Writing that essay about bottle scavenging, I had something verging on an epiphany about the moral character of the people I’ve come across in politically influential circles at Dickinson College: these are people who have spent their entire educational careers willingly submitting to bullshit, like slaves. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration at all to describe them as having a slave mentality. They expect to be well-compensated for their submission, of course, and many of them cannot or will not admit that they’re anything but free and candid, but they very much expect to submit for the rest of their lives to arbitrary authorities that rule by tautology and the will to power. For what it’s worth, Bill Durden is the only person I can think of in a position of influence at Dickinson who seemed able and willing to see through this fog–that is, when it suited him. Most of the time, he found it much more expedient to milk his Mr. Chips act for all it was worth and run crude cons on us. I don’t think I have a very good sense of how much he came to believe his own bullshit over time and to what extent he was calculatingly rolling his constituents.
The point-source corruption of a calculating fraud can be neutralized by removing the fraud from his position of power. Nobody would have given a shit about Durden but for his office and the way he abused it (mostly to their great entertainment and awe). Besides, he seemed responsive to incentives to behave reputably, to the small extent that he was exposed to good incentives as president instead of rotten ones. The dozens of people in the administration and the higher student advisory positions who directly sucked up to him and the hundreds of people surrounding them, expecting to ride their coattails to some greater glory, were another matter. They looked like lost moral causes. These were people who actively sought out the most amoral, mercenary advantages they could possibly hope to secure, with absolutely no regard for the effects that their power would have on those around them or on their society. Having a raging shithead as college president clearly organized these amoral mercenaries into a community worse than they would naturally have been on their own, but I’m afraid in retrospect that that might only have delayed their congealment as a force for ill for five or ten years. There have to be thousands of other institutions in the United States, educational and otherwise, that exist to pander to the basest natures of their members and aggrandize them. Harvard, after which Bill Durden consciously tried to remodel Dickinson as a leading academic institution, is notorious for this shit. We probably might as well throw in the entire Fortune 500.
The one thing that really stands out about this gobshite horde is that its members showed absolutely no willingness to question the institutional authority of any school or periacademic organization. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were perfectly shameless about badgering their teachers for better grades, but they would never question the inherent authority of school or those who claimed to believe in education as vectors of their own current and future success. As far as they were concerned, there was no homework assignment or test too stupid, no teacher too bumptious, no college advice book too full of shit, and no extracurricular activity too pointless for them not to immediately comply with whatever some tinpot educational authority requested of them. None of them had the stones to stand up and ask, what the hell for? None of them, as far as I could tell, even had the courage to slack off and do something more worthwhile with their lives. They had to keep up appearances as good students, regardless of how little heartfelt interest they had in anything academic or how generally uneducated they were in any meaningful sense.
I didn’t really notice it at the time, but very few of these people seemed to have any expectation that they would ever do anything tangibly productive for a living after graduation. Most of the science majors I knew were sensible enough not to overextend and overexert themselves for the purpose of looking busy and compliant with whatever crock of shit had been presented to them as college culture. The reflexive, neurotic compliance came overwhelmingly from students majoring in international business and management, policy, and the like. When the scientifically inclined on campus ran themselves into the ground, it usually seemed to be with an eye towards getting into medical school or a competitive PhD program in the sciences. (I should probably exclude psychology, just because. Karadzic, Hasan: you guys feel me?) (Yes, they went to medical school, but they’re close enough.) When students in the pre-professional humanities majors ran themselves into the ground, it looked much more like they were trying to operate fog machines. There never seemed to be any discipline or skill that they were trying to master. It was more like, okay, we were told to jump through these two hundred hoops, so let’s get jumping.
What’s alarming about this crowd, although I couldn’t really put a finger on it until now, is that it’s full of people who have never taken on an academic or professional process that they couldn’t outwit and corrupt. For some of them, it’s been true since elementary school, or earlier, for all I know. For many of them, it has extended into their professional lives. Their attitude goes far to explain a number of pathologies, including SAT test prep courses, US News & World Report college ranking lists, resume padding, students pimping themselves out in extracurricular activities, Dilbert, The Office, nonrecreational off-prescription use of amphetamines, prescription use of all sorts of psychotropic drugs, exhaustion, sleep and mood disorders arising directly from deranged academic and professional environments, and LinkedIn.
These people are actually more empathetic on average than I’d ever rationally expect, but still, they’re majorly fucked up and live in a bizarre parallel universe, which they misconstrue as a meritocracy. Their attitude seems to be: suck it up, don’t complain, don’t you DARE complain on Facebook, err on the side of submission if the alternative is to demand a modicum of decency and good sense from some idiotic asswipe in a position of authority, stage-manage your entire life to cater to the precious feels of those in authority, and always assume that doing these things will be lucrative, in due course of time if not now. In other words, fake it ’til you make it. How many of them are actually making it I can’t really say because they spew so much nonsense, euphemism, cherry-picked positivity, and disinformation into their Facebook feeds. Alumni updates in Dickinson Magazine are even worse. It’s constant catfishing by gaslight. I’m dead serious: if those of us who feel the courage to speak up about our own embarrassing circumstances hold our peace instead in the hope of currying favor with these bullshitters, it will become impossible to devise the policy reforms we need. We’ll be too fucking disoriented as a society to know where to start.
We’re just about there as things stand right now. I don’t think I could accurately estimate what percentage of my Facebook contacts are involuntarily out of work based on their feeds. This is on a platform that is supposed to enable social communication. That isn’t tact; it’s great potential wasted to no good end because all the goody-two-shoes have been instructed not to live in truth.
If the Type A’s I know from school were burning out trying to complete neurosurgery residencies or engineer the next generation of 737, I wouldn’t object. But they aren’t. They’re salesmen, white-shoe attorneys, PR flacks, minor policy waterboys, college administrators, and junior account managers. I routinely hear them describe their work lives at jobs that have no particular reason to exist. Many of them are quite pleased with themselves for their achievements.
More of them should be cutting lettuce.