Something happened to me a while ago, which feels like forever, but I think was just late summer of 2015 while I was being rammed through a 500-level pedagogy course trying to train me to teach first year writers in two weeks (which is a whole ‘nother story), and it’s where I was told that my Master’s education was frankly worth a lot less than it used to be, because there are a goodly number of people walking around with an English degree now and, moreover, the degrees that undergraduates are getting are worth even less.

Kind of implicit in that whole thing was the underlying idea that it’s unfortunate that so many people are going to school for their Master’s or Bachelor’s, and that really fucking threw me, because it replicates the logic of capitalism so well and so fucking perniciously.

First, because the numbers tend to bear it out. That’s the gross fucking truth, innit? The more people who have an education similar to yours, the less it’s worth on the market, because it drives supply up. This isn’t always how it works, I guess, but in an environment where English departments are struggling for cash and there are hiring freezes, an increasing reliance on adjuncts or especially poor graduate students (which I now kind of feel basically act as perpetual scabs, even if that’s not strictly the case), and so on, it feels pretty true.

I feel gobsmacked, though, that somehow the education itself doesn’t have value to the student in that the knowledge and capabilities gained are somehow perceived as less useful the more people that have them. This has every effect of reinforcing a kind of knowledge priesthood, first off, and second, I just find it super fucking perverse that we actually feel the desire to prevent others from having an education so that our job prospects would be better. There is, of course, the perpetual irony of needing to have someone to teach to make the job worth having in the first place.

There - there’s an excellent example of how the logic of capitalism absolutely doesn’t drive us to excellence.

I see this logic sometimes applied to certain kinds of intellectual property. I think writers are familiar with this - almost anyone with a basic literacy has at least the rudimentary tools needed in order to write, and so writing is frequently perceived as a pretty valueless “thing.” I’ve seen this applied to digital art, and also digital music - the idea that since anyone (and I know not anyone can functionally do this - we can just say that the barrier to entry is much lower than it used to be) can acquire the tools in order to produce the art or music, or whatever, than the “product” has less “value”. I can’t help but think about how ridiculous this is - the amount of something has no effect on what the thing itself is. Literally the only thing that changes the value of the artefact, whatever it is, is the concept of how much you can sell and that turns every interaction, every knowledge, every skill, and every artefact into a zero-sum product.

Why do we choose to live this way if we don’t need to?


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