Monday, July 23, 2012

Getting above their station

For a while, it was a mystery to me how Progressives - seemingly such bright people - could continuously fall for socialist Jedi mind tricks.  The hostility of the Academy towards the free market is famous, and long standing, and not showing signs of changing.  And yet these same people are unarguably intelligent.  So what gives?

I've posted a couple times that it's resentment that the market doesn't reward them to the level of their expectations.  The salary of a tenured Full Professor may be comfortable, but won't get you the vacation villa in Tuscany.  And yet they see drop outs like Bill Gates and Michael Dell make billions.  I've put their antagonism down to cheap envy.

Now I wonder.  The dislike runs deep, and seems felt viscerally.  This animus is emotional, not intellectual.  What gives with this?

I wonder if it's their inability to leave their comfortable, hierarchical education environment mindset behind and understand that the market cannot be understood.  They prefer the comfortable certainty of their intellectual environment to the discomfort of the trial-and-error (and mostly error) market.  This is a fundamental disconnect, one that likely is impossible to bridge.

Consider the education system: it is rigidly structured, with grade following grade in an increasing sequence.  A student enters the system at the lowest levels and advances step by understandable step, year by year.  You can plan how long this will take - it's intelligible.  Advancement is gained by rote learning of a parent figure; deviation from the expected answer is punished, but compliance with the expected answer allows the gifted student to gain status among his peers.

This hierarchy continuesfor students who go to University.  The Batchelor's-Masters-PhD scale is strictly hierarchical, with higher status for the higher programs, and lower for the lower.  Everyone safely knows where he is in the scale.

Status is also hierarchically distributed among institutions: The Ivy League at the top (and Harvard at the top of that), over the more prestigious State institutions, over the unknown State U systems, over the community colleges.  Again, everyone knows where you are in the pecking order.

Compare to the utter chaos of the marketplace.  Well run companies go out of business all the time, as technologically driven Creative Destruction churns the economy.  40 years ago, nobody would have predicted that General Motors would be a basket case; if anyone had to pick who the dominant computer company would be they would have picked IBM, and 2001: A Space Odyssey predicted there would be space stations and moon colonies serviced by Pan Am.

Hierarchy is irrelevant.  Compliance with expected answers to pass the exam is irrelevant. Next year won't necessarily be more advanced than this year, your company may suddenly find itself fighting for its life.

This isn't a different world, it's a different universe.

And yet the market offers rewards far exceeding any available to anyone in Academe.  Vastly greater riches.  You have guys who made a million dollars driving a UPS truck, because they had stock options.  Maybe they didn't even finish High School.

That is a rebuke to the entirety of the careful hierarchical set of tests and rewards that is the modern education system.  Even worse, companies don't really care whether you give them the answer they were looking for - what they care about is whether you're right, and if you make money for the company.  You can be the smartest, nicest, team player-ish guy ever, with a Harvard PhD, and if you lose a lot of cash for the company you'll find yourself out on your tail end.

Unfair, that.  After all, it wasn't on the exam ...

And so how can we expect a product of the hierarchical education system - always succeeding by understanding and complying with the system - to ever be comfortable starting a company that very well may fail?  How would we expect such a person to ever thrive in the brutal give and take of a chaotic marketplace?  And thus we see the antagonism to free enterprise, the desire to rein in the chaos, to impose an Academic's idea of order on a system that is not, and simply cannot ever be orderly.

In fact, thus we see Barack Obama.  Product not just of Harvard, but of Harvard Law School.  Much higher in the hierarchy than Harvard Business School, which produced George W. Bush.  Or wherever Mitt Romney came from.  Did either of them ever head up the Harvard Law Review?  And so what gives them the insufferable arrogance to think that they could be President?

And the same, quite frankly, goes for anyone who thinks that they should be able to willy nilly start up a business without getting the permission of their betters.  Those that do trigger the visceral dislike ingrained by the better part of two decades of hierarchical education.  It's those damn grubby mechanics, putting on airs and getting above their station.


libertyman said...

An interesting insight into academia. At our little community college there is a marked difference between the people who teach practical subjects like nursing, automotive, aviation, machine tool and those who teach the academic subjects.

Carol said...

I think there's a bit of cognitive dissonance on display in academia. The hierarchical system you discuss exists, yet within it professors teach to a standard so low it defies belief for fear of discouraging or damaging the self-esteem of students who can't or won't perform to the highest level. I taught a course in international relations at KU some years ago. One of the tenured professors advised me to use green ink in marking exams as red ink had such negative connotations for students. The poor lambs. Firing is such a negative experience.

Dave H said...

Free enterprise looks a lot like Nature, where everything struggles to survive and the top of the food chain this week is next week's worm chow. Academe is the bastion of Civilization, which lifts us out of the mire and sets our feet on the road to the stars.

But I wonder who they think is building that road.

Free-range Oyster said...

I would like to note that the mentality you describe is not strictly limited to academia. It can be found in some businesses, primarily large ones. Unless they qualify as Too Big to Fail, those businesses tend to die ignominiously. So the attitude is not one, I think, of the academic; rather it is the attitude of the institutional mind.

Borepatch said...

Libertyman, I think there's a big gap between the more practical subjects and the more intellectual ones - I saw this myself while taking EE and liberal arts.

Carol, I find it quite off that a tenured professor would worry so much that s/he'd drop the course standards.

Dave, I'd agree that study and thinking has indeed lifted us, but you don't need the Academy for that. They arguably don't give you that any more - just the credential.

Free-range Oyster, that's a great insight. You could toss government into that same bucket, which is why Philosopher Kings can never really make government work well, even if we could put them in charge. Which we can't. The single advantage that the private sector has over the public is bankruptcy. As Dr. Johnson once said, the prospect of being hanged in a fortnight concentrates the mind wonderfully.

Anonymous said...

I thought the real purpose of American academia was simply to support the college sports teams and provide non jobs for "feminist banana wrangling studies" and other equally useless subjects.
The American model is fundamentally flawed it takes you 4 years to get a degree that it takes three in the UK to get and without all the mindless liberal crud. If I'm studying geology I get geology not African American lesbian feminist history 1626 to 1990.
The American model is supposedly to provide a more rounded education and that may have been true prior to 1965 but not anymore.

Old NFO said...

Meh- I had to go to lunch today with some PHDs, and I ended up excusing myself and leaving before the food got there, because they were ALL left wingers and complaining about how 'unfairly' they were being treated... I left because I WOULD have said something non-PC and probably gotten fired! :-)

Anonymous said...

Yep. You've understood what makes their clocks tick. For more detail, see Robert Nozick's essay, "Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?" (First appeared in 1986!)

And when you consider that adult American society (i.e., post-schooling) reflects a cultural bias favoring achievements by individuals in the commercial world, it's not surprising intellectuals feel like the rules controlling life's rewards have been changed to their detriment.

In reality, however, they have simply never grown beyond the value system of the schoolroom.

kx59 said...

If you can't cut it in the real world, you can teach.
If you can't teach, you can work for the government.
If you can't work for the government, there's always welfare.