Friday, January 02, 2009

Domination not education is the name of this game

I want to string together a few sentences that I spotted in yesterday's paper together with some thoughts I've been carrying around in my head for a while.

1. By their own admission, most of the students turned down by Ivy League universities -- could do the work if admitted. At the same time, the endowments of most of these universities (until recently) could easily support two, three, or four times more students than they currently admit -- without sacrificing quality (with comparable facilities, faculty etc.). So then the question becomes -- why aren't each of these universities two, three, or four times larger? What is their mission if not to deliver the best education to the MOST students they possibly can?

2. Anyone who takes the SAT, GRE, GMAT, or LSAT knows these are not tests of knowledge or skill but rather they are tools that test one's ability to take a test. Said differently, the SAT, GRE, GMAT, and LSAT test one's ability to hire a test prep coach or enroll in the right test prep class. So why do colleges and universities use these tests as entrance requirements? Or said differently, what does the use of these tests tell us about what business these institutions are in?

3. By any measure -- the financial meltdown on Wall Street is an indictment of our educational system in this country. The (mostly) men on Wall Street who stole the retirements of millions of Americans before raiding the U.S. Treasury -- are the top students from the most elite colleges and universities in the country. And they are complete crooks -- literally stealing trillions of dollars without concern for those hurt by their actions. They are immoral monsters with high IQs. Clearly morality, ethics, and character, economics, and responsible financial management were not on the syllabus. But again, maybe that's not the business that these universities are in (points #1 and #2 seem to point away from the notion that our top universities are about education or the search for truth in any meaningful sense of the word). Apparently the SAT, GRE, GMAT, and LSAT -- are not able to screen out people who intend to later steal trillions of dollars from America's retirees.

4. The value of credit default swaps -- non collateralized insurance bets on risky mortgage bonds -- is equal to the entire gross domestic product for the entire world. That's when the bubble popped -- when the value of fantasy financial products not tied to any real asset was greater than all the actual physical products produced by the entire planet. The Wall Street firms literally bought the world and sold the world -- but with no actual world (or asset of any kind) attached as collateral. The giant sucking sound you hear is Wall Street firms sucking all of the financial worth out of the entire world -- including our government treasuries -- to continue their lifestyle of bottle service and parties in the Hamptons.

5. Christopher Caldwell in NY Times (Jan. 2): “To be blunt, credit is successfully re-established when financial elites say, ‘When.’ Credit is close to a synonym for the mood of the ruling class."

6. "No partnership, for that matter, would have hired me or anyone remotely like me. Was there ever any correlation between the ability to get in and out of Princeton and a talent for taking financial risk?” from Michael Lewis's brilliant article, The End in Portfolio magazine. Lewis is the author of Liar's Poker chronicling the investment bank excess of the 1980s -- which pale in comparison to the greed and corrupt of our current financial firms.

7. From Malcolm Gladwell's article, Most Likely to Succeed from the Dec. 15, 2008 New Yorker,
Perhaps no profession has taken the implications of the quarterback problem more seriously than the financial-advice field, and the experience of financial advisers is a useful guide to what could happen in teaching as well. There are no formal qualifications for entering the field except a college degree. Financial-services firms don’t look for only the best students, or require graduate degrees or specify a list of prerequisites. No one knows beforehand what makes a high-performing financial adviser different from a low-performing one, so the field throws the door wide open.

“A question I ask is, ‘Give me a typical day,’ ” Ed Deutschlander, the co-president of North Star Resource Group, in Minneapolis, says. “If that person says, ‘I get up at five-thirty, hit the gym, go to the library, go to class, go to my job, do homework until eleven,’ that person has a chance.” Deutschlander, in other words, begins by looking for the same general traits that every corporate recruiter looks for.

If it doesn't hit you right away, walk through that quote again slowly. There is no mention of financial acumen, interpersonal skills, merit, or skill of any kind. What Deutschlander is testing for is domination -- the ability to dominate one's own body -- which presumably translates into the ability to dominate others in the financial field. Look how well that turned out.

8. Look I think that it's great that homegirl from Princeton created Teach for America. It seems to be injecting some new talent and corporate dollars into the educational system. But if the corporations that are contributing to Teach for America were paying their fair share of taxes (and not stealing the retirement savings of millions of Americans) the American education system wouldn't be in shambles in the first place. Said differently, if homegirl from Teach for America had gone into politics and worked on raising taxes on these classmates, er, corporations, it could have produced even great gains for our educational system. If the ruling class hadn't totally destroyed the public sector in the last thirty years, there would be little additional need for a gal on a white horse to have to ride in and save it.

Isn't the lesson of the financial collapse that our education system is built to reproduce the ruling class? And the way it reproduces the ruling class is by teaching, indeed, dedicating its mission to instilling the value of domination. That's what the entry requirements are all about, and the insane workloads, and the all nighters, and even the emphasis on sports. It's not about the content -- it's about the form. And this educational system fits perfectly with the interests of the ruling class because our entire economic system is built on domination. Isn't that what Wall Street and indeed most of New York City is -- quite literally a laboratory of domination? That's what the tall phallic buildings are all about and the rudeness and the busyness of it all. The rush of New York is the rush of domination. Wasn't that what the Middle Passage, Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine, and the Bush Doctrine are all about? Isn't that, at the end of the day, who we are as a nation, in spite of the marketing camouflage we tell ourselves about liberty and equality and character (the same marketing front used by universities I might add)?

If you want to follow the path of domination -- the steps are all laid out -- by schools, by recruiters, by incentives and financial rewards, by potential life partners who have bought into the system, by the doctors and pharmacists who will patch you up and pump you up to put you back in the game. But if one wants to resist the culture of domination, it's a heavier plowing. To begin with, if everything one has seen is the product of a culture of domination, one's instincts will all be conditioned to reproduce that. Even if one is trying to intentionally go in a different direction, most of the neurons in our brains are wired to reproduce what we've seen, so even our subconscious decisions, the ones we trust, our gut -- will lead us to reproduce the dominate system. That's why so many non-profits are a mess -- women's organizations that are patriarchal, labor groups with lousy working conditions -- if folks haven't done their own internal work, it's really easy to just reproduce the same old madness in a new context.

Finally, isn't the challenge of modernism, the challenge of the total collapse of both communism and capitalism within the space of 18 years -- a challenge to develop a system, a structure, an entire world economy and culture based on love rather than domination?

In the meantime, Wall Street and all the "well-educated", pinstripped, white-male, domination-obsessed mutherfuckers who worked so hard to produce this second great depression -- can go fuck themselves.

Update #1: Four months after I did this post, Frank Rich at the NY Times picks up the ball and runs with it in a column called Awake and Sing! The money quote:

In the bubble decade, making money as an end in itself boomed as a calling among students at elite universities like Harvard, siphoning off gifted undergraduates who might otherwise have been scientists, teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs, artists or inventors. The Harvard Crimson reported that in the class of 2007, 58 percent of the men and 43 percent of the women entering the work force took jobs in the finance and consulting industries. The figures were similar everywhere, from Duke to the University of Pennsylvania. Dan Rather, on his HDNet television program in December, reported that at Penn this was even true of “over half the students who graduated with engineering degrees — not a field commonly associated with Wall Street.”

Which is EXACTLY my fucking point. To have 58% of Harvard male undergrads going into finance or consulting is FLAT OUT EMBARRASSING. It shows that the goal of these institutions all along was to reproduce the ruling class, NOT to seek out the good, the true, or the beautiful in any meaningful sense of those words. It's the worst kind of sophistry really -- young men and women excelling in math for example so that they can develop sophisticated financial instruments to suck the wealth out of 401(k)s and the U.S. Treasury so that they can buy a nice house in the Hamptons and drink $500 bottles of Ciroc Vodka. It's domination for domination's sake, elite universities training our best and brightest for nothing more than an elaborate pissing contest or game of quien es mas macho -- while bankrupting the country.


JGNow said...

I've long argued that the political spectrum is not flat but curved. Move left or right. It matters not. Eventually you will cross the path of the one who set out in the opposite direction.

You and I would approach many of the issues raised from fundamentally different points of view—and argue almost every step of the way—only to discover the core of an agreement in our conclusions.

The question is how to dominate the dominators. Or is that type of outburst counterproductive?

RFK Action Front said...

Fascinating question -- and poetically stated too. I'm not sure our goal is to dominate the dominators. I think perhaps instead we devalue domination until it's worthless. Perhaps the question is, what does a world at peace look like, or what does a world based on love look like? Because it's probably not enough to just negate a bad thing. We have to create a new thing.

JGNow said...

Devaluing domination is a tall order that seems from my perspective to be getting taller.

We (Americans) used to call baseball the national pastime. It seems to me football has dominated that conversation during the course of my life. It’s a metaphor for our current condition. Baseball is too pastoral for our collective appetite. “Safe” at “home” has lost out to bone crushing “sacks” and “tackles”.

We get all ginned up about sports and scream and shout at the television as if the game actually matters or we could make a difference in its outcome. No shortage of energy or effort here.

We use battle tested metaphors for our political discourse to draw contrasts from our opponents because to admit common ground is political suicide. Again, plenty of energy, venom and cash for this realm as well. And, you can argue this level of cultural interaction counts for a bit more in the scheme of things.

But when you really get down to cases, when it comes right down to honest contemplation about who we are at our root as beings, we struggle to come up with an hour or so every week or so, considering spiritual or political correctness depending upon our chosen denomination.

It would seem to me that the one place we might be able to diminish domination as a culture is individual by individual. But tragically, the most likely place to do that—the sweet spot for that effort—at the spiritual core of each person, is where we collectively/culturally are least willing to apply energy to the cause.

BTW in the interest of full disclosure JGNow is PHL. :-)

RFK Action Front said...

Extremely well said! The baseball metaphor is perfect! Indeed even baseball had to get all juiced up to try to compete with football and look how that turned out.

I was trying to guess who JGN was (given my small readership, such guessing is often possible). It was very well written, but not with me on the issues. Hmmm. I thought to myself -- you know -- I bet that's PHL! You are one of the most reasonable conservatives on the planet -- the only one I would ever vote for I imagine.

I think your individual by individual approach is right on. And I think family by family too (which you model well).

Thank you so much for taking the time to write and for these helpful insights.

p.s. it is crazy though how many crooks our elite universities turn out isn't it?

courtney said...

Didn't the Obamas got to Princeton (Michelle) and Harvard (both) and Columbia (Barack)?

RFK Action Front said...

Ah yes, there are many excellent counter examples (including BHO and MO). Maya Lin comes to mind -- went to Yale, dropped out of pre-med and majored in architecture instead and designed the Vietnam War memorial.

I wonder though, what do the counter examples tell us? It's certainly possible that it tells us that the point of my post is bunk (always a good chance of that). Or maybe it tells us that for all its faults the ruling class produces some great stuff and some great people (which may me more true for some eras than others)? Or perhaps it tells about the power of the individual -- that great people can come out of any institution perhaps?