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Re: Living Life

When I first read this blog post, my initial reaction was frustration at the fact that the topic was the meaning of life. Upon rereading it, I’m finding plenty of other reasons for being frustrated. Not only is the topic of the post comically ambitious, but it is rife with non-sequiturs and logical inconsistencies. Let’s start with the very beginning. Your first assertion “Even if it [life] is truly meaningless, then to live is of little consequence,” is the first of many philosophically confused claims. You set up an if, then argument as if your claim was an obvious logical truth. On the contrary, it conflates the ideas of consequence and meaning. This is a huge mistake. Consequence is a metaphysical question, and meaning can be many different things. Not only that, but even if you concluded that there is no meaning to life, therefore living was pointless, it would be unclear what you mean (haha) by that. Are you talking about purpose, as in having a greater purpose? Being a part of a larger plan? Are you denying objective meaning? Are you denying subjective meaning? It’s hard to tell. Don’t write a blog post about the meaning of life without knowing what you mean by meaning. You take another step from that false start, in the same sentence, to argue that since living is of little consequence, then to live must be a choice. Further, that since living is a choice, then we must designate some purpose or meaning to life in order to continue living. Those two steps in your argument are non-sequiturs. It does not follow that since life is inconsequential (which it can’t be, since our very existence implies consequence. Hell, the existence of anything at all implies some sort of consequence), that living becomes a choice. An obvious counterexample is the material reductionist’s determinism. It could be that everything that happens is predetermined by the laws of physics and chemistry. If that is the case, life would be both meaningless and we would have no choice whatsoever, let alone the option to choose whether we live or die. But if we assume for a second that that was a valid logical step, we would run into the same problem. The fact that life is meaningless and living is a choice does not logically imply that we must artificially give life a purpose, point, or meaning. It is easy to imagine that people can come to grips with the fact that life is meaningless without needing to fill that void. They can choose to live without designating any contrived meaning to their choice. People can live for the sake of living, and for no other reason.

So far in your blog post, we have no clarity as to what you mean by meaning, an unwarranted conflation of ideas, and three non-sequiturs. All of this in only your first true sentence. If I was to look critically at each of your claims in this post, it would take two days and cost me my sanity. Instead, I’ll just point out some of the more egregious problems in your post.

Let’s assume that life is indeed meaningless. And let’s also assume that by meaning, you are referring to an objective meaning (which is still sort of vacuous, but allows us to talk of subjective meanings). You say that you refuse to adhere to “shallow and arbitrary meaning,” but that brings to mind the question of what alternative there is? If there is no big-M Meaning to life, then how could any other type of meaning not be shallow or arbitrary? Isn’t that all that’s left? And what gives you the authority to value one type of meaning over another when all meaning is necessarily arbitrary? Who gets to rank one person’s valuation of virtue over another’s valuation of hedonism on a scale of meaning in a meaningless world?

Another frustrating issue is that you are so intent on discovering what the purpose of life is when your foundational premise is that there is no purpose at all. This comes back to trying to rank values and contrived purposes that are completely subjective. You can’t do that. You can talk about what purpose is sufficient or inufficient for you, but you cannot speak about purpose in a general way (at least without establishing a new metaphysical/ontological framework that would allow you to).

You talk about measuring life in experience, but what does that mean? Do you just have to have experiences? Then the purpose of life would be to be alive as long as possible so you can have more experience. It doesn’t matter what those experiences are. Or do you want to say that it does matter? If so, we are coming back to subjective value judgments. Can you find a way to justify ranking them more objectively? Try it.

The most frustrating thing in this post is your refusal to accept arbitrary systems of value or meaning, yet you doggedly attempt to find the objective among the arbitrary. You say that the purpose of life “lies in the furthering of life and the bettering of ourselves, part of which is objective part of which is subjective,”. I would love some clarification on what the objective part of that is. In fact, I would love it if you could explain any way in which the term better could be used in an objective sense.

Another little nugget in this post is your out of place assertion that there is no free will or choice involved in life. What? Didn’t you say that living itself was a choice? When I first read this, I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt and find a way in which this wouldn’t be a contradiction. Unfortunately I failed. You say “it is uncommon for a person sound of mind to question whether or not they desire to live or not,”. Whoah, man. I’m sure you meant for that statement to be pretty and philosophical sounding, but there are a lot of implications about mental health there that I bet you yourself don’t even agree with. Be careful with your words. Don’t just say shit because it sounds like something Hume or Mill would write.

You end by saying that life is a circumstance, it is inconsequential, it is insignificant, and also somehow “sufficient enough for man not to question whether or not he chooses to live.” What the fuck does that even mean? People do question whether or not life is a choice. You literally just did that in your own post. Also, how is life sufficient? Just being alive is enough? If so, why would anyone search for meaning? Why would you write a blog post in which you try to come up with the meaning of life? Why would people go to churches, mosques, or synagogues? Why would people study philosophy? Why would people try to make any money? Why would people do anything other than eating, sleeping, drinking water, and fucking when necessary? I can see that your post is an attempt to explore the tension between meaninglessness and the human yearning for meaning. This topic has been explored extensively, and if you read any Camus like I told you to, you’d know that the word you’re looking for is absurdity. That is what you are trying to say, though failing at.

And finally, remember when I said we could assume that life is indeed meaningless? Well, you might want to actually justify and/or clarify that claim if you want anyone to take any of its implications seriously. And no, saying that “the lack of priority for meaning in each moment of our lives supplies evidence for the fact that life has no meaning,” does not make any more sense than saying that a six year old’s lack of priority for Vitamin D in each moment of her life supplies evidence for the fact that there is no such thing as Vitamin D.

I know my post comes off as rude, insensitive, over-critical, and me just being a dick. You would not be wrong. But I think it is important for your own growth as a writer to be held accountable for the things you put out there. You can’t just make assertions about the meaning of life without supporting them. At least not without getting an earful about it. You need to read more philosophy before you philosophize about the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. Odds are, other people have already thought what you think, and odds are they did a better job at articulating it. I know you don’t believe me, but you just might have something to learn from them.

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Living Life

What is the point of life? What is the goal? Even if it is truly meaningless, then to live is of little consequence, so to live becomes a choice, to continue living, a purpose, a point, must be given to life. Some people seem to believe that a successful life is monetary achievement and peer approval, I refuse to adhere to such a shallow and arbitrary meaning. I refuse to believe that life is simply a game with one goal that can be measured so easily. Life is not something you win. Success in life is too relative and too meaningless to be a proper measure of purpose. Games are given meaning by success, assignments are given meaning by learning, which is measured in success. Life is not so obvious. Maybe the rich and admired man does die and happily reflects on his life, maybe he does not. Maybe the poor and forgotten man does die and happily reflects on his life, maybe he does not. These measures of success and meaning are therefore inadequate. So we’ve come back to our central question, What is the point of life? Is there a goal, and if so what is it? I used to think all that mattered was happiness and comfort, a happy man is a successful man, a happy man dies happy, a happy man does not need to doubt, for a happy man is not concerned and has happiness to occupy his thoughts. I then began to feel like just having happiness and comfort was inadequate. Constant happiness is an unattainable goal, as it soon begins to rot the senses and makes a man go numb. All feelings are valid and serve their purpose, all feelings help a man to grow, and develop. A happy man is a satisfied man, a content man, and this man does not grow, he does not develop. This meaning then became insufficient. I then moved on to try to value all feelings as they come, I attempted to learn from each one, and the meaning of life became simple, human experience. My life could be measured in my experience, happy, sad, numb, they are all feelings in which I can characterize my time spent, in which I can measure my life. And whether in the end I look at my life with regret or satisfaction, I refuse to give the last version of me the power to decide whether or not I have succeeded. It is the me that lives in each moment that must decide whether or not my current experience is worth having, is worth living for, and if it is not, then whether or not I have faith that the future experience will improve and continue to make life worth living. This is when the last version of us meets an obstacle, for they have no future experience to look forward to to make a miserable situation worth living for, this fills a person with dread and regret. Yet if the final experience is acceptable this last version may feel at peace. Yet this belittlement of the power of our last versions to rule on the success of our lives may negate my previous argument for monetary success and peer approval being inadequate measures, yet the rich man falls victim to the same vices as the happy man, and becomes numb. And peer approval is only worth one’s respect for his peers, and if a man were to allow his peers to dictate what is and is not acceptable, the status quo may never change, and nothing will improve. A man that allows monetary success and peer approval to measure his meaning forfeits his individuality and his freedom, he is a slave to a system made before his birth and one that will continue after his death, a system that is completely indifferent to his existence. And maybe a man has succeeded in the system he has chosen to accept as life, but systems are not life, life cannot be defined by arbitrary systems. So then once more we consider human experience, and the possibility of experience to be a meaning for life. Unfortunately while we find that experience may be our closest suggestion we find it inadequate as well. Experience is subjective, as experience is malleable based on previous or following experience, some experience is undervalued while others overvalued, the experience that exists to measure life is simply our perception of our experience, and is inherently flawed due to our imperfect perception. What will make a man feel as though he has meaning not just in his final moments but throughout his life? Nothing. Our circle continues, as nothing is truly sufficient to satisfy a man’s need for meaning. The lack of priority for meaning in each moment of our lives supplies evidence for the fact that life has no meaning. But a lack a meaning is still impractical, as life is a choice, and a choice necessitates meaning. This may lead us to several conclusions. Life has no meaning yet can be successful in any way that is satisfactory, which is simply too broad a universal to be acceptable. Life’s meaning lies in the furthering of life and the bettering of ourselves, part of which is objective part of which is subjective, yet is the entire process the circumvents life. Lastly, there is no free will, no choices involved. Life is but a process not central to some greater concept. We live so that we may live, not that we choose to live but it is our nature to live, we are influenced by conformity to live, there is some great force that takes away our choice, and forces us to live. It is uncommon for a person sound of mind to question whether or not they desire to live or not, it is not a choice we as men make, but a foregone conclusion that we must live as it is what we do. The argument continues to circle. Life is but a circumstance, life is inconsequential and insignificant, yet life is sufficient, sufficient enough for man to not question whether they choose life or not.

Tragic Hero

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Re: Social Media: Paving the way to a greater social consciousness, or to mass delusion?

This may be me not totally grasping the concept we’re trying to debate, but I don’t exactly see where the argument is. Will social media lead to a more ideal democracy? Will the social platform lead to an increase of free and open discourse? Higher level of social consciousness? No, of course not. Social media platforms are not the place to decide policy, to create action, or to accomplish much of anything other than access to information.

Is social media creating some sort of mass delusion? Maybe, though if it is I think it’d only be one of many factors deluding the masses. I don’t know whether people truly believe that their public input on the hot political topic of the week matters. Clearly they value their opinions and regard their insight highly enough to post it publicly as a declaration to all online viewers that they, in fact, think. I do wonder whether or not they believe that anyone that reads their posts may change their minds. I wonder whether or not they realize the support they receive is not from people astounded by the depths and originality of their ideas but by people who have already thought the same things. I wonder whether they would have decided not to publicly vent their political frustrations if only they had a friend to speak to in person. If only everyone had a confidant.

I think the social media boom, and the half baked ideas shared on them contribute more to the rapidly increasing narcissism than to the delusion that one’s posts contribute to the world (lol). We live in a world where many people seem to prefer to lash insults at fellow human beings than to consider for a moment their beliefs to be misguided. If people wanted to change minds on the internet they might provide evidence of some sort supporting what they thought. They might consider the fact that the inability to find evidence supporting their claim may weaken their point slightly. Information is aplenty on the internet. A lack of informed citizens is no fault of Google’s. Our society is one of the deliberately ignorant, the overly prideful, and the disingenuous (but at least we’re #1).

Social media is not all bad however, it has it’s virtue. With so many individuals mightily disinterested in the community, social media is a form of highlights for the news. Many people nowadays don’t watch or read the news and get much of their information from the various social media platforms to which they subscribe. Social media gives various topics exposure and various people information. The impact of this is very often negligible, but all publicity is good, or so they say.

We now live in a world where you could theoretically never leave your home and still find all of your various needs met. Social media seems to give people who have forgotten how to be alone, the option to never have to be. Whether it’s impact is good or bad, I cannot say, but I can say I think it’s probably a reflection of who we are as a society. Rather than a force compelling slacktivism, it is a tool used by slacktivists. Whether I have missed the point entirely and have strayed too far off topic, I cannot say, but I can say I think I probably have. Feel free to correct me and tell me where I’ve gotten lost. I promise not to insult your mother if you do.

Insincerely, The Tragic Hero

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Re: Social Media: Paving the way to a greater social consciousness, or to mass delusion?

Shotgun, you touched on so many issues related to social media. I will try to focus on what I think is your main idea.

I personally value free and open discourse, and there is no doubt social media is a medium that lends itself to that. My issue is with the quality of the discourse we witness on social media. It is illiterate, uneducated, under informed, racist, sexist, homophobic, and fanatical among other things and it is a reflection of society.

Social media and the way we “mindlessly scroll down news feeds” is for many of us a daily routine.  American families used to sit and listen to the news in the radio, then the nightly news on TV when they used to have some credibility.  Today there is a combination of TV shows that are political commentary or satire dressed up as news.  People prefer to get their news from websites or social media through news feeds that are just barely read.  We prefer to align with current issues by changing our Facebook profile by adding a flag or other symbol and are too lazy to inform ourselves and actually read about the issues, gather facts, understand causation and effects.

Social Media is a great tool for finding lost friends, know what your social community is up to, where and when they go on vacation, “celebrate” birthdays, share important moments, as well as post jokes, news that are not verified, spiritual phrases, etc.  It is not, to my opinion a place for greater social consciousness.

I don’t blame social media for that, just like I don’t blame guns for murders, or cars for hit-and-run accidents. The tool is there, unfortunately we are so easily manipulated and intellectually numb, that we rather pretend we care, pretend we stand for something, pretend we are being socially active, when in reality we are lazy and laying to ourselves.

The few situations when someone posts an intelligent (not necessarily correct) view about a political or current event, the discourse turns nasty, extremist, closed minded, and not as Shotgun would hope where people are forced to defend their ideas, forced to think about it and why.

I have to agree with you Shotgun, I don’t see social media paving the way to a greater social consciousness.   Intelligent debate does not result in political activism, policy change, or anything meaningful. It is a minuscule amount of content on social media

I sense your frustration, young one, we are living at a time where we have to choose between two candidates for president that the majority of people would prefer not to vote for. But for ‘the party’ or some other reasons we will end up voting for the ‘lesser of two evils’.  If as a country we can’t figure out how to have good leaders, don’t blame social media, just don’t.  We get what we deserve, and we continue ‘liking’ each other posts.

Designated Driver

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Social Media: Paving the way to a greater social consciousness, or to mass delusion?

When you spend as much time on Facebook as I do, you start to wonder what kind of value it adds to your life. Reflecting on the nature of the content I scroll through on a daily basis, the answer is: not much. Every morning, I mindlessly scroll down my news feed passing shit-post after shit-post after shit-post. Every morning I navigate my feed saturated with the same people posting their NowThis videos letting me know what I should spend 15 seconds being alarmed about today, videos of middle school kids fighting, and a recipe for no-bake cookies that I’m never going to try. While these shit-posts (yes, that is a technical term) are annoying, they are also mostly benign. What makes me wonder about the utility of social media is when things get political.

When people post their impassioned opinion on important political or social matters on Facebook, that’s when things get interesting; because as much as I want to hate social media like Facebook and Twitter, I have to wonder whether it could actually be a really powerful tool for fostering greater social awareness. Despite how dumb most people’s opinions are, at least social media gives them a platform for discussing them. John Stuart Mill discussed the value of free and open discourse. When people publicly share their ideas in a discourse, they are opening themselves up to criticism, and that is a good thing. When people are critical of each others ideas, then they are forced to defend them. When you defend an idea, you are forced to think about it, and why you believe in it. When others poke holes in your idea, you either need to change it or find a better way to defend it. When there is a culture of free and open discourse, people will start to develop more sophisticated ideas over time. At least that’s the theory.

Beyond that, social media might also serve to make our democracy stronger. When writing on his observations of a young America in the 19th century, French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville noted some of his concerns with the functionality of democracy. He was a major critic of what he called individualism, which is what happens when people become primarily focused on their own lives, families, and personal affairs. He argued that individualism was the enemy of a healthy democracy, and for it to succeed people needed to go out and associate with one another, socially, politically, whatever. People just needed to live a public life and have a general concern for the well-being of others in their community. Otherwise, no one can get a sense of how how well a policy does. People are unconcerned with political life, and risk falling victim to a soft despotism.

If we look past all of the shit-posts, we might notice that Facebook is a medium for free and open discourse. People can share their opinions with one another and engage in critical dialogue. People can also read updates on others’ lives and in turn update other people on their own lives, a gesture that displays concern for the well-being of their community.

Even though it seems like social media has so much potential to improve society, I can’t shake the feeling that something more sinister is going on. Maybe I’ve read too many sci-fi novels, or maybe I’m just naturally cynical, but I have a feeling social media will never deliver on its promise. Even though we have a platform for free and open discourse, I don’t think people will develop more sophisticated, well thought out ideas. Even though we have a forum for displaying mutual concern for the public good, I don’t think our democracy will become more engaged.

Perhaps I can find a hint to what makes social media so ineffective at effecting social progress in my own behavior on it. Earlier, when I said I mindlessly scroll through my news feed, I meant mindlessly. I really don’t read much of what I see, and I watch even fewer videos. I suspect that most people’s behavior is similar to mine. In fact, one Columbia study has shown that 59% of links shared were never actually clicked by the person who shared it. This is startling. Not only do people not read others’ posts, but 59% of us don’t even read our own!

But I don’t want to get too ahead of myself and judge social media simply based on my own attitude towards it. After all, I am a pretty cynical guy. But if we think about the content that gets shared, it can give us hints as to what people really do on social media. We don’t get an actual picture of reality by listening to what people tell us; rather, we get a feel for what is actually going on by observing what people do, especially people who want things from us. Take sites like Buzzfeed and NowThis for example. Their goal is to get as many clicks and shares as they possibly can. That’s a tough thing to do online due to the sheer magnitude of content out there. So how do you get people to click? Clickbait. If you don’t know what clickbait is, it is a link or video whose title is designed to play on your curiosity just to get you to click. 13 recipes you can’t live without. What all oxygen lovers need to start doing immediately. The 9 biggest lies your parents told you growing up. You get the idea. One popular trend in clickbait headlines is to make the article a list. People seem to love lists. Why do people love lists? Because most people hate actually reading. People want the instant gratification of getting information without actually looking for it, and lists provide an excellent format where people can just skim a few words, satisfy their curiosity, and move on. If you click, the baiters win. It doesn’t matter what the article actually says, so long as you clicked the link. Same goes for video views.

Another common tactic used on social media to grab our oh so short-lived attention is putting text on videos. The media sharers of social media know that the headline and thumbnail are not enough. The video will play without you ever clicking on it, but with no sound (because that would be too invasive). Putting text on the videos in the absence of sound gives the maker of the video another chance to pique your interest and lure you into clicking on it. What these two tactics tell us is that, for the most part, people just scroll through without actually reading or watching any of the content.

It’s clear that there are plenty of websites trying to get our attention to make a buck, but that does not prove that social media doesn’t serve a noble purpose for the individual poster and sharer. It can still be an open marketplace of ideas shared by members of a social community. The problem is, that is not the case. Once again, we can examine the content. Think about your experience on social media, and then think about the diversity of topics being discussed. To what degree does it correspond with topics trending online in general? Diversity of ideas is something we would expect from a platform that allows people to publicly voice their concerns and opinions, but there is no such diversity on social media. Certain topics, like gorilla shootings for example, become blown way out of proportion online. These events are sensationalized and feed the machine that just wants you to click. When something becomes remotely popular, you can bet that NowThis will make a video about it so that you think it’s a huge deal. You can bet there will be an article on the Atlantic about it explaining the underlying reasons for why it’s so important. Most people’s original status updates, even the politically charged ones, revolve around these topics. They are not born of genuine concern, but are merely mechanisms for virtue signaling. It’s a way to show all of your friends how humanitarian, how liberal, how libertarian, how progressive you are.

It’s true that there is the occasional intelligent debate on Facebook. I indulge in them myself every once in a while. But the few of these that don’t result in angry, ad hominem attacks which would never come up in a real conversation simply end and don’t go anywhere else (like translate to offline action). They don’t result in political activism, policy change, or anything meaningful. This is just virtue signaling to an audience with a higher IQ. Even this highest form of Facebook behavior, which is as close to Mill’s ideal as it gets, is only a minuscule amount of the content on social media.

Facebook and Twitter are not places where genuine rational discourse occurs. Nor are they places where we find genuine concern for the public well-being. You can post a picture of yourself in the hospital and get 70 likes, but nobody will actually visit you. de Tocqueville said that people needed to associate in order to combat individualism. Social media allows us to pretend we have interests greater than our own, but it is a shallow facade that tricks us into believing that we are associating and engaging with our community, without requiring us to ever leave the house. We can tell ourselves we care about the world around us because we posted a status or shared an article. That way, we don’t actually have to do anything to help anyone else. We satisfy each others’ need for attention by liking a link or a status, in a practice that is nothing more than mutual ego-inflation. I don’t think social media will ever make good on its promise to lead us to a greater social awareness or a more engaged democracy. It can’t, because we are too busy deluding ourselves into thinking it already has.

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Re: Should College Education be Free?

Designated Driver and I don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to questions of government spending, but I think he raised an extremely important and (to my knowledge) under-discussed point in his take on this matter. Whether or not a college education should be free has a lot to do with the return on investment for taxpayers and students alike. After all, what is the point of throwing hard-earned tax dollars into a broken system? Flooding the higher education system is no guarantee that it will produce a more productive work force. And getting a college degree is far from a guarantee that a decent paying job will follow. When you hear complaints about the job market from both employers and graduates, you know something is wrong.

Given the premise that the system is indeed as dysfunctional as Designated Driver suggests it is, it seems even more absurd to fund free college with tax money with the end goal of increasing enrollment! Dealing with what will likely be a massive boom in student populations won’t be an easy (or cheap) task for colleges and universities. How high will faculty costs soar? How much larger will class sizes be? Is inflating class sizes more than they already have been actually going to help students out overall? Will it, as Pappa Bear says, “water it down”? Is our infrastructure prepared to handle the increase in enrollment? Will a large increase in the number of eager young Americans brandishing bachelor’s degrees affect the significance with which we regard those very degrees? The practical problems we would face if college education became free are seemingly endless.

Though it hurts my heart to discuss education as though its sole purpose is to spin the cogs of the capitalist machine, I have to be honest; despite the noblest efforts of liberal arts professors, that is what college in America is. Like it or not. Even still, when considered purely on principle, this is a straight forward question. Of course public education should be free! You would have to be an elitist prick to argue that one’s economic class should determine whether or not they should be able to access the primary means of upward mobility in this country that is the higher education system. We’ve all heard the stats about the difference in median annual income between high school and college grads. It is undeniably clear to anyone with a pulse that going to college drastically increases your odds of earning a much higher salary than you would otherwise. It’s not a matter of equality, but one of equity. Everyone should have proper access to the means of economic advancement.

Now some people might still argue that, with all of the loans and grants available, everyone actually does have access to higher education today. But let’s be real. For people working full time and struggling to stay afloat, getting a meaningful college education can require a person to shoulder superhuman responsibilities, but it is possible. You just gotta do what you gotta do. Just take out those loans. Who cares if you’re $60,000 in debt by the time you step off that stage? It’s an investment in your future and if you work hard enough, you’ll be able to pay it off when you get that high-paying job.

Oh, wait. Did I say when? I thought the system was broken. If Designated Driver is right on this, and I happen to think he is, then we have a major problem on our hands. To provide free education is to compel taxpayers to invest in failure. On the other hand, to keep the status quo is to expect some of the most marginalized, disenfranchised, and hardest working citizens of this country to risk money they don’t even have on an investment that is rapidly climbing in cost while even more rapidly declining in its promise to return.

I want to be clear, because I know at this point it might appear that I’m contradicting myself. If the system is broken and not worth investing in at all, then why am I suggesting that a college education is the primary means of upward mobility? An education can’t be both essential and worthless. Staying true to my background in philosophy, I’m going to do what all philosophers do when they find themselves in a jam: claim nuance and make distinctions.

Right now, in the real world, in America, college remains a necessary tool for the average person to earn a middle class wage. On average, this is the state of affairs that we can see today. Those dumbass graphics you see on Facebook showing all of the successful people who never went to college are the exception, not the rule. The viability of college as an investment is an entirely different beast. The riskiness of taking out loans for college is not a simple state of affairs, and cannot be averaged into simple statements that take into account all of the variable factors at play. What we can describe, though, are trends. Any Neanderthal who bothers to step out of his cave every once in a while can see that the value of a college degree just ain’t what it used to be.

My main point here is this: just because a college degree is worth less, doesn’t mean a high school diploma is worth more. It’s not crazy to suggest that a college degree is highly valuable relative to a high school diploma, but the college degree is less valuable relative to the costs of obtaining it. If that is true, then we are facing a situation in which there are no good alternatives for low income students. It only makes financial sense for the already well off to risk taking out high interest government loans with slimming hopes of easy repayment on the other side. I am not claiming any sort of causal connection between the soundness of the investment in today’s loan climate and income polarization, but the condition of higher education which I am attempting to illustrate makes a lot of sense in light of the widening income gap.

Holy shit. Have I digressed, or what? Should college education be free? I don’t know. This kind of problem requires a profoundly creative solution; one that accounts for all of the practical difficulties of funding it as well as the implications it would have on the value of education as a whole, but at its core seeks to achieve the highest standard of social justice. To come up with a solution like that, we’d need an army of highly educated individuals; ideally, ones with some personal experience of the challenges that face low income students seeking to further their education and move up in society. Hmmm….how can we get some more of those….?

 

By The Rightful Heir to all Shotgun Privileges

 

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Re: Should College Education be Free?

The level of education in this country is not nearly where it should be. In my personal opinion it’s not at an acceptable level. From elementary school through college, many students are not receiving the level of education that is required to turn them into contributing members of society. Why have anyone invest in a poorly run program?

It doesn’t make sense to me to give public colleges and universities any money when they spend millions on new sporting complexes while their students sit next to 300 of their peers trying to hear an overworked and underpaid professor. It doesn’t make sense to me to give public colleges and universities any money when students are arriving there incapable of writing a coherent paper. It doesn’t make sense to me that grad student’s are labeled TAs and then forced to teach an entire course. It doesn’t make sense to me that the country, the people, and the schools themselves, don’t prioritize the education of its citizens.

Should public colleges and universities be free? Absolutely. There is no question in my mind that all public institutions of higher education should be free. It is indeed a travesty that there are people seeking education and being denied that because of their financial circumstance. Furthermore it is not right that students that do attend universities must endure the stress and hardship involved in accepting loans that they may not be prepared to pay off.

What does make sense to me is finally making an effort as a country to show that we care about learning. What does make sense to me is making a concerted effort to better the education system in this country. But if the country expects that free college solves a problem that starts in kindergarten they are incorrect.

Currently the U.S. is ranked below many other first world countries in reading, mathematics, and science. Schools are churning out students barely capable of passing arbitrary standardized tests. Student’s are not taught how to think about things logically and critically. These students are turning into adults that lack these same skills. This country is filled with not just undereducated but poorly educated.

Making public colleges and universities free is a very doable and positive step toward trying to properly educate our country. But to properly take advantage of it, more of an investment needs to be made to prepare students for what awaits them at these higher learning institutions. Free college is but a first step toward reinvesting in our education. Schools on a lower level need more money, teachers, and supplies. We, as a country, need to reevaluate what needs to be learned by kids, and how to most effectively teach it to them.

I personally believe that if you teach a student to think critically, logically, and coherently, they will figure the rest out with greater ease.

The benefits of a nation of educated citizens speaks for itself, and pays for itself as well. Better and more widespread education leads to a higher proportion of innovators, entrepreneurs, and skilled laborers. It means fewer people making uneducated decisions. It means a greater proportion of education people in every field. It means the advancement of civilization as a whole.

Now, though I feel a bit dramatic and off-topic at the moment, I’ll try to veer back to the main question raised and respond to worries about the cost of making free public colleges and universities tuition free.

The fear of higher taxes is an unfounded one. A significant portion of state and federal taxes already go toward funding public colleges and universities. And even then the income that comes from tuition and fees generally makes up less than a quarter of a university’s overall income.

I’d also like to remind everyone that it need not be the common person that pays the tax to make college free. A fraction of a percent tax imposed upon Wall Street speculators would pay for free tuition for all of America. This may sound like I’m quoting Bernie Sanders, and I am, but the idea is not originally his and it has been put in place in several countries with great success.

Free public college is very possible and burden free. The benefit of having an entire nation educated at a higher level is immense. The potential for economic mobility it offers those that would otherwise not have options is incredible. The experience it would offer the country would be priceless.

By The Tragic Hero

Posted on

Should College Education be Free?

Let’s clarify that when we talk about free education we are talking about state colleges and universities, not the private ones.

I do believe that every person in this country should have access to higher education. I also believe that we are stuck with the same standards of 100 years ago, where the only way for a person to be considered educated is to have completed a 4-year degree in a traditional college or university. So because I don’t believe in keeping the same standards, I don’t agree that our country should spend limited resources and provide free higher education to people. It would be investing in something that is broken.

The system is not working; students are coming out of colleges and universities with debt and not enough skills to be productive. A college degree does not assure anyone a job, nor does a college diploma make one employable. So while we are getting those results with a paying system, making it free won’t make the system better, it may actually water it down.

Another aspect where I disagree with free education is that while making an important aspect of society available to all, it does not teach the recipient the value of earning what you get. The students would have no “skin in the game,” no appreciation for what they are getting and society will have to pay for it in the form of higher taxes versus no proven return on investment.

My proposed solution to this issue is as follows: Make the first two years or the general requirements free to all students; that way we provide them an opportunity to figure out what they like and what they would like to pursue as a career.

For the next two years, the ones where you are studying for your major, make students pay for it; either by paying for it with their own money, getting loans and pay the loans like it exists now, or return the loan by working for a couple of years for the country paying back the loan.

Additionally, each major should have specific standards / curriculum that each class must have (across the country) in order to be considered to have mastered that course. Having said that, taking a class is not the only way to get credit for that class.  If one can prove mastery in the subject, by taking a test, one gets the credits for that class. So if one can prove that one has all the required skills for a specific major, the student should get the degree regardless of how those skills were acquired.

In conclusion, just making programs free does not necessarily makes them better or more affordable.  By affordable, I mean for society as a whole, and not only to the immediate recipient of the free program.  Fix the way higher education is set up now, give access to everyone to higher education, and make students learn not only their respective interest but also the value of working for their goals.

By Designated Driver