Since I’ve spent a lot of time in and around the Ed Biz, people often ask me if professors really believe their own bullshit. The things they say are so outlandish — and their private behavior is so opposed to their public sentiments — that they must be lying, right?
I don’t think so. At its higher levels, academia is pretty much a cult, and college is a kind of low rent mind control. I’m pretty sure the big boys — the college presidents who pull down a million per — know it’s a scam; except for the Diversity clowns, everyone else is a true believer.
The first thing any cult does with a new recruit is to flatten, or at least narrow, their affect. Your affect — the characteristic way you express emotion — is socially conditioned. Altering that breaks your social conditioning, and since we all strive to fit in with our society, the recruit will quickly rebuild his affect in the cult-approved manner. Here’s a good, quick description of how Scientology does it. TR (training routine)-0 strives for an absolutely flat affect — first, recruits have to stare at each other, unmoving, for up to two hours; next, they have to remain unresponsive to stimuli as their trainers yell at them and degrade them.
Mandatory “sensitivity” seminars are the obvious parallel here, and while those things work (any conditioning works, given time) the college environment itself is more efficient. College kids aren’t robots. They don’t have flat affects, but they do have extremely narrow ones. From the moment they step on campus, they’re trained to be binary — either idling in neutral or revved up past eleven. Everything in their world is designed to be all-or-nothing — football games and keggers, of course, but also term papers and exam crams. In my experience, even the most responsible kids — the ones who are officers in a zillion clubs, who volunteer on weekends, the resident assistants in dorms — tend to put off all their work until the last minute, then Adderall up and pull a series of allnighters. The irresponsible ones, meanwhile, are getting blackout drunk. We’ve discussed this before; it’s incredible if you haven’t seen it firsthand. They drift zombie-like through their classes (if they bother to go to class), then blow their brains out with Jaeger shots on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights.
Zero or eleven, all or nothing, all the time. Is it any surprise, then, that when they get worked up, they have shrieking meltdowns?
Social media reinforces it. The world only knows about Vodka Sam because she tweeted about it, and I can promise you that the universal reaction among her peer group was: “dude, you made the paper! Cooooool!” It’s not just drunken shenanigans, though. It’s everything else. Clickbait hot takes aside, of course Facebook is turning us into narcissists. Narcissism is not grandiosity. It’s creating a one-dimensional identity for yourself, then trying to force the rest of the world to conform to it:
Facebook is a neutral tool, it’s what you do with it that matters. You think the “I’m better than everybody!” status updates are evidence of narcissism, and maybe they are, but the deeper pathology exists in those who derive their identities from that online presence while simultaneously retreating from the real world. Show me a man or woman who posts pictures of themselves in bathing suits and I shrug my shoulders. Show me a person who spends more than an hour a day on Facebook and it isn’t their job and I’ll show you a future divorce even if they’re not married yet. Show me a middle aged person who spends >1 hr a day on facebook, and I’ll show you someone who has been to a psychiatrist. It’s not an insult, it is a statement of fact. Each person tries to find ways of affirming themselves; but when it is done through identity and not behavior, it always leads to misery.
Sure, you can convince 5000 people you’re anything. Then what?
It is self-reinforcing. The type of person who withdraws into facebook is already stunted in their potential for happiness; and if you’re spending all your energy on facebook then you’re not spending it in ways that might actually work. The problem isn’t facebook, the problem is you.
Which leads to the obvious conclusion:
Narcissism has a fail-safe: since you know you tricked [your last girlfriend] to get them, you can’t believe them when they say they love you. The fact that she loves you means she’s not smart enough to know what love is. That’s why you default to measurable quantities of love: how fast did she get into bed with the past guys?
Just because she thinks you’re awesome, doesn’t mean you can really feel her.
College kids have point-and-click personalities — post only things that get thumbs-ups, unfriend anyone who gives you a thumbs down, and pretty soon, you are exactly what you say you are…. on Facebook. Real world be damned. Alas, the real world is still out there, but thanks to the proliferation of identity clubs and their associated Studies classes, you can spend four to six years almost entirely isolated from it. I’m really not joking about this: From the first class meeting — hell, from the minute they walk in the door in most cases — I can tell exactly what I’m going to get on half my students’ term papers. The gay kid is going to give me a paper about gayness, the feminist is going to give me a feminist paper, the black kid’s paper will be “Black Black Blackity Black: A Case Study in Blackness,” &c. The class’s actual subject doesn’t matter; it could be a seminar on Medieval Finnish Literature and I’d still get “Blackity Blackness in the Kalevala” and “lesbians were the real Vikings.”
Meanwhile, back in the dorms, they compete for status within their obsessive little micro-group, everyone getting weirder and weirder as they try to one-up each other. This is why you will be made to care. Without their causes to define them, these kids have nothing. Zero or eleven, all the time, and since the real world resoundingly replies “zero”….
…. And that’s if the real world can even understand what these Snowflakes are going on about, which we can’t. This is the second pillar of milieu control, as sociologists call it (and Lifton is still well worth reading) — impenetrable jargon. Here again, Scientology is the trend-setter. They’re notorious for their weird lingo, but they should be better known for the softening-up technique that prepares you to learn the lingo. Called “Dear Alice” or “Alice Games,” in this TR
context-free snippets from Alice [in Wonderland], printed on a sheet of paper, are read by the student to the coach [and vice versa]… Here, canned script from a master storyteller conjures up some fantastic and nonsensical images, which the student must refuse to process [by reacting] or fail the exercise. The result is robotic repetition of nonsense phrases…Rather than conditioning you for the real world where nonsense is met with questions for clarification, [Scientology founder L.] Ron [Hubbard] is conditioning the mark to confront “Scieno-speak.”
Snark aside — and fair warning, the snark unfortunately makes that site nearly unreadable — the reporter nails it. Don’t question; just repeat the mumbo-jumbo verbatim, or you fail. Sound familiar? This is the one and only reason professors get away with saying the stupid shit they do. Repeat enough times, and the rote repetition of nonsense simply is communication. I’ve sat through entire graduate seminars where all we did was agree with each other in increasingly elaborate ways, one-upping each other with ever-more-radical nerdspeak. Pity the poor undergraduates who are taught by these people!
Put it together, and you get an entire group of people who say nothing, believe nothing, communicate nothing… but with a passionate, life-destroying intensity. It doesn’t matter what Trigglypuff was all worked up about. She herself didn’t know, and it wouldn’t do any good to ask her — she can’t explain it, any more than the frat bros and sorority sisters can explain why it’s a good idea to pickle their livers every weekend. They couldn’t even comprehend the question….
…. and neither could their teachers. And that, friends, is what’s wrong with education today, and it’s why profs believe their own bullshit: Flat affect and Alice games.