Need For Speed
From The Shining, Warner Bros., 1980
by Elias Tezapsidis
All Work And No Play
I was 7 when I first watched The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s classic film adaptation about a family living in an empty hotel as caretakers for a cold winter. Jack, the father, quickly transcends on a journey to madness, triggered in part by the family’s alienation. As a 7-year-old, I empathized with Danny, Jack’s son.
When I last watched the movie as an adult, I found myself siding with Jack, the violent, psychotic father losing his mind. I expressed my envy for the chance Jack had to isolate himself from his surroundings and to be alone with his thoughts. Jack could utterly concentrate on his writing sans the distractions others create. I envied him for being able to separate from the world for six months. My roommate at the time, who was involuntarily subjected to watching the masterpiece, characterized my wish as misanthropic.
My desire to be away from everyone and everything was earnest, but the fact that I considered it possible alarms me, and I blame the social emphasis on efficiency for my sporadic misanthropy.
Assumption: College is the Logical Next Step
I recognize the privilege of my stance, and feel the need to frame this before proceeding to discuss the “negative” aspects of higher education. I realize education is a privilege; I am just wondering if it makes me happy. This notion is, to a certain extent, linked to the idea that education makes “better” jobs, fiscal rewards and higher status more easily accessible. Sometimes, it is only the salaries that offer the status, as bitchy mothers get to brag about their kids’ first salaries fresh out of college with a vomit-inducing smirk of satisfaction. Such statements delineate colossal indiscretion, but boasting mouths are hard to keep shut.
The link between good jobs and education is evident, but the causality relationship between the two is ambivalent. People who have a good job are usually educated, but the opposite does not comprise a truth: being educated does not secure a “good job.”
Economic crises of the past, along with the current global crisis, provide ample evidence that education does not provide a free pass for employment providing high salaries and multi-syllable, abstract job titles. The frustration of a generation of educated individuals coming from middle-class backgrounds has been linked to protest movements universally.
Over the last half-century, titles such as “Project Coordinator,” has become a means to beautify the monotonous tasks embedded in an entry-level job. Beyond the uncertainty of securing a long title to decorate a dry cubicle, additional factors make the assumption that “higher education should be the next step” foggier. The very nature of a “good” job is controversial. Recent college graduates usually find themselves working in realms managing other people’s wealth rather than creating their own. Obviously, this path can easily ignore an entrepreneurial charisma, discouraging young people from taking risks. They might be in possession of managerial or leadership potential they will not use for a long time — as they move up on the corporate hierarchy over time, if they are sufficiently patient — because this is the safe path they accepted to follow. Their perseverance did truly pay off.
Men like Henry Ford, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs all dropped out of college. They received education, but they stopped before diploma-day arrived and parents cried tears of pride worth thousands of dollars. Even the great Ben Affleck decided to stop pursuing his BA after trying his luck in Occidental College and the University of Vermont. There are some qualities that cannot be transmitted in any classroom. These qualities are the very basic elements that form the personality of a leader. If the knowledge or theory of how to be an effective manager were available to all, or easily transmittable, the world would be full of leaders. Thankfully, it isn’t, because the leaders need followers.
As I mentioned, I understand that being able to attend college is a privilege. But having to remind myself constantly that education is a luxury or a privilege illustrates that it didn’t always make me happy at the time. A process that I can compare to learning is running. Getting on the treadmill is hard initially, but after a period of getting accustomed to the process, it develops into a more pleasant experience, or at least one that is generally considered to be advantageous for the runner’s health.
Four years ago I spent an entire night in a disgusting space “running” an academic marathon. The Kirk lab is a mad cramming center for exams, papers and all sources of misery and misfortune of Macalester College students. The Kirk lab is a 24/7 space to do homework. A possible result is that it smells like BO, stress, anxiety, Red Bull and coffee. In this sterile computer lab, I found another student preparing for the same exam.
It was 4am, so the fact that she was wearing pyjamas was possibly excusable. But the short girl in the Kirk lab revolted me for many other reasons. She was wearing glasses, had short hair, and took frequent breaks to eat Cheetos and bad American chocolate easily accessible through a vending machine. She looked 30 years old based on her face, and 11 years old based on her foolish attire and Cheetos-produced physicality.
During one of her study breaks she asked me about the theory of “product cycles.” I had written down the theory in my attempt to memorize it, but when she asked me I responded by saying: “It’s in the book,” mostly because I knew she was the type of student who would respond in a similar manner if we were in reverse roles. She then proceeded to confide in me she got an “A” on the first exam. So I wondered why the hell was Chester in the Kirk lab?
I practiced and studied and read and drew graphs with red, blue, and green pens for the remaining hours. I felt prepared for my exam. Then it arrived in front of me, and I started solving. It was going well. Then five minutes later, I heard the professor warn me that I had ten minutes left; those five minutes were actually fifty in real time. Leaving the class, I knew I had failed the test. Above all, I hated the girl, as I knew and know she was able to perform adequately within the hour deadline.
I often made fun of students like her. Such students sacrifice a social life in college to ensure their academic performance will be outstanding. But in the back of my head, I cannot stop thinking that I am better than her, because I have meaningful friends, and I can have fun. What will she do to celebrate her successes later in life, when she gets a better job – eat an extra bag of Cheetos?
This judgment might initially appear like an easy way to attack the girl’s weaknesses in an insipid manner. However, that girl is just as shallow as the rest of us, the individuals that evade her. She did not understand people. She didn’t value relationships.
One summer long ago, I interned with an accounting firm. On the last day of my internship, I walked the floors of the company to say goodbye to the employees I had worked with. Most of them had irritating words of wisdom to share as send-off wishes. The people that I disliked the most asked questions about my future plans, suspecting that would be a question causing uncertainty.
The best advice probably arrived from a Manager who was a police officer prior to his accounting career. He told me: “Get your college degree, get good grades. Then study, right away, and get your CPA. Do whatever you need to, Ritalin, Adderall, I don’t care. Just get your CPA and get it out of the way.”
The advice didn’t really surprise me, I knew by now that accountants had a nosey habit when the time of closing books was approaching; it was the transmitter of the wise words that startled me.
The usage of neuro-enhancing drugs is a part of the college microcosm, where maximum productivity in minimum time is highly valued. The essential advantage — or possibly the biggest problem — with amphetamines, such as Adderall and Ritalin, is that they make the very process of learning pleasant.
I have heard users wonder if they have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) after using the drugs. They start wondering if they too “suffer” from the disorder but fallaciously never got diagnosed with it. I never question that, because I don’t believe ADHD exists. If the ones diagnosed with ADHD have the capacity to sell their prescribed drugs to the extent they do — as the ubiquity of Adderall on college campuses shows — they probably are overprescribed. God knows, they might not even really “need” it at all.
The problem with modern life is that it makes all of us “need” it: enhance productivity, act faster be more efficient. We all hope we can perform to our best, and sometimes fatigue creates a physical barrier. Bodies protest and ask for sleep, and when caffeine does no longer suffice, amphetamines often do. The demand for cognitive enhancement in the form of blue (10mg), or if you are luckier orange (XR-20mg), pills is constantly increasing.
Beyond the restricting manner in which the mechanism higher education works, many theories attempt to deconstruct societies and explicate how “problematic” our vies quotidiennes are.
Over the past 50 years, analyzing problematic assumptions, in a way similar to the primary part of this essay and the assumption that “education is the legitimate next step,” became an analytical trend in education. Sometimes, this deconstructing generates a destructive force, making smart and intelligent young people unnecessarily pessimistic and bitter.
Laura, who I took a philosophy class about German Romanticism with, is a perfect example of this restricting aspect of education. Laura was intelligent and made impressive comments in class. Close to her graduation I asked her what her future plans were: “I want to get a minimum wage job at a place like a gas-station, and just read in my free time.”
Clearly education made Laura happy, but from my perspective, it also limited her. What’s the point of being smart and thinking critically when this intelligence isn’t applied in anything “pragmatic?” Her degree is a never driven Bugatti.
I know very few people who would say they are happy without hesitating about their reluctant response. I am certain stupid people have it better off.
I don’t need five months away from all human interactions like Jack in The Shining to return to joy. No matter the location I will be the same person, somewhat; it’s the different circumstances that change me. If I can alter my current circumstances to make my corporate experience better, I will take an orange or a blue. Just keep that Cheetos-muncher away, and let me prepare for my CPA exam.
About the Author:
Elias grew up in Thessaloniki, Greece, prior to attending Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It was there that he discovered he was too neurotic and OCD for the Midwest and had a low-tolerance for the MN-nice. The move to NYC post-graduation seemed like the logical next step, and since then downtown New York has been home.