It’s 1355, Oxford University. What do you think Oxford students are doing? Pick:
a) Studying theology, reading Latin and Greek
b) Debating deep philosophical issues of the day
c) Fucking whores, getting drunk, beating up and murdering townspeople
Correct answer is C. Read about St. Scholastica Day riots (1355) if you don’t believe me. Historian Andrew Larsen on college life in Medieval times:
The students were living away from their family and while theoretically they were supposed to be studying, they were out drinking, cavorting with prostitutes, and fighting. It was fairly easy for students to get their hands on weapons. Coroners rolls can attest to that fact because they were full of homicides perpetrated with swords. Surprisingly, in the thirteenth century, less than 10% of murderers were executed. Since many students were clerics, they knew their chances of being executed or severely punished were small. The worst that could happen was being exiled and expelled from the university.
And you thought the rioting at UC Berkeley when Milo Yiannapolous was to give a talk was bad. College students nowadays don’t even know how to make a proper molotov cocktail, much less impale someone with a sword.
Some of you still want to go to college. Fine. I’ll show you how to go to college without turning out stupid. First, understand the main purpose of college.
Origins of the Modern University
Point of the Oxford question is that institutions don’t change much even as society and technology does. If you want to understand what’s going on in the present, look to the past because it’s a mirror of the present. Just don’t fool yourself into believing you’re better than the past because that’s your narcissism talking.
The modern university started as a place where wealthy families could drop off pain-in-the-ass boys and make them someone else’s problem. These universities — which grew out of monasteries — of course obliged because some faculty eagerly looked forward to yearly arrival of fresh boys (students started at ages 13 or 14 until boarding schools took over the job of socializing teenagers that young). Another reason to send a boy to college was that clergymen (what graduates became) had a lot of power and powerful families depended on The Church to legitimize and grow their own power. Meaning, the University served as the locus of collusion between The Church and the Aristocracy, and political and social indoctrination of students was the norm from the beginning.
So the original and primary purpose of the University and of sending kids to college wasn’t to make kids useful or employable or scholarly, it was to consolidate family power. Sure sure, a few became great scholars but most fucked around while trying to not get expelled.
As the power of the Church waned, the University became more secular and clergymen and theology were replaced with lawyers and legal study. A legal career became the path to political power, as it still is, especially in Anglo nations such as The United States. Aristocratic children were sent to college not to prepare them for a trade, but to socialize them for leadership and power. The growing bourgeoisie — particularly wealthy merchants — wanted that power and began sending their sons to college to acquire it. And the battle between the bourgeoisie against the aristocracy was on.
Fetishizing the Modern University
Modernity and democracy made everyone want a spot at a University, which became synonymous with and fetishized as a source of power. Universities responded by becoming more meritocratic, so that the best and brightest from the working class were given spots usually reserved for an idiot aristocrat. But many unqualified working class wanted to go to college too but couldn’t get in. Society responded by creating new universities of dubious value, and converting teaching colleges and agricultural colleges into universities of inflated value that professionalized trades such as medicine and engineering. The trades welcomed the intrusion because it inflated the social and economic value of their work, even though schools did and continue to do a shitty job of preparing their students for those jobs. Historian Sir Spencer Walpole on the value of a college education for those interested in learning a trade:
“…few medical men, few solicitors, few persons intended for commerce or trade, ever dreamed of passing through a university career…The education imparted at Oxford was not such as to conduce to the advancement in life of many persons, except those intended for the ministry.”
Then what’s the point of going to college if not to train for professional employment? Walpole:
If the average undergraduate carried from University little or no learning, which was of any service to him, he carried from it a knowledge of men and respect for his fellows and himself, a reverence for the past, a code of honour for the present, which could not but be serviceable. He had enjoyed opportunities… of intercourse with men, some of whom were certain to rise to the highest places in the Senate, in the Church, or at the Bar.
The point is, and has always been, social networking and socialization. Which is why the sorority and fraternity or eating club you get into matters more than your GPA. Unless you want to become an academic, in which case, continue studying and hang out with graduate students.
With social networking and socialization in mind, pick your school carefully. The most prestigious and influential schools socialize students to become Presidents, Prime Ministers, Dictators, other high level politicians and business leaders from around the world. (The most academically prestigious produce scholars). Next tier of schools are influential regionally, such as University of Washington in relation to the Pacific Northwest, or demographically, such as BYU within the Mormon community or Spelman within the Black community. Most schools have no influence and socialize students to be cashiers and secretaries.
Which soon to be graduate will get offers from top tier Wall Street firms?
a) Lacrosse player from Princeton, 2.4 GPA Sociology major
b) Math and Economics double major from MIT, 3.6 GPA
c) Math major from University of Oregon, 4.0 GPA
Correct answer is A. Wall Street prefers athletes from top schools because competitive sports mirrors Wall Street work. His low GPA works in his favor because his major is Sociology and they prefer that he not pay attention to most Sociologists. Only a few eggheads (MIT) are needed on Wall Street. And the nerd from Oregon hasn’t been properly socialized for Wall Street. Medical, business, and law schools also prefer athletes because of applicability of what’s learned from competitive sports to work in medicine, business, and law.
How to Choose a Major and Course of Study
Anyone who tells you to “follow your passion,” imagine beating the shit out of that person. It’s a stupid cliche and if everyone followed their “passion,” 80 percent of people would be working in the sex industry. Now that you’ve blocked bad advice out of your head, you’re ready to navigate academia.
Hannah wants to get into medical school? Which major should she choose to increase her chances?
Answer is A because there are few physics majors who apply to medical school and physics majors are better problem solvers than biology majors (and they can be radiologists). Philosophy is also a good choice, as pre-med philosophy majors have highest overall MCAT scores. Biology is the worst choice not so much because that’s what most pre-med majors pick, but because it’s not a challenging major.
How it works: there’s a hierarchy of academic disciplines and Math is the mother of all of them. You need math to understand everything, including music, art, and literature; and to build things, like bridges and phones. A mathematician doesn’t need to understand chemistry or philosophy or sociology or economics to do his job, but everyone has to understand some Math (if not formally then intuitively). Disciplines are split into four groups, with the physical sciences being the most prestigious (and least popular in the US).
Most prestigious because conclusions made in these disciplines are most reliable. Every physicist agrees that gravity exists. They also help engineers make things that we use everyday, like bridges. Must be a disciplined thinker able to create reproducible experiments and results.
Not as prestigious as physical sciences because conclusions are often not reliable. That’s why medical doctors often don’t agree with each other and why they’ll tell you to get a second opinion. Still, they help medical doctors fix things. Must be observant thinker and tolerant of ambiguity.
Most popular but not prestigious because experiments are not replicable and conclusions are thus useless. Sociologists, for instance, can’t agree on why the poor are poor. Psychologists can’t agree on what makes people and who is batshit crazy. Anthropologists can’t replicate what they observe. That leads to sloppy and biased thinking, making many of these disciplines the primary sources of political indoctrination at college campuses.
Popular because there are no experiments, more prestigious than Social Sciences because here is where you’re supposed to learn to be cultured. Less prestigious than other sciences because professors can’t agree on what’s good or bad about something and it’s unclear why we need to read Chaucer to live well. Some political indoctrination, especially in Literature and History departments.
Ranking Academic Disciplines in Order of Difficulty and Usefulness
- Math — requires precision, logic and creativity
- Physics — requires precision, logic and creativity
- Philosophy — requires precision and logic
- Chemistry — requires accuracy and reverse engineering skills
- Economics — requires a bit of this, a bit of that
- Biology — requires you to memorize a lot of stuff
- Literature — requires a lot of reading and writing
- History — requires a lot of reading and writing
- Sociology — requires agreeing with whatever professor says
- Psychology — requires talking about yourself a lot
Comments on Popular Pre-Professional Majors,
Note: more traditional schools won’t have some, if any, of these majors.
- Business — Very general education, but some companies like this degree because it signals you want a business career.
- Finance — Superior to business degree because it requires more math.
- Marketing — Useless degree, no skills taught, most end up in sales.
- Environmental Science — Not a science major, this is public policy major with focus on the environment. People who can make things to improve the environment, like a better solar panel, get the green jobs. People who talk about helping the environment get to be unemployed.
- Education — Avoid. The best private schools avoid hiring people with education degrees for a reason.
- Nursing — Very general education but it signals you want to be a nurse and they like that.
- Communications — Avoid unless it’s Technical Communications, that actually teaches communication skills. Frat boys think it’s an MRS degree.
- Engineering — You’ll study Math and Physics. Employers like that because it means you can build things.
- Accounting — At most schools it only prepares you for bookkeeping. Others prepare you for CPA.
- Not all colleges are equal, socially and academically. Most colleges shouldn’t exist.
- Not all majors are equal. Some make you smarter. Others make you dumber.
- College is a networking event. Note if college has a worthwhile social network.
- College is a social and political indoctrination event.
- College doesn’t teach you how to do a job. Most of work — including medicine and engineering — will be learned on the job.
- You can learn anything that’s taught in college on your own. If you can’t, you won’t learn it in college.
- Most college students shouldn’t be in college. Most colleges are too easy to get into.
- Nobody needs college to become a billionaire, just as nobody needs a Ferrari to get to work.
- College is a scam. So why do politicians want to make
taxpayersbusinesses pay for something as useless as “free college’?