Humanities and Self-Worth

Submitted by hadrian on Mon, 02/24/2014 - 00:00

As a student of the humanities I'm well aware of the fact that I'll probably not land a job in the field I've studied for. The demand for students of English isn't particularly high even in a globalizing world where English forms the most important language. The same is definitely also true for students of many other fields in the humanities. Most of us have had to avoid the question of `but what will you do when you're done?' I assume the fact that there seems to be a low demand for students in the humanities is the reason I come across so many articles about why the humanities are important.

Let me just state outright that I thoroughly dislike these articles and generally skip over them. Why is it so important to find reasons for the field we've decided to specialize in. There's only one reason that should matter: because we like the field. Students of language generally love reading books and are taught to think more deeply about them. If we didn't want to think more deeply about them, then why even bother at all?

I believe that the question of why the humanities are important needs to be asked at all. The fact of the matter is that if all of the humanities students suddenly entered into technical fields and were successful there would be an enormous glut of technical expertise and, in the end, the practical usefulness of becoming experts in those fields greatly reduces as well. The real reason why any field of study is important is simply because knowledge is important. Conversely, the knowledge is important because some people are interested in it.

The fact of the matter is that many people who currently study anything will probably end up not using most of the knowledge they have gained for practical purposes. I have carefully avoided defining what practical purposes signifies. What most people who deal with the `use of humanities' seem to be concerned with is trying to find ways the knowledge will influence the way our society works. A common argument is that students of the Humanities are taught to think in a critical way. This argument is complete bollocks as the main duty of any university education, in whatever form, is to teach people to think critically as it's one of the primary requirements for society. As such, the practical-use arguments has very little weight when compared to a computer scientist who's working on computer models on any range of societal problems. The fact that we are taught to think critically is still very important and, I would say, is the most important skill anyone could learn. What I mean to say is that it's not as exclusive to the Humanities as others try to make it.

I assume one of the most important reasons for students of the Humanities to find practical uses for the humanities is because we are considered less important than students in fields like mathematics or physics. Because of this our facilities usually tend to be less modern and less well-maintained. Moreover, budget cuts seem to be more serious in our field than in the Sciences. The problem here is that such images exist at all. It is depreciative of students in the humanities and depreciative of the entire human search for knowledge. Just because knowledge doesn't seem directly applicable doesn't mean it's useless.

In the end, I'm contented with the field I've chosen. I'm mostly taking linguistics courses and do, in the end, hope to get a research job in that field. Whether or not it will happen I do not know. What I do know is that I have gained a lot of knowledge and like that. What I also know is that whatever job I'll get in the future it's useful for society in some way or another. I don't have to fear that I'll serve no practical purpose. It's just possible that it won't be in the field I'm specializing myself in.