The British Academy, in cooperation with a publisher or two, has taken the initiative to promote SHAPE. Social Sciences, Humanities, and the Arts for People and the Economy (SHAPE) may never match the steam of STEM, but the idea is an important one. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics have driven society (and the job market) for many years now. It’s sometimes easy to forget that we’re human beings and we act irrationally from time to time. (Consider the last four years in these Untied States.) Higher education was founded on the premises that the Humanities wouldn’t get studied on their own. Business keeps us too busy. Either that, or the egos of rulers lead us into war after war. What gets left behind is the study of what makes us who we are. The liberal arts college, learning for learning’s sake, has fallen on hard times. What’s the profit in it?
SHAPE suggests a society suffers if it doesn’t promote social sciences—the so-call “soft sciences” that state humanity the proper study of humans—the humanities, and the arts. The acronym itself contains a lesson “for people and the economy.” The dismal science does, in some sense drive the initiative since we live in a world where tech does most of the work we used to. We’re left with the non-paying business of being human. Caring for an aging population where people live longer but aren’t given jobs that pay well enough to retire. Looking in the mirror to see that the economy’s fruits go unfairly to those who already have too much. The rest of us, are left to survive as, well, humans do. Why not celebrate—and better yet, value—what people do? Or humans for humans’ sake?
I’ve long felt that the priorities of capitalism are badly skewed. The value of gold is artificial, one assigned by human beings and their love of shiny metals. Our entire society is set up to, as we’re told, pursue wealth. There is far more to life. We humans, we love to create. We love to socialize. We love to help one another out. These aren’t paid activities. They don’t have to be commodified. The one who goes home with the most stuff isn’t always the winner, especially when the majority of humans are left without enough. It’s too early to tell if SHAPE will catch on, but I applaud the effort. It is time we stopped exchanging the warmth of being human for the coldness of numbers and calculation.