The Late Capitalism of Education

Shannon Fernandes: The Late Capitalism of Education

Editorial Note:

This article is being published on behalf of Applied Worldwide’s 2021 student essay competition. Students were prompted to respond to the question, “Why is sociology important?” We have awarded 17 finalists from all over the world, and will publish these essays over the next several weeks. This essay was written by Shannon Fernandes, a student at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai in India. This essay received a second place award. We had a really great turnout and would like to thank everyone who submitted an essay. We received a wide variety of creative interpretations and responses, so browse our essay directory!

Shannon Fernandes

Section 1 – The Late Capitalism

The education model of our times is a farce in the disguise of growth and achievement. In recent times, the term ‘late capitalism’ has cropped up far more often than one would assume on social media, and used in the context to point out the hypocrisy of capitalism, the extreme inequalities that increase despite our technological advancements (Lowrey, 2017). We could entertain this ‘slang’ and explore the manner in which our education system is based on this capitalistic model. The decline of the education system is far worse than we could imagine, as it is a decadence that arises due to the cyclical nature of this capitalistic model. In most capitalistic models, we see the capitalist or the profit-maker who hires workers to produce goods. The main concern of the capitalist is to ensure an increase in profit with little to no concern for those who work under him/her. We see a similar structure in the current educational system where the production of knowledge and the epistemological basis of reality are focused on the further production of goods that lead to profits for the capitalists. The syllabus picked by schools, colleges, and universities today is not like the ones that the Ancient Greeks were accustomed to. The Ancient Greeks studied every subject under the sun, or to be more specific, epistemes obtained weren’t dependent on the production of further profits for anyone. Aristotle did not learn about metaphysics so he could go and intern under a major book publishing house as a proofreader, but instead because he wanted to learn, no strings attached (although let’s be honest, Aristotle would most probably not find any book to be good enough for publication). The model of education that the ancient world followed was not necessarily dependent on the labour that could be produced out of it.

However, the current educational model is inseparable from the labour that can be produced out of it. In a report by Payscale (n.d.) on the top-paying jobs with a bachelor’s degree, the jobs that have been given the top three ranks (Petroleum Engineer, Electrical Engineer, and Applied Economics and Management) all belong to a capitalistic system, i.e. they ensure profits are maximized for the capitalistic system, and on the other hand, the jobs on the last few positions are those that depend less on the capitalistic system (e.g. – metalsmiths and addiction counsellors that work alone or not in the similar capitalistic model). The farce of the educational system is that it claims that it seeks scientific growth and advancement, perhaps for the benefit of mankind, but it is nothing more than a tragedy that has come to dominate the societal chessboard, from carefully manoeuvring the lifestyle of the students to make them a better fit for the capitalist system, i.e. get them accustomed to waking early for school and working even after hours when they are at home, so that when they join the workforce, they are used to this routine, thereby maximizing their profits, to controlling why they learn. You may have a choice in the field you pick but you don’t always have a choice in not making a choice. If you come from a well-to-do family, you could afford not making this choice, which explains the power the capitalist elitists bring, which forms the fantasy which those who do not possess the sublime objects desire, which we will get to in a bit. However, most of the individuals who don’t belong to that category have to make a choice, to learn the knowledge needed to produce labour to fulfill the fantasies created by the capitalistic model.

Section 2 – The Sublime Objects Of Educational Capitalism

The entire capitalist system uses sublime objects that are based on the fantasies of the individuals that are in turn generated by the capitalistic model to keep the wheel turning. For example, if you earn well, which is often dependent on how well you learn the assigned knowledge, you will then be able to obtain the basic fantasy you had of settling down with a mate of your desire. Furthermore, the mate you desire needs to know (and the world along with it) that you love him/her which is why you need to be able to afford a diamond ring for the wedding or your love is just not the same, it’s in a manner of speaking…less. This system very elegantly builds on your fantasies to keep you trapped in a society that governs itself regarding the model (I mean, what’s better than free gatekeepers and watchdogs eh?). We can see the use of sublime objects, as Žižek (1989) puts it, in this system where the sublime objects are those that are seen as the objects that can fulfill your fantasies, give you that jouissance. This system makes use of the fundamental nature of our psyche, as outlined by Lacan (1978), to keep us trapped in a narrative that guarantees happiness. These sublime objects can be anything, they can be money with which you can buy your fantasies or a diamond ring to prove your love or even a degree to prove your competence in the assigned knowledge system.

Section 3 – The Transvaluation of Values

What now Horatio? We are incapable of choosing the choice between the heavens and the earth, we aren’t permitted to dream our wildest dreams.

It’s in such times we have the sociologist who comes down the mountain the way Zarathustra (Nietzsche, 1995) did, carrying a new message. The sociologist is no hero nor a saviour, but instead, a worker living under this same capitalist educational system, getting down in the gutters of the fantasy selling business to clean the mess. As students of sociology, it becomes our [daunting] task to look past this model, to acknowledge the fundamental nature of our psyche, and create new values for ourselves, one that isn’t based on selling desire. Nietzsche (1995) called this the ‘transvaluation of all values’, an effort to create a new set of values. So what values can we decide upon now that we have looked at the harsh reality of the present model? The very first value is liberation, the choice not to be stagnant or jobless, for that is based on a fantasy in itself, the fantasy of elitism, where those at the peak don’t work, but instead the liberation of the soul, to choose the reason why it wants to fly. We build more values as we go on, but this is a start. I find the ‘meta’ nature of this essay slightly amusing as after all I am a student critiquing education through methods taught by the very same education system. The irony isn’t lost on me, but irrespective, the need for this meta question appears to be important sociologically as it speaks volumes about the importance of sociology itself, as we, through this, not only question the condition we are in but also offer a choice, a choice to choose why. A choice beyond all choices, one that can be confronted by sociological investigation, a much-needed transvaluation. No more farce.

References:

Lacan, J., In Miller, J.-A., & Sheridan, A. (1978). The four fundamental concepts of psycho-analysis.

Lowrey, A. (2017). Why the Phrase “Late Capitalism” Is Suddenly Everywhere. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/05/late-capitalism/524943/

Nietzsche, F. W., & Kaufmann, W. (1995). Thus spoke Zarathustra: A book for all and none. New York: Modern Library.

Payscale. (n.d.). The Highest-Paying Careers with a Bachelor’s Degree for 2018. Retrieved April 1, 2021, from https://www.payscale.com/college-salary-report/majors-that pay-you-back/bachelors?ord erBy=rank&ascending=false

Žižek, S. (1989). The sublime object of ideology.