For almost twenty years it has been pointed out countless times how all the knowledge we get from universities is online for free. Time after time people have predicted the collapse of universities or that for-profit colleges will take over. Not only has the institution of the University not collapsed, tuitions are higher than ever and the for-profit colleges are the ones that have seen their business model collapse. At first, this seems counter-intuitive as the corrosion of the establishment’s credibility accelerates.
Though colleges are no longer sacrosanct as they once were they can keep hiking tuition to the pace of loans because there are no viable alternatives. Red-pill dissidents have spent years bashing the college degree as a “piece of paper” while missing the point.
College offers access to reliable high-status social capital in a modern society where any sort of non-adversarial, high-trust social interaction is extremely scarce. For most people entering adult life with even slightly above average IQ, campus is the funnel they must squeeze through to avoid the wasteland of service jobs where they’ll live without prospects surrounded for the rest of their lives by people they cannot really connect with.
Also, there are far more people scrambling to take respectable white collar “real jobs” that require degrees than there are slots available. This pressure means those who make it have to know someone on the inside. To establish rapport with someone on the inside they need to have experienced the unique culture of life on campus. People reach out and help those they feel are like them and with whom they have shared culture and experiences. To get that gen X manager to reminisce about college days over lunch while you’re there as an unpaid intern can easily be the difference between having a career and being a barista.
For those who do not go to university the military is one of the last sure reservoirs of reliable social capital. The most cynical blue collar people you’ll ever meet will curse about the polticians, the government, the country but still glow with almost religious reverence if you mention the military and thank you profusely “for your service” if you were ever in it. For average people who did not grow up with deep, high quality roots to see them through life, that’s pretty much the last social ladder available to them.
Then there is of course the public education system. The crowning genius of the 19th century-style nation-state may well be the ability of compulsory mass education to standardize culture. People instinctively understand that even if someone learns better through home-schooling, they are at a disadvantage by not having the standard life experiences in the standard environment installed in their meatware. Someone who strays away from the insitutional status ladder finds themselves standing just outside the tribal circle as they interview for jobs, vie for promotions, try to make friends, and go out on dates.
The backbone of a society is not jobs, an economy, or even armed men. The central structures of society are ladders and funnels leading to high quality social capital like lifelong friends, stable social roles, family, marriage, or even just the bare minimum status to be seen as eligible in one’s dating pool. In a hunter gatherer band or a traditional agrarian village there are rites of initiation to test for eligibility and connect cooperators with the social capital they need to flourish.
The nation-state institutionalized these networks on a mass scale of millions. The industrial revolution did not just lead to the mass production of goods, but also of culture and social status.
This assembly line of souls is still very crude compared to the simple organization of a village. With such a large system, a glitch can send 10 million souls tumbling into the abyss where they have no role and no one cares if they live or die. Overwhelming numbers made these casualties sustainable.
When everyone has been to the same sort of schools since they could walk, then go to the same boot camps, you can crank out 100 divisions of soldiers who can all understand each other and work together. The 21st century however has heralded the shift away from mass culture and the return to inequality, caste, tribe, and natural aristocracy.
Neo-tribal groups are sprouting through the drab concrete slabs of the establishment but they will only be able to displace institutions when they can bust the monopoly of social capital and offer better prospects of meaningful belonging.