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« More than the cup you crave | Main | Seeking Life Among "Twinkling" Stars »

March 01, 2009


I guess this somewhat panicky (and silly) debate makes its rounds along with the fluctuations in the financial / job market. There is little doubt that the demand for the humanities slumps when the economy is suffering. Students want to go out and get a "marketable" degree. The same trend and tendency are noticeable in developing nations where production of consumer goods and strides in health care, more than fine thoughts, make "life worth living." Science and engineering are therefore valued over philosophy and literature - at least until the basic standards of subsistence are met. However, that doesn't necessarily lead us to the question of whether the humanities are "relevant." It is merely a matter of practical priorities of the moment, like asking whether between being hungry and unhappy, which condition do I wish to correct first? For survival reasons I will wish my hunger to be satiated before I look for happiness. That doesn't mean that I don't want to be happy or that happiness is "irrelevant."

As for Anthony Kronman, I will let Anna (or my daughter, if she reads this) weigh in with greater authority.

Your take makes good sense, Ruchira, and I see a fair depiction of the big picture in it. But at a slightly lower level--the one pitting history against computer science, say, or poetry against medicine--I continue to wonder. Surely not all engineering enterprises aim only to maintain the basic standards of subsistence. Our lives are crowded with the wires, beams, dishes, remotes, toggles, switches, buttons, LEDs, and crappy PC speakers that count as innovation. Granted, the market then supposedly "values" those "advances," generating wealth that accrues in some peculiar fashion to all of us. The same could be said, of course, of sonnets, were they sold by the gross.

Silly, yes. See this commentary courtesy of Network World. Lindsey Lohan is no more representative of theater than Legos are of engineering. What a cheap swipe! Evidently the sciences need theater if "we need to figure out more creative ways to showcase" them. And witness the genius who recently graduated with a computer science degree: his conclusion that the job market doesn't "suck" is based rigorously, irrefutably on his personally having received numerous job offers. QED.

That'd be the abbreviation of a Latin phrase, quod erat demonstrandum.

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