Saturday, September 27, 2008

Who Needs College: Everyday Life

So I had recently talked about how the Presidential campaign and conventions are treating the electoral process as a high school student council election. It's about popularity, libeling your opponent, and pretending to be sympathetic to all the concerns of your voters. This was quite disturbing to me because I expect the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, to be better than that. I don't want some prom king wasting my tax dollars unless that prom king also happens to be the valedictorian. But it is as it is in everyday life. The people will not elect someone who has the smarts to understand the intricacies of running a country. Just as high school students will never willingly elect the smartest candidate as student council president, the American people will never willingly elect an intelligent President.

Notice how I slipped in "willingly" in that sentence. I believe that the average American is really just like the average high school student. After all, the majority of Americans have at least been in high school, if not graduated from high school. And as of the date of this blog, college graduates are in the minority of the American population. It then stands to reason that the average American's most mature social interactions came from their high school experiences. Now you may argue that you learned better than that or your parents gave you a better example, but you would be in the minority. And it is a small minority. We must remember that even college students behave as though they are still in high school. You need not look farther than the Greek system of a middle tiered school. Of course, there are mature high school students, and there are immature college students. But we are talking about the majority of the population, which also happens to be the average person. Thus, they gravitate towards those who seem to be popular and powerful. If they happen to be well educated and experienced, then it's a bonus.

This bias is propagated into the real world after high school. I would daresay that I believe it is a prejudice that is developed in high school and carried into the real world, as opposed to learned in high because of interactions with the real world. I say that because there are so many other behaviors that you don't expect from a grown adult but would not be surprised if it came from a teenager. Let's look at the data. If you take all the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, you will find that the overwhelming majority of them are taller than the average American. More are also men, but that's another article. If you have elementary school students learn the same lesson taught by two different teachers--one more attractive than the other, and then ask the children who they thought was the better teacher, the majority always select the more attractive teacher. There are many other experiments that have been performed that demonstrate the same prejudice. It sounds as though I am saying that the average person is consciously prejudiced. And for the most part, I am saying exactly that.

This prejudice is manifested in other ways, of course. Anyone who has worked for a mid to large sized company know this. The cliques, the cattiness, the offhand insults, and the behind the back gossip. People outside the clique are not trusted, excluded, and mocked. Exactly what happens in high school. If you've ever come across a bad neighbor this happens. All this occurs out of prejudice, which occurs out of ignorance, which often but not always occurs out of laziness. The average person is too lazy to gather the proper information needed to make a judgment. So he makes a judgment based on data readily available. In an ideal world, this "thin slicing" of information offers sound judgments, but in reality the average untrained person mixes his prejudices in with a thin slice of data and ends up with a poor assessment of the situation. It is unfortunate that we do not learn this when we are in high school.

So does this mean that we got lucky all those times we chose great leaders? Possibly. In this day and age, definitely.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Who Needs College Anyways? Part 1

There are many studies that been performed demonstrating that a human's frontal lobe continues to develop until his twenties. This has been very important information, especially for auto insurers, since the frontal lobe is responsible to critical thinking and decision making. That means that a 17 year driver is less likely to make a smart decision while driving and therefore is more accident prone and should pay higher rates for insurance. This is further supported by the overwhelming number of observations of teenagers driving too fast, texting while driving, and trying to beat yellow lights. Is there a logical extension to this data? I believe so, and I would refer to it as the Are We Still In High School? effect, or AWSIHS.

We've all been there. Well, most people have. I would daresay that the slight majority of people have not so fond memories of high school, with more women than men not wanting to do it all over again. And why is that? The answers are simple and obvious. High school is a microcosm where the cliques rule and gossip is fact. If you don't play by mob rules, you don't play at all. But how does the hierarchy of high school maintain itself without collapsing on its nonsensical basis for existing? Anyone who has gone to high school knows the answer to that question--diversion and character assassination. Granted, these are fancy terms beyond most high school students, but it the sociopolitical sense they are perfect descriptors.

How does diversion and character assassination work? It's very simple. When you are accused of inappropriate behavior (in high school this means being a geek, being a flirt, being anything other than the established social norm in the school) whether it is true or not, the most effective method of defending yourself is not to defend yourself or address the accusations. Protesting "I am not a geek" only brings more attention to the possibility you are a geek and causes more people to believe you actually are a geek. You can see that there is no discussion as to whether you are indeed a geek. Gossip is fact in high school, remember? The most effective defense is to divert the attention from you and onto your attacker. And you divert the attention by mocking you attacker. If there is one thing people can't seem to stop themselves from joining it is the fair weather mockery of a person.

You can envision how this plays out in high school with infinite permutations. Someone runs for student council, saying change is needed because current school politics only favors the athletes. His incumbent opponent, an athlete, likely has nothing good to say in his own defense (this is high school politics, after all), and so simply mocks the way his opponent talks, or dresses. Or creates some disastrously specious slippery slope to make his opponent seem like a nutjob. You can substitute girls for the boys, cheerleaders for jocks, use the in clique versus the out clique, and so on. The diatribe remains the same at heart.

Have we seen this recently? Of course we have! The current Presidential campaign! I knew it seemed familiar. It was simmering over the spring, and is now boiling over since the Republican and Democratic conventions. Seriously, it's a campaign for student council president of United States High. I have not heard a detailed and coherent plan for any issue by any of the four candidates in both parties. We are electing someone who can steer the country and take of adult issues, not someone who knows how to mock the speech of the opposing candidate. Yet, the cheering at the Republican and Democratic conventions would suggest otherwise.

Another feature of the AWSIHS effect is reductionism. As in high school, there is a reduction of candidates into political parties, and then further into classically associated beliefs of the party. For instance, one would reduce McCain to a Republican, and the further into a prolife/antichoice candidate. At that point, it would not matter whether he favored sending more troops to Iraq, including one's children, to die for a cause embroiled in controversy. It would also not matter if he favored drastic cuts in Medicare, choking off one's affordable access to medical care. The reduction point does not have to be abortion. It could be Iraq, "middle class" tax cuts, environmental slant, or anything else. The result is the same--disregard for other issues.

With all this, who needs a college education? Everything you need to know to survive today's world you learned in high school. Without even cracking a book or taking a test. You experienced it. You lived it. You're still living it now. Next up, AWSIHS in everyday life--you don't actually have to grow up like your parents warned you.