Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunk costs and Ponzi schemes behind campus protests

I wonder if all the campus protests by such a small minority of students doesn't originate in a mass demonstration of the sunk cost fallacy.

Here's the train of thought.

Most the protests are adherents of Frankfurt School critical theory, critical race theory, post-colonial theory, third wave feminist theory, postmodernism, deconstructionism, Rawlsian social justice theory, etc. These schools of thought, while interesting and of some very marginal utility, are essentially worthless in the marketplace. Some few individuals who are already bright and hardworking and just happened to veer into these intellectual dead ends will come right eventually, simply because they are bright and hardworking. All the rest will fail dramatically unless they can get a position with an academy or an advocacy group. The problem for most is that these are faith based systems of thought to which most people do not subscribe and which cannot be demonstrated to bring value to others. There are some contributions to these groups but very little and nowhere near enough to employ the volume of graduates coming out of various Gender Studies and Ethnic Studies programs.

One very natural consequence is that the practitioners of these schools of thought attempt to bring some legitimacy (or hide their ineffectiveness) by constant redefinition of words and ideas, constant deepening of the jargon so that outsiders cannot understand whether a claim is true or not because the invested effort to run down all the variant definitions and elucidate the actual meaning of the claimed jargon is too high. This was humorously demonstrated with Sokal's hoax article which took the mickey out of this process some thirty years ago but did not deter the practitioners one bit. People from these romantic utopianist traditions of thought still resort to claims of "You just don't understand" when the actual phrase regarding their claims would be "I'm simply wrong."

So build an elaborate superstructure of words and ideas unmoored from logic and evidence and bring in kids to study the arcane religious language of belief. When the students graduate, they have to go on to get graduate degrees because there is no market demand. Once they have their masters or doctoral degrees (and what absurdity there is in the theses titles) the only market is for jobs in advocacy and academia.

The problem is that we likely are at peak academia. Decades of growth now encounter pricing resistance. In addition, given the faith based variance between the Gender Studies and the Ethnic Studies departments and the belief system of the broader society, these departments are beginning to be dismantled. There are too many students chasing too few jobs.

This is where I put together a couple of observations. You look at the photos of these demonstrations and you read the articles and there is a clear domination of African-American studies and Gender studies majors leading the effort. And what are the demands? No, though correct, the answer isn't only that the demands are absurd. Almost all of the demands center on actions that will increase the demand for people skilled in the arcana of the theology of critical race theory etc. Demands for diversity training, for more professors of color, for expanded Gender Studies or Ethnic Studies departments, for more advisory roles. The protests are really just a demand for more jobs for the graduates of Gender and Ethnic studies programs. Why protest? Because there is no market demand, the only buyer can possibly be government.

Why don't administrators and politicians push back? Their desire not to be disrespectful is clearly part of it. The desire to keep the peace another. It is far easier to spend taxpayer money than actually address the real issue - these faith based beliefs have no value.

But part of it, I suspect, is that there is no there there with which to argue. The superstructure of pseudo complexity surrounding Ethnic and Gender studies is such that there is no return to delving into its mysticism of belief in order to argue and refute. These are faith based systems of belief which cannot be refuted because they are not grounded in reality.

Why don't the students simply change their majors instead of continuing their studies? I suspect that it is because of the fallacy of sunk costs. By the time they get deep enough into the liturgy to understand that these are not evidenced-based realities but are mystical belief systems, they are so vested already that they cannot afford to switch. Their only recourse is to push forward and demand for there to be employment in their faith systems even though there is no societal need or desire for them. Only by making themselves a problem can they hope to exact some semblance of opportunity by extorting taxpayers via weak administrators and politicians.

The sad thing is that even were these positions to be opened up, they will still fail for at least two reasons. Because these positions add no value, they are not valued. People in them will be disrespected. Second, this is fundamentally a Ponzi scheme - more professors producing more graduate students require for there to be ever more professorial positions to be opened. That which cannot continue will not. Eventually you run out of suckers willing to support the scheme.

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