It is truth alone that frees, not the activity of will.
I take the above quote not to mean an invitation to inactivity, but an assertion that right action can only follow right thinking, or, better in keeping with the philosophy of Krishnamurti, with the perception of the world as-it-is. I’m reminded of a conversation I once had with a feminist scholar when I was in my early twenties. She argued that “praxis,” the leftist term for the application of social and political theory, could not be aided by objective facts or knowledge of the origins of any particular social problem. One only needs to know the objective, the goal that the theory is meant to illuminate.
Which struck me as ludicrous then and strikes me as even more so today. Such a philosophy can say nothing about the fitness of a goal and I think it is instrumental to the survival of feminism that it do everything it can to dismantle rational, objective observation as a tool privileged in acquiring knowledge. Feminism does not and cannot have a foundation in reason, it has one only in desire. It’s also a very bad strategy to try to get somewhere without first knowing the direction. A very simple way to outline the folly of my interlocutor is to show that if we want to find a cure for a disease our power is radically increased by the ability to discover exactly its etiology—that which causes it. Of particular relevance to women is the fact that many used to die giving birth due not to any inherent difficulty in the process of labor but to sepsis. Until Louis Pasteur’s germ theory of disease doctors and midwives did not know that it was a good idea to wash their hands before touching a birthing mother and legions of women throughout the ages died needlessly from postpartum infection.
But I want to use the idea of right thinking as a point of reference to tell what I have learned about the growing educational divide that separates men and women, as told by Hanna Rosin in a recent TED lecture and in her essay for The Atlantic, “The End of Men.” It doesn’t exist. There is no educational divide because we no longer have education. Aside from a few islets of reason in the sciences (and these too seem to be treading water) we now have ideological indoctrination and credentialism.
In her book Dark Age Ahead, urban theorist Jane Jacobs identifies several signifiers of our cultural decline similar to those faced by the collapsing Roman Empire. Primary to these is the decay of the nuclear family but, sadly, Jacobs is not an anti-feminist theorist. She identifies the climbing divorce rate as the result of economic pressures on families and of collapsing community infrastructure. These are valid arguments but incomplete explanations of the problem. However, she also identifies credentialism as one of the reasons for our decline and Dark Age Ahead is one of the very few works I can find that discusses the topic critically. Jacobs shows that the reason for credentialism’s destructive power is simple: our universities and colleges are cranking out graduates that although they have the papers to claim otherwise have little knowledge and less ability.
Expansion of first-rate faculty—memorable teachers of the kind the 1960s student protesters were mourning—has not kept pace with expansion of enrollments and courses offered; professors lack the time and energy they could once devote to personal contact with students. Slack had been taken up by what became known as “gypsy faculty,” lecturers hoping for permanent appointments as they move from university to university, and by graduate students as part of their apprenticeships. So many papers to mark, relative to numbers and qualities of mentors to mark them, changed the nature of test papers. Some came to consist of “True or false?” and “Which of the following is correct?” types of questions, fit for robots to answer and to rate, rather than stimulants and assessments of critical thinking and depth of understanding.
In the meantime, rejoicing that university education has become a growth industry, administration and legislators seek increasingly to control problems of scale by applying lessons from profit-making enterprises that turn expanded markers to advantage by cutting costs. Increased output of product can be measured more easily as numbers of credentialed graduates than as numbers of educated graduates. Quantity trumps quality. (1)
And what is the quality of our graduates? Consider the large number of students who can barely speak English, let alone write it, and the potentially vast number of essays and dissertations that are plagiarized or are written for students byprofessional essay writers. In addition, I can think of almost no students and indeed few faculty members outside the hard sciences who are capable of critical thinking. While searching for statistics on the number of female students studying hard science, physics or engineering for example, I discovered this scholarly work that seeks to place blame for the lack of female students in mathematics on the social environment:
Fishbein and Ajzen assume that one’s intention to perform a behavior constitutes the best predictor of behavior. The intention to perform a given behavior is in turn predicted by one’s attitude towards the behavior in question and one’s subjective norm with respect to the behavior (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975, p. 400). This relationship may be expressed algebraically as follows:
I = [AB] W1 + [SN] W2
Thus, the intention to perform a specific behavior [I] is determined by one’s attitude towards the behavior [AB] and one’s belief that others (the family and peer groups) think that it is important that he or she should perform the specific behavior (subjective norm [SN]). W1 and W2 represent weights attached to one’s attitude and the subjective norm. For example, persons may be differentially motivated to comply with the opinions of the important people in their lives. (2)
Shades of Sokal! Here we see a scholarship-approved, “scientistic” way to lend an argument credence by ascribing to it a mathematical methodology. But such an ascription contains no less than three errors in critical thinking in immediate succession. The first is the variables. They seek to quantify quality, similar to how credentialism grants precedence to quantity over quality. The way a female student feels about social pressures, the subjective norm variable SN in the equation, cannot be quantified nor can her feelings towards the subject’s attitude or towards the subjective norm. There is no answer to the question, “How much good or bad do you feel about x?” The second error is to relate qualities mathematically. Only quantities can have a mathematical relationship. The third error is to assume the logical validity of the entire mathematical statement which results in yet another quantity meant to describe a quality, or in poetic terms: sweet fuck all. Nevertheless, show this equation to humanities students and they will ooh and aah over it like a tribe of smurfs without any critical appraisal of whether it could possibly be true.
I’m a sucker for ironic serendipity. It just so happens that the most scathing criticism of credentialism I could find comes from Hanna Rosin’s very own The Atlantic, albeit a quarter-century earlier. James Fallows casts a very keen gaze on ascendant credentialism in the mid-80s and finds it lacking:
In 1970 Ivar-Berg reported on a study conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration, which wanted to understand what made 507 highly competent air-traffic controllers good at their jobs. The question was whether advanced educational requirements would produce competent controllers; the answer was no. As Berg explained,
“This complicated job . . . might well require, not merely the details of engineering or management science or mathematics, but all the supposed ‘correlates’ of education—a disciplined mind, for example—and the more personal qualities that education is supposed to produce–reliability, steadfastness, responsibility, ability to think quickly, motivation, etc.”
Common sense might suggest that the better controllers would be more educated—but the FAA found that fully half the top-ranked controllers had no formal education beyond high school. Many of them had come directly to the FAA for rigorous technical training specifically related to the jobs they were expected to do. Berg said,
“Because it was ‘stuck with’ less educated men . . . the FAA became a little laboratory in which the relevance of education for attainment of, and achievement in, important managerial and technical positions could be examined. Education proves not to be a factor in the daily performance of one of the most demanding decision-making jobs in America. (3)
If non-credentialed men with only high school educations can do technically demanding jobs and do them well, even more, if their job performance is indistinguishable from those who have degrees this means that all those pretty pieces of paper Rosin is so proud of may be worthless. Indeed, the mancession can be seen not as a reorganization of our societies and our economies, but a type of cultural inflation whereby the currency of knowledge is continually devalued by a glut of valueless claims to knowledge. It’s no wonder that men now find our education system daunting to the point of failure; they generally have low tolerance for bullshit.
In science, the simplest explanation is often the most true. I am tempted to judge that after forty years of affirmative action and all efforts to shunt women into hard science and mathematics the reason that there are relatively few female students in these areas is because such studies generally don’t interest them. This is a calamity for our civilization, because the educational and occupational mancession described by Rosin means that our guiding institutions are becoming run by people who cannot think. Worse, they do not remember a time when people could.
What is a dark age? It is cultural amnesia of such a degree that people in a society do not even know that they have forgotten the past. This image is of what was once a lowly canteen in a hospital for convalescent sailors—for men. Greenwich Hospitalwas built in a time that even though men were not their own masters some of them were nonetheless still valued for their service. It understood what we have utterly forgotten despite all our prodigious efforts at medicine and psychology: beauty heals. Quite likely it could not be built today, not even with modern materials, not even with Auto CAD and 3D printing. And all those female graduates trained neither in truth nor in the methods to recognize it. What will they build? I suspect their will enabled by their false credentials will sink us.
A new Dark Age is not ahead. We have been living in one for some time.
About Theodore Labadie, author of the Fatal Planet Blog:
I am a 40-year-old university force-out who studies various subjects concerning the environment, human sexuality and cognition, and art and art history from a masculinist perspective. In my spare time I watch civilization slowly circling the drain.
1. Jacobs, Jane. Dark Age Ahead. Toronto, Canada: Random House. Vintage Canada Edition 2005. p. 49.
2. Lenzner, Andrea. Women in Mathematics: A Cross-Cultural Comparison. Münster, Germany: Waxmann Verlag GmbH. 2006. p. 27.
3. Fallows, James. “The Case Against Credentialism.” The Atlantic Monthly. December, 1985. p. 65.