Friday, March 14, 2014

Stop Defending the Humanities

Simon During reviews The Humanities and Public Life (2014), edited by Peter Brooks and Hilary Jewett, at Public Books.
"The humanities’ rather complex use in maintaining class hierarchies may be one reason why, as we are now learning all too well, they are unpopular. Especially in the US the 'liberal intellectual' is more than a stereotyped figure of fun: he (less often she) is the target of political resentments that help sustain conservative politics. This negative stereotyping takes wing, in part, from the sense that humanities academics and the students whom they send into the professions acquire their privilege too easily, exempt from the hard scrabble of working in small business, farming, factories, supermarkets, and so on. Worse still: liberal intellectuals and humanities academics use their privilege in their own interest to promote unworldly politics and tastes that undercut, or lie aslant, values and lifestyles that help sustain many of those with less privilege. Seen like this, the humanities’ unpopularity is not irrational, even if from inside the neoliberal university any sense of our effete privilege may seem misguided. At any rate, scorn for the humanities cannot simply be discounted: it too demands understanding and empathy. Certainly it is one reason why the humanities are so vulnerable politically: outside their own spheres, they find it hard to make friends."
(via Arts & Letters Daily)