I haven’t been on a university campus in a long time.
But I just moved near one, and my daily rounds often take it across it. I have been noticing the faces of the students. I see two things. One a reminder of why I avoid these places. The other a reminder of something else.
First I see their suffering… Just waiting for the semester to be over, gotta take that stupid exam…I just want to get outta here! Institutionally structured (I believe) to miss entirely the incredible opportunities they have as students, not only relative to the 93% of the world’s population who will not spend time at University, but relative to their own likely future. Very few will continue to have access to scientific research journals, casual conversations with experts in any field, and sober, focused intellectual conversations with diverse peers.
But this I knew. And students’ inability to engage with what is at hand in University, because they are too consumed with and annoyed by the irrelevant demands of the core curriculum check-sheet, because they have to work too many hours off campus to have time to do their coursework, because really University is not an age-appropriate activity for 19 year olds who in my opinion should be engaged in full time sex drugs and rock and roll, accompanied perhaps by manual labor such as garbage collection.
What I noticed that is newer to me is their faith in the product they are consuming. They believe that a University education will make them either rich or famous. And their families believe this, which is why they are often making various sacrifices to enable it. But this product comes, like any other today, awash in advertising dreams. The dream is that they will individually have upward mobility, in a time of global economic whateveritis, and specifically in a context of declining middle class (at least in the first world). It’s statistically unlikely that students will do better than their parents, if “better” is defined as more secure and meaningful work.
Universities, as Ideological State Apparatuses (Althusser’s term), serve to reinforce the ideology of meritocracy which legitimizes capitalism. ISA’s were one of many concepts developed by Marxists struggling to understand why workers wouldn’t take action to overthrow capitalism, even in situations where victory was close at hand. (Which it generally is because workers far outnumber, and in some countries outgun, the capitalist class.) Giving up on the idea that suffering (or sudden increases in it) would determinedly give rise to resistance (it doesn’t), these analysts began to examine how capitalism acts on consciousness, turning their attention to the role of social institutions and culture.
Universities promise individuals the possiblity of acquiring fame and fortune, and doing so ethically and meritoriously. Their success would have no taint of greed or exploitation, but will be understood as service to humanity through the benificence of the sciences, engineering, and professional expertises. And it is the dream of University education, if not for oneself, then for one’s children, that keeps people believing that this system will serve them.
Just keep telling yourself: Capitalism Works!