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.