you have a lot of super gadgets around, but the political system's a smoking wreck, the culture is mostly an exercise of propaganda by military and military intelligence organizations (with some help from private industry), and no one knows how to talk to other human beings. Logic and critical thought are only used for inventing more gadgets or devising new ways to manipulate people's emotions and beliefs.

That's what happens when you smash humanities and the social sciences repeatedly to rubble.

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Actually, the issue at stake is patriotism. You must return to your world and put an end to the Commies. All it takes are a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

Cassiodorus's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal Tho' it must be said that the disciplines intermix in the modern university. Even the STEM students will have to learn tech writing, which will in all likelihood be taught by an English graduate.

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"I was Zuckerberging people before Zuckerberg's balls dropped." -- the Devil, on "Rick and Morty"

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@Cassiodorus

in a community college, you'd cry if you saw how futile the process was.

You just can't fix the deep problems of 12 or more years of schooling in 16 weeks. Many of them don't even know how to learn.

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Actually, the issue at stake is patriotism. You must return to your world and put an end to the Commies. All it takes are a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

Cassiodorus's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal The problem, of course, is that in the present-day university the STEM disciplines are allowed to use the most draconian methods to teach technical information, whereas in the humanities any work, no matter how sloppy, is super-kewl because the departments are so desperate for students. We will have produced a generation of illiterate technophiles before anyone else knows what happened.

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"I was Zuckerberging people before Zuckerberg's balls dropped." -- the Devil, on "Rick and Morty"

remains the books of the late Christopher Lasch. No, he wasn't a Marxist, and his family were not recent migrants from Europe, as far as I know. Nevertheless, he was brilliant, and his oeuvre gives comfort and support to neither Republican pro-capitalist ideologues, Democratic patronage politics, nor Libertarian me-firstism.

The short version is that the major instrument of corruption, since about the 1920s haw been and continues to be mass media, in the service of the mass consumption economy. The project of the capitalist class from then until now has been to transform Americans from a productive people into mindless consumers. I would not call this a conspiracy because the project has always been out in the open. Americans fell for this project because American capitalism did for many decades deliver a much improved standard of living for most citizens. I am old enough to remember living in a house with no indoor bathroom and both grandmothers cooking on wood stoves. The bargain was we give you a better life in return for you buy the products, vote for the candidates and hate the Commies. The one thing which was not and could not be allowed was non-participation, which is why the hippie movement was ridiculed by the left and hated by the right.

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