Last night, a twitter figure who goes by “Jon Bois” (and has 250,000+ followers) tweeted about how he and many of his friends had lied about have college degrees, fooled employers into hiring them, and now had good lives. I couldn’t tell whether “Jon_Bois” was male, female, trans, or non-binary and couldn’t discern the party politics involved in his tweet either. But I thought the tweet was significant as an embodiment of the “ethic of scamming” that’s emerging among white guys and has special appeal among younger white conservatives.
I should have screen shotted the “John Bois” tweet so I could copy it into this blog. But I forgot and the tweet was deleted by the time I started working on my blog again this morning. Yet another reason why I don’t have 250,000 followers. In another tweet, Jon Bois himself explains the deletion.
@jon_bois, i’m gonna delete a tweet i don’t feel good about. i suggested lying about having a degree on your resume. among other things, being a white guy, pulling something like that is firmly in “easy for me to say” territory. it was dumb of me. thanks to those of you who checked me on it
Still, I think that an ethic of white guy scamming is emerging as a thing in the United States and want to discuss. During my 1990-2020 teaching career at Morehead State in KY, I began to notice in the late 1990’s that college achievement was becoming more and more “uncool” among white males and that the archetype of a smart, athletic, leadership-oriented guy who both worked and partied hard was disappearing among my students. The male leadership types were replaced by women who were confident, hard-working, set the tone for student discussion in my classes, and got the best grades as result. The top ten government students were identified every year and it seemed that 7-8 out of the top ten were women every year beginning in the late 90’s. When I started teaching honors students, it was the same with about 8 out of 10 honors students being women.
My perception was that guys had been outpaced by ambitious women since high school, were no longer willing to compete, and had decided that the whole idea of excelling academically was bullshit. The problems of the Great Recession, soaring student loan debt, and the introduction of critical perspectives on male violence, white supremacy, and LGBT issues as well as right-wing politics have all since contributed to white male antagonism toward college education.
But the root has always been the revulsion at having to compete with women.
With Trump having been defeated and Joe Biden in the Oval Office, the antagonism toward college has started to morph into an ethic of white male scamming through life as an alternative to gaining the qualifications traditionally associated with a college education. Last December, at a meeting sponsored by his Turning Point USA organization, conservative activist Charlie Kirk downplayed the value of college in making connections helpful for a career: “As you age you realize you really only had one or two friends in co9llege–most of these people are not important.” Of course, this is a very mistaken. Government and corporate employers all over the country require college degrees and ramped up their requirements for educational attainment as a result of the Great Recession. But Kirk implicitly poses the counter-argument that conservative politics can serve as an alternative economy in which white men can thrive without college degrees. There’s some truth to this in the sense that conservative media stalwarts like Kirk himself, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Joe Rogan all failed to finish undergraduate degrees and went on to success in conservative media. But white men are a large demographic and there’s reason to question whether conservative politics is big enough to support conservative white men. That’s also a problem for other conservative alternatives such as welding, plumbing, and electrical work. All those fields have relatively high wages and shortages of applicants but there are far from being enough openings to absorb the masses of alienated white conservative men. What’s the average white guy to support himself if he doesn’t want college?
Tucker Carson has the answer–FAKE IT. “like drop out of college . . .Get married . . . Have more children than you can afford. Take a job you’re not qualified for, Like Go Balls Out! You know just go Balls Out.” Where the underlying suggestion from Charlie Kirk was to work in the conservative grift, Carlson is about scamming as a way of life. As I listened to the interview, the implication was for men to drop out of college and then lie about their credentials when they were applying for jobs. Carlson makes it all seem like “shits and giggles” but the main way for men to rush into “achievement,” “responsibility,” and “commitment” without acquiring credentials is to fake the credentials. The idea of marrying young and quickly (“if you’re compatible with someone, and you can smell that, you can make it work.”) also has an air of faking it–as if compatibility can just be assumed rather than established through dating or (God forbid!) a relationship.
Not unlike Jordan Peterson, Carlson sees young men as having a problem with responsibility: “young people . . . , particularly boys, like run from responsibility.” and proposes dropping out of college, early marriage, and big families as a solution. But where Peterson’s solution is to start small (“make your bed”), Carlson wants young men to think big in the sense of going all out for 50’s heterosexual marriage. That’s even though he doesn’t expect young men to have had much if anything in terms of prior relationships or qualifications for the middle-class/professional jobs that would make it possible for men to support the families he wants them to have. That’s where scamming comes in. As difficult as heterosexuality is for young men, the ethic of scamming makes it possible to dream.