Why credentials matter in a non-thinking society

We need to exercise a bit of that non-Filipino trait of lateral thinking when we regard this whole issue of “credentials”. I find that the best way to induce this rare form of thought is to ask a child-like question:

What are credentials?

Any schmoe can Google the term or look it up in Wikipedia so I won’t waste time and bandwidth posting a link here or quoting off those venerable sources-of-truth. Rather, I am more inclined to rely on a better well of wisdom to set us off in our exploration. Me!

For me, it is quite simple.

Credentials are thingies that define one’s place in a structure.

Consider the structure known as a social order or a human society. For most people, a person with a high-school diploma, will tend to be less-regarded than a person with a university degree. So in the social order we have come to be familiar with, degrees of education fit the definition. In the job market, a person who’s worked longer than a person looking for a job for the first time will be looked upon favourably by a prospective employer. So in the same way experience is also a credential by my elegantly simple definition. Even more unfortunate for the typical born loser is a tool commonly used by recruiters — aptitude tests. Aptitude tests have come to be developed for measuring certain qualities and profiling and categorising people into various arbitrary classes. But the test we are most familiar with is the Intelligence Test — a test that ultimately results in a single number that determines how adept we are at thinking — the Intelligence Quotient or “IQ”. So again, intelligence can be considered a credential. Low IQ = moron. High IQ = ace. One number, sez it all, right?

Note the common denominator emerging here. For those who are still scratching their heads, I’ll spell it out:

Credentials are measurable.

They can be quantified easily — number of degrees, number of medals, number of years, number of basis points, etc.

As such they are good proxies for evaluating one’s worth. They make sense in the recruitment industry — an industry that requires its players to McDonaldise human evaluation to survive as profitable businesses. It works for us too. At a cocktail party, we use credentials to quickly work out who to schmooze with and who to merely smile politely at. For that matter, our very DNA as a result of millions of years of evolutionary honing make us at a very primal level el primo credentialists. Things like anatomical symmetry, facial and body hair, fat in the right places are proxies for evaluating heritable fitness. Thus even in the mating game, we rely on biological credentials (which to be honest, is also a factor to reckon with in a cocktail party).

Credentials are also very handy. Just announce that you are a lawyer and suddenly everyone grants you summary license to dish out your views on the Constitution. Tell them you are a doctor, and you suddenly become attractive to the average Gray’s Anatomy fan. Credentials play well into the human mind’s continuous effort to symbolise and classify everything it perceives.

Credentials are a good tool for, say, shortlisting applicants for evaluation when filling a job vacancy. A good text search facility will do the job quite effectively in a database of jobseekers. However, it takes an astute interviewer to recommend a handful of candidates to their client. And even then, it will take several more months (or as the case may be, a six-month “probationary” period) before a person fully proves his worth in the organisation.

On the Web, keywords and tags are two key “credentials” of content. A search engine such as Google, will quite easily (you can see how much or how little time it takes to do so) generate a list of sites fitting the “credentials” you type on its search box. Aside from the keywords you provide, it also uses an internal credentials framework to rank the search results it serves you. These may include the number of times said content is linked or referred to, how many times it is selected among other results in previous queries, and maybe even how frequently the site hosting it is updated. Ultimately, though, it is up to the human client of the search to properly vet the results in a way that only insightful human thought can — insightful relative to automatons.

This brings us to the second property of credentials:

Credentials lend themselves well to the goals of automated or low-level evaluation mechanisms.

Now in the world of memetic competition in a wired world, there is a field called search engine optimisation (SEO). SEO is made out to be a “value-added” service provided by Web jocks to their clients to help “improve” their page ranking in sites like Google. But then SEO can be as simple as peppering your article — or website — with keywords that get the hits (Paris Hilton Paris Hilton Paris Hilton Paris Hilton), or cramming the resumé you submit to a jobsite with industry jargon and, well, professional credentials (Doctor of Economics Doctor of Economics Doctor of Economics). Such stunts are effective at gaming the one-dimensional thought processes (I use the word “thought” here by its loose definition) enshrined in algorithms used by mechanical evaluation facilities — the automatons and “bots” that do the dirty work that pave the way for the application of more high-level thinking on a rough cut of candidate content.

Indeed, SEO finds its analogue in Philippine society’s bricks-and-mortar world, in the all-too-familiar phrase: Alam mo ba kung sino ako? (“Do you know who I am”). Right away in an audience of one-dimensional minds, credentials often hit an effective home-run.

So here we come to the third property of credentials:

Credentials are an effective medium for gaming and perverting low-level evaluation faculties.

Because credentials are so effective at firing synapses in the most primitive reptilian complexes of the human mind, they are the tool du jour when dealing with, shall we say, less-capable minds.

Every now and then a whole monstrous debate fueled by a moronic regard for a certain concept erupts and rages for days. That’s because, we often forget to first understand the concept at the nucleus of such “debates”.

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Post Author: benign0

benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.