Hmmmm…. Although I am an avid consumer of high culture myself — from Thucydides to Chaucer, from Bach to Stravinsky — I have always found it hard to defend such pursuits as anything more than personal amusements.
And I ended up practising what I preached. In my freshman year at university, I got the highest mark awarded in the poetry paper that formed part of the final examination for Introductory English literature. And there were around 1,000 students in that course.
So my emotional home is undoubtedly in the Humanities. Yet I did not persevere with that line of study. My major field of study became psychology — which I saw (rather wrongly) as having some utility rather than being mere amusement.
But maybe my personal love of Humanities pursuits blinds me to its having utility too. So I think maybe there is something in what Victor Davis Hanson says about the matter (Excerpt below).
One point Hanson might have made is that novels from past centuries can widen one’s perspective. The world revealed to one when reading (say) Jane Austen is a very different one to the world today and an awareness of that could well help us to see present arrangements in a broader perspective. It might help us to take less for granted.
And there is one Humanities pursuit that I have never been apologetic about: The study of Latin. Learning Latin grammar is perhaps the best pathway to an understanding of how sentences work and is therefore a major help in learning how to write clear English.
It is natural that once again we are hearing talk of cutting the “non-essentials” in our colleges such as Latin, Renaissance history, Shakespeare, Plato, Rembrandt and Chopin. Why do we cling to the arts and humanities in a high-tech world in which we have instant recall at our fingertips through a Google search and such studies do not guarantee sure 21st-century careers?
But the liberal arts train students to write, think and argue inductively, while drawing upon evidence from a shared body of knowledge. Without that foundation, it is harder to make — or demand from others — logical, informed decisions about managing our supercharged society as it speeds on by.
Citizens — shocked and awed by technological change — become overwhelmed by the Internet, cable news, talk radio, video games and popular culture of the moment. Without links to our past heritage, we in ignorance begin to think our own modern challenges — the war in Afghanistan, gay marriage, cloning or massive deficits — are unique and don’t raise issues comparable to those dealt with and solved in the past.
And without citizens broadly informed by humanities, we descend into a pyramidal society. A tiny technocratic elite on top crafts everything from cell phones and search engines to foreign policy and economic strategy. A growing mass below lacks understanding of the present complexity and the basic skills to question what they are told.
Life is not just acquisition and consumption. Engaging English prose uplifts the spirit in a way Twittering cannot. The latest anti-Christ video shown at the National Portrait Gallery by the Smithsonian will fade when the Delphic Charioteer or Michelangelo’s David does not. Appreciation of the history of great art and music fortifies the soul, and recognizes beauty that does not fade with the passing fad.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.). For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see TONGUE-TIED. Also, don’t forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me here