Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cynical Sid From the Sunshine Coast on Careers, Social Cohesion, and Why Earning a Degree and Getting a Job Are Seen As Synonymous.

I'm writing in response to your posting a couple of days ago about the student suing her college. And while I think the premise is a tad ludicrous, I think the mere fact that the lawsuit was launched says something about the way society is going.

In the 'Keynesian Compact' post you published for me a couple of years ago, I pointed out that the decreasing strength of the bonds that hold institutions together (such as loyalty from a university or employer to those who work within it, and the reciprocal loyalty extended by those workers to the institution employing them) has had implications for the way people view the fundamental relations of society. Instead of being built on highly-structured long-term commitments, many interpersonal relations are now more ephemeral and less permanent.

To bring this to the set of expectations university students have, one long-term implication of the breakdown of the Keynesian Compact and the sudden rise in the rather unrealistic replacement, that of university credentialism, has been to create a societal myth that, in some forms, is necessary to retain social cohesion.

It is a truism that many jobs are not so different from their 1950s counterparts and hardly require more than a high school education. However, because these people are no longer guaranteed lifetime employment in exchange for their commitment to jobs that leave relatively little room for advancement, the unrealistic goal is held out to young people that if they all flock en masse to college or university, this is the magic key that will unlock a $50,000 a year job and all the worldly possessions one can lay eyes upon.

So because a university degree is now connected in many peoples' minds as virtually equivalent to a job guarantee (and ironically, this equation turns out to be just as ethereal and misty as that of the new social relations that have replaced the older, 'cementier' ones, if you will), when people fail to achieve this, when they can't do the equivalent of snapping their fingers and getting a job, of course they're going to feel lied to.

And this rather understandable disillusionment, as much as the RYSers might rail against this symptom of 'snowflake syndrome', leads to expressions of resentment. Usually privately articulated, this lawsuit differs only in essence that it is, perhaps not the best articulated, a *public* expression of resentment over discovering that our society does not, unlike the myth that it often holds up, equate a university degree with easy access to jobs.