For a young person in America, college is the thing to aspire to. It’s the go-to option for virtually every American looking to maintain or enhance his station in life. Higher education embodies the values, hopes and dreams of millions of young people and their families. The stories write themselves. Here a first generation freshman, out to do his family proud. There a young woman out to better herself and shatter a glass ceiling or two. Everywhere the expectation that “This Is How You Get The Good Life.” Why, without the credentials offered by as prestigious as institution as one’s ability, tenacity, savings and, yes, connections can muster, you’re liable to be stuck with the dregs—working dead end jobs with no hope of advancement, living wages, or health insurance!
Next time you’re in a coffee shop, ask your barista if they’re going to school and for what. Or better still ask if they’ve graduated. Ask your bartender. Ask your server. Ask the guy stocking groceries at the Whole Foods. If they’re not still in high school, odds are they’re enrolled, in school or recent grads. Odds are good they’ll find themselves doing something similar after graduation.
College has changed since the Baby Boomers were their kids’ age. Their idea of college, however, seems to have been last updated during the Reagan administration. What Boomers think of as a safe space for ideas, for debate, for the exchange of knowledge is for Millennials a place of rigid ideological conformity, speech laws and “conversations” on controversial topics that resemble nothing as much as a struggle session for those hapless souls following the old script of debate and rationality.
While the Boomers could expect to go to college and be among the 30% or so of their generation that did, two thirds of Millennials attend such institutions. This has degraded the elite atmosphere of college, one that insisted on high standards and only admitted those able to meet them. In an effort to expand their income and to meet the egalitarian expectations of their potential customers, academia has been steadily debasing its own intellectual currency to admit lower quality students.
Not that administrators or the various victim-studies professors much mind or care. While the average student is now in need of remedial classes, that same student is paying far more out of pocket for the privilege of relearning what he didn’t master in high school. And then he will go on to required courses in Women’s or African American or Chicano Studies. When Boomers went to school, these parasitic pseudo-disciplines were still embryonic rather than metastasized.
Between the lower quality of the student and the lower quality of the instruction, employers have taken notice. College degrees don’t mean what they used to. Even the stronger STEM disciplines are under attack from a combination of private sector rentseekers looking to “diversify” tech by pressuring companies into hiring net negative ( but “diverse”) workers. Possibly more insidious is the efforts of feckless captains of industry to import ever more HB1 tech workers from Asia to dilute the labor pool and lower average wages.
Of course none of that was the case for Boomers. By the relative rarity of their degrees and the acknowledgment that it took real work and talent to earn them, a Bachelors of the Arts was a viable meal ticket. Compare this to our current situation, where 40%+ of college grads take jobs that don’t require a college degree. Most of them will be liberal arts degrees and possibly even more pitiable degrees in laughable disciplines such as the aforementioned victim studies.
Who is to blame for this mess? Why did it get this way? Boomer cultural norms simultaneously incentivised college and dumbed it down. Other forms of honest, well paid work such as trades or skilled labor were frowned upon, putting them out of sight, out of mind for many young people, especially young men. Many such jobs were offshored along with the American manufacturing, thus eliminating them as an option to begin with in some cases.
Millennials are not innocent either. Despite being, as a generation, coddled, insulated from criticism or failure, they are now becoming the masters of their destiny, and many are proving every bit as selfish and clueless as their piggish forebears. Demands for ever more state intervention to subsidize college are very common. Blame for the situation, although rightly put upon a number of factors outside of their control, rarely includes any agency on their part. An expectation of upper middle class wealth, status and jobs right after graduation with little to no effort, seems ubiquitous.
I myself was not immune, either to my own personal failings or those set up for me. My story is sadly typical: My parents were Boomers who never went to college. As I came of age in 2005-2007, My options were presented to me:
“Your standardized test scores are high. Go to college. Trades are for idiots and the military is for patriotic idiots. You’re elite material.”
“And major in what?”
“Whatever you want. College will get you a job.”
Being a young man I expressed interest in military service but was met with stiff resistance from parents, administrators and guidance counselors. I cannot recall anyone admiring the value of patriotism, of duty, or even of using the service cynically as a roundabout way to pay for college with the GI Bill. For a young man eager to do well by his community and respectful of authority figures in his life, uniform advice pointing in one direction was compelling.
Thus, I went to college. Being of modest means I could only afford state school. Having been told to follow my passion, I majored first in history. My own faults begin creeping in here. I studied hard but also partied hard. I had a vague notion that history was useful only for teaching high school. Then I thought about switching to Political Science since I was interested in politics and theory (and since practicing law seemed like a vague, attractive, physically easy job that had a fantastic income potential). I changed my major and called it a day.
I studied in good faith, but as I read more and more material of the alternative right both in the US and Europe, I began to drift from the received ideology of my professors and peers. The rift was a positive feedback cycle driving me further and further away from what I was learning in school. By day I could listen with a straight face to pie-in-the-sky absurdity from the likes of Rawls and by night, assuming I wasn’t being a hedonist with the best of my generation, I was reading Moldbug, Roissy and Alternative Right and growing more and more skeptical of what professors were teaching.
Interactions in the classroom highlighted the divide. In legal classes I defended natural law. In political theory classes I dissented openly. Professors grilled me hard and I noticed it in their grading. Nitpicks became demerits and disagreements became wrong answers. It came as no surprise to me that requests for letters of recommendation after graduation went coolly unanswered.
As I approached my senior year my various contradictions reached a culmination. I became aware I hadn’t done any due dilligence as far as if I wanted to go to law school. And, as my legal studies classes were making obvious to me, I had no particular interest in the minutia of jurisprudence. I finally did some research on the salaries, working conditions and opportunities for lawyers in the real world and found it dismal. I wasn’t a rich kid. Did I really want to sink 100K into 3 more years of this mess I was coming to dislike already? For maybe 45-50K if not unemployment? Decidedly not. College advisers had nothing of value to say concerning my situation. In the waning days of my senior year the vague, Boomer drivel that “Diplomas guarantee a good job” was found to be a cruel joke. At best only a degree specifically targeted to the demands of the market, rather than pinned to hopes of sliding into middle management somewhere in corporate America, would have made my college investment of any utility.
A shame I found that out second semester, senior year.
I graduated with a lump in my throat and a stinging sensation of shame and failure. I had been misled utterly, yes, but I also made bad decisions on my own. Although I was correcting them to some degree (discovering the degree was useless, writing it off, cleaning up my college-subsidized hedonistic degeneracy), I had a lot of work to do. As the Alt-Right had made me aware of a great number of pretty lies, it had also inculcated a value set in me that came to detest shrugging my situation away into apathy and slackerdom. I wanted a wife. Children. I still wanted a good life in a solid community. I would need to work.
After a a few fitful attempts to leverage my degree that ended in failure, I began to look into the trades. Young men I had scoffed at as rubes or laboring proles as a teen, I now saw were my age with solid incomes and lives that were budding into the sort I wanted for myself. I made up my mind to go to trade school and then I saw how strong some of my conditioning was. It took me weeks and months of low level, but gradually diminishing agonizing to simply get over the fact that I was going to be “blue collar” instead of “white.” A petty, largely meaningless distinction but one so bound up with what I was told was of such supreme importance to my status, happiness and well being that I was surprised to see how strongly it resonated in me. Boomer values at work. Pwned as Moldbug himself would say.
In time I got over it. In time I found I understood machines and detail related to my selected trade, HVAC, relatively easily. Study habits gained from being a bookish kid and 16 years in school paid off for absorbing the material. I physically hardened as I acclimated to demanding work. My hothouse sensitivities, tastes and values were cast off one by one.
HVAC has since given me a far more remunerative job than I ever had before college or as a result of my degree. It’s a demanding, masculine profession being almost completely male, lining up with my growing sense of wanting to do work that would reinforce manly values in direct contrast to the mushy, unisex world of the university and the academy. It was plainly useful work that makes some of the technological aspects of the modern world, that part of modernity I have not come to detest, possible in many ways. It challenged me and continues to challenge me still.
As a young man, it’s helped me to find a better place in my life and in my community. The fact that a trade helped to do this so readily, naturally and at a far quicker pace is part of what makes college as it’s presently instituted such a damning blight on my generation.
How many men have been deprived of the chance to do honest, useful, empowering work to instead play status games, take drugs, and wind up indebted and underemployed by following the advice given in increasingly bad faith by society’s elite? How many young women fritter away some of their best years on preparation for sterile office jobs while degrading their ability to ever pair bond with a husband by engaging in equally sterile rutting with men who value her little beyond sexual access? How many families are being delayed or never formed from this arrangement? How many billions of dollars and man hours are being squandered on an egalitarian pipe dream?
The answer is “Too many.”
Change is in the air, however. College enrollment has flatlined. Editorials, replete with stories like mine and statistics to back them up are slowly filtering into middle America. The dour, prissy, hysterical atmosphere of political correctness that wafts over virtually every college campus in America is repellent to young men, who are turning away in greater numbers every year.
Where a society channels the energy of its young men is drastically important, and, as the farce of higher education in early 21st Century America begins to be known, fewer of those young men will put their energies into it. There is ample opportunity for them to put it elsewhere. Into learning skills that will render them better men mentally and physically, into their own pursuits according to their own values, into discovering what else they were misled about by their leaders. And from there, perhaps, into kinship with the Right.