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(752 posts)
Tue May 31, 2016, 10:31 AM May 2016

Have you ever been asked what the Humanities are good for? [View all]

Last edited Tue May 31, 2016, 04:31 PM - Edit history (7)

Why do we even need them anymore, since lucrative pursuits such as Tech and Finance are hyped as all-important, while the study of Language, Religion, Music, Art, Philosophy, Literature, and History is portrayed as outdated or elitist, perhaps to justify cutting public funding?

I invite you to imagine someone living with cultural amnesia. This is a person who understands little of her community’s past. She doesn’t have much access to her own ancestors’ notions of their identities, or how their life habits or patterns of thought changed over time. Likewise, the values, ideas, and events that shaped the nation in which she lives are mostly unknown to her.

She’s never been taught to examine her native language or use it expressively in school, much less how to communicate with groups whose languages are different than her own. She lacks formal practice in reason and eloquence. She knows little of global religions. She has never benefitted from the opportunity to reflect deeply on her fears, her sense of justice, or to listen widely to other people's stories for their experiential, emotional content. She hasn’t been introduced to books or other documents that could enrich her interpretation of how she, and others, came to be in the present moment.

No one has shown her how to select artistic models for inspiration or critique, so she hasn’t developed a range of aesthetic appreciation for architecture, visual art, music, or dance, and doesn’t have enthusiasm for those kinds of creativity. She doesn’t write to describe her experiences or to enjoy the challenge of imagining alternative scenarios.

In fact, she has never considered that she could be seeing “reality” through a distorted and partial lens because she hasn't been encouraged to ask herself why she thinks the ways she does or acts according to certain values. All she has learned of how representations of the world can change from different ethnic, racial, gendered, ideological, or otherwise socially stratified perspectives has been picked up by chance, or from commercial or private interests—not provided by schools, museums, libraries, or sponsored cultural events.

Because of her lack of education in the Humanities there is a lot she can’t do. She can’t draw on past wisdom because she doesn’t know how to access the rich trove of cultural artifacts invented by human beings over the centuries, or how to analyze them. She is denied the satisfaction of recognizing the beauty (and sometimes horror) of this inheritance. She doesn’t seek out the unfamiliar. Reaching out to people beyond her circle is also uncomfortable because she’s not well prepared. And, since she only recalls her family’s and her own personal struggles, she is unaware of how their stories relate to broader circumstances and other people or even why that knowledge might be important. Since she is unaccustomed to speculating about the reasons behind her beliefs, she cannot rigorously justify her own ethics or evaluate their implications. Discussing qualitative abstractions like kindness and humor is hard for her too, so she's not practiced in empathy towards others or empowered to improve relationships between groups.

Ultimately, she isn’t capable of envisioning a future that is better than the present as she currently perceives it, nor does she possess the skills to exercise power for the benefit of her community. Cut off from major portions of the legacy of human experience and expression, she is vulnerable to adopting the decisions of powerful and influential people without question. She is isolated, yet lacks autonomy.

The study of the humanities—Language, Religion, Music, Art, Philosophy, Literature, and History—breathes life into material things and imbues our relationships with meaning. These disciplines are the world’s basis for recovering and transmitting the record of human experience to successive generations of people. Along with the Sciences, they are at the historical roots of the modern university. But, in distinction to scientific methods, humanities methods of interpretation raise questions that often don’t have absolute answers. They provide us with logical ways to evaluate patterns of ideas and values, to perceive and analyze trends across time, and to shape reality, that are not easily quantifiable or open to experiment. They are the heart of our collective memory.

Humans have long used the Humanities to document and to refine human perception and behavior. We have used them to inform our judgments, our theories, and to fight for necessary change in our shared social structures and places. We need diversity of thought to solve our problems. Their study produces people capable of communicating across all kinds of borders and envisioning possibilities for a common future. A Humanities education not only satisfies our ancestral intuition that valuing financial gain above all else will not lead us to sustainable happiness. The study of the Humanities is a public trust, crucial to community life, which aspires to educate the whole person and citizen for the benefit of the collective. It is a vital part of an education designed to prepare us to be the 'guardians of our own liberty'.

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Certainly. Act_of_Reparation May 2016 #1
This message was self-deleted by its author zentrum Jun 2016 #51
ugh. too many words. please put it in outline form and add hyperlinks for keywords? thanks! unblock May 2016 #2
Agree. Ugh. Please reduce to a single-panel cartoon? Thanks! cheapdate May 2016 #29
Heh heh, the moron's mating call. sofa king Jun 2016 #60
Chiquitita, is this your work? Greybnk48 May 2016 #3
Thanks, yes Chiquitita May 2016 #4
Winning Pub Trivia Night. whatthehey May 2016 #5
It's great for trivia. A nice bonus. Chiquitita May 2016 #7
Winning Pub Trivia Night flamin lib May 2016 #44
Sure - but again these are the reflexive priorities I mentioned above whatthehey Jun 2016 #50
Without them, there is precious little "reach" to exceed annabanana May 2016 #6
Once almost all tech work has been automated gollygee May 2016 #8
that's what an AI person said to me recently... Chiquitita May 2016 #9
I'm not gollygee May 2016 #10
I agree with you Chiquitita May 2016 #11
Look at the history of the US from the end of slavery to the Great JDPriestly May 2016 #35
This is what we need to be thinking about Chiquitita May 2016 #36
When we resist necessary change, we do violence to ourselves and sometimes to others. JDPriestly May 2016 #40
Be careful what you wish for a Utopia seldom turns out like jwirr May 2016 #43
"Riders of the Purple Wage." malthaussen Jun 2016 #55
I should dig up my copy of Dangerous Visions exboyfil Jun 2016 #56
Humanities were important until they committed suicide in the 80s. AngryAmish May 2016 #12
You're preaching to the choir, Chiquitita. TexasProgresive May 2016 #13
I taught Humanities in IGCSE, A-Level and in university for 12 years Feeling the Bern May 2016 #14
The answer padfun May 2016 #16
"worker bees who can't analyse, think critically or create."... madinmaryland Jun 2016 #69
Beautiful, amazing post! JDPriestly May 2016 #15
Timely essay ewagner May 2016 #17
I worked in sales to engineers. They all said their technical education prepared them to build flamin lib May 2016 #18
I worked over 20 years Sophiegirl May 2016 #25
Case in point: Karl Rove. No college so he can only repeat the same old tricks some one else showed McCamy Taylor May 2016 #19
My liberal arts education helped me to undertand the mythology behind religion passiveporcupine May 2016 #20
Unfortunately for your world-view, physicists have now Joe Chi Minh May 2016 #28
My English degree enables me to speak eloquently about my inadequate salary. Orrex May 2016 #21
I'm not convinced that our majors/degrees are at fault for salary disappointment Chiquitita May 2016 #22
"Can earn." That's a good one. Orrex May 2016 #27
I majored in comparative literature and Spanish Chiquitita May 2016 #32
I would certainly have benefited from a more dedicated study of a second language Orrex May 2016 #33
English majors have declined a lot over the last 10 years in response to what you are experiencing Chiquitita May 2016 #34
That's a smart strategy Orrex May 2016 #37
yes, nice to talk with you. Chiquitita May 2016 #39
Oddly, when we wanted to kill of the people who lived here so we could steal their homes and jtuck004 May 2016 #23
excellent insight Chiquitita May 2016 #38
The arts and humanities make us human awoke_in_2003 May 2016 #24
This is a great narrative. Thanks, Chiquitita SpankMe May 2016 #26
Two close friends are senior software engineers at a prominent company. REP May 2016 #30
I can not understand for the life of me how anyone pangaia May 2016 #31
The number one major at Yale is history. KamaAina May 2016 #41
My wife and I have science degrees. Our children have humanities degrees. hunter May 2016 #42
Humanities flamin lib May 2016 #45
k and r -- from a phil and humanities major :) nashville_brook May 2016 #46
k and r, with thanks. niyad May 2016 #47
it certainly helps at "geeks who drink" nights!! niyad May 2016 #48
Humanities are great if students take personal responsibility for that choice of major in college. MadDAsHell Jun 2016 #49
"interests" like Language, Religion, Music, Art, Philosophy, Literature, and History? tenderfoot Jun 2016 #59
So you're proposing...what? MadDAsHell Jun 2016 #62
Do you think your English teacher studied law? tenderfoot Jun 2016 #67
And you sound like the typical "everyone else should pay for my mistakes" kind of person. MadDAsHell Jun 2016 #70
Free University like the rest of the CIVILIZED world. tenderfoot Jun 2016 #72
I think the institutions that grant degrees Chiquitita Jun 2016 #64
I 100% agree with you on the schools; they have responsiblity here too. MadDAsHell Jun 2016 #65
I see your point Chiquitita Jun 2016 #66
The Humanities zentrum Jun 2016 #52
It does seem weird that in the thousands upon thousands of years My Good Babushka Jun 2016 #53
How many on a percentage basis had time exboyfil Jun 2016 #57
Those who were able to attain scholarship My Good Babushka Jun 2016 #58
Several in this thread tenderfoot Jun 2016 #68
That education was mostly reserved for the gentry. X_Digger Jun 2016 #71
She is, however, easily controllable. malthaussen Jun 2016 #54
Humanities is good for long thoughtful essays. What good is culture? or literacy? Bucky Jun 2016 #61
they are forms of capital Chiquitita Jun 2016 #63
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