The world is full of fools and faint hearts; and yet every one has courage enough to bear the misfortunes, and wisdom enough to manage the affairs of his neighbor. ~ Poor Richards Almanac, 1743
I recently received e-mails from a couple of college students; they wondered where the previously smooth path to Wall Street riches was taking them and asked my advice if they should maybe take a detour into a career with more potential and less risk, like professional bull riding. Even worse for the young men, they had the bad luck to stumble across Hayek and Mises at the tender age of college; they have lost the intellectual blind spots necessary to drink from Wall Street's cup without grimacing — for them, the party's over before it had even begun.
Unfortunately, there is really no way for me to answer their question about staying on the path to Wall Street, to follow a Yellow Brick Road that no longer gleams with gold. I don't know their circumstances; only they do. But, with me being a modern day American, having no clue what I'm talking about will not turn me away from running my mouth, so stuffed to the gills with the hollow omniscience a top post-graduate degree grants to the owner I'll give my advice anyway.
The Search for Knowledge
I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. ~ Mark Twain
Many years ago, during the dark times before the GI Bill and Sallie Mae, the overwhelming majority of Americans never earned a college degree. To become a "college man" meant having parents wealthy enough to ship you off to Princeton, Harvard, or some such place, where the progeny would earn themselves a lifetime of steady, well-remunerated employment through four years of intensive networking, drinking, rowing, debutante balls, and intercollegiate football matches accompanied by rousing fight songs. The finished product of this process was marked not with wisdom but its pale substitute wit.
Included among "all the rights, privileges, and immunities thereunto appertaining" in the top school degree was an arrogance or, at best, a condescending sympathy towards all those not familiar with the interior of the University Club, all those poor cabdrivers, waiter staff, and subway riders who never even heard about that favorite famous professor of our memory, let alone took lessons at his feet.
The ideas birthed by our elite colleges in the late 1800s morphed America into a socialist democracy, this sea change has had a boomerang effect on our university system — it now operates under the premise that college equals education and everybody has a right to it. Politicians at all levels have borrowed against tomorrow to boost college attendance, and before all the seed corn ran out the university system gorged to its content — more Americans now hold college degrees than at any time in history. Yet, the industry's outsized growth did not improve the product, but diluted what little it had to offer to begin with.
At the top rung of the system (in reputation, at least) are the Ivy League colleges, which have long been diploma mills producing legions of dumbasses, schemers, and charlatans by the bushel, every graduated brain stuffed with the irrational ravings of select madmen and emptied of any shred of humility. Chock full of an insatiable urge to "plan" and the ignorant arrogance to see it through, they are released upon humanity like a viral plague to assume their rightful positions of leadership, forever after to blunder the world into one disaster or another.
From Princeton graduate Woodrow Wilson, who gave us World War One, the War on Drugs, and the income tax, to Yale and Harvard product George W. Bush, who gave us Iraq, Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, and turned America into a pervasive surveillance society, the mark of the Ivy League graduate has been nothing but bloodshed and fields filled with skull and bones, corruption of the idea of education, and a vast wasting of wealth and liberty.
The best we can do for our nation's future greatness and posterity is to take Harvard, Princeton, every one of the Ivies in fact, and turn them all to more useful pursuits, such as teaching auto repair or plumbing. As for the poor saps who have already graduated and are running brain damaged about the globe, proudly waving their Ivy League degrees and causing untold mayhem, they are likely too far gone to be much use to anyone, though they might, after years of de-programming, make decent fry cooks.
Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance. ~ Will Durant
If it's one thing I got from my foray into America's college system, one thing that my outsized bloated paycheck granted me, it is my extensive home library, my pride and joy. Lehman's former CEO Dick Fuld got a mansion in Florida from the boom, and goody for him — I wish him well and envy him not a dot. What I got for my part in the whole stock-jobbing frenzy was my refuge, and you might honestly say that everything I have ever learned I learned on my own, under my own direction.
A person will only become as educated as they make themselves. There are multitudes of Americans with post-graduate degrees who have never cracked open a book under anything but outside direction, that have lived a life that has shown no urge towards that pursuit of knowledge which is always, when all is said and done, a process that is and must be self-directed.
To say that self-education leaves holes in your overall views of things, that it can lead to a stunted mind that will only dive into what it is sure to agree with can be correct, but there is an easy way around that. Every book, at least every decent book, is full of footnotes and a bibliography that can lead the reader more deeply into the subject at hand, to look at the thing from a variety of angles.
The financial advantages to self-education can't be emphasized enough, either. When Matt Damon's character in Good Will Hunting mocked the arrogant Harvard student, asking him why he spends tens of thousands of dollars to be told to read things he could read by choice in the library for free, he was on to something.
Yet, if you insist on becoming a college man anyway, citing the salary discrepancies between the have degrees and the have not degrees, my advice to the young men who wrote to me, those holed up in college libraries clutching Mises and Rothbard to their furrowed brow, is to take stock of where you are and what college is really about. Think about what position you are in.
A recent blog post by Lew Rockwell sums up that position perfectly — "as I walked on a university campus this morning…the girl-boy ratio was overwhelmingly girl." Haven’t you watched Animal House? What in God’s name are you doing in the library? Who the hell goes to college to learn anything? Understood properly, America's college system is not a haven of learning; it is a four-year party with the background noise provided by tenured hacks giving their interpretations of foolish utopian schemes culled from other long-dead hacks.
In college happy hour is every hour, so remember to ignore your professors and let your dog off the leash; it's hunting season. You are there to network, drink, smoke, and build up the fond, blurry memories that will allow you in later years to watch a porn movie and reminisce about when you used to get up to such wondrous madness. Stop wasting valuable college time reading Mises and Hayek — they'll be plenty of time for that later — and cease frittering away a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated. ~ Alec Bourne
Yet, while the Ivy Leagues — and all American universities, for that matter — are like a dark blot on the sun of knowledge, even if everyone avoided college this would by no means protect society from disaster.
It must be admitted that a self-educated man can be as much a Hindenburg as the college man; he too can be encumbered with a favorite crackbrained theory. Abraham Lincoln, a self-educated one-man wrecking crew of historic proportion, is the perfect case in point. So I can take my library and my footnotes and bibliographies and my self-education and go stuff it.
Therefore, it would seem that what's best for America, what's best for our youth in general, is to stay away from books and learning completely. Like the quip that sex is too good for the common people, the authoritarian fear that books and ideas are too dangerous for the rabble holds a lot of credence, as well.
A little bit of learning is a dangerous thing, and a lot of it is clearly beyond the bounds of most. We need less college graduates and more people like Guy Montag from Fahrenheit 451, burning every book within reach. And when almost everyone's brain is empty and dull, when calls by our educated elite to invade, forbid, or regulate will bring forth no response from the dull herd, when the only utopian crusade the American people can get worked up for or understand is one where we sit back on the couch, smoke, and play Madden NFL until the heart's content and the lungs blacken — when that day comes we can all exhale, because only then will we will be happy, high, and safe from the mad ravings of the Ivy League graduate.
March 17, 2009