This blog is about living the American Dream at the dawn of the new millennium! I am a nameless, mid-20s, bottom 150 Law School Graduate who finds himself marginally attached and awash in a sea of overeducated but underpaid, indentured peers who feel, and were, duped by the promise of a better life through debt and modern chemistry. Let's get to the point. The Law School Industrial Complex is a scam that has destroyed a generation out of greed. Vendettas were once legal and the pursuit of one was seen not only as moral, but necessary. This newly minted lawyer is going to continue the practice. DON'T GO TO LAW SCHOOL YOU MORONS! Ce qui suit est ce qui reste!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

OLM Book Club -- Zero Lemmings! Read this! You Ignorant Bastards! Part Uno

"It is by having hands that man is the most intelligent of animals." ~ Anaxagoras

"Following a doctorate in political philosophy at the University of Chicago, I took a job as executive director of a Washington 'think tank.' I was always tired, and honestly could not see the rationale for my being paid at all--what tangible goods or useful services was I providing to anyone?  This sense of uselessness was dispiriting.  The pay was good, but it truly felt like compensation, and after five months I quit to open the bike shop...This book grows out of an attempt to understand the greater sense of agency and competence I have always felt doing manual work, compared to other jobs that were officially recognized as 'knowledge work.'  Perhaps most surprisingly, I often find manual work more engaging intellectually.  This book is an attempt to understand why this should be so." ~ Matthew B. Crawford

I interrupt my time traveling misadventures through the graveyard of the legal profession to bring you back into this century, dear readers.  If you're a Zero Lemming who has received an acceptance letter to ANY higher ed program, especially law school, or some poor schmuck deciding that their life needs to go into a different direction & more education is the answer---


The book I am talking about is entitled "Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work" by Matthew B. Crawford.  

Some background....

Back when the Great Recession started to turn into a real thing, there were whole "special themed" sections of book stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble, usually for shit like Twilight or Harry Potter, devoted to just the nature of work and employment (don't get me started on the decline of the publishing industry and what people read I just arranged the books like I was told--yes I've worked in bookstores).

There were the usual reader's digest quality tomes; old faithfuls like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, that are kept in stock at a steady stream (because our inventory bore out that we could absolutely sell a certain number of them no matter what we did).  The two newest works were Shop Class by Matt, who I'm going to call Matt because I have a feeling he probably prefers that to Dr. Crawford, and The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton (the pretentiousness of that name pretty much speaks for itself).  

Botton--left & Crawford--right.  Really? Whoever did Botton's press photo should have been shot!  Look at the subconscious sex appeal on the right versus the left, which one do you think the casual book buyer will likely go for? Also, what the fuck is Botton getting ready for without his shoes on...sitting at the edge of the bed..who's ready to cover his bald head in oil and have him rub it all over your body, Raise your hands ladies!

I read both and like most of Botton's work---it was purposefully inaccessible and boring (spoiler alert--the major gist of Botton's book is "Oh who the hell knows why we have jobs besides providing basic needs---but at least it keeps us from thinking about our inevitable death. WOW! Great reason to jump out of bed in the morning!  Botton's book was also pretty much a compilation of journalistic stories rather than in-depth analysis that wouldn't surprise any knowledgeable reader. Don't worry Alain, your last book was product placed in 500 Days of Summer to give it more "indie/hipster" cred---your book sales will be fine).
Meanwhile, Crawford's book...well, I could literally transcribe the whole thing and never tire of it.  It's also the kind of book that colleges would never make their freshman read the summer before fall semester began---lest they got crazy ideas like not going into lifelong debt to attend.  Shop Class combines Matt's personal life story with some of his anecdotes as a mechanic/academician, some historical perspective on the evolution of Higher Learning, the decline of trades and a philosophical reflection on all of the above.  It was a total page turner, but a few sections are pertinent to this blog, hence the endorsement.

In chapter 6, The Contradictions of the Cubicle, there's a section entitled "Interlude: What College is For."  Matt flat out states, 

"But many people seem to regard college, and even graduate school, as an extension of compulsory schooling.  More than 90 percent of high school students 'report that their guidance counselors encouraged them to go to college.'  In this there is little accommodation of the diversity of dispositions, and of the fact that some very smart people are totally ill suited both to higher education and to the kind of work you're supposed to do once you have a degree.  Further, funneling everyone into college creates certain perversities [sic] in the labor market....a cycle of credential inflation that 'could go on endlessly, until janitors need Ph.D.'s and babysitters are required to hold advanced degrees in child care.'"   

Huh.  That's odd, as many of my fellow scambusters often say "College is the new high school."  This shit got out of hand a while ago and now we're all getting to see the beautiful let down first hand!

Matt then asks the question, "What the hell is going on?  Is this our society as a whole, buying more education only to scale new heights of stupidity?"  Short answer-yes.

In fact, I have another, insert air quotes, "book" that has this magical proof called "data" showing this is exactly what's happening (which I may touch on in a later post). 

"And in fact, corporate recruiters say they care little about a student's grades.  The university itself is trusted to have done more than enough cognitive sorting on the day it admitted a student.  In their book Higher Education and Corporate Realities, the sociologists Phillip Brown and Richard Scase quote one recruiter saying, 'We find no correlation at all between your degree result and how well you get on in this company. Not at all. I wish there were. I would then be able to say, 'Unless you've got [a good GPA], don't bother.'  The irrelevance of what you actually learn (or don't) in school for job performance is hard to square with a technocratic view of the economy, which is invariably coupled with a sunny presumption of meritocracy."

I can just see the Zero Lemming holding that acceptance letter in his/her hand, reading this post & softly saying to themselves, in their newly darkened room, "That won't be me...I'll be different."  Yea, no you won't ass clown.

In fact, this race to the bottom/educational arms race actually impoverishes learning.

"Further, the technocratic/meritocratic view of education treats it as instrumental--it is good for society, and for getting ahead--and this has a corrupting effect on genuine education...'Formal characteristics of schooling--such as grades, credits, and degrees--come to assume greater weight than substantive characteristics, as pursuing these badges of merit becomes more important than actually learning anything along the way...Teaching takes a back seat to the more socially salient task of sorting, and grading becomes more important for its social consequences than for its pedagogical uses."  

Sometimes you want to give a student a D for a number of actual reasons to improve their studies...

"But give someone a low grade, and he is likely to press upon you the fact that his admission to law school hangs in the balance.  The Sort is on.  With this attitude, students are merely adapting themselves to the marketlike ethic of the institutions that school them.  'Educational institutions find themselves located in a hierarchy of their own, forced to compete with other institutions for position in order to enhance the marketability of their credentials to socially mobile consumers.' The result is a growing emphasis on producing selective symbolic distinctions rather than shared substantive accomplishments. That is, what matters is your rank among your peers; it matters not if the whole lot of you are ignorant.  When the point of education becomes the credentials rather than the cultivation of knowledge, it forfeits the motive recognized by Aristotle: 'All human beings by nature desire to know.' Students become intellectually disengaged."

Or as I would say, in my sometimes derided as "bitter" way, every "serious" and regular contributor to sites like Top Law Schools can literally take a step back and fuck their own face.  Contemporary law students/recent grads are the example par excellence for Crawford's argument.  A whole group of over-educated, under-experienced, useless ass clowns drowning in debt and finding themselves without purpose, place or direction...and they made the choice to be such (yeah I'm drowning with many of you--my pointing it out doesn't change the fact that we're still all drowning so STFU).

Matt also has some first hand experience that I would consider similar to what the majority of jobs like BigLaw and doc review are like for the "lucky" law grads.  

"Rather than go back to the electrical work I'd done after college, I wanted to put my new degree [a master's degree] to use and claim my place in the sunny uplands of the meritocracy.  This turned out to be more difficult than I had anticipated.  I landed a job as a clerk at a prestigious Palo Alto law firm, but the job only paid ten dollars an hour.  So I worked there from eight to five, then taught SAT prep classes (for fifteen dollars an hour) farther up the peninsula after work, and often tutored in Marin after that.  I was driving about a hundred miles a day in a three-bridge loop around San Francisco Bay before returning exhausted each night to my sublet in Berkeley.  Then I was let go from the law firm.  Shortly after that, the SAT prep company went bankrupt (I never saw the thousand dollars in back pay they owed me).  At this juncture it would have made sense to chuck the "meritocracy" and go back to doing electrical work, for much better pay, but somehow I wasn't able to see my situation clearly and take this step.  I had a master's degree, goddamit."

I mean really...when I read this I was a year out of law school in the wilderness and this paragraph struck me deep.  Some of the scambloggers want to get our "movement" more into the mainstream but I think they should just expand the scope beyond internet news searches.  This book topped all kinds of best sellers lists etc.  Social movements and perceptual shifts amongst a population are always hard to measure--just ask someone w/ a sociology/anthropology/pollster background---but trust me, the scam of higher ed as a whole is happening--even if in slow trickles.  This also shows that even if you're debt free, it's not all rainbows and unicorn kisses.  If you're debt laden, you're probably very very pissed.

"In 1942, Joseph Schumpeter wrote that the expansion of higher education beyond labor market demands creates for white-collar workers 'employment in substandard work or at wages below those of the better-paid manual workers.' What's more, 'it may create unemployability of a particularly disconcerting type. The man who has gone through college or university easily becomes psychically [sic] unemployable in manual occupations without necessarily acquiring employability in, say, professional work.'  My self-regard as a Master of Arts was hard to sustain through the extended trauma of job hunting, with its desperate open-mindedness and rising sense of worthlessness."

Wow.  So back in the 1940's, a guy called it before any of us.  Also, take into account Crawford's trials and tribulations were back in the "good old days" of the "booming economy."  Who'd have thunk it.

Stay tuned for Part Deux!!! Where I'll talk about Matt's evolution, eventual discoveries about his life, our world, and the nature of the "knowledge worker" born out of the higher educational complex!!! 


  1. i always say 0L as "non-L"

  2. Very interesting. The example he gave about babysitters now needing advanced degrees in child care is already coming true. I've been searching for a job - just a job to get by on. There was job listed for a part-time church nursery worker for around $8 per hour, but the catch was that they wanted someone with a degree in Early Childhood Education. Go figure. So many people have advanced degrees these days, it's easy to specialize requirements down to the nth degree and find people who are willing to work for those wages. I also recently saw a posting wanting an assistant to the Greek life department at my local college and the "preferred" qualifications included someone with over three years' experience working with fraternities/sororities and specifically in the area of fraternity/sorority housing - awfully specialized for a job paying around $9 per hour.

  3. I'm not sure the excerpts you quoted show what you want them to. Essentially, they endorse the idea that the substance of study is irrelveant, since what employers care about his the possession of a specific credential, not actual skills acquired. While the author notes that overcredentialing is changing this, as employers implement more and more arcane credentialing requirements in order to sort through the oceans of desperate applicants, the essence of the process has not changed: one must have certain credentials in order to employed. After all, Mr. Crawford got the money for his motorcycle shop somewhere, didn't he?

  4. I think I may take a look at this book. I've been doing a lot of gardening in my spare time over the past two years, and I actually dream of a day when I could own a little farm. I find manual labor to be the perfect antidote to the shit-life of a lawyer. I'd rather sweat, dig a hole, plant something, and watch it grow than continue on with this worthless pseudo-career.

    If we ever do sue our alma maters, this guy could probably make a career out of being an expert witness.

  5. This rotten educational system is totally unsustainable.

  6. Matt is my new hero! He outlines what's really the heart of it: the danger of how manual labor is stigmatized in this society and the danger of chasing credentials in improving one's socioeconomic status.

  7. At least in part this phenomenon of an educational arms race is an outgrowth of our post-industrial society. Decades ago, the kinds of people who today are opening up these new, wholly unneeded law schools would have been mid-level production managers engaged in making steel or aircraft or something. Now, in our "services"-based economy, they are engaged instead in the production of (ahem) "services" such as law degrees.


  8. Spengler's Shop RatJuly 12, 2010 at 12:27 AM

    I left undergrad two months ago from a top-ten university with degrees in history and Russian language (yeah, fucking useless, I know). I'm currently working as an assistant mechanic at a classic car shop. Basically, I'm the guy who sweeps the floors, does heavy disassembly, sandblasts, hauls scrap and tears wet, wormy upholstery off forty-year-old seats. It's dirty and often unpleasant work, but it is also often far more pleasant than college was. (Good morning spiders, meet Mr. Oxyacetylene Torch, we really need the bolts from this door panel!)

    It's also nice that both me and my employers approach the job for what it is - a job. It's not a calling, it's not something I've wanted to do since the age of four. I do good work and get paid for it. This honesty is refreshing.

    I do want to warn those looking to get into the trades: as stated above, your advanced degree might be more stumbling block than stepladder. Legitimate apprenticeships are often difficult to find in the current economic climate. And the trades are not a financial panacea. I have seen many ads in the past several years looking for licensed and insured plumbers, electricians, heavy truck mechanics and so on. Wages? $12-$15 hourly, no benefits, no telling how long the work will last. The economy is bad for everyone right now. That said, more worthless education is probably not the answer for most people.