Education or indoctrination?

Hey, lady, you mind getting out of the way so I can see the answer?
Some bloke asked me a question the other day related to one of my very first posts, the contents of which related to why one should not choose to study Economics in university these days. His (or her) question essentially came down to, "what major would you recommend other than maths and physics?".

Since the question was anonymous, I didn't bother to publish it- there really isn't any excuse for this sort of thing given what my blog says right at the top in BIG BOLD LETTERS.

Still and all, it's a worthy question, made more so because it doesn't actually have an easy answer.

42! The Answer is 42!

-answer-to-the-question-of-life-and-the-universe-of-everything-is-42 ...
See? Now you don't need to go to university. I just saved you 150K.
Before I discuss what I think are good alternatives to Maths or Physics as subjects to study in university, it is worth asking whether there is even any point to going to university in the first place.

Make no mistake- university education in the Western world is becoming ever more expensive, but the actual value that it delivers diminishes every year. In every way, it's a classic demonstration of the effects of socialism on an industry.

I make that parallel with good reason. Given that the student loan industry is now basically government-owned in the US, along with much of the housing and health care markets, there is absolutely no incentive for universities to keep costs low. Because the Federal government guarantees the balance sheets of Federally-subsidised student loan companies, and because student loans are a form of debt upon which one absolutely cannot default when declaring bankruptcy, universities and colleges know perfectly well that, no matter what happens, they will get their money.

In past years, if institutes of higher learning didn't do a good job preparing their students with some level of marketable skills or a degree that actually had some value, they suffered both directly and indirectly. Students that did not perform well would drag down the reputation of the university, would fail to secure good jobs with their degrees, and as a result would be economic dead-ends when the endowment fund would send around its annual collection envelopes to beg ask for donations from alumni. When students were paying with their own savings and money, or when parents were footing the bill, such institutions had to function in a competitive and difficult market where cocking up meant the loss of revenue, reputation, and grant money.

Now, though, universities are able to get away with increasing their tuition fees at a rate that vastly outstrips inflation. The actual increase is... well, mind-boggling:

Education in the United States - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This graph is the exact opposite of what you would expect to see in a free market for education, where costs decrease while quality increases.

The results are plain to see. University graduates these days are entering the workforce totally unprepared for what awaits them. Grade inflation is endemic throughout the Ivy Leagues; in fact, as difficult as Harvard is to get into, it has become the joke of the Ivies because of its utterly absurd grading curves. Dartmouth, once known as one of the WASPiest and highest-quality of the Ivies, is now regarded as a great place to go to party for 4 years. Columbia has given us such spectacles as Emma "My F**kbuddy Totally Raped Me On My Mattress" Sulkowicz, who quite clearly made up the entire story in order to ruin the reputation of a man who thought he was her FWB.

At the undergraduate level, at least, for the most part universities have long since ceased to be centres of learning and education, and have become no better than indoctrination camps. Instead of giving promising students an environment in which to study specific subjects and learn specific skills, universities are becoming credential factories.

The students who emerge from them are coming out bereft of real-world skills, brainwashed until their grey matter has turned to mush, incapable of performing the simplest tasks in an office environment, to the point where you have to keep fresh grads away from anything other than the coffee machine and the photocopier for the first couple of years of their existence within your company before you can let them take on any kind of responsibility beyond the muffin and bagel order for the next meeting.

think fast food workers just need
There but for the grace of God...
Fortunately, it's not all doom and gloom. The phenomena that I have described apply in general terms, but there are subjects that you can study that are still worthwhile and useful in the real world, giving you real skills that can be put to good use in various disciplines.

Here is a brief rundown of the top three subjects that are NOT Physics or Mathematics that I think a young man can study and make use of in later life.

1. Engineering

First things first: not all engineering degrees are created equal. Nuclear engineering is about as advanced as you can get short of doing a PhD in nuclear physics. Aerospace and nautical engineering are probably the next hardest, dealing as they do with thermodynamics, chemistry, computer science, and applied mathematics in one giant bundle of holycrapthisishard. Mechanical or chemical engineering are solid choices and I recommend them strongly for the quantitatively inclined young man who doesn't mind a bit of hard work and skull sweat.

Civil engineering sits, rightly, at the bottom of the engineering hierarchy in terms of prestige. Don't study it. You won't be taken seriously by your peers or by most employers- well, at least, not the ones who actually pay good money.

2. Computer Science

By this, I mean actual programming. Not "management of information systems" or "network engineering". I mean real, down and dirty, staying-awake-until-4am coding C++ classes computer programming. This stuff is hard.

The single most important skill I took with me from my Master's program was computer programming- and I'll readily admit that I absolutely stank at it during that time. I had to figure it out on my own afterwards, working in VBA and R. (VBA, by the way, is a misfire-waiting-to-happen of a language- very useful for learning how to code, but damned dangerous because of its utter lack of controls and security.)

Learning how to code and program forces you to think in a disciplined way, first channeling your energies into solving a problem logically in linear fashion, then allowing you to approach a problem from many different angles laterally.

3. Operations Research

This is something of a multidisciplinary field. It combines ideas from applied mathematics, computer science, and behavioural sciences into a field of study dedicated specifically to improving efficiency in designed systems. It teaches you how to think in logical, structured ways, taking into account many different variables that affect ordered systems, and allows you to figure out the links between different aspects of a single big problem. It's not an easy subject and requires strong numerical abilities as well as a good work ethic.

Here's a Little Secret...

Note that I didn't mention a single humanities or liberal arts subject. That's because, as far as I'm concerned, these are a colossal waste of time. If you want to learn about Mediaeval English literature or Renaissance art or the history of the Roman Empire, there are virtually endless resources available outside of a university, for free or at very low cost, on the internet that a serious and dedicated student can take advantage of at any time.

There is no need to go to a university and drop the equivalent of a three-bedroom house in Richmond, VA, on a four-year "education" that teaches you nothing but nonsense and serves to do nothing but bolster your entirely unjustified sense of self-esteem.

The reality is that most university degrees are completely...

Go read his book, he explains in great detail exactly why I am right- and, by extension, why the good Captain is right too.

Bottom line is that any hard, quantitative subject that requires logic, reason, a strong work ethic, and the willingness to grind through difficult problems, is and will likely always be a strong buffer against the cultural Marxist propaganda immersion that is the modern 4-year undergraduate college degree.

But really, if you're a bright young man today and you want to get a real-world education, don't go to university, because you won't get one. Instead, start up your own business; travel the world; read good books at every possible opportunity; and pay attention to the lessons of your elders and betters. I promise you that by the time you get to your mid-twenties, you'll be in a far better place than the people who went to their local degree mill.


  1. 100% spot on, except for one little nitpick. Electrical engineering and materials science engineering are also worthy degrees. I would place both of these above aerospace and nautical engineering. Materials science engineering has the advantage of being a "dark horse". There are about 50 EE graduates for one MSE graduate.

    1. To be honest, electrical and material science engineering actually didn't occur to me when I was writing the above. But you are correct, these are excellent (if very challenging) choices.


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