Believe it or not, the Humanities matter


I’ll admit that at times it can be hard to defend the Humanities without launching into esotericism or dramatic monologue, were it not for literature, art and philosophy where would we be? Even as science allows us to understand what is it leaves us grasping for what ought. The Humanities are the structures hidden before the naked eye in everyday life, those implied meanings (and double-meanings) that leave us walking away from a conversation saying much more than perhaps we intended. It’s culture. It’s everything. It’s us.

But in the end, if the theories of Foucault, Locke or Hume and the prose of Hemingway, Fitzgerald or Kerouac can’t be put to immediate use by a for-profit, they’re useless, right? Well, if you’re the governor of Florida, then yes. Last month Gov. Rick Scott came out and suggested that the state should invest more heavily in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as compared to those fields – like the Humanities – that will only lead poor, misguided and skill-less youth into a life of unemployment. Never mind the graduate’s ability to tell think critically about ethics (gasp!), morality (double gasp!),  and what it means to exist in the modern world (the Republicans in the room should have passed out by now).

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s comments last month cut to the heart of the quandary: whether emphasizing [STEM] gives students the best career prospects and a high-tech payback to society, and whether humanities fields are viewed as more of an indulgence than a necessity amid tight budget times.

Oh yes, the Humanities are an indulgence. It’s like an unhealthy serving of cake we would all do better without. It’s enjoying a film after dinner instead of beginning the night shift. It’s an externality we would perhaps all be better off without …

Advocates say STEM fields also provide tangible returns for states, universities and businesses through patent royalties, new products and the prestige of achieving scientific breakthroughs – paybacks far less evident among, say, new intellectual insights by scholars of Geoffrey Chaucer’s literature, devotees of Frederic Chopin’s nocturnes or adherents of Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist views.

Again, if it can’t be turned into $$, it has no value – even if it’s ideas that have no diminishing marginal returns, which is one of the greatest stumbling blocks for the economically-minded. (Another stumbling block is having an uneducated work force).

The thing that I don’t understand is that the conservatives pushing agendas like this don’t really want science: they want the dumbed down version of it. They want biology without evolution, physics without a Big Bang, ecology without its implications, climatology without climate change, etc. Well guess what? They can’t have it because it doesn’t work that way.

And I know this because I’m a liberal arts student

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