Forward-Thinking Organizations Value the Humanities

I recently considered the fate of public intellectuals in the digital era, concluding that their evolution was closely tied to a number of societal shifts. One of these is the perceived, and oft discussed, crisis in the study of the humanities. Are the humanities still relevant? Do they matter, outside of a purely theoretical context and beyond the confines of the college classroom? These sorts of doubts are reflective of broader tendencies in the way we view our world, such as the rather primitive question of what qualities we consider essential for the workforce that allows society to function. In the knowledge economy, observers of the job market for college graduates and even seasoned professionals will have noticed a pattern emerging at the most basic level: where employers once sought well-rounded candidates with strong ethics and critical thinking skills, terms like “results-driven,” “entrepreneurial” and “quantitative” have now become commonplace in job descriptions. Not so frightening on their own, these words are part of a linguistic choice that reflects the competitive demands of the marketplace, and some of the resulting shortsighted choices that tend to underestimate the advantages of an education grounded in the humanities.

Society can easily understand the benefits of learning financial accounting, statistical software manipulation and business modeling, but is less comfortable with what it regards as the more intangible qualities cultivated by the humanities and, to some extent, the social sciences. … Read More Forward-Thinking Organizations Value the Humanities

Where Have the Intellectuals Gone, and Do We Need Them?

Almost every generation suffers from a certain sense of pride and vanity—or “exceptionalism,” to borrow a popular neologism of the moment—whereby its particular civilization is seen as having arrived at a summit of human achievement. Ours is no exception: our athletes routinely obliterate previous records, modern science and medicine have leapt forward by unfathomable bounds, and living standards in the developed world are beyond compare. Sometimes these beliefs are tempered by a sense of nostalgia for golden eras past, but there is nevertheless an overwhelming agreement that we have built on previous progress to take every field of human activity further than ever before.

However arrogant it may be, the sentiment is of course justified on a number of levels. It is therefore all the more curious to come across an area where society appears to have stagnated or, indeed, even engaged on a reverse course. In the U.S., anti-intellectualism has been bemoaned by many for decades (and could be seen as a fundamental constituent of the narrow definition of “exceptionalism” as an American brand of progress that relies on a pioneering spirit and the relentless pursuit of prosperity—doing, not thinking), but even in the land of the free there once existed a particular cast of thinker that has been waning of late: the public intellectual. … Read More Where Have the Intellectuals Gone, and Do We Need Them?