Apparently a gang of extortionists calling themselves the "California state Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education" are threatening to shut down a number of organizations that provide assistance in learning to program, including App Academy, which I recently benefitted from attending. I could explain why the behavior of the BPPE is an outrage that must be opposed by anyone with a scrap of decency in their heart, but I'm too busy coding and counting my money.
"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 ..."
Shut up! Shut up and leave me alone with my books!
Dear [name redacted]:
So, I'm trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to stop being bitter, because I'm powerless to change anything, and so being bitter is a waste of time when I could be doing something useful instead, but I still don't understand how a good person like you can actually think our so-called educational system is actually a good idea. I can totally understand being practical and choosing to work within the system because it's all we've got; there's nothing wrong with selling out as long as you get a good price. If you think you're actually helping your students become better thinkers and writers, then that's great, and you should be praised for having more patience than me. But I don't understand how you can unambiguously say that this gargantuan soul-destroying engine of mediocrity deserves more tax money without at least displaying a little bit of uncertainty!
Dear reader, I had wanted to tell you an anecdote about a recent incident in which I considered myself to have been outrageously mistreated, but it occurred to me that you probably would not find the story at all worthy of note. In fact, I fear you would be quite likely to think less of me for complaining in such a melodramatic fashion about something which the prevailing norms of our Society consider quite ordinary and proper. And what authority do I have to insist that it's Society that is in the wrong, and not I?
So I won't tell you. Instead, let me tell you a completely unrelated anecdote about my analogue in an alternate universe not entirely unlike our own. You see, recently, my alternate-universe analogue wanted to buy a table lamp, so he went—or let us say in a manner of speaking that I went—to a store to purchase one.
In the showroom, I found a lamp I liked, flagged down a salesman, and said to him, "I'd like to buy this lamp."
"Have you previously purchased a side table from us before?" he said.
"No," I said, somewhat puzzled by the seemingly irrelevant question.
"Well, you can't buy a lamp unless you already have a table to put it on," said the salesman in a tone of polite condescension.
"Oh, I certainly agree that it simply wouldn't do to get a lamp without having a table to put it on," I said, "but you see, I already have a table."
"So you did buy a table from us."
"No," I said.
"So you don't have a table."