Human Humanities

The New Yorker, if it didn’t take so much time to read, would be on my magazine list.  I’m primarily a book man, and there’s so little time these days that magazines seem mere ephemera.  However, someone at work pointed me to a story on the end of the English major that was really about the end of the humanities.  It was most disturbing.  Making the case that college students really prefer the humanities, they nevertheless go to STEM because that, and business, are the only place to find jobs.  In a world where work increasingly demands more hours a day, these young people take employment that kills their souls in order to keep their bodies alive.  The “starving artist” is no joke.  Society has deemed humanity unimportant.

The Rebuke of Adam and Eve, by Charles-Joseph Natoire, Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication, via Wikimedia Commons

What happens when we cease to be human?  Artificial intelligence and robots and capitalism.  It’s a cold world where only numbers matter.  I’m not a great one for metrics and “evidence-based” humanities.  No, Romanticism is not dead.  The world where imagination reigns and Adam Smith is not even a shiny shekel in his great-grandfather’s blue eye.  How do I know it was blue?  Imagination.  You see, I’ve written a few novels (unsuccessfully), and I know a few (very few) colleagues who do as well.  Mainly I know that because their novels find publishing houses that know how to get them in the public eye.  I jealously guard those friendships because I’m a Romantic.  I tilt the electronic windmills telling me all of life is statistics and figures.  No, those slowly spinning blades are liable to chop your head off, if you let them.

My friends often express surprise when I reveal that I’m a Romantic.  Books should be evidence enough.  Ideally, work would allow us to bring our gifts to the table—or more accurately, screen.  It would find a way of saying, “be human here because we really mean what we say about diversity and inclusion.”  Instead, evaluations are metrics-based.  The numbers.  The bottom line.  At moments such as these, I throw off my hat and let my thoughts run free.  I daydream about the books I’ve read and those I’ve written.  I imagine life as a place to truly be human.  The humanities are all about understanding what it means to be authentically human.  And let me tell you something—it’s not all about numbers.  In fact, if I had it all to do over again, I think I would be an English major.  With no regrets.

2 thoughts on “Human Humanities

  1. Jeff Hora

    Excellent post, Steve. My life in ‘corporate’, such as it was, was spent working to maintain that balance between whatever was defined as “the metrics” and working to instill, somehow, the realization that these metrics, so-called, are people/individuals (sorry for the odd sentence structure there….). One of the things in which I was relatively successful was in working to help tweak what was defined within the consideration of what to measure. True, the battle to turn the face from “bottom line” was a bit like trying NOT to think of the “white bear” (a metaphor I use a lot…), but trying to get folks to step back and look at what was being defined as successful and whether we were actually measuring the right things. Sadly, and I forget the name of this particular cognitive construct, since THAT was very difficult, the impulse took over for the metrics-obssessed to measure a false equivalent because it was easier, but not because it was ACTUALLY valid. Anyway, I encourage you to remain a beacon for the balanced life of the mind and spirit, and laboring in the salt mines as this kind of subversive has its rewards.


    • Thanks for your encouraging words, Jeff! I really have no other idea of how to be in the world than how I am. I do live in rather constant fear of losing my job for being human (it happened three times in rapid succession at the turn of the millennium). I think we all benefit from stopping once in a while and saying, “Hey! These are people we’re talking about!” Thanks for commenting!


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