The Horror of the Professional Class
Young professionals horrify me these days because that is what everyone expected me to become. Young professionals are the company men of American society, but they do not know it. They see themselves as emancipated intellectuals who can make a positive contribution to society and make a living at the same time. They are well scrubbed, need to feel competent, and eager to please. They are in graduate school, law school, or have struck out on their own as social entrepreneurs. They are weirdly unrealistic about American politics, but specific issues rile them. I woke up one morning and they all suddenly seemed delusional.
Graduate school is the factory of professionals. Having experienced graduate school myself, I can assure you that it is a factory and that graduate students are floor workers. It is easy to get into graduate school, but very difficult to graduate. Graduate school is so painful that some studies find that half of all graduate students suffer from diagnosed mental disorders. That is astoundingly high. But how can this be if they are all living a privileged life of the mind?! That is exactly the problem. Graduate school is a long process of hazing, ideological conditioning, and initiation. Graduate school is about ideas, while labor is about the manufacturing of a product. When you are a laborer, your employer controls your body but has little domain over your mind. In graduate school, your employer controls your mind. The purpose of the dissertation committee resembles that of the Spanish Inquisition – the verification of orthodoxy.
When you work with a dissertation committee you will find that they have criticism, and that is natural. But when you respond to that criticism with your own arguments, you may find that they reject them. They say your arguments are not good enough, come up with better ones. In many cases, the committee members are asking for a reproduction of their own ideology in your own words. If in exasperation to their objections the graduate student asks what he could theoretically say to respond, he will receive a sneer. The graduate student cannot reveal that the point is to reify the ideology of the committee member, that would embarrass.
I write this not to prove that a graduate education is useless. I write this to burst the bubble of the naive. Professors justify their behavior on dissertation committees by saying that they are preparing their students for a career in academia. Sadly, they are right. Adherence to the prevailing ideology in academia is a ticket to a safe career. Graduate school is mentally damaging, because students are conditioned to reproduce the prevailing ideology in their own work. This ideological conditioning produces professionals willing to pick up an ideology and discard it at will and feel no hypocrisy.
The consequences of this system are most easily seen outside of academia. Professionals switch sides. The journalist yesterday works for a public relations company today. The good-government politician retires and becomes a lobbyist. In large companies, professionals are trusted to make ideological decisions that are good for the company. Laborers are never trusted to make these decisions, because they were never exposed to ideological conditioning. The laborer might make a decision that benefits only himself or society, and a for-profit company cannot abide by such dangers. And that is what I mean when I say that professionals are the company men of American society: they can be trusted to reproduce the prevailing ideology of their home institution.