THE HIVE MIND

Posted in Ed vs. Cognitive Biases on February 25th, 2010 by Ed

I come across like someone who is very harsh on students but more often than not I just feel bad for them when they're at their worst. Most of what they are at 18-21 reflects their upbringing, and I'm not eager to punish them for the fact that they grew up in Pigsknuckle, Tennessee or were raised by people whose parenting skills were limited to showering them with money and looking the other way. I mean, given that they were raised on Glenn Beck, drive a car that costs twice my annual salary, and have never met a black person who wasn't serving them food or holding a rake, the only surprise is that they're not more screwed up than they already are. The existential dilemma of teaching becomes clear when you try telling some lackadaisical fratboy "You need to try harder" when it's clear that he already has everything and very clearly doesn't need to try in order to maintain it. But I digress.

The point is that I understand that the decision-making skills of undergrads are subpar. That is not an excuse; they are old enough to accept consequences. I simply mean that it does not shock me when students – especially groups of them – make idiotic decisions. It is what they do. I expect it. This is what I tell myself. But every so often I reel from shock despite how well I prepare myself for their ignorance.

University of California-San Diego is the latest school to have what amounts to an annual tradition in American academia: the comically racist frat party. This year's UCSD "Compton Cookout" is just the latest version of the fraternity slave auctions, the blackface and gold teeth Halloween costumes, and the fried chicken-and-watermelon email "jokes" that we've come to know and love. The invitation to this year's event promises attendees "dat purple drank" – which is what the coloreds drink! ha ha! – and helpfully offers the following tips:

For girls: For those of you who are unfamiliar with ghetto chicks-Ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes – they consider Baby Phat to be high class and expensive couture. They also have short, nappy hair, and usually wear cheap weave, usually in bad colors, such as purple or bright red.

They look and act similar to Shenaynay, and speak very loudly, while rolling their neck, and waving their finger in your face. Ghetto chicks have a very limited vocabulary, and attempt to make up for it, by forming new words, such as "constipulated", or simply cursing persistently, or using other types of vulgarities, and making noises, such as "hmmg!", or smacking their lips, and making other angry noises, grunts, and faces.

The objective is for all you lovely ladies to look, act, and essentially take on these "respectable" qualities throughout the day.

Hilarity ensues.

Here's what baffles me about these incidents. I know these kids are mostly the ignorant progeny of ignorant adults, but fraternities are large. The planning of this party had to involve dozens and dozens of people (within and outside of the frat in question). There wasn't one person with enough brainpower to think, "Hmm, this doesn't seem like a good idea"? Not one? I understand groupthink, peer pressure, and conformity. Honestly I do. Cognitive biases interest me. But you would imagine that if for no reason other than self-preservation – "Gee, I don't want to get in trouble for this" – one out of every hundred would be smart enough to do something. Even my jaded, blackened heart has a hard time believing that they are unanimously that dumb.

Overall today's undergrads are probably less racist than past generations so we can't make a good-ol'-days argument here. But the sheer stupidity of the racism that remains more than compensates for whatever improvements we've made as a society. It's sad enough that this happens, and sadder yet that these people are too dumb to express their racism at a level higher than "Haw haw! Them negroes sure do talk real funny and drink lotsa Kool Aid!" If the sentiments they express aren't enough to convince us of their dull minds, they ensure that we get the message with their chosen manner of delivery. I mean, if you're going to be completely offensive you could at least do humanity the favor of attempting to be clever. Then again, if these people were mentally capable of clever they'd wouldn't be doing this in the first place.