July 6, 2013

Humanities"Crisis"?

 Makonde carving, East Africa


UPDATE 
The Decline of the Humanities - and Civilization by Rosanna Warren, The New Republic, July 17, 2013

Who Ruined the Humanities? by Lee Siegel, The Wall Street Journal, The Saturday Essay, July 12, 2013

"A digital environment also stresses quantitative thinking, and perhaps that helps explain why the most exciting cultural advances are now in science and medicine.

"It is hardly a surprise that in this atmosphere, college students choose to major in fields that are most relevant to the life around them. What a blessing that is on literature. Slipping out from behind ivied prison doors, where they have been forced to labor as evaluative "texts," the great thoughts and feelings made permanent by art can resume their rightful place as a unique phase of ordinary experience."

ORIGINAL POST

Humanist: Heal Thyself
by Russell A. Berman
The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 10, 2013

I don't see a humanities crisis as this and other recent essays* try to argue. Fewer humanities majors than in the past? Such can only be a problem of staffing and salaries at universities, or a problem of society where there ostensibly needs to be a certain critical mass of humanities educated US citizens. 

The first problem is really not one for the academy. Declining humanities majors and attendant faculty positions are accompanied by increases in science and other areas. The academy is neither in crisis nor endangered by this.

The second problem, harm to society, is likewise not significant. That a society might become less able to appreciate art, music, literature, and history and therefore become less humanistic and less humane due to the lack of university-educated humanists flies in the face of what we know of the nature of Humankind. 

Humans direct and shape culture to suit their perceived needs, usually for the short term. Regardless of what majors US college students choose, the future of Humankind's thinking and behaving humanistically and humanely is not something to be worried about. Currently, the global trend is for societies to fashion and support cultures that have beliefs, values, and behaviors that are predominantly secular-scientific. Implicit in worries over the future of university humanities is a fear that ever-growing scientific-secularism and materialism are increasingly harmful to Humankind. There is no historical or anthropological evidence to justify such fear. The most atrocious behaviors of all time have been derived from quests for power, wealth, and religious hegemony - not a lack of knowledge about the humanities.  Humaneness will not decline because fewer humanities degrees are awarded in the US and elsewhere. In fact, a strong argument could be made that far more acts of humaneness have been committed, historically and currently, by illiterate humans than by all the world's humanities graduates combined.    

Considering Humankind as a whole, the number of humanities majors at US universities is not a significant force in the ongoing emergence of a humane global morality and civilization. The driving and sustaining impetus for this cultural evolutionary emergence is the legacy of humaneness that has benn culturally transmitted generation after generation for the past 200,000 years. Today, this legacy is being expressed in the conventions and protocols of world fora such as the UN and in an ever-growing majority who support the rule of law that is their foundation. It is also expressed at the grass roots level. For example, the Occupy expression of the need for greater global justice and equality transcends nationality, race, religion, and cultures and therefore expresses a panhuman humanity and humaneness. 

The human universal values of sociality, cooperation, empathy, and service to others will not decline due to a decline of American humanities majors. The challenge for and aim of the academic humanities should be to increase their dissemination of humanistic principles outside the academy, particularly within secular-scientific fora and in the global public at large. Teaching humanistic activism, societal involvement, and the application of humanistic principles in secular-scientific governance and all other human endeavors, public and private, is what is most needed. If this takes place humanities enrollments will rise accordingly.

* - The Humanist Vocation by David Brooks, Op-Ed, The New York Times, June 20, 2013
      Republic, May 18, 2013 

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