Useless Humanities

That a humanities degree is useless for the workforce says more about our workforce than the degree.  It says that we value, that we’ll pay for, someone to provide cars, electric toothbrushes, and running shoes.  But not beauty and insight.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Imagine a world in which companies had, along with finance departments to look after their money and maintenance departments to keep things clean, art departments to make the place beautiful.   Municipalities could have art departments too, right alongside their legal departments and transit departments, to keep the city beautiful.  Or entertaining.  Or edifying.  Depending on your view of the role of art.

Provinces could have, in addition to the Ministries of Environment, Energy, and Revenue, a Ministry of Music.  Yes, of course, there is a Ministry of Culture and Recreation, and that’s close. And there are provincial arts councils.  Close again.  But they’re just administrative bodies: there are no practicing artists on staff whose job it is to do their art.  (The Ministry of Environment, on the other hand, has, for example, biologists on staff whose job it is to do biology.)

We’d have municipal and provincial concert halls and theatres and galleries with full complements of staff – that is, full-time paid musicians, playwrights, actors, painters, providing a year-round schedule of daily events.  Attendance would be free of charge, just as is driving on the roads.

Imagine a world in which video stores had as many videos of dance performances as of war movies.  A world in which poets and short story writers and novelists read in movie theatres.  And people paid to get in.  As many people.  Hell, our lit grads might make a living!

Imagine a world in which we valued knowledge about ourselves as much as knowledge about our money.  And we paid philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists as much as we pay financial advisors.

Imagine a PR department hiring a historian to manage the information, to develop true, coherent archives.  With intelligent analysis.

We have concert halls, libraries, and museums.  We have jobs for musicians, poets, and historians.  But we have so many more banks and stores and restaurants.  We thus have so many more jobs for business majors (the managers and the accountants) and non-majors (the clerks and waiters), for people whose raison d’être is to make or serve profit – not beauty, joy, insight, or understanding.

Is it truly supply and demand?  Do we really have the world we want to have?  Yes and no.  If we asked the philosophers and psychologists and sociologists, we’d know that we want what we’re used to, so supply creates demand as much as, if not more than, demand creates supply.  And we’d know that pressure can modify our wants: customs and marketing strategies can compromise our autonomy if we don’t pay attention.  To our real desires, our real goals.  To our joys, to our hopes.  (Every now and then, I think things may be different in Europe.  But how would I know – it’s not the sort of thing that the U.S. or even Canada puts on the news.  Around and around…)

And anyway, so what?  So what if a humanities degree is useless in the workforce.  Not all value need be tangled up with the economy, with business, with the workplace.  (Have you mistaken your job for your life?)  Not everything has to have a price.  Not everything need be, or can be, sold.  Or bought.  Some things just are. (The recognition and appreciation of beauty and joy.  The cultivation of curiosity and interest.  The achievement of exhilaration and understanding….)


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