Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Generalization of opinion corridors

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A while back, I published a text on “opinion corridors”. Since then, I have realized that this concept is just a special case of a wider phenomenon of corridors of compliance and similarity. Generally, there seems to be a strong human tendency to be hostile towards those or that which is different. While such a tendency could have made great sense in an older time*, it is rarely helpful and very often harmful today. Consider e.g. the relation between the words “strange” and “stranger” (noun; not comparative), the way children with the “wrong” clothes are often mistreated by other children, the “Tall-Poppy Syndrome” and its variations, and, obviously, various xenophobic attitudes. From another point of view, there is often a strive to create similarities in outfits, mannerisms, whatnot within groups that set themselves apart, e.g. in that members of a clique, a gang, a professional group, or some more formal associations match their clothing or adopt a uniform—culminating in the very formal uniforms used by military and police forces. (Also note the overlap with a recent text on identity politics.)

*E.g. because the differences between two people might have resulted from their stemming from two different tribes, because there were times when experimentation brought more danger than benefit, or similar.

A particularly dangerous variation of this is the wish to be “brav”, likely often related to the “me too” band-wagons:

When people hear that this-or-that opinion is the right opinion to have, the opinion that a particular idol or political leader has, the opinion that members of a certain party or movement usually has, they are more likely to adopt that opinion without proper thought. When people hear that this-or-that accomplishment in life makes one successful, they are more like to strive for that accomplishment without considering whether it makes sense in their own lives. When people hear that a college education is a must to make a good living and what sets the intellectual apart from the non-intellectual, they are more likely to go for a college education without considering whether some other road might work better or be more suited to their own talents. Etc.

This is made worse when journalists, teachers, politicians, and other influencers of public opinion tend to be uninformed, poor critical thinkers, ideologically biased, whatnot.

The college example (and education in general) is particularly telling: Having a college education might have been truly beneficial in the past, when few people had one, when the filter effect* was strong, and before dumbing down and academic inflation. Today, a bachelor is severely watered down/transformed into regular school and everyone and his aunt has a bachelor, turning the master to the first degree that has a true filter effect. In the U.S. this has coincided with a steady increase of tuition fees, making the cost–value quotient compare even worse with the past. A strong case can be made that going to college today is a bad idea in many countries, including the U.S., for those who do not have some specific careers** in mind. Nevertheless, journalists, teachers, and, above all, politicians never seem to tire at telling us how urgent it is that the proportion of the college educated is increased even further, that everyone without a college degree will have a poor (and those with one will have a great) future, etc.

*I re-iterate my claim that, when looking for work, the main benefit of a certain level of education was the demonstration of an implied level of intelligence, diligence, ability to work independently, …—not an implied level of knowledge.

**Notably, careers in academia and research, and those that have a certain educational requirement, e.g. as a physician.

What if someone was better off going straight to work after high school*? What if some type of apprenticeship was a better road? What if some other** approach to higher education was better?

*Indeed, even high school is dubious on a systematic level. For many, it amounts to over-education, a waste of time, the wrong type of education, or a sub-optimal way of reaching an education—I, e.g., have always learned faster and better outside of school (note: “school”, not just “high school”).

**Apart from the obvious possibility of self-studies, I note that with many U.S. colleges five-or-so students could pool their money and afford to hire their own, dedicated full-time professor as an alternative… A current hitch with such alternatives is getting a formal degree, but I suspect that this will change with time, one way or the other (e.g. in that there will be a few providers that allow anyone to take the tests for much-smaller-than-tuition fee, and leave it to the students to develop their knowledge and understanding anyway they see fit).


Written by michaeleriksson

September 1, 2018 at 9:22 pm

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