"I have drastically, drastically underestimated the social costs of nonconformity—costs I was paying, and quite possibly correctly so under reflection, but which I didn't notice I was paying."
"Well, as discussed previously, I had been modeling other people as defective versions of my model of myself, without realizing that this was a mistake on at least two counts: one, other people are not like my model of me, and two, I'm not as much like my model of me as I had wanted to believe, both of which observations are manifestations of that horrifying fact which I'm only now starting to appreciate: that people are animals, that Darwinism isn't just a proposition to endorse, but it actually happened that way in real life."
"And how does that relate to the costs of nonconformity?"
"I had expected people, including myself, to be fairly agent-like, when actually we're far more animal-like than I would have ever guessed: we're mostly just kludges of habits and heuristics; the skill of, of ... recomputing how to behave in the service of some goal is rare, and it's justifiably rare, because it usually doesn't work; most new ideas are wrong. We're told that school is about learning, and when I noticed that the things I do outside of school are genuinely more intellectually meritorious than my official homework, I felt outraged and betrayed: why didn't anyone just tell me that knowledge is good, and skill is good, and anything you do in the service of the acquisition of knowledge and skill is good?! But it was a rhetorical question; I didn't actually try to answer it. But it's not hard to figure out: the stories we tell about ourselves aren't very good models of our behavior, that's all. Insofar as we attribute purpose to the evolved social institution of schooling, it's probably some weighted blend of learning, babysitting, signaling intelligence and conscientiousness, subordination training, and path-dependent noise. Insofar as we construe people as agents who want to learn stuff, paying for college is idiotic: that's what books are for. But as coordination technology for a civilization of crazy monkeys?—if everyone expects a Bachelor's degree, who am I to tell them that it's just a signaling game, just a bubble?"
"So, you're planning to finish your degree despite your recent, uh, setback?"
"Well ... maybe. I certainly need to learn to fit in better with the other crazy monkeys by being more empathetic and agreeable—I've had a lot of unacknowledged outgroup hostility going on that I should stop. But it should be clear now that the degree is strictly of instrumental value. That's how most people think of it, isn't it?—just a job ticket. It shouldn't be heartbreaking to do something instrumentally, just for what it buys you. And yet ..."